Sidney Abbott, 77, a longtime New York City-based lesbian-feminist activist, died April 15 in a house fire in Southold, Suffolk County New York. The cause of the fire is currently under investigation.
She co-authored a ground-breaking book with Barbara Love in 1971, Sappho Was a Right-on Woman: A Liberated View of Lesbianism.
Abbott was born July 11, 1937 in Washington, D.C., to a military family. Her father went to West Point and later was an aide to Gen. Douglas MacArthur during World War II.
Abbott attended Smith College for three years before graduating from the University of Albuquerque, New Mexico with a bachelor's degree in art history in 1961. She studied urban planning in graduate school at Columbia University.
Abbott is survived by her her nephew David Abbott of Brooklyn and a sister-in-law, Jane Abbott. She is also survived by her dog, Missy, and peacock, Henrietta.
Abbott joined the National Organization for Women ( NOW ) in 1969 and was one of the first people to speak out about the rights of lesbians to other NOW members. She was on the founding board of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and was a member of the Lavender Menace. She also founded the Women's Rights are Human Rights nonprofit.
Her personal archives are in the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College and the Radcliffe College feminist collection of NOW biographies.
Abbott was a program developer for two departments in the New York City government and was the first openly gay person appointed to the community planning board by the Manhattan Borough President.
"Sidney was a great person with a big heart and a very big part of my life," said Barbara Love; vice-president of development at the Veteran Feminists of America ( VFA ), author and longtime close friend. "In fact, I spoke to her just an hour before the fire and she was in good spirits at the time. I met her in 1967 and we lived together for several years. It was at that time that we wrote our book together which was the first non-fiction book to depict lesbians in a positive light.
"We were out and proud lesbians when it wasn't fashionable to do so and we fought for lesbian acceptance within the women's movement particularly within NOW. She was a great storyteller and would regale us with very detailed stories about everything. She was a quintessential conversationalist. She leaves a hole in my heart and I will miss her terribly."
Jackie Ceballos, former president of New York NOW, and a founder and former president for 20 years of VFA said of her friend: "I've known Sidney since the beginning of NOW. We met in 1967 and worked together as activists for many years. Sidney was always level-headed and worked from within to change the way NOW interacted with the lesbian movement. She was always a unifying force within the feminist and lesbian worlds and was one of the people who opened up Betty Friedan and other straight feminists to the lesbian world. It was a shock to me when I heard that she died in such a horrible way. She was a darling person and unifying force in so many ways. I will miss her very, very much."
"In 1995, Barbara arranged for Sidney to move into my apartment and I was glad to have her come live with me because she was able to do things on the computer that I couldn't," said Joan Nixon, former aide to Rep. Bella Abzug and longtime friend of Abbott. "Before I realized I was a lesbian I got Sidney's book and after I read it everything changed for me. Her book opened my eyes to the concept of women loving other women and it was then that I realized that this applied to me. We spoke the morning of her death and at that time she was in great spirits and was looking forward to the next chapter of her life. She is finally free of the lift chair that confined her during the last years of her life. I feel that Sidney's spirit is with me, that she hasn't gone away and will always be with me. She was a wonderful, sharp person and I look forward to celebrating her life in the years to come."
Eleanor Pam, PhD, president of VFA, a professor emerita from City University of New York, said Sidney "was a very old and dear friend whom I've known for almost five decades. We met during the early days and work of Second Wave Feminism. She was a double pioneer as an advocate for women's rights as well as lesbian rights. She was a passionate, brilliant, effective and extraordinary force for human rights. Sidney was a smart and articulate activist with a keen sense of justice. She had an instinctive reflexive antipathy towards injustice against which she moved forcefully. She leaves a gap among her friends who loved her dearly and I will miss her forever."
Memorial services are pending. Abbott's ashes will be buried in Long Island, New York.