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Remembering Martha Prentiss, the Mayor of Lesbian San Antonio

January 13, 2020
An exuberant Martha Prentiss at the 1991 March on Austin

On January 4, 2020, family and friends of Martha Prentiss said their final farewells to this beloved activist, artist, and actor. Prentiss passed away on December 1, 2019 after battling Lewy Body Dementia for several years.

For decades, Prentiss served as an advocate for the rights of lesbians. In 1981, she opened Las Mujeres, a book store dedicated to women. Prentiss, along with other local women, created WomanSpace, the longest running women’s publication in San Antonio (1986-2007). Prentiss also created the Lesbian Information San Antonio (LISA) telephone helpline as an additional way to connect lesbians in the community.

Perhaps her most well-known undertaking was the Cancer Party, an annual fundraiser that attracted hundreds and supported women’s causes and organizations in San Antonio. Prentiss’ close friends Jan Olsen and Frances Timmins rounded out the trio of Cancers responsible for the planning and execution of the yearly party held in Prentiss’ back yard. Prentiss’ memorial service was named “The Last Cancer Party” signaling the end of an era.

Frances Timmins, Martha Prentiss, and Jane Olsen

For each Cancer party, Prentiss-a talented jewelry designer and artist-created medals and medallions (Cancers only) for guests attending the party.

I had the privilege of attending the Last Cancer Party on January 4th. I brought items that Martha had donated to the UTSA Special Collections over several years. The centerpiece of the display was a large trifold covered with invitations to all the Cancer parties and photographs of many who attended the annual event. Attendees of the memorial service recounted many fond memories of the iconic parties.

Although Martha Prentiss is no longer with us physically, her legacy and memory live on through the many materials she donated to UTSA Special Collections over the years. WomanSpace, the Texas Lesbian Conference Records, and the Martha Prentiss Papers document her remarkable accomplishments and the history of San Antonio’s lesbian community. WomanSpace and the Texas Lesbian Conference records have been digitized and are available online.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Sandra Merrifield permalink
    January 13, 2020 10:20 pm

    Very, very interesting.

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