York County has opportunity to learn about Rita Mae Brown

The situation

Prolific feminist author Rita Mae Brown writes about cats and people – and herself – in her popular 1973 coming-of-age novel “Rubyfruit Jungle.” And she weaves stories about her native York County into some of her works.

One such book, Tail Gait, follows British prisoners of war in the American Revolution from a camp in Charlottesville, Virginia, to Camp Security in Springettsbury Township.

Not only did she tell about the prisoners coming to a stockade in York, she visited her home county in support of preserving the Camp Security site.

In 2013, helped raise funds at the invitation of Carol Tanzola of the Friends of Camp Security in the years-long campaign to secure the land from development and then search for the location of the stockade. An archaeological dig found that site via its postholes in the summer of 2023.

A 2000 York Sunday News story, promoting a book signing at Borders in Springettsbury Township, says that she came to York County every few years, particularly liking the beautiful Hanover Shoe Farms country. Indeed, her birth mother worked there.

To see a detailed story about Brown’s connections in York, please see York Sunday News story – “Author Returns to York Roots” and the York Daily Record’s “Memories of her life in York woven into Rita Mae Brown’s new mystery,” on newspapers.com. (Membership required). Her autobiography, “Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabble Rouser,” also provides stories and pictures about her time in York, which she left with her adoptive parents and their home at 520 E. Hillcrest Road at age 11.

Not all celebrities with York County links come back. In fact, one wishes more did. But Rita Mae Brown has come back, and she further honors her native county by including its stories in her work.

And as Matt Jackson argues below, it’s time that York County learns more about this nationally influential human rights advocate.

This Rita Mae Brown novel weaves York County’s Camp Security into its plot.

Rita Mae Brown joins other York County celebrities in these stories:

York County history: A dozen people who made headlines in our past (ydr.com)

Photos: Just really interesting people from York County’s past and present

Check out this list of 18 York countians who have made it big

These celebrities came back to York County to give back.

Rita Marie Brown, with roots in York County, talks her life, writing and interests at the National Writers Series in Traverse City, Michigan. At one point, she talks briefly about her family in York County.

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The witness

Matthew Jackson moderates the Facebook group THE VALLEY: People Power and Caring Communities in the Susquehanna Valley, and he has been gathering local stories about Rita Mae Brown. He brings it all together in the following piece:

Called the “first openly lesbian writer to make it into the mainstream” and, in the early 1970s, “the most famous openly gay person in America,” feminist author Rita Mae Brown has Pennsylvania roots. She was born in Hanover and soon was taken to a Pittsburgh orphanage before being adopted by relatives and raised in York.

Born to a single-mother, horse farm worker Juliann Young, Rita was adopted by relatives Julia and Ralph Brown, who were prominent in York County Republican politics. From Brown’s 1999 memoir, it appears that the Browns may have lived in Hanover before York. They lived, at least for a time, at 520 East Hillcrest Road in York.

According to Wikipedia, Rita’s family moved when she was 11 from York to Florida. Regarding her early years, there’s also an intriguing quote attributed to Brown, apparently about downtown York’s Martin Library: “When I first got my library card, my life began.”

If there were a circle of excellence, a pantheon of celebrity or popular writers who were born or raised in, or have connections to the Susquehanna Valley, Brown would be in it. Also, if there were a ring of honor of civil and human rights trailblazers who were born or raised in the Susquehanna Valley, Brown would be in it. Some are working hard and collaboratively to make our history braver, more thorough and more inclusive. That’s welcome news because Brown’s achievements are legion and jaw-dropping, and people here and everywhere deserve to learn about her and her works.

Rita Mae Brown’s “Outfoxed,” weaves in details of people and places in York County. The author returned to York to promote this book in 2000.

Twenty-four years before comedian Ellen DeGeneres came out on national television, Rita Mae Brown was making all kinds of good trouble and beautiful noise. The author of over 60 novels, seven screenplays and works of non-fiction, and an Emmy-nominated screenwriter and poet, Brown’s the winner of the Lee Lynch Classic Book Award and the winner of the Lambda Literary Pioneer Award for her groundbreaking, semi-autobiographical first novel, Rubyfruit Jungle (1973).

Feminist legend Gloria Steinem says of it: “The rare work of fiction that has changed real life… . If you don’t yet know Molly Bolt— or Rita Mae Brown, who created her — I urge you to read and thank them both.” “Rubyfruit Jungle” has been banned by multiple schools for its sexual content.

Publication of this book brought Rita Mae Brown to Borders for a signing in Springettsbury Township in 2000.

“This literary milestone,” according to ritamaebrownbooks.com, “continues to resonate with its message about being true to yourself and, against the odds, living happily ever after.” A hero for the work she had done for AIDS awareness, women’s rights, gay rights and civil rights, Brown also holds two doctorates and is a skilled equestrian and master of foxhounds.

Brown’s life is an adventure of struggle, drama, courage, resilience and triumph. She was expelled from college for supporting Black civil rights, was homeless in New York, sparred with early feminist icon Betty Friedan, thrown out of the National Organization of Women for supporting Lesbian rights as Feminist rights, and lived with partner Martina Navratilova, the famous women’s tennis champion and icon.

Brown’s fascinating, colorful, improbable, and rollicking life is worthy of a movie.

Or two.

Movie or no movie, Brown’s story certainly is worthy of our public history

More reflections from Matthew Jackson about Rita Mae Brown about her York connections and influence in the world: Ring of honor of civil and human rights trailblazers.

Other Witnessing York perspectives from Matt Jackson: William Henry Johnson, President Lincoln’s aide and Gettysburg Lincoln Railroad Station.

The questions

Matt Jackson describes Brown’s work as “good trouble.” Reflect on what this means. Are there other examples of local “trouble makers” who may have pushed boundaries for productive endings?

Hometown History’s Jamie Noerpel and Dominish Marie Miller talk about books and reading and local history at Red Land Library in February 2024.

Related links: York County history: A dozen people who made headlines in our past (ydr.com) Top photo, York Daily Record.


— By JAMIE NOERPEL and JIM McCLURE

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