Margery Meltzer: A Woman to Look Up to

Margery Meltzer is a Massachusetts native, a hippie at heart, and a pioneer for women. Born in 1949 in Worcester, Margie grew up in the 60s and 70s as a gay woman. She always knew she was different but longed to be herself with pride. Her life has been an incredible journey of growth and is a true testament to the strength of sisterhood.

Although she has faced her fair share of struggles, Margie turned it all into something beautiful. She grew up in very hard-lined western Pennsylvania. She always says that her, “interest in existentialism stemmed from that environment; the clash of Appalachia with an educated Jewish family.” She faced plenty of anti-Semitism and notes that many of her classmates were also racist like their families. Not only were attitudes towards religion and race cruel during this time, but also towards sexuality. Any non-traditional feelings she possessed were suppressed from everyone, including herself. She didn’t admit to herself that she was a lesbian until the year 1971. By that time, she had already graduated college with a degree in philosophy and had been through an unhappy “traditional” marriage.

In reaction to the non-inclusive and hateful climate of society, Margie joined the hippie counter-culture. Hippies lived a life that was more expressive, creative and loving. Her time in the 60s and 70s was exactly what you would imagine. She saw some amazing artists, including a live performance from Janis Joplin, and hung out with the greats: The Fugs, members of The Hog Farm and yes, that’s right… The Grateful Dead. My personal favorite story of her’s is the time she shared a joint with novelist, and author of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” Ken Kesey.

“I never forgot being at my boyfriend’s house when I was alone in a TV room with Ken Kesey. We were watching the Academy Awards, laughing about John Wayne and the “straight” culture, and sharing a joint. I never forgot because he treated me as an equal and I was 19…that was the best part of those times, as many of the men at the time took “free love” as free to be sexual with women without consent.”

The year 1971 was a turning point in Margie’s life; She moved back to Massachusetts, to the small island community of Martha’s Vineyard. It was in that small town of 6,000 that she would meet the love of her life and continue her fight for a more loving attitude towards women and the LGBTQ community. Margie met Cheryl, her partner of 45 years, through friends in 1972. When asked about her greatest accomplishment in life, she gushed, “My 45-year relationship with Cheryl…achieving a depth of love, commitment and spirituality that’s beyond description.” Cheryl passed in 2017. Margie admits, “I cry, and I cry, but more often these days I’m able to laugh again. She would want that.” We can all only hope to find a love as true and pure as the one they shared.    

The couple is widely known on the Vineyard for their ownership of C.B. Stark Jewelers, started by Cheryl, and named after her, “Cheryl Barbara Stark.” Cheryl was a silversmith, and Margie an artist of many forms. She loved making jewelry, but she also creates poetry, and abstract paintings, of which Cheryl was her biggest fan. She has recently gotten back into painting since the loss of her wife. She says, “when I paint or write, I see her smiling.” The island was a great place for artists to be. As Margie puts it, it was “good people being good to each other.” They lived tucked away from the mainland’s gay culture, in the woods of West Tisbury, but felt like themselves in their happy, loving relationship. On the sign of the first shop, Margie found that someone had written the word “dyke.” She remembers being, hurt, embarrassed, and wanting to pretend that it never happened. Another incident occurred when a woman in New York tried to drive the pair off the road, in an act of anger towards their bumper sticker that read, “Sisterhood is powerful.”

Although they both endured discriminations in their childhood and as adults, due to the efforts of activists like Margie, the world was starting to change. Margie and Cheryl had helped put together a woman’s group on the Vineyard, inviting a mother-daughter duo to educate women on their bodies. Margie was a part of many radical events, as the women’s movement of the 70s was starting to take shape. In the 80s, Boston held its first gay pride event and a gay group was even started on Martha’s Vineyard. The couple opened a shop on Main Street and began to feel much more accepted. It was because of the efforts of many like them that Massachusetts legalized gay marriage in 2004. They got married shortly after.

Margie has gone on to have a life filled with love, art, and adventure. I think we owe a great deal of appreciation to women like her who fought for equality for not only women and members of the LGBTQ community, but for everyone. Margie’s strong will and perseverance should come as an inspiration to us all. She helped make it possible for many of us to have opportunities we otherwise wouldn’t. I am proud to know a woman like her. Although she may not consider herself an activist, I think that everything she stood for was important. My final question for her was if she had any advice for her past self. Her answer is one that we should all learn to live by:

“I have had a life full of love with lots in between. I survived a terrible first marriage. In 1991 I was diagnosed with ovarian, uterine, and cervical cancer all at once and had to have a few surgeries and chemo and was an active caretaker for Cheryl for seven years before her death, I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without all those experiences…. My advice is to go with the flow.”

 

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