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Donna Mae Stemmer photographs and ephemera


Held at: John J. Wilcox, Jr. LGBT Archives, William Way LGBT Community Center [Contact Us]1315 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the John J. Wilcox, Jr. LGBT Archives, William Way LGBT Community Center. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Donna Mae Stemmer was a lawyer, Korean War veteran, fashion icon, and trans activist from Pennsauken, New Jersey. Born April 29, 1933 in Brooklyn, New York, to parents Ellen Johnston and Joseph Stemmer, she was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University Law School. Stemmer served in the U.S. Army for more than 30 years, serving in the Korean War, and attaining the rank of Lt. Colonel. She was decorated 25 times, including receiving a Distinguished Service Award and Commemorative Medal in 2008. She was known in the Philadelphia area for her long-time support of the City of Brotherly Love Softball League (CBLSL) and was a member of the Key West Wolves team. Recognized for her myriad cheerleader outfits, she received the CBLSL Steve Lehman Community Service Award in 2008. Stemmer lobbied Arlington National Cemetery in 2008 for the right to use her female name on her headstone, but her petition was denied. She died on June 23, 2015 and is buried in Brigadier General William C. Doyle Memorial Cemetery for veterans in Wrightstown, N.J. where her tombstone is marked by her name given at birth.

The Donna Mae Stemmer collection includes thousands of 3 1/2 x 5 in. and 4 x 6 in. color photographs of Stemmer dressed in nearly as many outfits. Mostly taken in her home, they highlight Stemmer's vast wardrobe and love for fashion. In addition to these, there are also photographs from bars, restaurants, pride parades and sporting events. Some photos include friends of Stemmer as well as performers in drag. A small number of photos are identified including those taken at the "Westbury Bar and Restaurant," the "Venture Inn," "Roxy's birthday," the "Lambda Awards," "Les Miz," the "Fuschia Gown Trial," "Atlantic Citya," "Karley's," "Prom," "Halloween at Venture Inn," "New Hope," and "George and Maria's Wedding." Most of those which are identified are from 1987-1988. Some photographs are time and date stamped giving a range of 1999-2010. A small number of photographs are from as early as 1981. In addition to the photographs there are some personal documents, LGBT material, ephemera, and two articles of clothing selected from Stemmer's wardrobe at Philly AIDS Thrift following her death.

John J. Wilcox, Jr. LGBT Archives, William Way LGBT Community Center
Finding Aid Author
John Anderies
Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research use.

Use Restrictions

Copyright restrictions may exist. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the John J. Wilcox, Jr. LGBT Archives of the William Way LGBT Community Center.

Collection Inventory

Personal documents (including copy of birth certificate, benefits information, and a letter requesting suppliers of "petticoats and ruffled lingerie"), 1995-2000.
Box 1 Folder 1
LGBT material (flyers and brochures on City of Brotherly Love Softball League, the Millennium March on Washington, AIDS Walk Philly, the Jaded Lounge, and gays in the military), 2000, undated.
Box 1 Folder 2
Clippings (from Au Courant, Philadelphia Gay News, Philadelphia Bulletin, and the Courier Post, including article about transgender woman Leslie Phillips, who Stemmer represented in Phillips v. Plotkin (12 Pa. D. & C. 3d 54 (1979)), 1978-2008, undated.
Box 1 Folder 3
Oversized photographs, 2000, undated.
Box 1 Folder 4
Negatives, undated.
Box 1 Folder 5-8
Photographs, 1981-2010, undated.
Box 2-4
Clothing (red leather jacket with "Donna Mae" emblazoned in rhinestones, beaded "Bingo Queen" cap), undated.
Box 5

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