Paraphernalia from the Mattachine Society, an early “homophile” organization of which Vincenz was one of the first lesbian members, back in the days when members were required to use pseudonyms for fear of retribution. Back issues of “The Ladder: A Lesbian Review,” an independent publication whose cover she appeared on in 1965: short hair, bright eyes, wide and enviable smile. Articles and essays about a gay women’s open house, which Vincenz founded and hosted in her home through the 1970s — a homebody alternative to lesbian bar culture. One regular wrote a song:
Come all you women in the D.C. vicinity
If loving women is your proclivity
Rev up your engine, roll up your bike
And point your wheels to Columbia Pike
Carlyn Springs to 8th Place; turn to the right
For Lilli’s open house on Wednesday night.
In the files, one can learn how Vincenz first met her partner in 1984, when she placed a personal ad in the Washingtonian, looking to expand her social circle. “It looked as though I could have written it,” Davis told an interviewer in the early 2000s, according to a transcript preserved by the library, “because the interests were so similar.” Davis carried the ad around in her wallet for days, until the post office box was about to expire, before finally getting up the nerve to write back.
Vincenz, the files show, made a handwritten list of pros and cons before joining the military in 1961. “Lack of privacy,” she wrote in the “con” column. “Adventure, excitement,” she wrote in the “pro,” which eventually won out.
The life that is so carefully documented in the climate-controlled boxes is fuzzier in real life, in her sunny music room.
Ask her to recall her first experience as an out lesbian, and she’ll say, “I wanted to find a gay bar, so I found a bar, and I found these women.”
Ask her why she kept everything — why she painstakingly stored the greeting cards and fliers that most people would sweep out with spring cleaning — and she’ll say, efficiently, “It’s just that I knew I had to do this. I had to. It was so important to me.”
Before one of their Wednesday music sessions, Davis jokes that they both have OLS — Old Lady Syndrome. Vincenz, Davis says, just has too much information, too many life experiences, “and no other place to put it.”
Some of the events of Vincenz’s activism are 50 years old. She’s recounted everything already, in other interviews through the years. Some events and details have faded.
“Didn’t we get married in Alaska?” Vincenz asks, sorting through sets of photographs in her home office.
“Well, among other places,” Davis says. They’ve been married three, or maybe four, times, on cruise ships around the world.
“But I only count Key West,” Vincenz says. “There was a minister there.”