Vicki Gabriner

b. 1942

Vicki Levins Gabriner, an American feminist and civil rights activist, was born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1942. Gabriner became involved with civil rights as a student at Cornell and the anti-war movement as a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. She spent three summers in Tennessee living with the Black community, teaching at Freedom Schools, and working on integration and voter registration issues, risking violent reprisals from white Southerners. In the late sixties, she joined the radical activist group the Weathermen (an organization toward which she later felt ambivalent), traveled to Cuba with the Second Venceremos Brigade, and became a feminist. Gabriner moved to Atlanta in 1970, where she came out as a lesbian and helped found the Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Alliance, Dykes for the Second American Revolution, and the Atlanta Socialist Feminist Women's Union. She published several works, such as Sleeping Beauty: A Lesbian Fairy Tale, which discussed the subject of incest, and her dissertation Peak Time: Progressive Jewish Mothers, the PTA, and the Postwar Red Scare. Gabriner married Rochelle Ruthchild in 2004, after twelve years of partnership. They remained together until Gabriner passed in 2018.

Scope and Content Note

Gabriner grew up in Brooklyn with progressive parents; her mother was active within the PTA, which shaped her views of activism. While her parents weren’t religious, their home was deeply grounded in Yiddish culture and Jewish history. Her involvement in social justice issues expanded while attending Cornell from 1959-to 1963. At first, her soon-to-be husband, Bob Gabriner, influenced and guided her activism, and, together, they were involved in Harlem rent strikes. After her graduation, they spent their summers in western Tennessee, helping with local elections and voter registration in rural Black communities. She noticed that while their work was essentially good, there were flaws in their approaches to social justice work and race/gender dynamics. When not in Tennessee, she and Bob attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison – Gabriner working toward a master’s in education. There, they became involved in the anti-Vietnam-war demonstrations. She found that she, and women in general, were often not taken seriously in these spaces. By 1968, Vicki and Bob had divorced. Around this time, she attended her first SDS [Students for a Democratic Society] convention, leading to her brief involvement with the Weathermen. She soon moved to Atlanta, where she came out as a lesbian and helped found the Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Alliance. Gabriner also started her spiritual journey, first looking to meditation and then Jewish tradition. She was arrested in 1973 for involvement with the Weathermen, specifically helping someone obtain a fake passport. Gabriner was tried in Boston Federal Court and was convicted in 1977. In 1978, she won her appeal. Following this, she remained in Boston and focused her attention on the Jewish community, having her adult bat mitzvah ceremony with her partner Rochelle at Temple Israel of Boston. This changed her life and led to a deeper connection to Judaism and Yiddish culture and language.  

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How to cite this page

Oral History of Vicki Gabriner. Interviewed by Judith Rosenbaum. 20 July 2000. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on February 26, 2024) <http://jwa.org/oralhistories/gabriner-vicki>.

Oral History of Vicki Gabriner by the Jewish Women's Archive is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://jwa.org/contact/OralHistory.