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Margaret Jean (Margo) St. James (MStJ) was born in 1937 in Bellingham, Washington, and graduated from Mount Baker High School in Deming, Washington, in 1955. She worked on her father's dairy farm, married, and had one son. She was later divorced and in 1959 moved to San Francisco, where she worked as a waitress, process server, gardener, carpenter's assistant, and dance instructor, and was founder of Margo's Miracle Maids, a domestic service. Following her conviction for prostitution, MStJ studied law at Lincoln University in San Francisco (1963-1964) and succeeded in getting her conviction overturned. In 1976 MStJ was licensed as a private investigator in California.

Seeing a need for a dialogue between feminists and prostitutes, MStJ organized WHOM (Whores, Housewives, and Other Mothers) in 1971 to bring together "straight" women and prostitutes to identify and work toward common goals. Although WHOM met only a few times, it became the forerunner of COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics), which MStJ founded on Mother's Day in 1973. A civil rights organization for prostitutes, COYOTE called for the decriminalization of prostitution and sought to provide legal and medical services for prostitutes. It also offered employment, health, and financial counseling, and worked to educate the public about prostitution through publications, speeches, and seminars.

In October 1974 COYOTE sponsored its first Hookers' Masquerade Ball in San Francisco, a fund-raising event that was billed as "the social event of the year for heterosexuals, bisexuals, trisexuals, nonsexuals, homosexuals, and other minorities who feel discriminated against." A film entitled Hookers documented the ball, which became an annual event in San Francisco for a number of years and inspired similar functions in other cities.

Although it was widely perceived to be a prostitutes' union, in 1975 only 60 of COYOTE's 8500 members admitted to being prostitutes; most members were educated, white, middle-class women. Within two years of its founding, two sister chapters were formed: ASP (Association of Seattle Prostitutes) and PONY (Prostitutes of New York); by 1979 there were nearly twenty sister organizations in the U.S. and abroad. A newspaper entitled COYOTE Howls appeared irregularly between 1974 and 1979.

In 1976 feminist Florynce Kennedy founded the Victoria C. Woodhull Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit corporation. MStJ served as its executive director and Priscilla Alexander became chair of one of the VWF's ad hoc committees, the National Task Force on Prostitution. VWF was "designed to be a funding tool for decriminalization of prostitution and related issues: violence, rape, incest, abortion, child care, welfare, etc." With COYOTE as the lobbying arm and NTFP charged with establishing international networks, VWF set up Masquerade Corporation to produce balls and other fund-raising events.

After a fire destroyed the COYOTE headquarters in August 1978, many of its functions were absorbed by the NTFP. A national network of prostitutes' rights advocacy organizations, the NTFP worked for the decriminalization of prostitution and "the removal of stigmas associated with female sexuality." It sought to influence state policy makers, conducted research and compiled statistics, and prepared position papers on topics related to prostitution. The VWF achieved non-governmental organization status at the United Nations late in 1979, and in October 1980 the NTFP was adopted as a project by the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. In 1984 the NTFP held its first national convention in San Francisco, coinciding with the Democratic National Convention. Most active chapter members were prostitutes or ex-prostitutes, although some non-prostitute advocates also participated. A similar network in Canada, CORP (Canadians Organized for the Rights of Prostitutes), worked with the NTFP on a variety of projects.

In 1985 MStJ and Gail Pheterson formed the International Committee for Prostitute's Rights (ICPR), based in Amsterdam. The NTFP and its affiliates were members of the ICPR, which sponsored the World Whores' Congress in Amsterdam in 1985 and in Brussels in 1986. MStJ moved to Europe in 1986 to continue her work. Priscilla Alexander, a former schoolteacher who had worked with MStJ in various capacities since 1976, and Gloria Lockett, a former prostitute who joined the organization in 1982, continued the work of the NTFP in San Francisco as co-directors.

Reflecting a growing concern about AIDS during the 1980s, members of COYOTE formed CAL-PEP (California Prostitutes Education Project) in 1985 "to provide public education on prostitution, and to provide education and counseling to prostitutes, ex-prostitutes, and sex workers within the San Francisco Bay Area." Its first project, funded by the State of California Department of Health, U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and Project AWARE, was an AIDS-prevention project that culminated in the publication of Prostitutes Prevent AIDS: A Manual for Health Education in 1988 (see #508-514).

In the late 1980s PA left the NTFP to work with the World Health Organization in Geneva. In the mid 1990s MStJ returned to San Francisco, where she continued her work as a member of the city's task force on prostitution and the mayor's drug advisory board.

From the guide to the Records, 1962-1989, (Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Records, 1962-1989 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Alexander, Priscilla person
associatedWith ASP (Organization) corporateBody
associatedWith Bunch, Charlotte, 1944- person
associatedWith California Prostitutes Education Project corporateBody
associatedWith Capitol City Coyote (Organization) corporateBody
associatedWith Coyote of Florida (Organization) corporateBody
associatedWith Coyote (Organization) corporateBody
associatedWith CUPIDS (Organization) corporateBody
associatedWith Democratic National Convention (1984: San Francisco, Calif.) corporateBody
associatedWith English Collective of Prostitutes corporateBody
associatedWith HUM (Organization) corporateBody
associatedWith International Committee for Prostitute's Rights corporateBody
associatedWith James, Jennifer, 1943- person
associatedWith Kennedy, Florynce, 1916- person
associatedWith Krasner, Paul person
associatedWith Lebel, Jean Jacques person
associatedWith National Conference on Women and the Law (1975: Stanford, Calif.) corporateBody
associatedWith National Conference on Women and the Law (1979: San Antonio, Tex.) corporateBody
associatedWith National Conference on Women and the Law (1980: San Francisco, Calif.) corporateBody
associatedWith National Conference on Women and the Law (1982: Detroit, Mich.) corporateBody
associatedWith National Task Force on Prostitution (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith National Women's Conference (1st: 1977: Houston, Tex.) corporateBody
associatedWith PASSION (Organization) corporateBody
associatedWith PONY (Prostitutes' association) corporateBody
associatedWith PUMA (Organization) corporateBody
associatedWith Robbins, Tom person
associatedWith Seattle Coyote (Organization) corporateBody
associatedWith St. James, Margo person
associatedWith Unitarian Universalist Service Committee corporateBody
associatedWith U.S. Prostitutes Collective corporateBody
associatedWith Victoria C. Woodhull Memorial Foundation corporateBody
associatedWith WHISPER (Organization) corporateBody
associatedWith Women Against Pornography corporateBody
associatedWith World Conference of the United Nations Decade for Women: Equality, Development, and Peace (1980: Copenhagen, Denmark) corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
San Francisco (Calif.)
Wages for Housework


Birth 1973

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Ark ID: w6f044qf

SNAC ID: 12242681