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Madeleine Tress

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Tress was a lawyer, economist, memoirist, entrepreneur, independent researcher, and activist who was impacted by the Lavender Scare.

Early Life[edit]

Madeline Tress was born November 27, 1932 in Brooklyn, New York to parents, Martin Tress and Yetta Nerl. She had two brothers, David and Arthur Tress. David was a member of the US Marine Corps and Arthur Tress is a famous photographer known for his work in magical realism Tress was raised Jewish.


Tress attended Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, New York. She went on to attend George Washington University in the School of International Relations but after an African-American janitor was seen exiting her place of residence, she was barred from the all-Jewish sorority she had been assigned to, and eventually transferred to Georgetown University. She graduated from Georgetown in 1954 with a degree in economics and foreign relations. Many of her professors were influenced by Father Edmund A. Walsh, who founded the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. Walsh is thought to have influenced Senator Joseph McCarthy’s decision to use anti-communism as a means to gain political prominence. She received her Master’s Degree in 1957. Tress also attended the London School of Economics, New York University, University of California at Berkeley, and University of California at San Francisco.


Department of Commerce

After graduating from Georgetown University, Tress worked in the Department of Commerce as a business economist under the Eisenhower Administration. She resigned in April 1958 after she was interrogated by two men who accused her of frequenting gay bars and associating with known gay men and lesbians. They asked her to confirm, and she refused to answer. She handed in her resignation the following day https://www.jstor.org/stable/3874391?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents. Allegedly, the U.S. Civil Service Commission learned that she was a lesbian from several people who had known her in various capacities: one was a former professor at Georgetown, another was the brother of a union organizer who named her to deflect from the investigation against his communist ties. Like most people impacted by the Lavender Scare, Tress chose not to fight the evidence against her and to resign. Others, including her friend Frank Kameny, chose to fight evidence against them, but in turn were ostracized and had difficulty finding employment elsewhere.


Tress was denied a Fulbright to Burma (Myanmar) because of her sexual orientation.

Legal Career After her short-lived career in the Eisenhower administration, Tress moved to San Francisco and started her own law practice. She worked specifically with employment law/labor law and fought for workers rights. One of her best known cases, REGENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA ET AL. v. DOE., brought Tress to defend her client in the Supreme Court.


Tress was regknownarded for her LGBT activism as well as her feminist activism, particularly within the Jewish community.[1]

Personal Life[edit]

Tress met her partner Jan Sibley, a school teacher, in 1962. The pair traveled the world and were dedicated activists, they attended multiple marches on Washington and the Gay Olympic Games. They volunteered with the Castro Lions, a branch of the international service organization. Tress and Sibley also ran a store together called “Wholly Cats”.[2][3]

Books and Scholarly Articles[edit]


Rainbows on My Ceiling

In 2006, Tress self-published a memoir titled Rainbows on My Ceiling. It details both her own childhood and her partner, Jan’s, as well as her experience at the State Department and her path towards becoming an attorney, the experiences she shared with Jan living in San Francisco, and being part of the city’s gay community during the AIDS crisis. It is available to view at the San Francisco Public Library.

Scholarly Works

Tress has published several scholarly articles on the topics of the changing role women in Jewish philanthropy, German-Jewish-Israeli relations [4], Jewish immigration in the United States , the Soviet Union, and Germany [5], and Israeli-Palestinian relations [6] .

See Also[edit]

Lavender Scare


  1. Gold, Steven J. (1997). "Women's changing place in jewish philanthropy". Contemporary Jewry. 18: 60–75. doi:10.1007/BF02965480.
  2. Snider, Burr (1 May 1980). "Everything but the cat's meow". The San Francisco Examiner. San Francisco, California. p. 29. Retrieved 7 August 2019.
  3. [[ https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/sfgate/obituary.aspx?n=madeleine-tress&pid=135693345]]
  4. https://eds.b.ebscohost.com/eds/detail/detail?vid=8&sid=162b7db4-0584-45af-802d-bf3cc9a2351e%40pdc-v-sessmgr06&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxpdmUmc2NvcGU9c2l0ZQ%3d%3d#AN=edsjsr.163833&db=edsjsr
  5. https://eds.b.ebscohost.com/eds/detail/detail?vid=9&sid=162b7db4-0584-45af-802d-bf3cc9a2351e%40pdc-v-sessmgr06&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxpdmUmc2NvcGU9c2l0ZQ%3d%3d#AN=400186&db=sih
  6. ttps://eds.b.ebscohost.com/eds/detail/detail?vid=7&sid=162b7db4-0584-45af-802d-bf3cc9a2351e%40pdc-v-sessmgr06&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxpdmUmc2NvcGU9c2l0ZQ%3d%3d#AN=edsjsr.1408455&db=edsjsr

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