Amy Caffrey

amy caffrey

Amy Caffrey’s father was in the military so she grew up moving around the country, but eventually settled in Virginia. She remembers growing up in Virginia as “a terrible place to come out. They’re still fighting the Civil War. I was dating a black woman and that really didn’t go well.” After doing research to find safer areas to live as a lesbian, she landed on moving to California and moved to San Jose in 1982.

A strong lesbian and women community existed at this time but they needed somewhere to meet. Amy had been collaborating with students at SJSU around the time that Sisterspirit was being born. “One of the reasons why Mary contacted me was due to my work at the San Jose State radio program, which I worked on with Kathy Carter. We played women’s music, which was a different type of music in the world at that time.” From there she met the other women and formed Sisterspirit alongside them.

Amy works in counseling, focusing on the LGBTQ community, and teaches at SJSU now. She advocates to have more conversations about same sex domestic violence and works with LGBTQ youth at SJSU to help them find community. Noticing that students come to her to try to find community, that it is not easy to get into groups, or it feels exclusive and not as open to everyone as it was previously. Amy does what she can to help guide them into the organizations she knows are still operating.

Reflecting on her time in San Jose, Amy said in a recent interview, “I’ve been here 37 years, which is cool because I’ve been with my partner for 36 of those, and it’s very cool that we still like each other. What’s interesting to me is that it’s a long time, but I’m not sure how much actually happened during that time in terms of progress. We have a lot further to go but how do you really get people interested again in fighting for rights when they think they already have them?”


sisterspirit storefront

In 1984, students at San Jose State University, Mary Jeffrey, Marilyn Cook, and Karen Hester, met with Amy Caffrey to discuss the need for a women’s bookstore and coffeehouse where women could socialize and enjoy live music by women. After several meetings, the group named this project Sisterspirit.

The group’s mission statement was: “To promote women’s culture and community in the South Bay Area, to help unify and strengthen the South Bay women’s community and provide a multicultural information center to enable networking with other women’s groups and communities. To develop and promote educational projects responsive to human, civil, and women’s rights. To teach and promote women’s culture by providing a meeting place for all women, by providing space and support for local women’s artistic works, by providing information on women’s history, women’s music, women’s literature, etc. by providing a women’s bookstore and coffeehouse. To work in solidarity with other women’s organizations on projects and events which support women’s issues and culture.”

Sisterspirit had success on campus by selling textbooks to students to raise money for rent for a storefront. They were effective, said Margie Struble who volunteered with Sisterspirit, “I remember going to one class, there were one hundred students. I had a hundred copies for the classroom and when the teacher finished class, I sold them all and just like that they were gone.” Support like this from the campus helped the group to save money to find their own space.

The group first were allowed to use the space Jonah’s Wail at the Christian Center on Friday nights. Sisterspirit hosted their first concerts and coffeehouses here. These events also raised money for the group to achieve their goal of having a storefront.

In 1997, there was a fire, so the women’s music festival was canceled.
Sisterspirit was contacted by an artist, Sonia Johnson, to do a coffeehouse before the women’s music festival, Margie Struble was going to be the only one to run the event. At first, Margie thought the event would be almost empty, except for the folks that could not attend the festival. The day of the festival there was a fire, canceling the festival. Sonia reached out to do a bigger event instead of just a coffeehouse at Sisterspirit, and Margie made sure to set it up. The Park Ave venue with 200 chairs and big coffee pots on, was so crowded they had to accommodate standing room only. Margie had been the only one left behind at Sisterspirit that day to run the venue and she vowed to never host a solo coffeehouse again.  – Margie Struble

In 1986, Sisterspirit had raised enough money and the Billy DeFrank Center had space for them to rent. Sisterspirit finally had the space to offer a wide selection of books, including periodicals like Business Woman Magazine, Gay Community News, and many others. There was also a selection of books about gay and lesbian history.

On Friday nights Sisterspirit would host various events. They held concerts for women musicians like Melissa!, Robin Flower, Rhiannon, and Alix Dobkin, as well as many more. Many people came to Sisterspirit to participate in women- focused events in a safe environment.

In the early 2000s, support started to die down. Sisterspirit had a hard time keeping their space at the Billy DeFrank Center, and the book store sold off the last of their materials and closed. Sisterspirit was the only bookstore in the United States to be run for two decades by an all volunteer staff. They donated the remaining money to the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice.

Lucie Blue Tremblay was scheduled to come down to Sisterspirit on Park Ave, but she couldn’t get a work visa. She was told she could not perform. Instead of canceling the event, they arranged the chairs differently so that she could walk around the room and sing. Since she was not performing, she was simply “practicing” guitar in a room of people, she was able to perform the event despite the visa rejection. – Amy Caffrey