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It is summer, hot and horny, and I am on a roll. So I am going to continue this theme of beauty, attraction, seduction, sex, love and self-love until I run out of content — or steam, whichever comes first.
This is the story of Dell Williams, a Queen who dared to take her sexual pleasure into her own hands, as it were, and in the process succeeded in making the world a more sexually accessible place for women.
“Women didn’t have orgasms. Not officially. Not in 1922, the year I was born,” tells Dell who can remember a time when women’s sexual pleasure was officially nonexistent. An odd and sadly depressing thought for those of us who came of age during the sexual revolution. We have Dell, one of the first women sexual revolutionaries, to thank for our freedom to feel and express our sexual Selves.
During the 1930s and 40s, she spent her late teens and early twenties as a free-spirited singer, actress, artists’ model and writer. She then shifted gears and went into advertising, where she had a meteoric career, rising within the ranks to become one of the first successful female advertising executives in New York City.
When she was in her late forties, which was then considered to be middle-aged and well past a woman’s prime, Dell surprised everyone (including herself) by experiencing a life-changing sexual awakening. Her epiphany came, so to speak, when a boyfriend introduced her to her clitoris. “I didn’t even know I had one,” Williams said.
For me, the two greatest discoveries of the twentieth century were the Cuisinart and the clitoris. – Gael Greene
The realization of her full sexual potential was extraordinarily liberating for Dell. When she was 50 she took herself to Macy’s to buy a vibrator. This turned out to be an extremely awkward and humiliating experience that left her scarred and shamed.
But righteous indignation soon overcame her embarrassment and she vowed that no woman should have to feel embarrassed about her sexuality again. So she left her high-paying executive position and became a visionary activist, diving into the liberation trenches of the sexual and feminist revolutions.
Queen Dell was influenced by the writing of Wilhelm Reich, by the work of sexuality educator Betty Dodson and by her experience organizing a Women’s Sexuality Conference for the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women in 1973.
In 1974 she established the now legendary Eve’s Garden, which she envisioned as a safe, private and supportive way for women to purchase vibrators, educational materials and sexual aids without feelings of shame or self-consciousness. These instruments of pleasure were more than simply sexual aids, they were tools for subversive political and social movements, as well.
This oasis of friendly, discreet, supportive sex-positivity was the first store of its kind. Her inaugural advertisement read, “Eve’s Garden is a feminist sexuality boutique and mail order catalog created by women for women and their partners.” Eve’s Garden thrives today as a shop in Manhattan and an international web-based email marketplace of all things sexy.
Written 35 years ago, her mission statement is still resonant and relevant:
Eve’s Garden was created to empower women to celebrate their sexuality as a positive, nourishing and creative force in their lives. An outgrowth of the Women’s Rights Movement, Eve’s Garden seeks to erase the sense of shame and guilt experienced by countless women as a result of a society that historically condemns the sexual nature of women as sinful. Our version of “Eve” is a transformation from a fallen, shamed woman to a strong, powerful woman proud of her strength, sensitivity, and sexuality.
Queen Dell, you are my shero! I shimmy at your feet in sincere appreciation.
Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She is the Midlife Midwife™ offering counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™
The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.