Jeanne Córdova was an American pioneer lesbian and gay rights activist, a founder of the West Coast LGBTQ movement, a journalist and Lammy award-winning author for her memoir When We Were Outlaws: a Memoir of Love and Revolution. Cordova, as a butch/ gender non-conforming lesbian preferred he/him pronouns, as stated in an interview done in 2013 by Ann Mollow of Autostraddle, although access to the source is limited due to requiring a log in through an academic institution.. Córdova was born in Bremerhaven, Germany in 1948, the second oldest of twelve children born to a Mexican father and Irish American mother, she attended high school at Bishop Amat High School in La Puente, east of Los Angeles and went on to the University of California, Los Angeles, where she graduated cum laude with a bachelor's degree in Social Welfare. She interned in the African-American and Latino communities of Watts & East Los Angeles and earned a master's degree in Social Work at UCLA in 1972. Córdova entered the Immaculate Heart of Mary convent after high school in 1966, but left in 1968 and completed her social work degree while becoming a community organizer/activist and a journalist.
She began her lesbian and gay rights career as Los Angeles chapter President of the Daughters of Bilitis. During her DOB presidency she opened the first lesbian center in Los Angeles, in 1971. Under Córdova the DOB chapter newsletter evolved into The Lesbian Tide with Córdova serving as editor and publisher of what became "the newspaper of record for the lesbian feminist decade", ranked "highest in the criteria of journalistic excellence", notable as the first American magazine to use the word "lesbian" in its title. In the 1970s Córdova was a key organizer of four lesbian conferences, among them the first West Coast Lesbian Conference at Metropolitan Community Church and the first National Lesbian Conference at the University of California, Los Angeles, she sat on the Board of the Los Angeles Gay Community Services Center and became the Human Rights Editor of the progressive weekly, the Los Angeles Free Press. Córdova was elected as a delegate to the first National Women's Conference for International Women's Year in Houston, where she was a moving force behind the passage of the lesbian affirmative action resolution.
She was Southern California media director of the ballot campaign to defeat the anti-gay Proposition 6 Briggs Initiative 1978), which sought to purge lesbian and gay teachers from California's public schools. She went on to be the founder of the National Lesbian Feminist Organization's first convention, president of the Stonewall Democratic Club. In the 1980s Córdova helped found the Gay and Lesbian Caucus of the Democratic Party and served as one of thirty lesbian delegates to the 1980 Democratic National Convention in New York City, she was a founder of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Press Association and a founding board member of the Connexxus Women's Center/Centro de Mujeres. She worked as media director for STOP 64, a campaign that defeated the statewide California Proposition 64 La Rouche AIDS quarantine measure. During the 1980s and 1990s, Córdova published the Community Yellow Pages, which became the first, the nation's largest LGBT business directory, she published the New Age Telephone Book and a queer cultural magazine, Square Peg Magazine.
In 1995 she was elected Board President of ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, co-founded the Lesbian Legacy Collection at the ONE Archives with Yolanda Retter. In 1999, Córdova sold the Community Yellow Pages and went to live for eight years in Todos Santos, BCS Mexico, she and Lynn Harris Ballen co-founded a non-profit organization for economic justice, The Palapa Society of Todos Santos, AC and Córdova served as its first president until 2007. Returning to Los Angeles, Córdova and Ballen co-founded LEX – The Lesbian Exploratorium which sponsored the art and history exhibit Genderplay in Lesbian Culture and created the Lesbian Legacy Wall at ONE Archives. Córdova organized and chaired the west coast Butch Voices Los Angeles 2010 Conference; when We Were Outlaws. ISBN 9781935226512 Kicking the Habit: A Lesbian Nun Story Multiple Dimensions. ISBN 9780962508004 Sexism: It's A Nasty Affair New Way Books. "Anita Bryant's Anti-Gay Crusade" in The Right Side of History: 100 Years of LGBTQ Activism, ed. Adrian Brooks, Cleis Press ISBN 9781627781237 "Marriage Throws A Monkey Wrench" in Untangling the Knot: Queer Voices on Marriage, Relationships & Identity, ed. Carter Sickels, Ooligan Press ISBN 1932010750 "The New Politics of Butch" in Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme, ed. Ivan Coyote & Zena Sharman, Arsenal Pulp Press - Lammy finalist.
ISBN 9781551523972 "A Tale of Two Hangouts: Gay & Lesbian Civil Wars in the'70s" in Love, West Hollywood, ed. Chris Freeman & James J. Berg, Alyson Books – Lammy finalist. ISBN 9781593500559 "Cheap Gold: a seduction" in Hot & Bothered 2, ed. Karen Tulchinsky. Arsenal Pulp Press ISBN 978-1551520681 "Camp Fires" in On My Honor, Lesbian Girl Scouts, ed. Nancy Manahan. Madwoman Press ISBN 978-1886231023 "A Tale of Two Brothers" in Tomboys!:Tales of Dyke Derring-Do, ed. Lynne Yamaguchi Fletcher. Alyson Publications ISBN 9781555832858 "The Mantra of Orgasm" in Sexy & Spiritual/Viva Arts Quarterly- A journal of Latino gay and lesbian writers. "Conversation With A Gentleman Butch" in Dagger: On Butch Women, ed. Lily Burana & Roxxie. Cleis Press ISBN 978-0939416820 "Butches, Lies & Feminism." In Persistent Desire: A
Rudolf "Rudi" Gernreich was an Austrian-born American fashion designer whose avant-garde clothing designs are regarded as the most innovative and dynamic fashion of the 1960s. He purposefully used fashion design as a social statement to advance sexual freedom, producing clothes that followed the natural form of the female body, freeing them from the constraints of high fashion, he was the first to use cutouts and plastic in clothing. He designed the first thong bathing suit, unisex clothing, the first swimsuit without a built-in bra, the minimalist, transparent No Bra, the topless monokini, he was a four-time recipient of the Coty American Fashion Critics Award. He produced what is regarded as the first fashion video, Basic Black: William Claxton w/Peggy Moffitt, in 1966, he had a long and trend-setting career in fashion design. He was a founding member of and financially supported the early activities of the Mattachine Society, he consciously pushed the boundaries of acceptable fashion and used his designs as an opportunity to comment on social issues and to expand society's perception of what was acceptable.
Gernreich was the only child of Siegmund Gernreich and Elisabeth Gernreich, a Jewish couple who lived in Vienna, Austria. His father was a stocking manufacturer who had served in World War I and who committed suicide when Gernreich was eight years old. Gernreich learned about high fashion from his aunt, Hedwig Müller, who with her husband Oskar Jellinek, owned a dress shop, he spent many hours in his aunt's shop sketching her designs for Viennese high society and learned about fabrics. He gained early impressions of sexuality, he told one of his favorite models, Leon Bing, about images of "leather chaps with a strap running between the buttocks of street laborers' work pants and the white flesh of women's thighs above gartered black stockings." When he was 12, Austrian designer Ladislaus Zcettel saw his sketches and offered Gernreich a fashion apprenticeship in London, but his mother refused, believing her son was too young to leave home. After the German Anschluss on 12 March 1938, among many other acts, banned nudity.
Austrian citizens were advocates of exercising nude, a rejection of the over-civilized world. His mother took 16-year-old Rudi and escaped to the United States as Jewish refugees, settling in Los Angeles, California. To survive, his mother baked pastries, his first job was washing bodies to prepare them for autopsy in the morgue of Cedars of Lebanon Hospital. He told Marylou Luther, "I grew up overnight. I do smile sometimes when people tell me my clothes are so body-conscious I must have studied anatomy. You bet I studied anatomy." He attended Los Angeles City College, where he studied art and apprenticed for a Seventh Avenue clothing manufacturer. He attended Los Angeles City College from 1938 to 1941, the Los Angeles Art Center School from 1941 to 1942, he worked in Hollywood costume design, but hated it. In 1942, he joined the Lester Horton's modern dance company as both a designer. Gernreich said, "I never was a good dancer... I wanted to become a choreographer, but that never happened." He designed freelance but left Lester Horton in 1948 and became a fabric salesman for Hoffman Company.
Gernreich moved into fashion design from fabric design. The fashion climate at that time was dictated by designers in Paris. In 1949 he worked in New York at George Carmel but didn't like the position because he felt pressured to imitate Parisian fashion. Gernreich said, "Everyone with a degree of talent was motivated by a level of high taste and unquestioned loyalty to Paris. Dior, Balenciaga were gods—kings. You could not deviate from their look."In 1951, still attempting to gain entry into the fashion world, Gernreich got a job with Morris Nagel to design for Versatogs, but Nagel required Gernreich to stick to the Versatogs design formula, which Gernreich hated. He began designing his own line of clothes in Los Angeles and New York until 1951, when fellow Viennese immigrant Walter Bass in Beverly Hills convinced him to sign a seven-year contract with him. William Bass Inc. produced a collection of dresses that they sold to Jack Hanson, the owner of Jax, an emerging Los Angeles boutique that focused on avant-garde clothing, fun and adventuresome.
He designed costumes for Lester Horton until 1952. In 1955, he began designing swimwear for Westwood Knitting Mills in Los Angeles, they hired him in 1959 as the swimwear designer. Genesco Corporation hired him as a shoe designer in 1959, he completed his seven-year contract with Walter Bass in 1960 and founded his firm G. R. Designs in Los Angeles, he changed his company's name to Rudi Gernreich Inc. in 1964. His designs were featured in what is regarded as the first fashion video, Basic Black: William Claxton w/Peggy Moffitt, in 1966. In the early 1960s, Gernreich opened a Seventh Avenue showroom in New York City where he showed his popular designs for Harmon knitwear and his own more expensive line of experimental garments. Gernreich wanted his designs to be affordable and in 1966, he broke American fashion's unwritten rule that name designers don't sell to chain stores. On January 3, 1966, he took the unprecedented action of signing a contract with Montgomery Ward, a chain store. Rudi's fashions proved popular and lasted several seasons, showing that original design would sell at popular prices.
He designed the Moonbase Alpha uniforms worn by the main characters of the 1970s British science-fiction television series Space: 1999, pushing the boundaries of the futuristic look in clothing over the course of three decades. Gernreich was much against sexualization of the human bo
Henry "Harry" Hay, Jr. was a prominent American gay rights activist, labor advocate, campaigner for Native American civil rights. He was a founder of the Mattachine Society, the first sustained gay rights group in the United States, as well as the Radical Faeries, a loosely affiliated gay spiritual movement. Born to an upper middle class family in England, Hay was raised in California. From an early age he acknowledged his same-sex sexual attraction, came under the influence of Marxism. Studying at Stanford University, he subsequently became a professional actor in Los Angeles, where he joined the Communist Party USA, becoming a committed activist in left-wing labor and anti-racist campaigns; as a result of societal pressure, he attempted to become heterosexual by marrying a female Party activist in 1938, with whom he adopted two children. Recognizing that he remained homosexual, his marriage ended and in 1950 he founded the Mattachine Society. Although involved in campaigns for gay rights, he resigned from the Society in 1953.
Hay's developing belief in the cultural minority status of homosexuals led him to take a stand against the assimilationism advocated by the majority of gay rights campaigners. He subsequently became a co-founder of the Los Angeles chapter of the Gay Liberation Front in 1969, although in 1970 he moved to New Mexico with his longtime partner John Burnside. Hay's ongoing interest in American Indian religion led the couple to co-found the Radical Faeries in 1979 with Don Kilhefner and Mitchell L. Walker. Returning to Los Angeles, Hay remained involved in an array of activist causes throughout his life, became a well-known, albeit controversial, elder statesman within the country's gay community. Hay has been described as "the Founder of the Modern Gay Movement" and "the father of gay liberation" and has been the subject of a biography and documentary film. Controversially, Hay supported the inclusion of NAMBLA, a pedophile advocacy organization, in gay rights marches. Hay was born in the coastal town of Worthing in Sussex, south-east England, on April 7, 1912.
Raised in an upper middle class American family, he was named after his father, Harry Hay, Sr. a mining engineer, working for Cecil Rhodes first in Witwatersrand, South Africa, in Tarkwa, Ghana. His mother, Margaret Hay, a Catholic, had been raised in a wealthy family among American expatriates in Johannesburg, South Africa, prior to her marriage in April 1911. Hay Sr. converted to her religion on their marriage, their children were brought up Catholic. Their second child, Margaret "Peggy" Caroline Hay, was born in February 1914, but following the outbreak of the First World War the family moved to Northern Chile, where Hay Sr. had been offered a job managing a copper mine in Chuquicamata by the Guggenheim family's Anaconda Company. In Chile, Hay Jr. contracted bronchial pneumonia, resulting in permanent scar tissue damage to his lungs. In May 1916, his brother John "Jack" William was born. In June 1916, Hay Sr. was involved in an industrial accident. As a result, he resigned from his position and the family relocated to California in the United States.
In February 1919 they moved to 149 Kingsley Drive in Los Angeles, with Hay, Sr. purchasing a 30-acre citrus farm in Covina investing in the stock market. Despite his wealth, Hay, Sr. did not spoil his son, made him work on the farm. Hay had a strained relationship with his father, whom he labelled "tyrannical". Hay Sr. would beat his son for perceived transgressions, with Hay suspecting that his father disliked him for having effeminate traits. He was influenced on one occasion when he noted that his father had made a factual error: "If my father could be wrong the teacher could be wrong, and if the teacher could be wrong the priest could be wrong. And if the priest could be wrong maybe God could be wrong." Hay was enrolled at Cahuenga Elementary School, where he was bullied. He began experimenting with his sexuality, aged 9 took part in sexual activity with a 12-year-old neighbour boy. At the same time he developed an early love of the natural world and became a keen outdoorsman through walks in the wilderness around the city.
Aged 10 he was enrolled at Virgil Junior High School, soon after joined a boys' club known as the Western Rangers, through which he was introduced to Native American societies and met groups from the Hopi and Sioux communities. Becoming a voracious reader, in 1923 he began to volunteer at a public library, where he discovered a copy of Edward Carpenter's book The Intermediate Sex. Reading it, he discovered the word homosexual for the first time and came to recognize that he was gay. Aged 12 he enrolled at Los Angeles High School, where he continued to be studious and developed a love of theater. Coming to reject Catholicism, he remained at the school for three mandatory years before deciding to remain for a further two. In this period he took part in the school's poetry group, became State President of the California Scholarship Federation, President of the school's debating and dramatic society, competed in the Southern California Oratorical Society's Contest, as well as joining the Reserve Officers' Training Corps.
During the summer holidays, Hay's father sent him to work on his cousin's cattle ranch in Smith Valley, Nevada. Here he was introduced to Marxism by fellow ranch hands who were members of the Industrial Workers of the World, they gave him pamphlets written by Karl Marx, leading to his adoption of socialism. He learned of men having sex with other men through stories passed around by ranch hands, telling him of vi
Morris Kight was an American gay rights pioneer and peace activist. He is considered one of the original founders of the gay and lesbian civil rights movement in the United States. Kight grew up in Comanche County, Texas, he graduated from Texas Christian University in 1941 with a degree in personnel administration and public administration. From 1941 until 1958, Kight lived in northern New Mexico, where he and many other gay people were active in Adlai Stevenson's campaign in the 1952 presidential election; the presence of many gay people in Stevenson's campaign led to the spreading of a rumor that Stevenson was gay. While in New Mexico, Kight had two daughters, Carol Kight-Fyfe and Angela Chandler, he only shared that information with his closest friends believing that would diminish his credibility as a spokesman for gay rights. Kight acted while he was in Albuquerque. From 1950 to 1955, he was involved in the "Summerhouse Theater" and the "Old Town Players" in Albuquerque; the two companies brought in many actors from California, Kight was able to read some of the new "Homophile" organizations' pamphlets and circulations that these actors brought with them.
This was his first exposure to groups like the Mattachine Society. Kight was active in many political, civil rights, labor rights groups; as early as the 1940s, he was involved in organizing the Oil and Atomic Workers International Union. After moving to Los Angeles, he kept up his involvement in varied rights groups; this work led to the first protest groups he himself founded: the "Dow Action Committee" in 1967. The Committee protested the chemical company, including its production of Agent Orange and its use, during the Vietnam War. Kight's strong beliefs sometimes put him at odds with members of the gay community. In 1977, Kight began what became a national Coors boycott to expose how the Coors Brewing Company used its millions to finance union busting legislation and anti-gay politicians. Morris infuriated organizers of Outfest the year, he organized a demonstration in front of the event, using the opportunity to educate the community about the ways anti-gay corporations try to clean up their public image by funding cash-starved gay organizations and events.
Morris persevered and Outfest no longer accepts Coors funding. In 1958, Kight moved to Los Angeles, where he was the founder or co-founder of many gay and lesbian organizations; the first such organization was the'militant' Committee for Homosexual Freedom or CHF, with Leo Laurence, Gale Whittington, Mother Boats and others to be renamed the Gay Liberation Front in October 1969, the third GLF in the country. The name was used to show solidarity with the Vietnamese National Liberation Front. By the next year, there were over 350 GLF organizations around the country, he co-founded Christopher Street West gay pride parade in Los Angeles in 1970, Aid For AIDS in 1983, the Gay Community Center in 1971, the Stonewall Democratic Club in 1975, many others. Kight remarked. Kight brought his experiences in political action into the realm of gay rights. One of the first actions by the LA GLF was against a local eatery called Barney's Beanery; the restaurant, located in West Hollywood, not only had a sign above bar that said "Fagots Stay Out", but printed up matchbook covers with the same saying.
Kight, along with Troy Perry and 100 activists protested outside, sending in protesters to order coffee and take up space at the tables. The protest was successful - the owner handed Kight the sign in front of news cameras, but after the media left the owner replaced the sign, where it remained until West Hollywood's first lesbian mayor, Valerie Terrigno, took it down when the city council passed an anti-discrimination ordinance. Perry vowed at the initial protest to never set foot in the place again until the owner apologized, which happened in 2005; the new owner, David Houston, has apologized and, among other methods to reach out to the gay community, holds monthly lunches for disadvantaged gay youth. Kight was one of the leaders of the 1987 Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, he was subsequently one of the organizers of the 1988 March on Sacramento for Lesbian and Gay Rights, at which Leonard Matlovich gave his last public speech. He served on the County of Los Angeles Human Relations Commission for two decades.
In 2003 the City of Los Angeles dedicated the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and McCadden Place, in Hollywood, California as "Morris Kight Square." This location was selected as it was the stepping off point for Christopher Street West, the first street-closing gay pride parade in the world. Toward the end of his life, Kight had several strokes. There is a Chinese magnolia tree and a bronze plaque dedicated to him at the Matthew Shepard Triangle in West Hollywood. Morris Kight used to visit this park weekly to tidy up the area and plant new flowers, he encouraged others to do the same. On November 16, 1998, just before his 79th birthday, the City Council of West Hollywood presented him a Lifetime Achievement Award In September 2001, he made a video documentary with West Hollywood Public Access host James Fuhrman called "Early Gay and Lesbian History in Los Angeles", which included his recollections of the Beanery protest and other actions, he had a longtime companion named Roy Zucheran. Three days before his death, he donated his memorabilia and archives to the National Gay and Lesbian Archives in Los Ange
Henry Gerber was an early homosexual rights activist in the United States. Inspired by the work of Germany's Magnus Hirschfeld and his Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, Gerber founded the Society for Human Rights in 1924, the nation's first known homosexual organization, Friendship and Freedom, the first known American homosexual publication. SHR was short-lived, as police arrested several of its members. Although embittered by his experiences, Gerber maintained contacts within the fledgling homophile movement of the 1950s and continued to agitate for the rights of homosexuals. Gerber has been recognized for his contributions to the LGBT movement. Gerber was born Henry Joseph Dittmar on June 1892, in the city of Passau in Bavaria, he changed his name to "Henry Gerber" upon emigrating to the United States in 1913. He and others in his family settled in Chicago because of its large German immigrant population. In 1917, Gerber was committed to a mental institution because of his homosexuality; when the United States declared war on Germany, Gerber was given a choice: be interned as an enemy alien or enlist in the Army.
Gerber chose the Army and he was assigned to work as a printer and proofreader with the Allied Army of Occupation in Coblenz. He served for around three years. During his time in Germany, Gerber learned about Magnus Hirschfeld and the work he and his Scientific-Humanitarian Committee were doing to reform anti-homosexual German law. Gerber traveled to Berlin, which supported a thriving gay subculture, on several occasions and subscribed to at least one homophile magazine, he absorbed Hirschfeld's ideas, including the notion that homosexual men were effeminate. Following his military service, Gerber returned to the United States and went to work for the post office in Chicago. Inspired by Hirschfeld's work with the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, Gerber resolved to found a similar organization in the United States, he took on the role of secretary. Gerber filed an application for a charter as a non-profit organization with the state of Illinois; the application outlined the goals and purposes of the: o promote and protect the interests of people who by reasons of mental and physical abnormalities are abused and hindered in the legal pursuit of happiness, guaranteed them by the Declaration of Independence and to combat the public prejudices against them by dissemination of factors according to modern science among intellectuals of mature age.
The Society stands only for order. An African American clergyman named John T. Graves signed on as president of the new organization and Gerber and five others were listed as directors; the state granted the charter on December 10, 1924, making SHR the oldest documented homosexual organization in the nation. Gerber created the first known American gay-interest publication, called Friendship and Freedom, as the SHR newsletter. However, few SHR members were willing to receive mailings of the newsletter, fearing that postal inspectors would deem the publication obscene under the Comstock Act. Indeed, all gay-interest publications were deemed obscene until 1958. Friendship and Freedom lasted two issues. Gerber and Graves decided to exclude bisexuals. Unknown to them, SHR vice-president Al Weininger was married with two children. Weninger's wife reported SHR to a social worker in the summer of 1925, calling them "degenerates"; the police interrogated Gerber and arrested him, Graves and another man. Gerber was tried three times.
Charges against Gerber were dismissed but his defense cost him his life savings, some or all of which may have been in the form of bribes paid through his lawyer. Gerber lost his post office job for "conduct unbecoming a postal worker" and Weninger paid a $10 fine for "disorderly conduct". SHR was destroyed and Gerber was left embittered that none of the wealthy gays of Chicago came to his aid for a cause designed to advance the common good. Gerber's activities between the demise of SHR and 1927 are undocumented. In 1927, Gerber travelled to New York City, where a friend from his Army days introduced him to a colonel; the officer encouraged Gerber to re-enlist and he did. Gerber was posted to Fort Jay on Governors Island and his post-war talents as a proofreader and editor put to use by the Army Recruiting Bureau in the production of their magazines and recruiting publications, it was that such low profile office work allowed him to continue in the Army, with occasional harassment until 1945, when he received an honorable discharge.
During his second enlistment, Gerber ran a pen pal service called "Connections" beginning in 1930. The service had between 150 and 200 members, the majority of whom were heterosexual, he continued writing articles for a variety of magazines, including one called Chanticleer, in which he sometimes made the case for homosexual rights. It was the norm for gay writers to use pseudonyms. Gerber continued to write for the next 30 years. In the 1950s, Gerber began exploring the New York gay scene more extensively and maintained a voluminous correspondence with other gay men, discussing gay organizing and st
Claire Falkenstein was an American sculptor, printmaker, jewelry designer, teacher, most renowned for her large-scale abstract metal and glass public sculptures. Falkenstein was one of America's most productive twentieth-century artists. Falkenstein relentlessly explored media and processes with uncommon daring and intellectual rigor. Though she was respected among the burgeoning post–World War II art scene in Europe and the United States, her disregard for the commodification of art coupled with her peripatetic movement from one art metropolis to another made her an elusive figure. Falkenstein first worked in the San Francisco Bay Area in Paris and New York, in Los Angeles, she was involved with art groups as radical as the Gutai Group in Japan and art autre in Paris and secured a lasting position in the vanguard, which she held until her death in 1997. An interest in Einstein's theories of the universe inspired Falkenstein to create sculptures from wire and fused glass that explored the concept of infinite space.
Falkenstein's current reputation rests on her sculpture, her work in three dimensions was radical and ahead of her time. Claire Falkenstein was born on July 1908, in Coos Bay, Oregon, her father managed a lumber mill. Claire attended Anna Head School in the Oakland–Berkeley, California area after her family moved there. Falkenstein was ethnically German, her grandfather, Valentine von Falkenstein, a medical student of noble birth from Frankfurt, emigrated to the United States after the German Revolutions of 1848-49 as a political refugee and became a pioneer in Siskiyou County, California. On her mother's side, Falkenstein may be the great-great niece of George Armstrong Custer, but this has not been confirmed; as a child, Falkenstein would ride her horse in the dark on the beach to see the sun come up and spend time looking at the shells, rocks and driftwood, these nature forms inspired her sculpture. Falkenstein attended the University of California at Berkeley, graduated in 1930 with a major in art and minors in anthropology and philosophy.
She had her first one-woman exhibition, at a San Francisco gallery before graduation. Her art education continued in the early 1930s at Mills College, where she took a master class with Alexander Archipenko, met László Moholy-Nagy and György Kepes. Falkenstein's experience with those artists reinforced her interest in abstraction, as well as ideas that functional considerations do not detract from a work's aesthetic appeal, that she was free to experiment with a wide variety of new techniques and materials, she taught art classes at various Bay Area locations, such as UC Berkeley Extension, Mills College, the California Labor School. She taught at the innovative California School of Fine Arts, alongside abstract expressionists such as Clyfford Still, who would become a close friend and artistic influence, Richard Diebenkorn. In 1934, she created an abstract fresco at Oakland's Piedmont High School; this was part of the Federal Art Project, which preferred paintings depicting American scenes, but some abstracts such as this work by Falkenstein were tolerated.
During the 1930s she created sculptures from clay ribbons formed into Möbius strips, woven together. These were some of the earliest American nonobjective sculptures, her series of wooden sculptures called Exploded Volumes date from the first half of the 1940s. These were made of movable parts. Falkenstein married Irish-American lawyer Richard Francis McCarthy on July 14, 1934 in Alameda, California, they were married for twenty-two years. They had known each other in high school. Falkenstein did move to Paris in 1950 and remained for thirteen years, maintaining a studio on the Left Bank. In Paris she met many artists, including Jean Arp, Alberto Giacometti, Sam Francis and Paul Jenkins, as well as art connoisseur Michel Tapié who acted as a sort of mentor and promoter for the Americans. In a 1995 interview, she said that "Paris was a remarkable experience, because the French allowed a kind of individual action, they have the quality of centuries of... culture and of art and it sort of spills over."
She explored what she referred to as "topology", a connection between matter and space, incorporating a concept of the continuous void in nature. She became associated with the free-form abstractions of L'Art Informel, the French counterpart of American Abstract Expressionism. Out of economic necessity, Falkenstein inventively used inexpensive nontraditional materials for her artwork, including wooden logs, stovepipe wire, lead bars, she used stovepipe wire, in particular, in innovative ways, continued to do so after she was able to afford other materials. The large, airy forms constructed of this material became part of her famous style. Rather than sculpture, she preferred the use of the word structure to refer to her work, she applied the term to her prints as well. A critic compared Falkenstein's work of the 1950s to "a Jackson Pollock in three dimensions"; some of her work has a structure which appears as if it could grow, infinitely expanding, similar to the way Pollock's paintings may appear as if they could continue beyond the canvas.
In 1954 the Galleria Montenapoleone in Milan held a major solo exhibition of her work, four years she was asked to make the railing of the Galleria Spazio in Rome. On this occasion she inserted pieces of colored glass in an open, grid-like structure of soldered metal. One of her most well-known pieces is The New Gates of Paradise, constructed of metal webbing with chunks of glass. Located on the Grand Canal at the Guggen