William J. Canfield was a gay activist in New England, involved in the Boston gay
liberation movement between 1970 and 1975. Canfield was born in Cambridge,
Massachusetts in 1946 and lived in Reading before attending boarding school and
moving to Boston to attend Suffolk University. He later moved to Vermont to work on
restoring a property known as Falinge Farm.
In 1971–1972, Canfield was president of the Homophile Union of Boston (HUB),
founded in 1969 by Frank Morgan to broaden awareness of gay lifestyles and seek
civil rights for gays and lesbians. HUB disbanded in 1975.
Canfield was also co–founder and business manager of Gay Community News (GCN),
in 1973–1974. GCN was Boston's first newspaper written and operated by a
collective of gay men and lesbians. The first issue of GCN appeared on newsstands in
In 1989, Canfield and several Boston acquaintances decided to organize a reunion for
gay activists who had been involved in the Boston gay liberation movement in the
early 1970s. This 1990 Gay Liberation Reunion, held during Pride Week, was followed
by the Boston Gay Reunion in 1999.
Activists involved in homophile organizations in Boston in the 1960s and 1970s
privately maintained records created during these groups' operation. A small
group of activists sought to establish a gay community archives to permanently
preserve these materials. Records were collected from individuals who had
participated in Boston's early gay liberation movement, with the agreement that
these papers would be transferred to an appropriate archives when it was
established. The first attempt to create a Boston Gay and Lesbian Archives failed
when the records were inadvertently destroyed in the 1980s.
Along with John C. Graves, Canfield was a primary force behind the second effort to
collect materials for a Boston Gay and Lesbian Archives. In 1990, materials brought
together by Canfield, Graves, and others were microfilmed as a single collection
(Series 5. Boston Gay Archives Microfilmed Selections). A formal archival repository
was never formed, and the collected material was later separated. Graves donated his
portion to The History Project, a volunteer organization that seeks to document
Boston's gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) history, and The History
Project donated the Graves materials to the Northeastern University Archives and
Special Collections Department.
Besides Canfield, contributors to the materials microfilmed in Series 5 include:
John C. Graves, an MIT professor, psychologist, and psychotherapist at Homophile
Community Health Services, an organization that provided Boston's gay population
with psychological counseling, medical services, draft counseling, and referrals for
Stan Tillotson, who co–founded the Student Homophile League (SHL) at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1969. SHL adopted its constitution in 1970
and changed its name to Gays at MIT (GAMIT) in 1976;
Rich Braun, who was involved in Gays at MIT (GAMIT);
Lois Johnson, who was involved in Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), an organization that
sought to broaden awareness of gay lifestyles and seek civil rights for lesbians.
The Boston chapter of DOB was founded in 1969;
Jim McCassie, who was involved in the Homophile Union of Boston; and
John Mitzell and Craig Thiersch, who were part of the Boston area's first Gay
Community Center, opened in Cambridge in 1971.