Bentley, Ester Collection

Span Dates: 1940 - 2003
Bulk Dates:
Volume: 2.5 linear feet


The Ester Bentley Collection contains materials relating to the personal and professional life of Ester F. Bentley, a lesbian activist, community organizer, and social worker. It documents Bentley’s career in social work and community organizing in Kentucky and California, often working with disabled children. In particular, the collection includes hundreds of photographs of Bentley and her friends and family throughout her life, as well as a photo screen Bentley kept in her living room.

Hist/Bio Note

Bentley, a lifelong lesbian and Catholic, was born and adopted in Kentucky; she was uncertain of the exact date of her birth. In the 1930s, she coached teams in field hockey and tennis. She attended Spalding College, receiving a Bachelor of Science in education in 1941. During WWII, Bentley served as a director of USO programs aiding war workers and their families. Audio recordings in the collection by Bentley document her actions in the Civil Rights Movement by taking Black friends to segregated restaurants and serving them herself. Bentley’s career as a social worker was focused primarily on orphanages and community spaces for children. She received her Master of Science in social work from the National Catholic School of Social Service at the Catholic University of America (CUA) in 1949, and became Director of the Kentucky Society for Crippled Children. She eventually moved to California, where she worked in community planning and the Girl Scouts in San Bernardino, CA and Santa Ana, CA. During the 1960s, Bentley worked for the California State Department of Social Welfare in Norwalk, CA. From 1966 to 1974, she taught at UCLA. Her final professional role was as a specialist in the Regional Center of Orange County, working with the developmentally-disabled. She participated in panels hosted by the Mazer in the 1990s. As an older lesbian activist, Bentley was a founding member of the Coalition of Older Lesbians (CoOL), Old Lesbians Organizing for Change, and served as a member of the Senior Program Advisory Committee for the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center (now Los Angeles LGBT Center). She was also a member of the Uptown Gay & Lesbian Alliance, as well as a lifetime advocate for gays and lesbians in the Catholic Church. Ester Bentley died on January 20, 2004, at the age of 88 in Los Angeles, CA.

Finding Aid

Three online finding aids are available, each listed in the June Mazer listing of finding aids.


Bentley’s photo screen is on display at the June L. Mazer Lesbian Archives. Items processed by ONE Archives are stored off-site at the ONE Archives at University of Southern California Libraries. Bentley’s paper collection is stored at the UCLA Southern Regional Library Facility. The collection was acquired by the Mazer through the executor of Bentley’s will after her passing. The photographic materials were donated to ONE Archives in 2005. Papers donated to UCLA Library Special Collections in 2013 as part of a collection-building partnership between the Mazer, the UCLA Center for the Study of Women, and the UCLA Library.


Catholic (Roman) | California