Gearhart grew up in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia. She was raised by her grandmother and mother after her parents divorced. Her grandmother owned a local theater, which allowed Gearhart to watch many movies. Looking back, she said, "There was another undercurrent going on. That was my lesbianism. From when I was ten years old, I knew that I wasn't going to have children."
Gearhart attended Sweet Briar College. She graduated with a B.A. in Drama and English in 1952. At Bowling Green State University she obtained a master's degree in theater and public address in 1953. She continued on at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, getting her Ph.D. in theater in 1956.
Gearhart began teaching speech and theater at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. The Lutheran climate of the school did not allow Gearhart to embrace her sexuality fully. Her determination to hide her true sexual identity continued through two more teaching positions in the Midwest, and until she moved to San Francisco, California in 1970. By 1973, Gearhart was employed at San Francisco State University, where she went from teaching speech to teaching women's studies. There she was able to develop one of the first women and gender studies programs in the United States.
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( Sally Miller Gearhart, 1996, by Robert GiardCollapse )
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