A new Netflix docu-film tells the remarkable story of Terry Donahue and her partner Pat Henschel who kept their lesbian romance a secret for decades.
Ten years before Terry Donahue died at the age of 93 in March 2019 she shared a secret with her family that she had been holding on to since the 1940s. Pat Henschel, her best friend of 60-plus years, was actually her girlfriend. They weren’t just roommates. They were lifelong partners who had built a life for themselves in Chicago, Illinois. Their romance inspired Terry’s great-nephew Chris Bolan to film them as part of the documentary, A Secret Love, which is being released on Netflix on April 29, 2020. But, apart from being one-half of a devoted couple, Terry was also a former female pro baseball player who spent some of the 1940s entertaining Americans just like the women featured in the 1992 film, A League of Their Own. Here’s what you need to know about the late sports star:
1. She played for the Peoria Redwings as a solid receiver from 1946 to 1949, according to the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League’s website. Terry, who was born in Saskatchewan, Canada on Aug. 22, 1925, knew the special place her story held in the hearts of fans. “When people know that you played in the All-American and A League of Their Own, the movie, they get so excited and then if you give them a card it just blows them away,” she said in A Secret Love. “It’s so funny that little card has made so many people happy.”
2. She met her future wife Pat Henschel in 1947. “It was one of the best days of my life when I met her on that Sunday morning in the hockey rink…” Pat, a fellow Canadian, said in the Netflix doc. Pat was 18 at the time to Terry’s 22. The couple eventually moved to Chicago in the U.S. where they lived as roommates. “We thought it would be easier to be ourselves,” Pat said.
3. They kept their romance a secret for decades. Illinois was the first state in the U.S. to decriminalize homosexuality, but that wasn’t until 1961. Up until that point Pat and Terry’s relationship was illegal. Even after that milestone they still kept the true nature of their relationship a secret until 2009, when Terry came out to her niece Diana Bolan. “Since that day it seemed like a great big thing had been lifted off my shoulders,” she said in the doc.
4. Pat and Terry finally married in 2015. By then they were living in an assisted living facility in Illinois. They wed in front of family and friends on Terry’s 90th birthday.
5. Terry died of Parkinson’s Disease in March 2019. She was 93. At the time of her death, she and Pat (who is now 91) had been together for 71 years.