Working in the CWC Collective


 by Marjorie Childers

The club was really wimminspace in downtown Northampton—what Smith College might have been.  It was a place where wimmin could go and hang out and find someone to talk with and it didn’t matter age, race, class, appearance, etc. It was a center for lots of communication about feminist events and issues.

I joined the Common Womon Collective in the early spring of 1978.  I was part of the second collective group, which was recruited when the original collective felt that the food service and community support efforts were well launched and they were ready to move on to other pursuits. Some of them stayed to oversee the Ceres Inc. business.

The application process to join the collective involved a letter or essay about one’s personal philosophy of feminism and lesbian identity, as well as an interview with collective members.  Cooking skills and restaurant experience were a part of this but only a part. I can’t quite remember all the names of the collective members.  Of course Kate Angell and I had major responsibility for things for a couple of years, and we also had several UMass graduate students. Emma Missouri was also a part of the group and others about whom I remember odd details and bad habits.

I never knew when I answered the phone who would be on the other end and what they would ask or tell me.  It could be Robin Morgan or a UMass student or Frances Crowe or anyone.  I felt very much in touch with what was going on in the area and in the country when it came to what was important to wimmin.  Some of it was purely social, which was fun, but some of it was political—female genital mutilation, for example—but it was being a part of a movement as well as cooking.

cwc collective

The Common Womon collective Sep 1979. Photograph by Kathryn Kirk and used by permission. Marjorie is at the top left. Originally published in the Valley Women’s Voice.

 

While I was cooking at the Common Womon Club as a collective member we served an evening meal every day except Monday (when the collective met,) and the Sunday night meal was usually prepared by a guest cook who was a club member. These included intro’s to a wide variety of ethnic food.  Sundays we served brunch as well as the evening meal.  I cooked for most of those brunches between 1978 and 1980.

When I think about the club and the collective, I remember all the mornings when I would unlock the door and get the food started for the day and then have all sorts of people drop in and talk.  I really learned to organize my tasks, which academics (which I was at the time) are not very good at but nurses (which I later became) have to be very good at.  I would get the bread started, then get a soup started, then get a dessert going.  The dessert would bake while the bread rose and the soup simmered.  By the time I got the bread in to bake, the soup would be done.  Then it was time to prep the entrees for the evening.  Cutting up the salad happened mid-afternoon, and the quiche would bake during that.

A typical evening meal would offer a choice between two soups, salad, three entree choices and desserts.  Among the most popular soups were butternut squash and cream of potato, and we also made a vegetarian chili.  We always had a quiche of some sort, an Italian dish such as eggplant parmigiana, and other pasta or rice-based dishes.  We often made Chinese spring rolls, and occasionally we had a fish dish.  For dessert we tried to make honey-sweetened or maple fruit pies and cobblers, but we often fell back on commercial, sugar-sweetened ice cream as a topper.  Tea, coffee and fruit juice were served.  For brunch we had purchased bagels, but we also had eggs and omelets and pancakes made to order. We always had mixed grain bread that we made on an almost daily basis.

cwc menu

I usually didn’t stay to serve dinner if I opened up, but I had the line-up ready for whoever came in at mid-afternoon for that.  I would run the menu over to the copy place before I left and always enjoyed that walk along Main Street, seeing folks and feeling connected to the business part of Northampton.

The busiest times were when there was a concert or dance featuring wimmin artists.  We would serve as many and as fast as we could so that everyone could go. These were great times to dress up and enjoy the dating scene.

 

Editor’s note: Another post from Marjorie, on CWC in 1980s, will be published in the further unwinding of the narrative.

childers-20marjorie-20nurse-20mba-1

 

 

Marjorie Childers is a Professor Emerita of Nursing at Elms College in Chicopee and former director of the nursing program there.  She is a quiltmaker and retired quilt appraiser, certified by the American Quilters Association. Currently living in a retirement community in Holyoke, she remains committed to women’s history and women’s art. She notes re. her experience at the Common Womon, “ It’s complicated. I think about the club whenever I am in the kitchen, especially when cleaning up. Some of that discipline will never leave me.”

Additional history:  Northampton’s Common Womon Club (1976-82) existed within the context of a national feminist restaurant movement. Jan Whitacker provides an overview of this movement, as well as earlier First wave feminist restaurants, in a 2013 blogpost “Women’s Restaurants.” Included are links to other related content she’s written on the 70s and about vegetarianism. https://restaurant-ingthroughhistory.com/2013/06/18/womens-restaurants/?fbclid=IwAR1w8_8sbhhyJvmNYOAXJCMC9NHcfFKyvVQEKAj98LeDp37uG2mWRFLppUc

There’s been a plethora of mainstream interest in the subject of feminist (and lesbian) food in recent years.

A wonderful post on political potlucking appeared in Atlas Obscura.com:  How Lesbian Potlucks Nourished the LGBTQ Movement: Now a queer stereotype, the lesbian potluck has radical roots” by Reina Gattuso. May 2, 2019 https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/why-do-lesbians-have-potlucks-on-pride.

The same columnist posted on a scholarly project on feminist restaurants: “The Scholar Mapping America’s Forgotten Feminist Restaurants: Challenging patriarchy, one eatery at a time” by Reina Gattuso. June 21, 2019. https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/feminist-restaurants. The feminist restaurant project is quoted in the article, ” From the 1970s to the 1990s, according to Dr. Alex Ketchum, a professor of gender, sexuality, and feminist studies at McGill University, at least 250, and perhaps as many as 400, feminist restaurants, cafes, and coffeehouses opened in the U.S. and Canada. Almost all of these restaurants are gone. But for two decades, establishments from Alabama’s Steak n Eggs to the Canadian Yukon Territory’s Rendez-vous Coffeehouse challenged women’s traditional consignment to the home by reclaiming cooking for the feminist movement. The feminist restaurant was “a place where community could be built around food,” Ketchum says. “Places where cooking wasn’t antithetical to women’s liberation.”

More about this history project can be discovered at their webpage http://www.thefeministrestaurantproject.com/p/home.html. Of interest to me was inclusion of the Valley in their mapping of those hundreds of restaurants. From the updated directory;

http://www.thefeministrestaurantproject.com/p/new-directory.html

listed;

Greenfield -Green River Café (1981-1985).

Northampton -Common Womon Club Restaurant (1976-1982)*.

-Lesbian Gardens Coffeehouse and Bookstore.

-Northstar Seafood Restaurant (1989-1991).

-The Women’s Restaurant (probably referencing the Common Womon Club before it had its name) (1977).

The oldest and still existing feminist restaurant, Bloodroot in Connecticut is the subject of a documentary film released this spring (2019). Here reviewed in Variety; “ Film Review: ‘Bloodroot’; An affectionate portrait of both a long-running feminist restaurant and bookstore and its two still-active founders by Dennis Harvey https://variety.com/2019/film/reviews/bloodroot-review-1203194133/

Variety editors conjectured that the Bloodroot film was prompted by the New York Times observance of the restaurant’s 40th anniversary two years ago with a tribute article “Mixing Food and Feminism, Bloodroot Is 40 and Still Cooking” by Tejal Rao, March 14, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/14/dining/bloodroot-feminist-restaurant.html.

Bloodroot’s own webpage introduces them https://www.bloodroot.com/about

 

 

 

The Wimmin’s Restaurant Project


There was a private dining club for feminist vegetarians on Masonic Street in Northampton for five years: 1976-82. What came to be called the Common Womon [sic] Club was the first vegetarian venue in the area. It became the only women’s space in town after the Valley Women’s Union was evicted from its home on Main Street and the businesses that formed the Egg  on Hawley Street closed. In addition to offering food at a reasonable price, The Common Womon Club was an organizing space and cultural center. Open to all women, it was a collective, Lesbian owned and operated. cwc logo apr 1977_edited-1As reported in Dyke Doings,  nine lesbians began meeting as the Womyn’s Restaurant Project in March of 1976. They incorporated as the non-profit Ceres Inc., with the purpose of supporting the development of women’s enterprises. Their first project was a women-only eating facility housed within a membership club (the only way to legally be women- only), like the men’s clubs just down the street for Elks and Masons.

By pooling their personal funds, they were able to buy the 68-78 Masonic Street property, a small one-family house with a one story stucco storefront building next door.  Donations from other local lesbians, fundraising events, and a loan from the Massachusetts Feminist Federal Credit Union in Cambridge  allowed a do-over of the rundown house.  With the skill and guidance of two lesbian carpenters, the collective renovated the ground floor, creating three interconnected dining areas with a counter for orders and service (no waitresses) next to the small kitchen. They built the tables, gathered an eclectic collection of fifty used dining chairs, and sewed pink cloth napkins

A name was chosen from the Judy Grahn poem, “The common woman is as common as the best of bread and will rise and will become strong.”  The spelling of woman was changed “to take the man out of the word,” Laura, a collective spokesperson explained. The Common Womon Club  opened December 19, 1976  to serve lunch and dinner six days a week.

cwc polcies 1977_edited-11977 Common Womon Club initial policies, handout for members.

cwc order_edited-2

With no waitresses (which is the word we used back then), order pads were at each table. Members wrote up their orders and took them to the order/prep counter. Here, Ynestra must have been treating me to dinner.

cwc eb 3

Looking along the order counter into the small kitchen. Probably Molly  in her logo T-shirt dishing something up. Thanks to Elisabeth Brook for these snapshots.

Srepub cwc 77This part of the article in the Springfield Republican Apr 24, 1977 really got the food described. Jan Whitaker discovered that this coverage was further circulated by the UPI wire service and reprinted in various forms in sixteen mainstream papers across the country and into Canada. In a story published a year later in the Republican Collective members expressed their belief that mainstream coverage had focused on an alleged anti-male bias and, as a result, in interviews asked that their last names not be used.

Though the Common Womon (CWC) was many women’s first experience of vegetarian and/or the ethnic cuisine presented by occasional guest chefs, it was much more than a place to eat. The background music was by women, and CWC or next door Nutcracker’s Suite was the town’s first Olivia Records  distributor.  The walls were hung with rotating exhibits of local women’s art and crafts.

cwc eb1

I don’t remember when I hung this show of my work at CWC but it’s a nice snapshot by Lis Brook showing the arches between dining areas. I was on the art exhibit committee and remember shows of member baby pictures as well as group and one women shows.

cwc eb2

This snapshot by Lis looks like it was taken just before opening hours, with a view from one dining room, thru the other to the area with the order counter. Is that Holly coming thru the arch to set tables? Note the funky chair collection. Painting by me in corner top left was commissioned by Sarah Dreher and later used as the basis for T-shirt design by Nutcracker’s Suite.

Sunday evenings often included entertainment by local talent as well as presentations on a wide range of women’s issues. After Dyke Doings folded, the CWC membership newsletter was the sole lesbian news source in the area until the 1979 advent of the monthly newspaper the Valley Women’s Voice.

The enclosed front porch wasn’t only a place to wait when there was a line for tables. Beside an overflowing bulletin board of women’s event flyers and notices were loose leaf notebooks for housing and jobs, literature from women around the globe, and a lending library. The mismatched, worn overstuffed sofa and chairs invited one to hang out. Upstairs was the Valley Women’s Union mimeograph machine, shared with area progressive groups, and a room rented to therapists for their sessions and available for small meetings (and the occasional toke). Some of the groups that were begun by first meeting at Common Womon included Lesbians concerned with alcohol abuse, the Jewish Lesbian discussion group, the Valley Women’s Herstory Project, the lesbian Alanon meeting, and the 1979 March on Washington WMass Lesbian contingent.

below the salt mar 2, 1978_edited-1

CWC included in International Women’s Day coverage in Below the  Salt, a supplement to the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, March 2, 1978. Holly and Marjorie P. in photos.

Within a couple years, and as the original collective of nine changed, it was  found that afternoon tea was feasible, but not lunch. Business slowed significantly in the summer, as well. The collective was forced to reduce summer food service, often to nothing but the popular Sunday brunches and special seasonal efforts such as ice cream socials. Always operating on a shoe string budget, CW relied on sliding scale membership dues, fund-raising events, and sacrifice by members of the collective in order to stay open.

cwc flyer 197_edited-1

Artist unattributed, likely Molly or Kate. This format could be used repeatedly, pasting in that day’s menu into the frame for copying.

Special events helped pay the mortgage and basic expenses. The most popular of these may have been the wimmin’s dj’ed disco dances initially held at the Club, then expanded to the basement of the Polish American Home/Club on Pearl Street. Benefit events in collaboration with other feminist or lesbian groups at larger venues also included dances with the women’s bands Lilith and Liberty Standing at UMass, a concert by Willie Tyson at Smith College, poetry reading by Robin Morgan at Hampshire College, and a local Lesbian talent Show.

Income also came from the rental of the storefront next door at 68 Masonic St. This space, occupied in 2019 by Bela Vegetarian Restaurant was, in 1976, tenanted by the US Navy recruiters when Ceres Inc bought the property. The Navy was swiftly evicted and the space renovated for new tenants, the Valley’s first women’s karate dojo, the Nutcracker’s Suite . When, after a brief time, that enterprise became Valley Women’s Martial Arts and moved to Springfield,  the building then became home to the Valley’s first feminist bookstore, Womonfyre Books. With Common Womon next door, this block in Northampton became a feminist and Lesbian beehive from 1977 to 1982. One can only imagine what the closest neighbors at the Northampton Fire Department, Christian Science Reading Room, and Bell Telephone Company were saying amongst themselves.

What was it like being part of the Common Womon Collective? Stay tuned to this blog for future posts, including personal reflections  from collective member Marjorie Childers, as well as the story of CWC’s last two years and closing in the 80s.

SOURCES:

__Dyke Doings. Northampton. Sep-Oct, Nov, Dec 1976 issues. I am missing issues V and VI, if anyone has these I would appreciate copies.

__Valley Women’s Union newsletter. Northampton.  Oct 1976, Jan, Mar 1977.

__Common Womon Club. Untitled club policies mimeo. Feb 1977?

__Common Womon Club. Member info and application form. Undated, probably Feb 1977.

__The Common Womon newsletter. #2. “Progress Report” Feb 1977.

__Brown, Melissa.  “’Common’ ground for feminists.”  Springfield [MA] Republican. Apr. 24, 1977.

__Whitaker, Jan. Email to Kaymarion Sep. 11, 2019: “fyi: I was searching through digitized papers using Newspapers.com just now and found that a 1977 story about the Common Womon Club (much like the one in the Spfld Union) was sent out by UPI and reached 16 newspapers around the country and Ottawa Canada — in Brattleboro, Van Nuys CA, Hagerstown MD, Muncie IN, St. Joseph MO, Tampa and Fort Walton Beach FL, York PA, Pittsfield MA, Nashua NH, Nashville TN, Honolulu, Billings MT, Casper WY, and Biddeford ME.”

__Common Womon newsletter.  Scattered issues 1977-79. Where is there a complete set of these?

__Brook, Elisabeth. Snapshots. 1979?

__[Raymond],Kaymarion and Letalien, Jacqueline E.  The Valley Women’s Movement: A Herstorical Chronology 1968-1978.  Northampton, Ceres Inc. 1978.

__Traub, Lauren.  “The Uncommon Common Womon.”  Below the Salt [MDC sup. UMass] 2 Mar. 1978.

__O’Neill, Molly.  Missing, story in women’s words 78, the publication of the Athol Women’s Center. Lost my copy somewhere.

__Women’s Media Project newsletter. UMass/Amherst. Jul-Aug 1978.

__Associated Press. “’Common Woman [sic]’ anything but.” Sunday Republican, Springfield MA. Jul 30, 1978.

__Giudice, Angela.  “The Common Womon: A Feminist Enterprise.”  Fresh Ink: Campus and Community Newspaper of the pioneer valley.  Northampton 1 Mar. 1979

__Carney, Maureen.  “The Common Womon Keeps the Pot Boiling.”  Valley Women’s Voice Sep. 1979.

__Bishop, Holly. Email correspondence. June 25, 2019.

__More on Olivia Records: https://queermusicheritage.com/olivia.html

One of the Common Womon Club original collective nine died in June of this year, and was memorialized nationally for the career she was to expand into: “Molly O’Neill, Writer Who Explored and Celebrated Food, Is Dead at 66 ” https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/17/dining/molly-oneill-dead.html . “Molly O’Neill, prizewinning food writer, dies at 66″ –  https://www.washingtonpost.com/…/food/molly-oneill…food-writer…/83e1b338-913c-1…

 

 

 

 

The Egg


The very first issue of mimeographed Dyke Doings, Sep/Oct 1976, carried the announcement that several lesbian-run businesses had opened in the rear of the building at 19 Hawley Street in Northampton. Calling themselves the Egg and (later added) Marigolths, the collectively-run spaces initially contained three businesses, as well as two craftswomyn studios, and a residence. Starting in July 1976, the all-Lesbian business ventures began sharing rent and utilities while operating independently. egg DDso76_edited-1

Dyke Doings Sep/Oct 1976

Mother Jones Press, a feminist offset press collective, had been renting space at 19 Hawley St. since its founding in 1972. The staff had dwindled to three, all Lesbians. In May 1976, they decided to close Mother Jones and open Megaera Press to publish Lesbian work. They also continued to print for women.

magaera opens_edited-1

The Women’s Film Coop was also an older venture, started in 1972 when the Women’s Institute project at the Valley Women’s Center inherited eight films and a slideshow from New Haven feminist distributors. Operating out of a teeny space at VWC 200 Main St., the Film Coop had expanded their holdings of films available for rent and formed a non-profit corporation, Women’s Image Takeover (WIT), with their own PO address and mailing permit.

wfc brochure_edited-1

In 1973, the Coop had produced the first Valley (and perhaps New England) Women’s Film Festival, a week-long event at what became the Pleasant Street Theater in Northampton. The dearth of positive images at the time is demonstrated by the only films available to show at the Lesbian night: Maedchen in Uniform; the Children’s Hour;  and several shorts. The shorts were Jan Oxenberg’s first film, Home Movie (1972), and maybe one by Barbara Hammer. The second edition of the Coop’s critical catalog of media that reflected the real experience of women included reviews of an increasing number of films just starting to be created by feminists and lesbians in the US.

WFC catalogue 1974_edited-1

1974 edition Cover art by Barbara Johnson

By the time it moved to Hawley Street in 1976, the Women’s Film Coop had dwindled to one Lesbian, Elana Dykewoman (later, Dykewomon), as minimally paid staff. In the new organization, Megaera Press was folded into WIT’s corporate umbrella, as was Dyke Doings, Old Lady Blue Jeans Distribution, and eventually Sweetcoming Bookstore.

the egg in lesbian tide editedcopy_edited-1

Lesbian Tide Sep/Oct 1976, courtesy of Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College

The newest of the three businesses in the Egg was the Greasy Gorgon Garage. Two Lesbians repaired women’s cars on a scaled-fee basis and assisted women wanting to work on their own vehicles. They planned to offer auto maintenance classes, with a larger goal of establishing a non-profit training center for women mechanics. Also new were the two studios, one of which was occupied by a Lesbian carpenter/cabinetmaker and the other by a Lesbian jeweler/seamstress.

raelyn ad so dd 76_edited-1

Ad Dyke Doings Sep/Oct 1976

Megaera Press’s first Lesbian publication came out in September 1976. It was Elana Dykewoman’s [Dykewomon] They Will Know Me By My Teeth: Stories and Poems of Lesbian Struggle, Celebration, And Survival.

teeth pub announcement_edited-1

cover by Laura K Vera, used by permission

It stated in the volume that “This book was printed, financed, typed, corrected and bound entirely by lesbians.” The 3,000 copies were hand-collated, Elana recalled in a 2001 interview. It also stated on the cover: “To Be Sold To And Shared With Women Only.”  While anyone may now get used copies through internet used bookstores, in the 70s before the feminist bookstores began, Old Lady Blue Jeans was the sole distributor of the book.

The local one-womyn enterprise was already distributing other art by Valley Lesbians: notecards by (now) anonymous; Linda Shear’s LP album of original songs “A Lesbian Portrait;” and Great Hera’s (Kaymarion’s) Incunabula prints-to-color. The old lady of Old Lady Blues Jeans took these items, a brochure, and Elana’s book to Lesbian events to sell. Mail orders were solicited through advertisements in the increasing number of national Lesbian publications coming into being at that time . OLBJ eventually circulated hundreds of Lesbian-made products, though the owner never made a living from this work.

OLBG collage_edited-1

Collage of parts of OLBG catalog. Linda Shear photo used by permission. Great Hera’s Incunabula by Kaymarion [Raymond]

Megaera Press’s second, and final, Lesbian publication was a collection of local Lesbian creations. Visual art, music, and writing by forty womyn were included in The Rock: a Collection of Lesbian Expressions. Decisions on what to include and the physical process of producing it were done collectively by the contributors and others from the Lesbian community. A publication party was held April 4, 1977 at the Common Womon Club  to premiere this for-wimmin-only book and celebrate its issuance. On a personal note, it included a drawing of me by a Green St. tenant; my fourth and last issue of Great Hera’s Incunabula, a woodcut print; and a poem by someone else that I think referred to me entitled, “Horizontal Hostility.”

rock collage_edited-1

Collage of the more public bits of the Rock

The Dec.1976 Dyke Doings contained an announcement from Elana Dykewomon that she was planning to leave the Valley the next summer and was looking for someone to take over the Women’s Film Coop.  By mid-1977, no one had volunteered for this, so the films and slides being distributed by the Coop were returned to their makers and the business was closed. Megaera Press sold their offset press and closed that summer as well. The papers for the umbrella non-profit corporation Women’s Image Takeover were handed over to a local Lesbian volunteer.

While the rest of the Egg collective withered after a year, the Greasy Gorgon Garage (Triple G) had expanded to three and a half womyn mechanics and two apprentices. Twice weekly repair classes were being offered. They found new space, a “real” garage, for their business in nearby Hatfield in August 1977. At the end of the year, according to their notice in Lesbian Connections, they were seeking funds to buy the rented building.  I find no record of their later history. Does anyone know?

3G LCdec77_edited-1  LC Dec 77

The Egg only lasted a year and the collective members became dispersed across the country. Some, Elana  recalls, moved to Minneapolis where there was a sobriety community. She herself initially wound up in Oregon via Springfield MA and Florida, and later settled in Oakland CA where she continued to write and circulate work by Lesbians. Raelyn Gallina  fetched up in California where she established herself in the Lesbian and S/M communities as a nationally known pioneering practitioner of piercing and scarification, particularly for women. Elana estimated that by 1978-79, all the dykes of the Egg had left the area.

SOURCES:

__[Raymond], Kaymarion and Letalien, Jacqueline, editors. The Valley Women’s Movement: A Herstorical Chronology 1968-1978. Ceres Inc. Northampton MA. 1979. http://vwhc.org/timeline.html

__ Dyke Doings. Northampton MA. Sep/Oct, Dec 1976.

__ Women’s Film Coop. Catalogs 1972 and 1974. Northampton MA.

__ “The Egg: Dyke Building Opens.” Lesbian Tide. Sep/Oct 1976. Courtesy of the Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College. Northampton MA.

__ Dykewomon, Elana. Interview by Tryna Hope. Aug. 20, 2001. Valley Women’s History Collaboration Collection. UMass Special Collections and Archives. Amherst MA.

More information at https://www.dykewomon.org/

__Old Lady Blue Jeans. Catalog. Undated, probably 1976. Northampton MA.

__The Rock: a Collection of Lesbian Expressions. Megaera Press. 1977. Northampton MA.

__ “GREASY GORGON GARAGE.” Lesbian Connection. Dec. 1977.

__Vale, V and Juno, Andrea editors. Interview with Raelyn Gallina. Included in Modern Primitives. RE/Search 1989.

__Johnson, Barbara. http://barbarajohnson.com/index.htm

__Shear, Linda.  Family of Womyn https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zLM-xZnTsPA. 

More about the album  https://queermusicheritage.com/oct2001b.html

__Gallina, Raelyn. Interview https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZRA0JmSIpQ

Obituary https://infinitebody.com/blogs/news/r-i-p-raelyn-gallina

__ Review and view Maedchen in Uniform https://www.afterellen.com/movies/79116-review-of-mdchen-in-uniform-1958 Link to view https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJDEvwftR94

__ Childrens Hour https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/childrens_hour

__ Jan Oxenberg https://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/onlinessays/JC24-25folder/JanOxenberg.html

__Barbara Hammer the early films http://barbarahammer.com/films/barbara-hammer-the-early-films-1968-72/

1976 Gay Guide Reflects Valley Revolution


 

By mid-decade, the social revolution begun in the early seventies had markedly changed the gay subculture in the Connecticut River Valley in Western Massachusetts. This is graphically evident in the second edition of the New England Gay Guide: 1976 published by Gay Community News.

The southernmost, heavily-populated, and industrial Hampden County retained its traditional bar/cruising/bath scenes. By 1976, mid-Valley Hampshire County rivaled Hampden for sheer number of activities, all of which were new. Even northern, sparsely-populated, rural Franklin County had become semi-publicly “out” home for a few lesbians and gays.

Bambi Gauthier tells me that the 1975 first edition of the New England Gay Guide was a mimeographed and stapled publication by Gay Community News, the regional newspaper based in Boston that started in 1973. The Guide was organized alphabetically by states and then towns within each state. Bambi photocopied the Valley listings for me. For the purpose of this post I have cut and glue-sticked them into relevant segments for a close-up view.

While gay and women’s guides are notorious for being out of date, this 1976 version presents a fairly accurate approximation of what I’m finding in documents and/or anecdotes. Whoever wrote the copy also had a sense of humor. The Guide listings demonstrate not only the growth in the gay subculture that took place in the first five years of the decade, but also illustrate discernible differences in the character of that change, among the three counties and also among towns within the same county.

As the largest Valley city, Springfield, in Hampden County, has always been the epicenter of the area’s gay bar culture. It still was in 1976, when all three of the Valley’s gay bars were in the city. The Guide’s listing includes not only these bars, but the anticipated opening and noted closing of others, among them the bombed Arch downtown and the Hideaway (also known as the Girls’ Club) in nearby Chicopee. This appears to be so culturally typical that the Guide has a listing category “Bars, defunct.” Gay women appear to be comfortable at one of the three bars and encouraged at a second. The traditional baths, restaurant, nearest VD clinic, and interstate highway cruise spot near the Longmeadow exit are also included.

gay guide hampden county_edited-1

 

What had changed by 1976 in the heavily populated Hampden County, according to GCN’s Guide, was the addition of a few new activities outside the bars. A “small local sprig” of Dignity, the national religious group for gay Catholics, had a Springfield PO Box. The group appears to have been attending mass together in Hartford at the Metropolitan Community Church. The Springfield Gay Alliance also had a PO Box, as well as a phone, and the organization was meeting weekly at the Unitarian Church in Longmeadow. Another new activity, although bar related, is a listing for Artandryl, “An all-women’s band doing 60s rock and some feminist material.”

Listings for rural Franklin County are, not surprisingly, sparse but exciting. Though they had listed an agent’s address in NYC, the all-women band Deadly Nightshade  lived together in a farmhouse in Apple Valley, Ashfield. Though they had an Amherst PO box, the Hopbrook Community was just across the river. The Hopbrook Community of gay men in New Salem marked the beginning of the gay and lesbian (and radical hippie) back-to-the-land movement in the hilltowns of the Valley.

gay guide franklin cty_edited-1

Nestled between Hampden and Franklin, Hampshire County is a mix of small cities, towns, and farmland in which the largest industry is education. In 1976, Smith, Amherst, and Mt. Holyoke were elite colleges. Hampshire College was founded in 1970 as an “experiment in education.” UMass was one of the state’s large universities. This county proved to be extremely fertile ground for the social change Movements sweeping the country, including the Women’s, Gay and Lesbian. By the time the NE Gay Guide was published, the number of activities listed in Hampshire County surpassed those in Hampden County. All were new in the seventies. Some were extensions of old bar culture in slightly different form. Others were groups and organizations consciously created as alternatives to gay bar culture.

The greatest number of Hampshire County listings are in Amherst, on the east side of the river. Along with nearby Hadley, bars are listed though they are only gay tolerant or gay-themed one night a week. UMass, home to the beginning of the Valley’s Gay Liberation Movement , had multiple student groups, a first effort to support teens, the first gay radio in the region, and feminist endeavors that welcomed lesbians.

Two business listings in town are especially notable. Amherst was one of the earliest towns in the state to pass a non-discrimination law that included gays and lesbians, long before the state legislation. I am seeking a date and confirming detail for effort, which I think was led by a gay Selectman, Tom Hutchinson.

gay guide hampshire east_edited-1

The Guide’s listings for Northampton, across the river to the west, are a sharp contrast, highlighting a great cultural difference between it and the rest of the Valley. All of them are for women, even if only described as welcoming, such as Legal Services, which I believe was submitted by the lesbian who worked there.

About half the listings are an extension of the old bar culture: a lesbian dance night at a straight bar, and two of the all-women’s bands  that played the straight and gay dance club circuits. The other half are the feminist centers of activity that included lesbians , exclusively or with other women.

gay guide hampshire west_edited-1

The differences within the Valley demonstrated in the 1976 New England Gay Guide show how the beginning of change was rooted here, to greater or lesser degree, in varying form, and for differing populaces. Gender and sexuality were both ways in which gatherings were called together, but so was political ideology. These differences come into play over the coming decades, sometimes in very dramatic ways.

SOURCES:

__New England Gay Guide 1976. Gay Community News. Boston. 1976.

__Gay Community News (Publication) Collection · Documented ...https://historyproject.omeka.net › collections › show

 

Nutcracker’s Suite and the Anti-Rape Movement


 The dojo’s name was a private joke, known in the Lesbian feminist community as the Nutcracker’s Suite and in public as the Northampton Women’s Karate and Self-Defense Dojo. That wry humor was also reflected in the mural painted on the side of the squat little lavender stucco building housing the school at 68 Masonic Street.

There is a photo of the mural taken in the summer of 1978 by Elizabeth Samit and reprinted fifteen later in Northampton’s Lesbian Calendar. Dojo student, and later instructor, Beth Holt’s VW bug can be seen parked next to the building. The mural faced the fire department next door and so confronted the town’s firemen every day as well as those passing by. The mural and the institution it decorated were among the results of more than half a decade of anti-rape organizing in the Valley and a connection to the larger national movement.

dojo mural tlc coverPhoto and artwork copyright Elizabeth Samit a member of the Hestia Mural Collective, used by permission

Lesbian feminists were part of the Valley’s movement to begin ending violence against women, including rape. In 1973, after a series of rapes in Puffton Village, (an Amherst apartment complex lived in by many students), the newly-opened Everywoman’s Center (EWC) formed an action group to address the violence.

rape comm amherst
Enter a caption

Feb 20, 1973. Massachusetts Daily Collegian

It was essential to begin breaking the silence around this hidden and often misnamed form of assault, one of the many forms of abuse endured everyday by women. The next month, EWC, with the Valley Women’s Center in Northampton, convened a conference on rape, including a speak-out. Recruited to do the poster, I asked Jackie, another Green St. tenant, to pose on the floor of my room for the drawing I used in its design.

rape conference poster by me1973 poster layout by Kaymarion [Raymond]

At that speak-out, an increasingly emotional crowd of women filled the Main Street basement of the Unitarian Society to witness woman after woman share her experiences, many for the first time, myself included. Organizing immediately began in Springfield to include rape crisis intervention as one of the areas to be supported by the brand-new Springfield Women’s Center. A brief report on the conference and an action resolution were included in their dittoed newsletter dated March 21, 1973.

swc rape gp jan 73_edited-1Springfield Women’s Center Newsletter Mar. 21 1973

Feminist-invented actions were needed on multiple fronts; public education and individual self-defense training to prevent assaults, physical and emotional support for victims in crisis, advocacy on behalf of victims with police and courts, education of law enforcement, and changes in laws concerning rape and victims’ rights. There was no easy fix in working on behalf of assaulted women. These activists had to deal with the varied competency levels and sexist attitudes of police departments and prosecuting attorneys across the three Valley counties.

As with many other issues addressed by the Women’s Liberation Movement in the U.S., the thinking and experimentation of feminists in other cities helped inform those locally. In the ad hoc library on the Common Womon Club’s porch, I found a manila file folder of articles on women and violence. There were mimeographed papers from feminist activists around the country, including guidelines for counselors helping rape victims, the Detroit Women’s Crisis Center (1973); the goals and objectives of a city-wide anti-rape campaign led by an Ann Arbor Michigan municipal advisory board, (1975); and a guide to self-defense courses and martial arts, NYC Women’s Martial Arts Union (second edition 1974).

antirape lit

Mimeographed literature from around the country was gathered and read in the Valley as feminists invented ways to address the violence against women. These examples from a folder in Common Womon Club’s library that may have been a Valley Women’s Center/Union subject file.

In 1974, the Springfield Rape Crisis Hotline was started by volunteers in the Springfield Women’s Center. There is a note in the Herstorical Chronology of the Valley Women’s Movement  that a “Sep 6, 1975 benefit for Springfield Rape Crisis Center was disrupted by police, one woman beaten. Protests made to Mayor of lack of police cooperation.” Can anyone add details or documentation for this?  They were an activist group, witness a clipping I came across in which women disrupted a lecture.

swu rape_edited-2Undated and Unattributed clipping, likely April 1975 Springfield Union.

spfld rape ctr_edited-1Springfield Rape Crisis Center brochure undated

 

One of the long-term goals of the Springfield Center was to establish a school for self-defense and karate.  The need for this was also felt in Northampton during the hot summer of 1975, with a noticeable increase in physical harassment of lesbians on the streets of Northampton in reaction to new activity at the Lesbian Gardens and Gala Café. This prompted not just the formation of a slightly trained ad hoc Dyke Patrol to protect lesbians coming and going from lesbian events in town, but also greater awareness in the lesbian community of the need for self-defense.

One result was the formation of self-defense classes at the Lesbian Gardens  space over the Valley Women’s Center at 200 Main Street. The Lesbian Gardens was where I saw a woman in a karate gi for the first time. She was Cindy Shamban, an instructor. A year later, in 1976, Cindy teamed up with Pat Turney to rent fourth floor space in the Masonic Building at 25 or 26 Main St. in Northampton and open “a wimmin’s self-defense and karate school.” Separate all-wimmin’s and all-lesbian classes were offered on a sliding cost scale. There was also a karate class for little women age 5-13.

nutcracker opens dd nov 76_edited-1From Dyke Doings Nov. 1976

Self-defense demonstrations and workshops became included at women’s conferences in the Valley along with more – and more specific – planning for support for victims.  In 1976, a Rape Advocate/Counselor Training Conference, based on feminist principles, was held by Family Planning at their newly opened Center Street, Northampton offices. The Springfield Rape Crisis Center closed, though it is unclear if this was because the Women’s Center lost space. The hotline may have continued but became housed at the Springfield YWCA as HERA, the Hotline to End Rape. I have no documentation for this. Please share if you do. Everywoman’s Center in Amherst began doing Rape Advocacy/Counseling. 1976 also saw the first anti-rape march in the Valley, held in Northampton by the Valley Women’s Union. march ant rape_edited-1Undated [May 14, 1976?] and unattributed publicity for Anti-rape March

In a related 1976 move, NELCWIT battered women’s services started in Greenfield for Franklin County, another Valley first. By 1978, Everywoman’s Center had established the Crisis line that continues to this day, and Necessities/Necessidades (now Safe Passage) Hampshire County battered women’s services had opened. When did Hampden County Womanshelter open?

Ceres Inc, which bought the buildings at 68-78 Masonic Street to start a women’s restaurant, evicted the Navy Recruiters from number 68 and rented it to the Nutcracker’s Suite in April of 1977.Cindy & Robin @ The Nutcracker

“Robin and Cindy at the Nutcracker.” View onto Masonic Street. Photo courtesy of Cindy, photographer unknown.

At some point, that mural went up. I don’t know who painted it there, but the design came from the cover of the first issue of Black Belt Woman, published in 1975-76 from Medford Massachusetts. The image is from a woodcut by Elizabeth Samit.

bbw1cover

First issue Sep 1975 of magazine from Medford MA. Graphic by Elizabeth Samit

Pat Turney, later named Banshee, became part of the network being formed among women across the continent. She contributed writing to Black Belt Woman, and included the dojo in the sixty page directory of women in the martial arts published by the magazine in 1976.

Pat and the Nutcracker’s Suite organized and hosted the second annual 1977 National Training Camp for Women and the Martial Arts. Ninety women from over a dozen karate styles worked out together for three June days at Hampshire College in Amherst. I had the pleasure of designing the teeshirt for that. The training was reported in Off Our Backs.

Pat & Cindy @ training camp“Pat Turney and Cindy at Training Camp “, photographer unknown. Courtesy of Cindy

 

summer tng tee 1977 by me

Tee shirt by-blow from summer training by Kaymarion [Raymond] photographed by Anne Moore

Perhaps because of the training camp, Wendy Dragonfire joined Banshee as an instructor at the Nutcracker’s Suite briefly before Banshee withdrew for further training elsewhere.

dojo flyer 1977

Undated [1977] flyer. the graphic on the right is by me and was used as the t-shirt design for the ’77 National Training

Wendy took over the school in September of 1977. Its name changed to the Valley Women’s Martial Arts and in 1978 moved to Springfield. As part of a now national campaign, Northampton’s first Take Back the Night March was held in 1978. Over 1500 women showed up.

take back 1978_edited-1

abbreviated flyer (for space reasons). As a women’s march, men provided childcare and sideline support.

songs 78 march_edited-1mimeographed songsheet first Take Back the night March

78 march pr_edited-1Springfield Union Nov. 6 1978

78 march coverage_edited-1

Undated Springfield Union clip of March coverage, estimated 1500 marchers

SOURCES:

__The Lesbian Calendar. May 1993. Cover photo of dojo mural “Olive Oyl on the dojo” 1978 by Elizabeth Samit.

__[Raymond], Kaymarion and Letalien, Jacqueline, editors. The Valley Women’s Movement: A Herstorical Chronology 1968-1978. Ceres Inc. Northampton MA. 1979. http://vwhc.org/timeline.html

__Ballou, Bill. ”Rape Crisis Committee Formed.” [Probably daily Hampshire Gazette, Northampton.] Feb. 20, 1973.

__[Raymond,]Kay[marion.] Rape Conference poster. Northampton. [1973.]

__Springfield Women’s Center Newsletter. Mar 21, 1973. (Five page ditto.)

__Filosi, Penny. “Female Protesters Disrupt Rape Lecture.” [Springfield] Union. [April 1975?]

__Rape Crisis Center. Brochure. [Springfield.] Undated.

__Dyke Doings. Nov. 1976. Northampton.

__”Valley Women’s Union to Stage Rape March.” Undated [May 14, 1976?] and Unattributed.

__Black Belt Woman. September 1975. Medford MA. __ Black Belt Woman: Magazine for Women in the Martial Arts and Self Defense. Online description/contents of issues. “Historic magazine of the women’s martial arts and self-defense movement arising out of the second wave of feminism, published from 1975 to 1976.”  http://www.greenlion.com/BBW/bbw.html

__Valley Women’s Union Newsletter. Nov. 1976. Northampton.

__”articles on women and violence.” Subject file c. 1973-75. From Common Womon Club, Northampton reading library.

__Delaplaine, Jo. ”Martial Arts.” Off Our Backs. Aug. 31, 1977.

__Valley Women’s Martial Arts Inc.”Valley Women’s Martial Arts: 20th Anniversary 1977-1997.” 1997. Easthampton MA.

__Bloomberg, Marcia. “Women plan march to underscore rape crises.” Springfield Union. Nov. 6, 1978.

__Weinberg, Neal. Springfield Republican. ”Women stage protest against […]” Partial clipping without date, probably Nov. 19, 1978.

__[additional source to find ?Author?  “3000 Women March In Take Back the Night March.” Valley Women’s Voice Feb. 1979. I have a note of this but not the coverage itself. Was this in reference to the Nov. 1978 March?]

 

 

Lesbian Alliance Forms at Smith College


As the student founders of Smith College’s first lesbian group graduated, the unfunded and unofficial Sophia Sisters folded in 1975. The next year, however, a new student group formed. Calling themselves the Lesbian Alliance, over the next several years they fought hostility from other students to achieve official group status, space in the Women’s Resource Center, and student government funding. As the 1977 flyer included below indicates, they laid the organizational foundation for  a much greater town/gown collaboration in the 1980s. It is likely members of SCLA attended the first (?) Seven Sisters Lesbian Conference held at Radcliffe in 1978.scla apr3 77 flyer w mtg agenda, scarchives_edited-1

 

 

Flyer/Agenda. Courtesy of the Smith College Archives

Sources:

_Braverman, Stacy. “Crushes at Smith.” Unpublished paper submitted to KMR for use in the chapbook. 2003.

__[Raymond], Kaymarion and Letalien, Jacqueline, editors. The Valley Women’s Movement: A Herstorical Chronology 1968-1978. Ceres Inc. Northampton MA. 1979. http://vwhc.org/timeline.html

__Lozier, Anne. “Records of the Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Alliance, 1976-2003.” Finding Aid, College Archives, Smith College. Northampton. 2003

 

Lesbian Gardens


After the early 1976 Separatist conflicts and Lesbian realignment, Lesbian Gardens on the third floor at 200 Main St. in Northampton fell empty except for a weekly music group. The Valley Women’s Union still had drop-in space on the second floor. In the fall, new “Gardeners” Stephanie and Robin began to revitalize the large open loft space where a rainbow painted across the windows looked out at the City Hall. Though there wasn’t much interest in massage, games, or drop-in nights, popular new activities included a drawing group, Lesbians in the social services discussion group, film showings, play performances, a Dykes and Tykes potluck, a dance (to bring-your-own records), and several skills exchanges. Donations from these activities paid the rent share.

dyke doings sep-oct 76_edited-1First issue of Dyke Doings mimeographed newsletter Sep-Oct 1976

Getting these activities going was greatly aided by the mimeoed publication of  a monthly newsletter.  Dyke Doings was edited by Stephanie, Laura, and Robin. Before its demise in June 1977 after eight issues, it was hand delivered, often by bicycle, to two hundred, mostly Northampton Lesbian households. It included information on all the various doings in town, plus the first Lesbian classified ads, most for roommates. In later issues, it included two other area firsts: notices for a Lesbian teen rap group and a Lesbian land trust. As you will see from posts still to come, the newsletter provided a crucial communication channel for a plethora of newly created enterprises.

One Lesbian product printed in DD was directory of thirty-five Lesbians willing to trade a variety of skills. Compiled by the Skills Exchange as a way to form a community self-reliance network, it encouraged recognition of knowledge as a resource and barter as a way of strengthening a local Lesbian economy. The Exchange also sponsored three Markets at the Gardens, where goods as well as services were exchanged. These were the beginning of what in the 1980s became the Lesbian Home Show.

This new burst of activity was cut short at the end of 1976, when the Valley Women’s Union, and Lesbian Gardens within it, received an eviction notice for the two floors that had been rented since 1970. Both groups held emergency meetings and offered to double the rent being paid. This was refused by the landlord, who sued for $700 in damages incurred by the tenants and listed reasons for the eviction.

lg vwu eviction_edited-1 Valley Women’s Union handout, undated [early 1977]. Unknown artist.

The suit for damages and many of the landlord’s other complaints were specifically about misuse and abuse of the Lesbian Gardens space. Complaints included unpaid use of heat, use of the building at night (including people staying overnight), filthy bathroom, posters all over. In discussions between the lawyer hired by VWU and the landlord, it became clear that the issue of lesbians played an important part in the eviction, not only unauthorized use of the space, but alienation of the straight tenants sharing the second floor bathroom and stairwell entry. Although not stated by the landlord, the rumors in the community added that Dyke graffiti and yelling in the common stairwell during the Separatist implosion and the theft of fire extinguishers may also have been factors.

As a result, in Feb. 1977, Lesbian Gardens disbanded. Many activities simply ceased, though Sweetcoming Bookstore moved to the new Egg space on Hawley St. The Drawing Support Group went on meeting for several more months in homes of the members.  The Valley Women’s Union moved their mimeograph machine to a shared office a few blocks away at the newly opened Common Womon Club on Masonic St. Dyke Doings continued for several more months providing news of the moves Lesbians made and were to make.

Sources:

__Dyke Doings. Issues I-IV Sep/Oct1976-Jan 1977, (I am missing two issues), Issues VII-VIII Apr/May-Jun 1977. Northampton.  I would be very grateful to have copies of the two issues I’m missing. Anyone?

__Valley Women‘s Union Newsletter. January, March 1977. Northampton.

__[Raymond], Kaymarion and Letalien, Jacqueline, editors. The Valley Women’s Movement: A Herstorical Chronology 1968-1978. Ceres In. Northampton 1978. LINK https://www.vwhc.org/timeline.html

 

Rough Outlines: Preview the Past


This June, as the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots are celebrated, notice all the photographs, a few movies, and the many news clippings displayed in remembrance of that time. Someone saved them all so they could be seen today. Here is a combo note on blog housecleaning and a public service announcement.

I can see in WordPress statistics that visitors have been going to the 1980s page, probably expecting to find more than one story from that period. I created that decade page to hold the post about Northampton’s first lesbian and gay march. Posting that story is, to date, the sole jump forward in the narrative, aside from reflections on the Orlando Pulse nightclub massacre in 2016.

Part of the housekeeping as the blog posts accumulate is figuring out how to make them more accessible to readers. Yes, they can be read in the order they’ve been written, or entered from a subject search, but it should also be possible to read the posts in the order the history unfolded. Over the last few months I have organized the posts chronologically within decades to make this possible. If you go to the 1970s page (select the tab at top of blog), you can now find such a chronological list with links to the accumulated posts. The About and BC/PreStonewall pages are also now re-organized with new listings of the related posts to form tables of content.

The major drawback to doing this is the lack of posts to fill in the decades. I am involved right now with a detailed accounting of the 70s, the period in which I was most active personally, with a few interspersed flashbacks to an older past. This is slow work. I have written pieces only up to circa 1975-76 right now.

However, even if I haven’t gotten around to writing about or finding writing for the 80s, 90s, 00s, I have plenty of material gathered in preparation. All these decade pages could legitimately be considered “Under Construction.” As this is seriously a work-in-progress blog, I have  created pages for some of later decades and posted my rough, working timelines as informative place-holding material.  Check out the new tabs at the top of the blog. I hope that this will give readers a sense of the scope of activity centered in Northampton and encourage participation in sharing and helping preserve this history.

The following information will be pinned to the top of the new 1980s, 90s, 00s pages, with some variation:

 [insert whatever timeline is appropriate]

UNDER CONSTRUCTION

This is one of my working timelines of LGBTQ+ organized activity centered in the Northampton area. I HOPE TO SHARE ALL THE STORIES REPRESENTED ON THIS TIMELINE SOMETIME IN THE FUTURE. It functions as a rough outline for organizing my work and has gone through multiple drafts. I last roughed out these four decades of timeline in 2004 from my research notes. Each timeline is also organized thematically. These can be laid side by side for continued content over the decades. They also fit within a larger Valley context (and timeline.) These timelines are not complete nor definitive. For example, I might have found mention once of a group meeting in some alternative Valley newspaper calendar, so noted them in that year but have no other evidence of their meeting before or after, or even if anyone showed up. I have a fantasy that someone(s) with Excel spreadsheet talent will transcribe it into a document, which, pie-in-the-sky, could become the basis for interactive content.

1970s working timeline02132015

1970s working timeline of Northampton LGBTQ+ activity by Kaymarion Raymond

If you were part of this past activity please share that story. Show us a picture. Tell us here, throughout the blog in comments, or through the email contact tab above, or let me know where you can be contacted if I  or a trained interviewer have questions.

Do you have letters, T-shirts, buttons, journals, flyers, photos, posters, newspaper clippings, meeting notes, recordings, or any other items that document this history? If the community you are currently part of uses electronic communication via some form of social media please make a record of that activity in some form; a written  summary, copies of public posts, representative images or memes, event publicity. Paper endures without technology so printed material is a treasure.

Please document and share the story, as copies or as gifts to any of the many interested archives in the Valley or to this project. If there are items you can’t part with now, please make arrangements to have them given to an archive after your death. More information at end of this post.

80s timeline_edited-1

1980s working timeline of Northampton LGBTQ+ activity by Kaymarion Raymond

If you are interested in this history as a student or researcher, please share here whatever you find: the stories regarding this place and activity, or the resources others can use to discover the stories; scans of documents, location of documents in archives, including periodical holdings, interview transcripts, articles or books. Links to your own published work related to this history are welcome.

As an independent scholar I have little access to the extensive literature now available through academic library database subscriptions, particularly scholarly accounts and interpretations of events that occurred here or elsewhere in the Valley. What are you finding that should be included in a queer Northampton bibliography? Where are these documents available?

Would you be interested in drafting a blog bibliography or source listing for researchers? More simply, as you read some of the posts, are you finding broken links or errors that escaped proofing? Let me know. Please add your comments on that post or email me through the blog contact.

90s timeline_edited-2

1990s working timeline of Northampton LGBTQ+ activity by Kaymarion Raymond

Archival resources. The Valley is rich in repositories, though none of them are as rich in resources as they need to be to house and process all possible collections. They range from small local historical societies and private collections to large concentrations of documents with regional and even global content. They each have particular focus and try to avoid duplication.

There has been a gradual change in attitude so that many now welcome some part of the LGBTQAI odd-by-any-other name history, whether as that of a citizen of a town, an alum of a college, as feminist or lesbian, or a political activist in Western Massachusetts. Mechanisms have been developed to preserve some privacy if you choose to donate your papers, though archives can’t keep the FBI out.

I am happy to talk with anyone about the options available or passing on donated documents. A Guide to Donating Your Papers” from the Valley Women’s History Collaborative is a good introduction, though the list of archival resources is incomplete.   http://vwhc.org/donor_guide.pdf

Archives interested in preserving this history;

__The Archive Project. POB 302 Hadley, MA 01035. (413) 585-0369. Contact Phil Gauthier, archivist. gokey3@gmail.com. The Project doesn’t have a webpage. Hours by appointment only. Private collection of mostly Amherst-Northampton area gay records including local ACT UP and Queer Nation chapters, gay organizations and the Northampton Pride March. Includes some regional material as well.

__Sexual Minorities Archive in Holyoke.

https://sexualminoritiesarchives.wordpress.com/

__Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn.

http://www.lesbianherstoryarchives.org/

__Historic Northampton.

https://www.historicnorthampton.org/

__Special Collections and University Archives, Du Bois Library, UMass, Amherst. Western Massachusetts history to include LGBTQAI.

https://www.library.umass.edu/locations/scua/

__Sophia Smith Collection as well as the College Archives, Smith College, Northampton. Women’s history globally to include Valley feminists and lesbians.

https://www.smith.edu/libraries/special-collections

__Amherst, Hampshire and Mt. Holyoke Colleges all preserve college group and alumni records. Your local town library or historical society may also be interested.

2000s timeline notes

2000s working timeline of Northampton LGBTQ+ activity by Kaymarion Raymond

 

 

 

The Stone Wall


stone wall

I was thrilled to discover I live just down the road from the childhood home of the author of America’s first lesbian autobiography, The Stone Wall. The book was published in 1930 in Chicago under a pseudonym. It wasn’t until 2003 that the author’s birth and married names were discovered by Tufts University doctoral candidate Sherry Ann Darling in what historian Jonathan Katz calls “a major example of creative, historical detective work.” I was just as excited to find that the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, NYC – oft cited as the place the Gay Revolution began in 1969 – was originally opened the same year the Stone Wall was published, as a tearoom and in probable tribute to the author.

I first found mention of the autobiography in The History Project’s Improper Bostonians (1998). One tantalizing sidebar paragraph: ”’Mary Casal’ (her real name is not known) was born in Western Massachusetts in 1864. Her autobiography, The Stone Wall, published in 1930, is the amazing psycho-sexual self-portrait of a young woman’s growing awareness and acceptance of her lesbian identity. For a time, she taught in a ‘very select girls’ day school on Beacon Hill’ and is quite possibly included in [a] photograph of Miss Ireland’s school… ”

stone cover

Casal’s Massachusetts’ roots were not mentioned in earlier notice by lesbian literature authority Barbara Grier or historian Jonathan Katz. Darling includes Grier’s 1976 review reprint in an online OutHistory bibliography   :

Grier, Barbara (alias: Gene Damon). “Life History of a Lesbian: Mary Casal. Reproduced from  Lesbian Lives: Biographies of Women from the Ladder. Editors Barbara Grier and Coletta Reid. Diana Press 1976 :

“Apparently this is an undoctored life history of a Lesbian. Mary Casal wrote her life story in a casual conversational and entirely frank manner. Since Miss Casal was born in 1864 and was at the time of writing 65 years old, the complete detail of her love affair is almost amazing. Miss Casal was born in New England on a farm and apparently was a part of the class described as upper middle class. Her parents were a rather odd mixture, her mother a descendent of the very pure Puritans and her father a descendent of a distinguished English family of artists and musicians. She was the youngest of nine children and her childhood friends were all male… By the time she had completed her college education she had had three or four … crushes and one of them had apparently been physically satisfactory. In her effort to make her autobiography utterly untraceable, Miss Casal has obscured the sequence of her life to an extent that makes dates impossible to find in relation to her big love affair. However, somewhere in her middle thirties she met and fell in love with a girl two years younger. The affair was entirely complete and very happy for both women for many years, approximately fifteen years or a little more. During these happy years the women discovered many other women of like temperament and the authoress expresses her initial surprise at this, because previously Mary and her friend Juno had thought they were the only women in the world who loved another woman.

Miss Casal’s revelations about the Lesbian world of New York and Paris around the turn of this century are most interesting. Although Miss Casal tries to give the impression that she was never a professional author, it is hard to believe in view of the quality of writing in her memoirs. I heartily recommend this as almost a class[ic] case of lesbianism. Unfortunately the book is very rare and quite expensive. Those willing to take the trouble can borrow the book through the Library of Congress.”

lesbian lives cover

This review by Grier was likely published in the Ladder before The Stone Wall was reprinted in 1975 by Arco Press. A more recent reprint in 2018 by Forgotten Books makes hardback and paperback editions more readily available. The Stone Wall  is also now available for free online.

Jonathan Katz offered a much longer critical review of The Stone Wall in his work Gay American History (1976). OutHistory.org has now made this available online.

I encourage anyone to read The Stone Wall. It is a concise two hundred pages. Given that the author would have been the age of my grandmother when she wrote it, I was struck by her unusual frankness about sex. Her autobiography also provides examples of of what are now called #MeToo moments in late 1800s-early 1900s. Casal discusses childhood abuse and struggles with marital sex. She also gives accounts of intimacy with other women and entry into the subculture of women like her. Nowhere does she refer to herself as a lesbian, though Sherry Darling discovered that Casal’s editor/publisher referred to her a lesbian in correspondence with others and may have edited out anything he considered “too hot” for 1930. At the age of sixty-six, the last of her family still alive, she was not too reticent, although she did disguise some facts to spare her peers.

It is a delight to see historians recover more of her story, linking her solitary work to a much larger, vibrant subculture.   In 2004, David Carter, investigating Stonewall: the Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution, discovered that the same year Casal’s autobiography was published, a tearoom named Bonnie’s Stonewall Inn opened on Seventh Avenue South in Greenwich Village NYC. The owner was Vincent Bonavia.

In those Prohibition days, the tearoom gained a reputation as one of the most notorious in the Village. Bonnie’s Stonewall Inn was raided for selling liquor. Carter also  postulated that its name selection sent a coded message that lesbians were welcome there. Casal and her woman partner lived for a number of years in Greenwich Village.

In Sherry A. Darling’s dissertation on Mary Casal, she uncovered the underground lesbian community centered around actresses in the legitimate theatre in NYC circa 1890-1920 that the author was part of. Darling believes, based on her research, that one character in Casal’s memoir is a male impersonator and actress who introduced Casal and her partner to others in that circle.

In 1934 the tea room, now a bar, moved to two former stables that had been merged and renovated at 51-53 Christopher Street, the current site of the Stonewall Inn.

stone stables

In this pre-1930 photo, the horse stable on the left #53 had already been converted to use as a bakery and the third floor of the stable on the right had yet to be razed.

 

bonnies-stonewall

This 1939 NYC tax photo shows Bonnie’s Stonewall Inn sign on the far right over the joined buildings. Source:NYC Municipal archives.

The business changed hands and function over the decades but retained some variation of the same name on the old signage.

Stonewall-6edt

Matchbook cover circa the 1940s before it became a restaurant. Courtesy of Tom Bernardin.

 

In 1969, as the Mafia-owned gay bar the Stonewall Inn, it returned to its uproarious origins.

Stonewall- daviesnypl1

Diana Davies photo of the Stonewall Inn taken Sep. 9, 1969 after the June-July riots had closed it down. Note on the sign that “Restaurant” had replaced “Bonnie’s.” Photo courtesy New York Public Library.

Through extensive research into the few concrete details in The Stone Wall, Darling discovered that Casal was Ruth Fuller Field, born and raised in Deerfield, Massachusetts. Field later lived with her husband in nearby Montague on the Connecticut River. Casal had written that as a young lady she had spent the summer with a married sister whose family was great friends with the neighboring Governor, who had recently lost his wife. Given the approximate time period Darling was able to identity the Governor. Through his diaries and local property deeds, she identified his friends and neighbors. Through the genealogy records of those friendly neighbors and corroborating detail in The Stone Wall Darling found the name of the sister who had visited them that summer: Ruth Fuller Field.

I easily found confirmation that the person Darling identified as using the Casal pseudonym grew up in Deerfield. These documented details about Ruth Fuller Field echoed elements in Casal’s autobiography as well.

There is the 1870 U.S. Census record filled out by Deerfield’s historian George Sheldon. Ruth W. is the youngest, at 5, of six children living with their parents Joseph and Lydia Fuller. A black “colored” male farm laborer also lived with them.

stone 1870 census

George Sheldon also wrote Deerfield’s history and genealogy in 1896. In it, Sheldon included the Joseph Fuller family, noting that he was a teacher of music as well as a farmer and that by then he resided in Mont[ague]. In addition to the children in the 1870 census, three deceased children were listed. Ruth W. is the last of the living children listed. She was born June 17, 1864. She married Feb 12, 1887 to Frank A. Field of Mont[ague].

There appear to be no street names or house numbers back then, but an online search of the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Society’s collection provided details about Ruth’s most famous uncle, George, who painted landscapes of the neighborhood where the Fuller families lived. Called the Bars, because of some residents’ use of whole tree trunks stacked up to make fences, it was several miles south of (Old) Deerfield center, just past the saw and grist mills on the Deerfield River.

I was curious about just where that might be. It sounded as if it was on or near one of my favorite drives, a back way to Old Deerfield that passes through woods and farm fields before it comes out along the Deerfield River, where I might pass an acre of lavender in bloom.

When I searched for old maps, I found a watercolor tinted lithograph online dated 1871, from an atlas of Franklin County by Frederick Beers. The mills on the river (Mill Village) were marked south of Deerfield center. The race, a small canal, diverted the river to the mills. Each building was marked with its function or the names of its residents. Clustered together on the road south of the mills were the Fuller residences!

1971 map of Deerfield closeup Fuller neighorhood_edited-1

Enlarged neighborhood detail from 1871 Deerfield map by Frederick Beers.

The J.N. Fuller family (Ruth’s) lived next to Joseph’s father Aaron and his mother Sophia, and across the road from his brother George, who became the acclaimed painter even as he struggled to make a living as a farmer.

A Mill Village Road starts across the highway from where I live. Since it was a sunny March day when I found the map, I copied it and drove down that road. I passed by odd housing developments and cornfield stubble still under melting snow. The road started to descend toward the river.

Coming around a wooded bend, I saw a sign on the right side of the road, the Bar’s Farm Stand. Pulling over into its vacant, muddy little parking lot, I stared straight ahead at an old gambreled house, large and immaculately preserved. It looked like the one in photos at the PVMA identified as belonging to George, Ruth’s uncle. Across the street were two houses, just as marked on the old map. One, a boxier, old white painted house was in the position marked as the residence of Ruth’s grandfather Aaron. Next to it, with a driveway lined with sugar maples, sap buckets hung out, was a dark-stained wooden house. It was just where the map indicates Ruth’s family would have lived.

JN Fuller home Mill Village-1

Photo by Kaymarion Raymond, March 2019

The cluster of old houses were indeed located on a plateau, higher ground above the river flood plain with woods uphill and fields around that would have been in hay or planted with potatoes. As I continued north toward Old Deerfield, the road dropped down to the river, met Stillwater Road. The one room school the Fuller children attended at that crossroads was gone. Where the mills would have been on the river was now a dairy cow pasture, but running through it was a winding shallow gully that must have been the remains of the race that diverted water to the mill wheels. If I had gone farther, I would have passed a favorite Fuller swimming hole. Already I’d gone by a man pulling on his waders, getting ready to fish in the river.

SOURCES:

__Casal, Mary.[Ruth Fuller Field.:] The Stone Wall: An Autobiography. Eyncourt Press. Chicago. 1930. Free online PDF.  https://archive.org/details/stonewallautobio00casa

__The [Boston] History Project. Improper Bostonians. Beacon Press, Boston. 1998.

__Darling, Sherry A. “A Critical Introduction to The Stone Wall: An Autobiography.” Dissertation, Tufts University. 2003. Hat tip to Anne Moore UMass archivists for accessing a copy of this for me.

__Katz, Jonathan Ned. Introduction, Mary Casal, pseudonym of Ruth Fuller Field: The Autobiography of an American Lesbian (1930). Outhistory.org. http://outhistory.org/exhibits/show/casal

__Darling, Sherry Ann. Bibliography, Mary Casal, pseudonym of Ruth Fuller Field: The Autobiography of an American Lesbian (1930). http://outhistory.org/exhibits/show/casal.         includes article by Grier cited below:

__Grier, Barbara (AKA Gene Damon). “Life History of a Lesbian: Mary Casal.” Lesbian Lives: Biographies of Women From the Ladder. Editors Barbara Grier and Coletta Reid. Diana Press.1976.

__Carter, David. Stonewall: the Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2004.

__ Landmarks Preservation Commission (NYC).June 23, 2015, Designation List 483LP-2574STONEWALL INN, 51-53 Christopher Street, Manhattan. Includes pieces of the building history not included in other sources.

__Stonewall photos used here, and many more, gathered from various sources into an excellent online slideshow.  https://www.nyclgbtsites.org/site/stonewall-inn-christopher-park/

__”The 40 Songs on the Stonewall Inn Jukebox June 1969.” Just for fun if you read this far,  oldtimer nostalgia. Playlist on Spotify by Douglas Bender on Feb 18 2014.“[Motown] is not an audible sound. It’s spiritual, and it comes from the people that make it happen.” – Smokey Robinson. Record Compilation Credit: Williamson Henderson, President SVA. https://www.charentonmacerations.com/2014/02/18/stonewall-jukebox/

__Deerfield Mass. Census of 1870. Schedule 1, Inhabitants, Page 6.

__Sheldon, George. A History of Deerfield, Massachusetts: The Times when the People by Whom it was Settled, Unsettled and Resettled. Volume 2. Press of E.A. Hall & Company, Deerfield Mass, 1896.

__Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Society. Deerfield Massachusetts online collection. Much information online about George Fuller, Ruth’s Uncle, including paintings and descriptions of their neighborhood. http://www.memorialhall.mass.edu/collection

__Beers, Frederick. “Deerfield.” Atlas of Franklin County. 1871. http://historicmapworks.com/Map/US/8346/

cold brook farm

https://openarchives.umb.edu/digital/collection/p15774coll6/id/6268

In the Field family since 1866.

Cold Brook Farm, Montague, MA
Description ‘125 acre plantation, 6 or 8 buildings, electric water-powered generator, sawmill, cider mill, 26-room house for summer guests, dairy and beef hogs, tobacco, onions, asparagus, various garden vegetables, steamboat landing, Black family as cooks, had electricity before the town was electrified.’
Contributor Name Parzych, Joseph A.
Decade 1990-1999

 

The Peak of Lesbian Enterprise


An unprecedented number of Lesbian enterprises existed in Northampton in 1976-77, both old ones and new, that evolved out of the 1975-76 Separatist struggles. What particularly made this creative flowering different was that Lesbians were, for the first and only time, able to control, rent, and/or buy multiple spaces within downtown Northampton.

This was made possible in large part by the economic decay of the downtown. Its largest business, McCallums Department Store, had closed and many others followed as the city’s population sprawled and shopping malls were built further and further down King St.

When I moved to Green St. in 1970,  everything I needed was within walking distance. Over the next decade, much of that disappeared except for a changing cast of banks, bars, and restaurants. One by one, all but two of the neighborhood markets folded as well as the A&P on Bridge St. and the supermarket on Conz St. The working population that lived downtown in rooming houses or over just about every business aged and declined, too. Two downtown schools – Hawley Junior High and St. Michaels – closed. The working people’s businesses I relied on began to close their doors: Fine’s Clothing, Woolworth’s Five and Dime, Tepper’s General Store, Foster and Farrar Hardware, Whalen’s Office Supply. For a brief time, before real estate speculation and gentrification took hold and turned Hamp into Noho (competing nicknames), space affordable to women became available.

Below is a map of current downtown that I’ve amended with the location of the major 1970s Lesbian enterprises, which peaked in 1976-77. Following it is a brief description of the activity that took place at each address. All of this will be detailed in future posts if I haven’t already.bst 70s map_edited-2

#1. 200 Main St. Lesbian Gardens. Third floor space that was originally rented along with half the second floor by the Valley Women’s Center/Union. 1974-77. Currently Harlow Luggage building.

#2. 66 Green St. Green St.Top two floors, rooming house that started to be lesbian in 1972 and continued to be all or mostly lesbian at least until 1991. Building bought and demolished by Smith College. Currently grass.

#3. 1 Bridge St. Gala Café.  Lesbian backroom 1975-1979. Torn down, part of Spoleto’s currently in that space.

#4. 25 Main St. Nutcracker Suite. One large room on a back corridor as I recall, I believe on the fourth floor, 1976-77. This address also was used by the Grand Jury Information Project, Ceres Inc., and later, I believe, by Chrysalis Theatre. It was in what is now known as the Fitzwilly’s (Masonic) building.

#5. 19 Hawley St. The Egg and Marigolths. 1976-77 (estimated). Originally rented in 1973 by Mother Jones Press which in 1976 became Megaera Press and joined with Old Lady Bluejeans distributing and the Women’s Film Coop to form the Women’s Image Takeover WIT. Additional space in the building was rented to accommodate several craftswomyn and Greasy Gorgon Garage auto repair. These formed a collective of businesses with the self-chosen odd name. Sweet Coming bookstore moved there in 1977.

#6.  78 Masonic St. Common Womon Club. 1976-82. Private dining club for feminist vegetarians owned by the non-profit Ceres Inc. Later bought by Bill Streeter for his book bindery. Currently it is the Mosaic Café.

#7.  68 Masonic St. Nutcracker Suite: Women’s Self Defense and Karate Dojo. Moved from Main St. 1977-78. Womonfyre Books. 1978-82. Owned by Ceres Inc. Later bought by Bart’s Ice Cream as their bakery. Currently it is lesbian owned Bela Vegetarian Restaurant.

Jacqbear: My First Herstory Buddy


This winter I got an email from someone through this blog. A lesbian in California had done an internet search looking for information to include in an obituary she was helping write. At fromwickedtowedded.com, she had found posts of Jacqueline Elizabeth Letalien’s writing about the local herstory, the experience of being a Springfield bardyke in the 1970s .  Recognizing we had a mutual friend, Sue wrote to tell me that Jacqueline had died.

Over the next few weeks I met and corresponded with several California lesbians who filled me in on Jacqueline’s more recent life and the details of her death. Sue, who first contacted me, was editor of the Humboldt County lesbian monthly the L-Word , which had published Jacqueline’s “Kulture Klatch” column since 2001. I also heard from a friend and former co-worker of Jacqueline’s at a local library; and a former partner who had moved with her from Oakland to the redwoods land of coastal northern California. I welcomed their insights and reflections, along with the personal details about a woman I had known best back in the 70s.

I hadn’t been in touch with Jacqueline since 2016, when I tracked her down to inquire about republishing some of her bar dyke poems. Though we were not regular correspondents, I find in my files an accumulation of papers she sent me sporadically over the decades from the West Coast. These include document collections of Valley history given to or saved by her and copies of her writing, particularly as they reflected on Western Massachusetts. She was my earliest and closest collaborator in establishing a core record of the beginnings of second wave feminism and lesbianfeminism in the Connecticut River Valley, work that provided a basis for this blog forty years later.

Her ex wondered if I had brought Jacqueline out, an inference from the stories told about me. Although we had fumbled around in bed once, two sort of clueless butches, I didn’t bring her out, at least not sexually. Perhaps I had politically, in a way, by introducing her to the Gay and Lesbian movements at UMass. There is a clear trajectory in her published writing as a student at UMass. She moves from vague poems of abstracted angst signed by “Jackie” in a dormitory publication to coming out in 1971 as “Jacqueline,” lesbian, in the UMass student newspaper in order to point out some homophobic behavior.

JEL letter 1_edited-1Massachusetts Daily Collegian, student paper UMass Amherst, Oct. 1971

JEL letter2_edited-1

By 1973, it was “Jacqueline E.“ who was inadvertently starting her career as a journalist with frequent letters to the editor and articles in the student paper defending, explaining, and/or protesting the War, Women’s Liberation, and Gay Rights. She was living at Green Street  by then. In June, when she graduated, a group of us women caravaned from Northampton down to her folks’ backyard in Agawam to celebrate.

The next thing to come in the mail to me after the packet of her clippings were three files of documents. She explained in a cover letter that, after a year in Oakland, she had lived in Springfield, Massachusetts from 1975 to 1977. An envelope of clippings, flyers and mimeoed information attest to a period of activism with feminists there. Two additional folders, which were given to her by a Springfield lesbian and feminist, provided the material for the blog post on WAFs and antiwar protests by active duty service personnel at nearby Westover Air Force Base .

There is also a skinny file with yellowed paper dating from 1978. This is the laboriously typed (pre-word processor days) first draft of what became the Valley Women’s Movement: a Herstorical Chronology, 1968-1978.   Notes for correction and additions are penciled in for a final edition that had to be completely retyped. At some point, I will tell a more complete story of the publication, but Jacqueline took my idea and scattered notes and invented a format to hold all the bits of data. She ordered and fit it all together, twice.

Years later, when I thanked her again for this work she had done, she replied that the fact that I had given her that task had saved her life. Another decade went by before I asked her what she meant by that.

Eventually, she replied: “When I returned from California after my 1975 adventure…I was a survivor of a very intense Saturn cycle experience, feeling fragile, exhausted and terrified. I was a woman on the verge. With your assistance (including giving her the chronology task)… I could get my bearings and figure out what I needed to do to begin a healing journey and make closure with the first thirty years.”

One of Jacqueline’s former partners suggests that Jacqueline may also have quit drinking at this point, before there was any support for lesbians in 12-step programs.

Several months before her death in December of 2018, as I was drafting a piece about the early 80s, I came across a flyer for a reading from her work Babelogues at Annabelle’s in Northampton by, as she now called herself, “Jacqueline Elizabeth”.

jacqueine 1982 cwc_edited-1

She later sent me a copy of Babelogues, which she more informally referred to as her Bar Dyke poems, about her gay bar experiences in the Valley at the Girls’ Club, the Arbor, the Pub, the Cellar, and the Arbor II. Part of a larger collection of poems, some of them were published in the Fall of 1981 in the first issue of Common Lives/Lesbian Lives.

She also sent me a volume she published in 1982, Hostages: Underground Lies a Woman Buried. In the introduction, she called it a collage of the Women’s Movement: women’s experience with government terrorism 1974-75. Coming to awareness of these multiple violations was a large part of what hit her at the beginning of her Saturn return. On the West Coast she heard of the experiences of Inez Garcia, SLA women, Karen Silkwood, and Yvonne Wanrow. On her return to the East Coast, she was met by reports on the experiences of Joanne Little, the Watergate women, the women of the Weather Underground, and those lesbians called before the New Haven Grand Jury and jailed. What she saw was that, from coast to coast, being battered was the bottom line for women as a class.

She self-published these two volumes from Oakland in 1981 and 1982, with second and third editions in 1997 and 1999. They are stapled-together photocopied collections of poems. There was a long gap in our communications. It was not until 2001 that she sent me copies of the later editions.

JEL SF Pride, Dora Abrahams photo

Jacqueline after reading on the main stage at a San Francisco Pride. photo courtesy Dora Abrahams

Along with them came a slim binder of her first seven “KultureKlatch” monthly columns for the L-Word, 2001-02. I love the introduction: “The name of this column is an Herstorical reference to mothers coming together in a coffee klatch with other mothers in the neighborhood to talk about children, husbands, marriage, cooking, dreams; what they live, know.”

The very first column, August 2001, opens with: “Currently a timber company is spraying poisons along the Klamath River, near and on the Yurok reservation.”

JEL redwoods 1990 Abrahams photo

Jacqueline in the Redwoods c. 1990, photo by Dora Abrahams

JEL cut her hair c.99 being a reporter Dora Abrahams pix

Jacqueline cut her signature long hair about 1999. Here in a characteristic reporter pose, photo courtesy Dora Abrahams.

JEL KultureKlatch_edited-1

Another few years passed. I had started doing this blog and tried to find a current address for Jacqueline. Searching online, I found that she had a blog, for one intense year it appeared. It had come and gone in 2011, but there was a contact address for “jacqbear!” (I love this.), and a wonderful photo of her, (unattributed). I left a message.

j pix

unattributed photo from her 2011 blog

Four months later, she responded via email. “Sorry, I have a love/hate relationship with computers.” We reconnected one last time in 2016. That time, the batch of files came electronically. I printed out five years of KultureKlatch, Aug 2002-2007.

Rereading this more recent work now, I am struck by her occasional circling back around again to her/our experiences in the Valley in the 1970s. Each retelling gains depth of insight, candidness, and greater narrative skill. She illuminates areas of our lives that it takes a long time to see and understand before trying to share it with each other. She always keeps a radical perspective. Among the many issues she addresses, I note particularly her references to coming to know herself as a woman of color, the problems of drinking in the bar culture, and the violence lesbians do to each other in intimate relationships. The need for truth, for our stories to be told, writing as activism.

I read Jacqbear’s obituaries  with great interest. I recognized my old friend in the descriptions given of her stubbornness, magic, love of earth and cats, grumpy bear need for solitude. I very much want, as promised by California sisters, to hear, to at least read, the final cycle of her writing. Those are stories she became known for telling in Humboldt County “that take one on a journey of… the natural cycles of earth, wind and water, the heartbeats of women, and echoing sacred silences.”

 

Lost Coast Outpost Jan. 19, 2019

LoCO Staff / Saturday, Jan. 19 @ 6:45 a.m. / Obits

OBITUARY: Jacqueline Elizabeth Magdalene Letalien, 1947-2018

Jacqueline Elizabeth Magdalene Letalien
December 29, 1947 – December 28, 2018.

She was born in Lowell, Massachusetts to Lillian and Arthur Letalien and had one sister, Vicky. Her family were French Corsican, Miqmaq, Maliseet, Scottish and Jewish.

Jacqueline was a writer, activist, and poet. She considered herself a crone, an elder teacher, a dream manifester, a truth sayer “I am Ya’akova Elishiva de L’Etoile.”

Jacqueline attended the University of Massachusetts where she began a lifelong process of bearing witness, telling untold stories, and working to make a difference in the various communities in which she lived. Moving to the Bay Area in the 1980s, she wrote for the New Bernal Journal, the North Mission News, the Bay Area Reporter, and began Spoken Word.

Once she moved to Humboldt County  she worked for the College of the Redwoods library, then the Humboldt County library, specifically the Kim Yerton Memorial Library in Hoopa, organizing poetry readings in both locations. She wrote a monthly column for The L-Word and Humboldtgov.org described her as: “a spoken word artist known to Humboldt County audiences for her powerful, thoughtful retellings of Native American traditional tales, and her poetry, words from the deep springs of an individual human spirit. Her poems take you on a journey of world mythology, human history, natural cycles of earth, wind and water, the heartbeats of women, and echoing sacred silences.” She wrote poetry and prose for a wide variety of publications and two collections of her work are in the process of publication.

Jacqueline was “grateful to live in this beautiful valley and would like to thank the Hupa people for their warmth and friendship.” She appreciated both the beauty and isolation of this area and the community here, so much so, she stayed on after she retired. Jacqueline created many overlapping families for herself in the various places she lived, and she is missed by many of us. Her final request is for you to continue to enjoy the library and to live peacefully.

In Jacqueline’s honor, an open poetry reading is scheduled for January 19th 10:30 am at the Kim Yerton Memorial Library, all are welcome. Reception to follow at the Straight Arrow Café, 12651 CA-96, Hoopa, CA 95546 530-625-1083.

###

The obituary above was submitted on behalf of Jacqueline Letalien’s family. The Lost Coast Outpost runs obituaries of Humboldt County residents at no charge. See guidelines here.

L-Word remembrances published in the Feb 2019 issue:

Dora: Jacqueline and I were partners for 6 years, beginning around 1994. We met in Oakland at the Women’s Cancer Resource Center where she was the office manager and I was a volunteer.   I was drawn to her immediately, from the first time I heard her talk. She was Butch, keys hanging out of her pocket, long hair, Native jewelry, grounded and solid. She had a presence/a way of speaking that made a room listen. We became friends, fell in love, and saved together to move to Humboldt.  I had gone to HSU and planned on moving back eventually. She had visited and hoped to move to Humboldt.

One of the first presents she got me was a tiny plastic deer, a reminder to be gentle with myself. She taught me how to organize my paperwork, encouraged me to get rid of things with difficult energy attached to them, taught me to reward myself after doing hard work, and believed in my strength far more than I did at the time. She was my first live-in relationship, and we were as married as two women at that time could have been. It wasn’t until my relationship with her that I was able to sleep without the covers over my head.

She was not easy. She was a bull-headed Capricorn; a self described “growly bear” at times.  She could come across as stoic and cranky but she was a pussycat inside.

She trusted me with her vulnerability and effortlessly told me she loved me very early on in our relationship. One day early in our friendship, a mean ex of mine came into the Resource Center. Jacqueline silently came over to me, put down a chair, and just sat down. She was protective and chivalrous.

She had powerful magic. She lit candles, set intentions, said silent prayers, and situations would shift. She told me about her “bar dyke” days, referring to herself as a “drunk” in those times. She had quit drinking completely on her own. She was a Witch, a Poet, and an Activist.  She left far, far too early.

Dora Abrahams 1-23-2019

Sue: Those of you who’ve been to my house know that it’s seldom heated, but most of you don’t know that the only reason there’s heat at all is because of Jacqueline.  She’d been to my house and I think realized the problem, so at one point when she was moving she told me she didn’t need her (very nice, new-looking) space heater and brought it over, with a long extension cord so it could go anywhere in the house. It’s made many L-word layouts warmer.

Lori: I met Jacqueline at the first LWord Poetry Reading, at the Expresso Bar in Fields Landing, in the summer of 2010. We submitted and read our poetry, published in the LWord’s “Voices From the Edge of the Continent” (Vols I-IV). Whereas Iwas new to submitting and reading my poems, Jacqueline had been a writer and poet for decades. When Iwas organizing our last LWord poetry reading, Jacqueline emailed back, “I will come anywhere, any time, to read poetry.” It was just a couple of weeks later, in April 2018, that I joined Jacqueline to read our poems at the Eureka Public Library as part of their Poetry Series. Jacqueline was there when I arrived, having come all the way from Hoopa. Her poems and her style were different from mine, often epic in length and mythic in content. Jacqueline read with ease, which I greatly admired and hope to emulate. I looked forward to seeing her at an LWord poetry reading I am organizing this spring. I was saddened and shocked to hear of her passing, so soon after the loss of our fellow poet and writer, Suzanne Moore, as well as the loss of Montanna Jones, whom I always enjoyed seeing at the LWord brunches and song circle.

As announced in the January LWord, please email Sue (suejh@humboldt1.com) if you are a poet, a lover of poetry, and/or would like to read your own or one by Suzanne or Jacqueline. They and Montanna will be missed, and we will remember them through their words and how they touched our lives. I will always be grateful to Jacqueline and Suzanne for their kind words and as role models.

May they all be resting in peace. Lori Cole

 

 

 

SOURCES:

https://fromwickedtowedded.com/2017/04/14/mafia-bars-and-the-male-gaze/ https://fromwickedtowedded.com/2016/01/30/bar-dykes/

www.lword.mamajudy.com

the Valley Women’s Movement: a Herstorical Chronology, 1968-1978.   http://www.vwhc.org/timeline.html

http://www.lword.mamajudy.com/kulture_klatch.html

http://jacqbear.blogspot.com/

Obituary written by friends in the Lost Coast Outpost: https://lostcoastoutpost.com/2019/jan/19/obituary-jacqueline-elizabeth-magdalene-letalien-1/

Obituary and remembrances in Feb. 2019 issue of the L-word.  www.lword.mamajudy.com

 

Mysterious Hanging in 1676


Thomas Cole, the Oxbow

I only had the vaguest sense of the Puritan origins of Massachusetts when I moved here from out of state. In my search for Northampton’s queer past, I have become more and more astounded that from a foundation of severe social constraint this Commonwealth has moved to become a national leader in gay rights and same-sex marriage. It’s as though, even as Puritanism and capitalism seems to still prevail, the state’s rebellious radical roots surface from time to time as well.

Among the colonies of Europeans trying to plant themselves on the east coast of this continent, the Massachusetts Bay Colony had a reputation for extreme intolerance. While chartered by the King of England and under that law, the settlers were secretly religious radical separatists intent on establishing a new Eden, separate from the English Anglican Church, in which everyone belonged to a congregation based on the same ideologically “pure” Christian covenant.

Throughout much of Massachusetts, one sees remnants of this past in the frequent presence of the white spires of Congregational Churches, whose founding dates back to the origins of those towns, when the towns were not distinguished from religious congregations. The colonizers went beyond English law to form this new society by requiring every new plantation (as towns were often called) to be strictly organized around Church, State and Family. The church mandated attendance by all, whether townspeople were admitted members or not. Initially, only those men who were full Church members and property owners constituted town government, with a vote and the ability to serve in offices both in the town and in the government of the colony. Everyone had to live within extended family households headed by such patriarchs.

This congregational social form was reflected in the regulated development of each new plantation as specified in detail by the Colony’s government. The meeting house was built first in what would be the center of the community. It was used for both church and government meetings. All dwellings, in early Nonotuck/Northampton on four acre lots, were built within a half-mile walking distance of the meeting house. The commonly held land of woods, pasture and field surrounded this center.

From James Trumbull, History of Northampton. Historic Northampton’s digital map collection. The Meeting house was at the intersection of Main and King Streets. Its common was probably where punishment stocks were located and where this hanging may have taken place.

It’s hard to imagine how small, closed, and conformist early Nonotuck, as it was first called, would have been. While the founding fathers may have been as interested in establishing their own estates as in creating a religious community, they did follow the Puritan blueprint dictated by the colony. The settlers were a single congregation that literally built the town around the church.

Within it, individual behavior came under constant, but often unsuccessful, regulation. No one could settle or even visit for more than ten days without permission. From the beginning, no single persons were allowed to live alone, but had to be part of an established household monitored by a patriarch for “disorderly living.” As the plantation grew, tithingmen were appointed to regularly inspect ten to twelve neighboring households to enforce the Sabbath and the 9pm curfew. They were also on the alert for idleness and drinking.

Amongst such constraint and near constant oversight, the existence of people who we would today call gay, lesbian, queer, or transgressive in some way would have been severely challenged. Research in queer history, summarized in a recent post , demonstrates that same-sex eroticism and gender crossing existed from the very founding of the Massachusetts colonies. It is likely to have existed in Northampton as well, yet is still hidden history.

A standard source on the history of the early settlement is James Trumbull’s History of Northampton (1898), the first and largest published town history. There is only one major entry suggestive of queerness in this entire two-volume work: a mysterious hanging in 1676 in which neither the man nor his crime are named. Under the heading “First Capital Punishment in Northampton,” Trumbull quotes from the journal of Rev. Simon Bradstreet of New Haven:

“July 1676. A souldier in ye Garrison at Northampton in ye Collony, was hanged. * * *    He was condemned by a councll of warre. He was about 25 or 26. He was but a stranger in this county, prest out against the Indians.”

Trumbull found no other reference to this hanging and remarks on the lack of facts, noting that “the crime must have been of a more than usually reprehensible character.”

from James Trumbull History of Northampton

I am left to wonder if this man was hung for sodomy, one of the Colony’s capital crimes. Although only one such execution has been discovered so far in Massachusetts, historians have suggested from records for all the eastern Colonies that sodomy was disproportionately punished by death. Such executions most  often occurred during early colonization, within communities struggling to survive.

We do not know what form the execution took beyond it was a hanging. Here is an artist’s later interpretation of a hanging that took place that same year (1656) in Boston on the Commons of Ann Hibbins for witchcraft. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ann_Hibbins#/media/File:ExecutionAnnHibbins1.jpg

Northampton had been established for barely twenty years and consisted of eighty households at the time of the hanging. It had also recently suffered both internal dissension and external threats. In the past year, the settlement had undergone witchcraft and sumptuary law trials. The conflict between displaced Indigenous people and settlers had been raging throughout New England. Just four months previous to the hanging the plantation had been attacked by five hundred Native Americans who had broken through the recently erected palisade, killing five settlers and burning ten buildings. The attack on Northampton was one of the last of the southern campaign of “King Phillip’s War,” and the reason militia from outside the area had been garrisoned in the settlement.


 

Although the judgement was reached by a “councll of warre,” it is very likely that Northampton militia officers, other settlement officials, and its minister Rev. Stoddard were part of the council. It is quite possible that Stoddard may have read a sermon published and widely circulated two years before on the sins of Sodom. Attributed to Boston’s Rev. Danforth, it urged the death penalty for sodomy and bestiality as a way to set an example for youth and avoid God’s vengeance on the community. Was the extreme measure a way for a settlement feeling under siege to placate a deity? The very lack of facts about the hanging suggests active censorship. Was this because the capital crime committed was “filth…not fit to be known in a public way, so as to prevent further spread of the idea as a pathogen? We are left to wonder if Rev. Bradstreet simply didn’t know any more about this case or if he was one of those ministers who literally applied the injunction that it was “wickedness not to be named.”

If any early court records for Northampton exist, they still remain to be examined for similar obscuring language. Although Jonathan Edwards scholars have made a start, search needs to be done for the entire colonial period for any local examples of lesser offenses known to have prosecuted in the Massachusetts Bay Colony that covered same-sex eroticism or gender crossing such as: “unchaste or lewd behavior, unseemly practices, uncleane carriage one with another, uncivell living together, licentiousness, lascivious speech, disorderly living” and improper dress.


SOURCES:] 

 

__Katz, Jonathan. Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A.: a Documentary History. Meridian, 1992.

__Katz, Jonathan. Gay/Lesbian Almanac: A New Documentary. Harper & Row, 1983; reprint NY: Carroll & Graf, 1994.

__[Boston] History Project. Improper Bostonians: Lesbian and Gay History from the Puritans to Playland. Beacon Press. Boston. 1998.

__ Haskins, G. L. Law and Authority in Early Massachusetts – A Study in Tradition and Design. Macdonald & Co.1960.

__Trumbull, James Russell. History of Northampton Massachusetts from its Settlement in 1654. Press of Gazette Printing Co. Northampton, Mass. Volume I, 1898. Volume II, 1902.

Available online: Volume one: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=pst.000004746782;view=1up;seq=11 

Volume two: https://books.google.com/books/about/History_of_Northampton_Massachusetts.html?id=PrkWAAAAYAAJ

Further reading:

__new perspective; Our Beloved Kin: Remapping a New History of the King Philip’s War by Lisa Brooks, an interactive website. https://ourbelovedkin.com/awikhigan/index

__ McLain, Guy A. Pioneer Valley: a pictorial history. Virginia Beach, Va. Donning Co. 1991. By the Director of Wood Museum of Springfield History, it has an excellent essay on the largely exploitive economic relationship of the European settlers and the local indigenous people. Readily available in local libraries.