1968 Snapshot


susan n me jun 196912112014
Susan and I, Nash Hill Road

In the Spring of 1968 we moved to the Valley so my partner could go to grad school. Susan made the down payment on a tiny hunters’ cabin, heated by a Glenwood stove, with 100 acres of wooded hillside on a dirt road in Williamsburg.  After unpacking essentials we made our long planned (but delayed by illness) tour of Europe, where we were inadvertently tear gassed in Paris during the student protests. That, and the assassinations  that year of Martin Luther King and Robert F Kennedy, should have woke us up to what was coming, but we blithely continued with our life plans. Susan started commuting to Smith, I got a job at the VA Hospital in Leeds, we added to our family of cats and dogs, and she taught me to drive a stick shift in downtown Northampton traffic (if one could call it such a thing), where I panicked as I repeatedly stalled her red VW bug.

theladder cover oct-nov 69In a burst of new freedom from no longer being in the witch-hunting military where we had met, Susan got a subscription to the Ladder, a national gay women’s periodical mailed discretely in a plain brown envelope. We knew no one in the Valley at that time, let alone other gay women, and aside from visits by old WAC friends, this little magazine became our window into a subculture that we thought must be existing somewhere nearby. We did look, but concluded that the women of ‘Burgy who might look like “that” were probably just practical and, well, rural.

Between classes, Susan began to search the stacks at Neilson Library for little suggestive gems reviewed in the Ladder by Gene Damon, the pseudonym of editor Barbara Grier. The search widened when, at Barbara’s suggestion, she found an out-of-print copy of Sex Variant Women in sex variant 1st edition 1956Literature by Jeanette Foster.  Susan’s evening reading of these novels that might have only a minor mention of a gay or bisexual character became part of our routine, accompanied by stories of her undergrad years at Smith and who might have been gay, suspicions intensified by her discovering__“Ho! Ho!”__ who else had previously signed out these library books.

2729-May Sarton_biography
May Sarton (source; pinterest)

She became an ardent fan of May Sarton. We had one memorable summer afternoon searching for the author’s home in the tiny rural town of Nelson, New Hampshire. Having located a house that looked like the photograph in one of Sarton’ memoirs, I was sent to the front door to knock while Susan watched safely from the car. I must have passed the look test, because we were, much to Susan’s delight, invited in for a glass of sherry and then a tour of the garden. And as we were leaving my partner was given a hard to find copy of the controversial Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Sing. better mrs stevens

Yes, Susan pointed out the Chase and Duckett houses side by side on the Smith campus, named after two former faculty women rumored to have been lovers, and we visited the woman-owned Hampshire Bookshop. Still, we were largely isolated during our first two years in the Valley, referring to each other as “housemates.” At my VA job, I invented a boyfriend to shield myself from curiosity. This was not unusual at the time when discretion meant survival. It took careful, coded introductions to become part of a social network. Change only began to occur in our lives when, in 1970 I, now a sophomore at UMass, spied a personal ad in the Collegian for a meeting of the Student Homophile League. Susan later joined an Amherst Women’s Liberation support group. Unknowingly, we found ourselves on the cusp of a revolution.

Coming Next: Was there a gay subculture in Northampton before 1970? If so, what did it look like? An examination of what three different historians have discovered about post-World War II ‘Hamp that sets the stage for the coming social revolution.

Comments On the Introduction, Plus_


It’s been an eventful week of reaction to the last blog post which fills me with both joy and trepidation. Thought I’d share some more wonderful responses to the Intro post that only appeared on my private fb page or messages. So with permission copying here:

_From Judith Gallman Schenck; “I remember the wonderful sub-culture we had when we went out for breakfast at Common Womon private women’s club, shopped at Womonfyre bookstore, practiced karate at Nutcracker Suite, went to events at Lesbian Gardens, and hung out at the Gala lesbian backroom bar. There were prices to pay – violence against the community, etc. – and it seems like such a long time ago. Ah, there are stories to tell!”

_Judith Gallman Schenck; “My favorite RECENT story is about the movies Out For Reel used to show. After a show at the Academy of Music, we, along with about 300 other lesbians, were walking toward City Hall and our car when we passed a group of male college students. One of them looked at all of us and said to his mates, “I told you Northampton was a great place to meet girls.” We fell over laughing.” Judith has promised to share one account of some of that “violence against the community”_ previously published in a Lesbian magazine.

_From Beth Bellavance-Grace (who is featured with Karen in the tabloid photo); “I just want to state for the record, I coined the word ‘Lesbianville’ and unfortunately handed it to the Enquirer. Did you know there was an article in the L.A. Times about Northampton? It came out after our engagement was finally posted in the [Hampshire] Gazette. That’s how the slimy Enquirer got on to the story. Then they came and lied about who they were; we were told they were from a paper in Plymouth writing an article about how different Northampton was to Ptown. Ah youth. We were so naive then. But certainly not for long.” The LA Times article is available as a synopsis or full text (pay-per-view) ; http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/latimes/doc/281489467.html?FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:FT&type=current&date=Dec+19%2C+1991&author=Mehren%2C+Elizabeth&pub=Los+Angeles+Times+%28pre-1997+Fulltext%29&edition=&startpage=&desc=A+Place+to+Call+Home+A+Small+Massachusetts+College+Town+Has+Become+a+Haven+for+Women%2C+Especially+Lesbians I am urging Beth to find and share some of her fine documentary photographs.

_And Fern Spierer (who is featured in the graffiti on the railroad bridge) shared the National Enquirer clipping with the daily blog Only in Northampton who posted it Dec. 27, garnering 150 likes, 16 comments and 35 shares in a flash. I think that’s lesbian power, or at least a measure of the interest in this part of the town’s past. I used the opportunity to credit Wicked as the source of the clipping and OiN later graciously posted about the blog, as well as using the press clipping as their cover photo. Many thanks to Fern and OiN for pushing this blog a little further out of the closet, or as I replied to Fern, the turtle sticks her head out a little further from the shell. Try linking here to their post for more comments to the “lesbianville” clipping: https://www.facebook.com/OnlyInNorthampton/photos/a.175072409338756.1073741828.173832649462732/371353086377353/?type=1″

Coming up next on this blog; I’ve asked myself how does one approach and enter a stream of over three centuries of history? And do so in a way that carries others along into this great, evolving story? Stay tuned to see if I manage to figure it out.