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

 

Published by

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.