Woman of the Year 1964: Barbara Gittings


Little notes, typed on Dictaphone paper, used to come in the mail for me and my partner Susan. The scribbled initials on each were those of the editor of the Ladder and, sometimes, her partner Kay. Through such brief, dashed off, means she gathered news, reviews, stories and ,yes, illustrations from hundreds of gay women across the country to publish in this sole U.S. lesbian magazine. Two of my blog posts detail a few of my early interactions with Barbara Gittings. Time Magazine’s tribute to unsung women was an appropriate start to this Women’s History Month. It feels, at a time frozen in pandemic, an appropriate reminder of resistance to end this month of March with her cover and Michael Bedwell’s tribute as shared to OutHistory.
Image may contain: 1 person, eyeglasses and text
Michael Bedwell

GAY RIGHTS PIONEER BARBARA GITTINGS’ SURVIVING PARTNER of 46 years Kay Tobin Lahusen called me yesterday to alert me to Barbara’s inclusion in “TIME” magazine’s 100 Women of the Year project. They commissioned 89 new “TIME” mock covers to commemorate 89 women who should have been on the magazine’s covers over its near century of existence. The remaining 11 are existing real covers of women who had been named Person of the Year.

BARBARA’S cover used a 1964 photo by Kay rendered by Serbian artist Ivana Besevic, and incorporates the motto “Gay Is Good” coined in 1968 by Barbara & Kay’s close friend and mentor Frank Kameny, the father of the modern gay rights movement. The accompanying text by “TIME’s” San Francisco Bureau Chief Katy Steinmetz reads:

“The Stonewall riots have become the focal point of the modern LGBTQ-rights movement, but they didn’t start it. The groundwork was laid in the previous decade by activists like Barbara Gittings, who understood that before marginalized people can prevail, they must understand that they are worthy and that they are not alone.

In an era when it was dangerous to be out, Gittings edited the Ladder, a periodical published by the nation’s first known lesbian-rights organization, the Daughters of Bilitis, creating a sense of national identity and providing a platform for resistance. In the August 1964 issue, her editorial blasted a medical report that described homosexuality as a disease, writing that it treated lesbians like her more as “curious specimens” than as humans.

Gittings would go on to be instrumental in getting the American Psychiatric Association to stop classifying homosexuality as a mental illness and in getting libraries to carry gay literature. Whether she was wielding a pen or a protest sign, the militant advocate had a simple message: when society said that being gay was an abomination, Gittings said that gay was good.”

Prints of the illustration are available at: https://fineartamerica.com/…/barbara-gittings-1964-time.html

Barbara was memorialized in 2012 along Chicago’s Legacy Walk, the world’s first outdoor museum of LGBT history. SEE: https://legacyprojectchicago.org/person/barbara-gittings

Men Protest 


 “It was scary,” Steve Trudel recalls, “but the police action and media reports were so outrageous that even though I wasn’t into cruising rest stops myself, I was moved to do something about it.”

Steve lived in Northampton in the late seventies. He and other men were galvanized into protest by October 23-24, 1978 newspaper accounts of a sting operation at an Interstate 91 rest area in Holyoke in which sixteen men were arrested for soliciting casual sex. The names and addresses of those arrested—along with the “morals” charges made against them –were widely reported in area newspapers, including the Daily Hampshire Gazette and the UMass Daily Collegian.

DHG MDC Oct 23 78_edited-1Daily Hampshire Gazette, Northampton MA and UMass/Amherst Massachusetts Daily Collegian coverage Oct. 23, 1978

scenic area i mile

Scenic Area 1 mile (today on I-91)

The rest area was not the one listed in GCN’s 1976 New England Gay Guide . It attracted men from up and down the highway, as well as locals. A fourth of those arrested lived in Connecticut. One was from Vermont, another from Eastern Massachusetts. Three were from nearby Hampden County. Northampton’s Daily Hampshire Gazette printed the names and addresses of the five from Amherst, Florence, Hadley and Northampton, including two who lived together. While the age of the sixteen men charged ranged from twenty to sixty-two, most were in late thirties and early forties.

Springfield_Union_1978-10-24_16   Springfield (MA ) Union Oct. 24, 1978

Police justified the entrapment because seven weeks previously a man reported that he had been raped and robbed there by another man. Such victimization of men who cruised for anonymous sex (and who were unlikely to report crime to authorities), was so common that it was referred to in the gay subculture as “being rolled.”

Rather than trying to solve the crime however, police focused on shutting down the sexual activity, which they characterized to the press as “homosexual attacks.” For two weekend evenings, Oct. 21-22, plainclothes police made themselves available for proposition at the rest area and then arrested anyone who approached them. The men were charged with “lascivious behavior,” “open and gross lewdness,” and/or, if there was any physical contact, “assault and battery.” In a follow-up article in the Springfield Union, the Captain of the local State Police said that the alleged homosexual activity was continuing in the rest area adjacent to Mount Tom in spite of the arrests, and that the state police undercover work there would continue until the situation [was] cleared up.

scenic area 2

Only one of the sixteen arrested, the man from Somerville, submitted to the facts of the case in the Holyoke District Court on Oct. 23 and was fined $125. All the others pled innocent and were given trial dates, or were given hearing dates to enter a plea. Their court dates were scattered over the coming month. It would be interesting to know the results of further hearings or trials but I could find  no later newspaper coverage . Holyoke District Court records are not digitized for this time. Does anyone know where the paper records are stored?

The press coverage of the arrests provoked a response from Valley gay men and their allies. Several were moved to write letters to the editors of local newspapers, including, I am told, the Valley Advocate and one printed in Springfield Union from Amherst resident Paul Shepard.

Springfield_Union_1978-11-01_15Springfield Union Nov. 1, 1978.

Two weeks after the arrests, Nov. 5, approximately fifty people protested police and media action by bringing signs and mimeographed handouts to the rest stop at midday, standing so they could be seen from I-91 as well as by those pulling into the rest area. Steve Trudel and at least one other gay man from Northampton were among the protesters. The UMass Gay Alliance was one of the organizing groups with members present.

Springfield_Union_1978-11-04_8

Springfield Union, Nov. 4, 1978

The purpose of the demonstration was to expose the harassment of gay men for adult consensual behavior; the waste of police resources which could better be used solving “real” crimes such as the rape and battery of women; and the general oppression of gay men. Demonstrators also wanted to correct the false image of gay men created by homophobic police and media.

nov 4 78 rally flyer_edited-1Flyer distributed Nov. 5, 1978, mimeograph one of two sides, courtesy Bambi Gauthier

There were no hassles and at least one TV station filmed the demonstration. In an interesting aside, Steve recalls being interviewed at the demonstration by a Valley reporter who he recognized from other political events and who gave him “the creeps.” So Steve asked him if he had a history of doing undercover work. The reporter admitted he had previously worked for the government.

Springfield_Union_1978-11-05_1

Springfield_Union_1978-11-05_2Springfield Republican Nov. 4, 1978.

It was very radical analysis and action for the time. While there was no overt reply or statement made by the local governments or state police in response to the rally, I couldn’t find news records of further arrests at that scenic area or of that nature. So it appears that the outcry successfully stopped further entrapment of gay men.

scenic area 4

as seen today (2019), there are no holes in the fence and bushes and trees are cut back.

Steve remembers it as “the only exciting (pro-gay) political action at the time. It was difficult to do, to put oneself out there.”  Valley gay men with a political consciousness, it seemed to him, were few and far between in this decade. Just as many Northampton lesbians were energized working with feminist women, a few politicized gay men found support, albeit out of town, in other progressive groups.

Steve and Bill Starkweather were joined at the I-91 demo by members of a group they belonged to: a pro-feminist men’s action group formed at Hampshire College in 1978. This group referred to themselves as ”positively men”and continued until at least 2004. Steve’s realization that there was more to being gay than sex and dancing led him to demonstrate solidarity with other oppressed groups. In Northampton in 1978, he was among the group of men who provided care for children while the mothers participated  in the Valley’s first  Take Back the Night March  . He and others of the group of also attended the 1979 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.

It would be a few more years before gay men in Northampton formed their own group and began working in coalition with the city’s lesbians.

In a post note: I found documents online indicating that at least ten of those arrested in 1978 are now deceased.  It is too late to ask them how that public outing in the form of being charged with crimes impacted their lives. Seven of the deceased had enough information in their death notices to indicate their marital status.  Three of them had wives and children while four did not. One of those bachelors was the “Beloved friend of Robert…, William…, Rudy…, Bruce…, Todd…, Jack…,[et al.]” And he had volunteered at a local AIDS support organization. Another of the unmarried men was a resigned Catholic priest charged with child sex abuse in 2002.

skyview scenic area

SOURCES:

__Trudel, Stephen. Phone interview and email correspondence. Sep. 20, Nov. 22, 2004.

__”16 men arrested in sex raid.” Springfield Union. Springfield MA.  Oct. 23. 1978.

__ “Five men from area charged in sex cases.” Daily Hampshire Gazette. Northampton MA. Oct 23, 1978.

__Horgan, Sean T. and Quinlan, Joseph. “16 arrested in sex raid at I-91 South rest area.” Massachusetts Daily Collegian. UMass Amherst. Oct 23, 1978.

__Perkins, Robert. “Cops to continue probe of highway rest area.” Springfield Union. Springfield MA. Oct. 24, 1978.

__Shepard, Paul. “Questions raised by police raids on I-91 rest area.” Letter to the Editor. Springfield Union. Springfield MA. Nov. 01, 1978.

__”Gay Rally set at Rest Area.” Springfield Union. Springfield MA. Nov. 04, 1978.

__Blomberg, Marcia. “Group protests I-91 arrests.” Springfield Republican. Springfield MA. Nov. 05, 1978.

__”Diocese of Burlington releases priest sexual abuse report, names.” Vermont Business Magazine. Aug. 22, 2019.

__thanks to Bambi Gauthier for bringing this story to my attention and providing copies of some documents and contacts to interview.

 

 

 

 

 The Gala Fight: 1977 by Judith Schenck


Judith’s Schenck’s  account of the fight at the Gala in Northampton, the summer of ’77, was previously published in Common Lives/Lesbian Lives in a slightly different version. The paragraph CL/LL cut, for space reasons, has been re-instated here and flagged for the reader’s attention.

  The Gala Fight: 1977                 by Judith Schenck

I claim this as a way

of letting go

 I give you the memory

I don’t need to carry it

anymore

judith schenck 1977

 

We had all been enjoying the steaminess of the summer night, using the weather as an excuse to strip to tank tops and show off our muscles. As I leaned against the jukebox nursing my first beer of the evening, I imagined I looked interesting — droll, perhaps, witty, maybe – but interesting, definitely. This was how I viewed myself.

The few lights gave the bar the sleazy, smoky, familiar atmosphere we all knew. It was a world we had made our own.  At some tables, couples leaned close in earnest conversation, while next to them eight women crowded into a booth designed for half that number. The music was loud, and we knew all of the records by heart: 116, Marvin Gaye, Got to Give It Up; 108, Thelma Houston, Don’t Leave Me This Way; 115, Bee Gees, Jive Talkin’; Afternoon Delight; This Will Be; Soul Train; Rubberband Man; Love Hangover. Nobody needed the cure. We knew what it was: just dance.

In a slow-motioned, stop-action blur, I saw them come in through the door. I moved in front of them, standing directly in the path of the huge, blonde man with the twisted lip. If you’re going to call a place yours, you’ve got to be as willing as the next woman to stand up for it.

In the act of standing, however, I wasn’t really aware of the assumptions I was making. They had to do with how safe a white woman is in this culture, especially in New England, and about shared class values with white men. I was less surprised to learn that being a lesbian changes all of that than I was to discover that those really were my assumptions.

I told the three young men that they weren’t welcome. It was a private party. They should talk to Jeanie, the owner. I felt I had been firm, but reasonable. I had done exactly what Jeanie had always told us to do if men came into the back of the little pink bar. I had been a good girl. I was following the rules. But the big one in front shoved me, and I moved back to my spot in front of him, I heard someone yell that he couldn’t do that.

I remember seeing his hand coming toward me and I can hear again the blip-blip of thoughts flying through my mind. His hand became a mitt, a paw, an animal’s weapon, and encircled my left breast. He squeezed hard and then twisted it. In front of all of those nameless shadows of women there, he claimed a man’s power over a woman, the power to do what he would, power over, power to hurt, power to force.

I pushed him away and decided that I would step in and give him pain in the only place he could feel anything. I wanted to take the one place a man is soft and show him how it felt to be softness and vulnerability raped, ruptured, and destroyed.

But the man was better trained in tactics of violence and struck me while I was still (in the best lesbianfeminist tradition) processing my feelings. He struck with a force that literally rattled my teeth, and before I realized what had happened, he hit me in my jaw a second time.

The women had crowded up behind and caught me as I went down. When I opened my eyes, I saw another woman lying on the floor next to me with blood coming out of her mouth.

As the women I held me, I felt briefly safe. He stood over me, grinning, holding his fist at the ready. He taunted me, and I was filled with a fury that could reshape the world, a rage to destroy and kill. When I tried to get up, I found the women were holding me tightly, preventing me from responding. They put me in a booth and held me there while other women acted out their interpretations of my rage.

The worst bruises I carried away were the deep purple marks on my arms where I had been held and protected. Every day for three weeks, I looked at those marks and knew that he had no such marks to remind him. I had needed so much to release my anger at him, to somehow redeem myself in front of the women there. I was afraid that because I had not struck back immediately they might think I wasn’t a good enough dyke, that I hadn’t done it right.

My sense of shame was so deep that I was convinced that I smelled of him. I went to the local emergency room to have my jaw checked to insure it wasn’t broken, but when the nurse found out where the attack had taken place, she told me I got what I deserved and walked away. The doctor refused to x-ray my jaw, even though I had been hit directly on the hinge, when he discovered I had been in a fight with a man in a known lesbian bar.

When I learned the name of the blonde man who had hit me, I went to a local women lawyer – at that time the only female lawyer in town. She told me I didn’t have a chance with any legal action, because “in Northampton it wouldn’t even be considered against the law for a Polish boy to hit a lesbian.”

the following paragraph has been restored

I went to a community meeting on violence against women, surrounded by my friends who were helping me pick up the pieces of my soul. Standing near the doorway, I was stunned to hear woman after woman talk about what happened, criticizing “the woman” who had started it all. That woman, me, had done it all wrong. They detailed my failures in the attack. My failures. My friends urged me to speak up, to correct people, but I couldn’t do it. I left quickly. I could not find safety from that blonde man among my sisters. I smelled of him.

All of my life, I waited for the violence of the white man to fall on me. In Mississippi, I learned that safety for anyone is only temporary, and night after night as a child I lay in bed covered with the cold, immobilizing sweat of fear, waiting for the white man to come. I moved further and further north, but discovered that he is everywhere.

I internalized my anger, and one day realized with a shock that I had stopped washing my left breast, had stopped touching it altogether. To my eye, it seemed to physically shrink. He had touched it. It didn’t belong to me anymore.

I was afraid. Every time I saw a group of men, I broke into that cold sweat of fear again, and I waited for the harassment that eventually came. They smelled my fear and surrounded me with threats wherever I went. I held onto images of strength, but found no way to move them from the outside to the inside. I chanted, prayed, and then went a little crazy. I began to drink a lot, trying to blur the memory.

On the one-year anniversary of the fight, I celebrated a year of pain and frustration by walking the streets endlessly, roaming for hours with energy I didn’t understand and couldn’t control. One night I followed a man for almost an hour with my knife open. Someone had to pay besides me. A white man is a white man is a white man, I thought.

I was irrational, thoughtless, demanding, needy, and desperate. On a drunken dawn drive, I picked up a male hitchhiker whom I decided to kill. As he chatted on and on, I planned each detail of his murder. I opened my knife in my pocket, and as I readied it I heard him say that he was a construction worker only temporarily. What he really wanted to do was be a daycare worker. My mouth fell open. Yes, he said, he wanted to teach children that men could be gentle as well as strong. I cursed him, folded my knife, and drove on.

When next harassed by teenaged boys, the stab of usual fear passed quickly as I remembered a story I had recently heard. A man in a bar repeatedly bothered a local woman who was a karate expert, and she continued to warn him to leave her alone. He, of course, didn’t, and she broke his nose. I decided I would pretend to be her. I laid claim to one strong woman’s strength, and hoped in time to find my own.

I told the boys I didn’t think they knew what they were doing, that it would be best if they left me alone, that messing with me was not what they really should be doing. It would be in their best interests, I told them, to move along. And they left.

I laughed at them all the way home, and somewhere inside knew that not all of the strength used had been the other woman’s. It was a beginning.

Judith Schenck

judith schenck

Judith Schenck is a retired salesperson who has lived in Northampton since 1977. Her passions are painting and drawing, writing, the Red Sox, the Patriots, and her dogs Tessie and Kona. She lives in Florence with her wife and significant other of 42 years. She has written extensively about growing up in the Deep South in the 1950’s and 1960’s as well as her time at a woman’s collective in her blog  Looking Back.

Sources:

__ Many thanks to Judith. It has taken many years for me to actually publish her generously shared story. Photos have been provided by her as well.

__Common Lives, Lesbian Lives. Iowa City, Iowa. Issue #2. 1981.

__Context of Northampton, bars and the lesbian community in the 70s can be found in this blog post : https://fromwickedtowedded.com/2017/10/02/bars-and-the-violent-backlash/

laura gala watercolor via belinda_edited-1

(another) Gala Cafe watercolor by Laura Kaye, from a photo by Belinda Starr.

used by permission

 

 

DJs For Dancing Womyn


Toward the end of the 1970s, the local women’s rock bands were playing larger, out-of-the-Valley music circuits. As “wimmin’s” dances grew in popularity, the music was more frequently provided by newly initiated professional lesbian disk jockeys, many of them Northampton residents. Dancing may be one of the oldest subculture traditions. It’s been important not just as recreation and community bonding, but also as part of the mating ritual. Longtime Northampton DJ known as Mary V[azquez] commented, “You often [didn’t] see women reappear at dances until they [were] looking for a new partner.” Mary also observed that lesbians into music and dancing were a different community from lesbians into softball.

Through correspondence and several interviews, Mary helped fill in the local DJ herstory. She recalled that Sheryl W. [later Jeribu (spelling?)] was the first Northampton lesbian DJ. Sheryl W. started in 1975 at the Gala Café and continued on regular nights there with assistance from Angela G. through 1979. Sheryl played a lot of Rhythm and Blues, spinning mostly Black women’s music with some by men.

larger lk gala_edited-2Laura Kaye watercolor of the Gala Café (Bridge St. Northampton) 1981, commissioned by Mary Vazquez, used by permission of both.

Mary had followed all the developing women’s bands in the Valley and became interested in becoming a DJ when she heard Diane S. spinning for Wednesday Nights for Women at Farley Lodge/UMass. The 1976 remnants of the UMass Gay Women’s Caucus became the Lesbian Union and successfully lobbied for their own space and student government funding. In the summers of 1977 and 1978, the Lesbian Union offered events open to women from both off and on the UMass/Amherst campus. Diane S. was also part of the Women’s Media Project, producing and teaching women radio broadcasting at WMUA.

gayla womens media project julaug78_edited-1Notice in the Women’s Media Project newsletter Jul/Aug 1978

Sheryl let Mary assist a bit at the Gala Café and then let Mary borrow her equipment for gigs at other places. Soon Mary wanted to have her own equipment instead of being a roadie and lugging someone else’s heavy crate of records.

As she described recently, “ I met a very nice music man that made speakers in the late 70’s. They were beautiful but I could not afford them. He found me two speakers I could afford so I used them, an amplifier, and two record players I bought at a tag sale. In later years I was able to buy more professional turntables made for DJing and two CD players but continued to use those original speakers. They were very heavy but they worked just fine and did not cost me anything. The music had a good sound. “

“ I also had a great assistant that was strong so she did all the heavy lifting. I had what were called 12 inch [vinyl] records that contained one song so for a 3 hour gig I had to have between two and three milk crates full of 12 inch records that were also very heavy.  I used some 45’s but only used them on occasion. Set up time took about 30 minutes. It was a lot of equipment from the car to the dance place. I later used cassettes at the very beginning before CD’s. Too difficult to cue up. Now I could do the same gig with two light weight speakers and a computer.”

PB230010.JPG

Mary Vazquez vinyl record collection. The plastic crates on the left were used to take a selection to dance gigs. Photo courtesy of Mary Vazquez.

With her new equipment Mary began working Common Womon Club’s  summer disco dances in 1978-79. The dances were first held in the Common Womon and later in the low-ceilinged basement of the Polish American Club/Home on Pearl Street in Northampton. Mary got paid $30 for a four hour dance gig.

cwc dances july 1981_edited-1

undated flyer for a Common Womon Club dance

Mary Vazquez noted that ‘Hamp lesbians liked different music than the gay women at the Girls Club in Chicopee. While “Women’s Music” – that is, feminist – was beginning to be produced this decade (most notably through Olivia Records) except for a few slow songs, it just wasn’t danceable. This made it challenging for the new DJs to put together enough musicfor a four-hour dance that was not politically objectionable and also got women up on their feet and moving. In the beginning, Mary drew a lot on pop music by women as well, as, she said, “less offensive” men like Stevie Wonder to create the right eclectic mix.

By the end of the seventies, disco music began to come out with its distinctive dance beat. Disco was readily adopted by local lesbians, easing the DJ’s job of trying to be politically correct while getting women to have a good time dancing.

Mary Vazquez: “Here’s a few tunes from the seventies that I myself played when I first began DJing for the women’s community. As I said, it was a tough crowd as I had to be very careful that I was always politically correct. This often would put a ‘crimp’ in my personal choices. Here are some of the specific tunes that I know I played and were always a big hit on the dance floor:                                               [all with youtube links. please have a little dance 🙂 KM]

Love Hangover,’ Diana Ross, 1976

Don’t Leave Me This way,’ Thelma Houston, 1977

 ‘Dancing Queen,’ Abba, 1978

 ‘Boogie Oogie Oogie,’ Taste of Honey

 ‘If I Can’t Have You, Yvonne Ellerman, 1977

 ‘Bad Girls, Donna Summer, 1979

 ‘I Will Survive,’ Gloria Gaynor, 1978 (still a dance floor pleaser)

 ‘YMCA, Village People, 1979

 ‘Ring My Bell, Anita Ward

 ‘MacArthur Park,’ Donna Summer

 ‘Good Times, Chic, 1979

 ‘Hot Stuff.’ Donna Summer.

 Mary summed the list up:  “Most of these songs if played today would still be crowd pleasers. The end of the 70s was the beginning of the Disco era, a great time for dancing the night away.”

gala fresh ink mar 8 79_edited-1Ad in Fresh Ink, Mar. 8, 1979

Mary V. recalls that Mary C. and Faye Wilson also began DJing at about the same time she did, circa 77-78.  Mary C. spun the Common Womon Club’s New Year’s Eve Ball in ’77 at the Polish Home, a memorable costume event I wish we had pictures of. Faye incorporated New Wave into her mix. When the Polish Club/Home was sold circa 1979, the lesbian community lost a valuable large music venue. Since the Gala was sold and razed that year, as well, Northampton lesbians had to go out of town to dance. In the early 1980s, three of these pioneering DJs joined together to find a new venue in Amherst. Jeribu(Sheryl), Faye and Mary V. formed La Mix (the mix of their different kinds of dance music) to produce a regular series of womyn’s dances, a story for another time.

Sources:

__[Raymond,] Kaymarion and Letalien, Jacqueline. The Valley Women’s Movement: a Herstorical Chronology 1968-78. Ceres Inc. Northampton. 1978. https://www.vwhc.org/timeline.htmlChronology

__Vazquez, Mary. Interviewed by Kaymarion Raymond. July 6 and Sep. 1, 1998.

__Vazquez, Mary. Email correspondence Nov 29, 2004, June-Nov.2019.

__Vazquez, Mary. Music of the 70’s. Email to Kaymarion. January 03, 2005.

__Dyke Doings. Sep/Oct 1976. Northampton.

__Women’s Media Project newsletter. July/Aug 1978.

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

Further reading: Women in DJing is a popular topic right now. Mary shared this recent New York Times article, which nicely sums it up, past and present, the challenge of changing technology and the scarcity of women in the profession;

__Women Put a Spin on the D.J’s Art by Tammy La Gorce. New York Times. July 28, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/07/23/nyregion/women-djs-brooklyn.html

In the next decade as recording technology rapidly evolved Mary Vazquez and other DJs had to make the change from vinyl records to cassette tapes to CDs. For those interested here are some links to that tech history;

https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/8qbz7b/an-illustrated-history-of-dj-gear

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disc_jockey 

Mary and the three other women mentioned were rare birds in the 70s male dominated Discjockey world. That hasn’t changed, as these articles attest:

__I Grew Up Loving Dance Music. But Where Are All The Female DJs? by Serena Kutchinsky 17 April 2017. She not only offers statistics but asks “what can be done to make dance music less pale, male, stale?”

https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/2017/04/149671/female-djs-annie-mac-nightwave

__Women Weigh In On The Art of DJing by Sesali Bowen July 19, 2017.

https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2017/07/164637/hip-hop-djs-2017-female-disc-jockeys

 

 

 

 

 

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