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

 

 

 

Lesbianville Lookback


This years Pride parade in Northampton drew 35,000 or 60,000 folks (depending on who reported), a visible change from the 300 or 800 (depending on who reported) Lesbians, gay men and allies who started the annual march down Main Street in 1982. Other contrasts are visible  in the fan photos of the 2019 event on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/NohoPrideOrg. Interesting, to me, was the conscious decision not to have the now  traditional rainbow arch be made of balloons this year, for environmental reasons.

On a historical note, for the day of the Pride parade the Hampshire Gazette published an extremely well researched feature article by Greta Jochem , “The Legend of ‘Lesbianville’: Looking back at a city nickname and claim to fame.” If you don’t get frustrated by the paywall, it includes not only the story of that coined term but  links to the 1990s national news coverage that led to and then piled on the straight media titillation.

https://www.gazettenet.com/Lesbianville-Lookback-25246526

natl enquire lesbianville12112014

 

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