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

 

 

 

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/