More Bands of Women


An unprecedented number of all-women bands circulated through Northampton in the 1970s, playing at straight dance clubs and feminist events. Many of the band members lived in the area as well. Four of the five bands that played here in the seventies were all or mostly lesbian, though not publicly out. The bands were the Deadly Nightshade, Lilith, Liberty Standing, Artandryl, and Ladies Chain.

The first band to form was the Deadly Nightshade  (1972-77), followed by Lilith  (1973-78), both already included in this blog.

liberty standing One belinda pix_edited-1Liberty Standing promo picture 1976. Back row: Adrienne, Belinda, Claire. Front: Wendy, Mickey. Courtesy of Belinda.

In 1975, three Lilith members left that band to form Liberty Standing. Claire Frances was the manager and lead singer; Belinda was on vocals, guitar, and percussion; and Mickey Faucher played drums. They added a Smith College student, Adrienne Torf, who was being professionally trained on piano and synthesizer. The other new member was Wendy on bass guitar. They developed a beat that was more salsa than Lilith had, which Belinda described as a “disco funk latin jazz sound.” Lin Wetherby worked the sound board.

liberty standing steakout_edited-1Liberty Standing at the Amherst Steakout, Summer 1976. Backrow: Lin, Belinda, Wendy, Adrienne. Front: Mickey, Claire. Photo courtesy of Belinda.

For the next four years, Liberty Standing played an East Coast circuit of colleges and dance clubs, including gay and feminist clubs. The Saints in Boston, the Citadel in Providence, and an unnamed Washington DC club were regular venues. The band toured once as far as South Carolina. Locally, they performed benefits for Common Womon Club and Chomo Uri, the local feminist arts journal.  In the Valley they were regularly booked at the Bernardston Inn (VT), the Steakout (Amherst), Rachid’s (Hadley), and the St. Regis (Northampton). Members lived variously in Northampton (including Green Street), Florence, and Amherst, often rehearsing in Hadley and New Salem.

liberty syanding two belinda pix_edited-1Liberty Standing 1977? Claire, Donyne, Belinda in back. Mickey, Jane in front. Courtesy Belinda.

A second incarnation of Liberty Standing formed when Adrienne left the band.  Bass player Donyne and flutist Jane joined. They or the earlier LS cut a demo tape, a cover of Junior Walker and the Allstars “What Does it Take to Win Your Love?” By 1979, Belinda told me, “The years of sex, drugs, and rock equaled burnt out.” The band folded. Claire went on to form a Boston group, Ina Ray. Claire died in 2008 at the age of 61 after a long illness.

About the same time Liberty Standing formed in 1975, Artandryl began. Kathy (I have been asked to not use last names) played bass in what she called “the ‘other’ women’s band (other than Lilith, that is.)”  Maria started Artandryl as lead singer along with her old friend Pam as manager. Maria chose the band’s name ,from the safe fantasy space created by a schizophrenic woman friend. They added Andi on drums and Cindy on guitar. A year or so later, they added Elaine on guitar as well. We are still trying to recall the name of the sound manager. They rehearsed in their various homes in Springfield.

artandryl listing_edited-1New England Gay Guide 1976 listing under Springfield

Maria
Maria
Kathy
Kathy
Andi 1
Andi
Cindy from Cindy
Cindy. photos courtesy of Cindy

“The band played a lot of Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane,” Cindy recalled in a recent interview. “Maria and Kathy chose all the music. Kathy and I wrote a song called “Phobia.” I wrote sort of a rock opera-type song that we played. We covered “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love” By Jefferson Airplane; ”Piece of My Heart” and “Move Over” by Janis Joplin; “She’s a Woman” by the Beatles; ”I’ve Seen All Good People” and “Your Move” by YES.  UMass/Amherst, the Warwick and Bernardston Inns, and the Saints were the most repeated venues, with odd appearances in Northampton at Zelda’s and Ye Ol Watering Hole.

Original 1977 Song listArtandryl playlist c. 1976 courtesy of Cindy

The Valley Women’s Movement: a Herstorical Chronology  lists Artandryl as starting in May 1975 and ending in September 1976, making it relatively short lived. Cindy reflected on this:

Maria wanted the band to be very political. Unfortunately, that is the main reason I believe the band was not so popular. Lilith was a fun band that played dance music, so for all the politics and fighting amongst straights, gays, lesbians, and lesbian separatists, and even men, everyone enjoyed Lilith. They played fun dance music that everyone enjoyed. Artandryl also played so many political benefits for free or pass the hat that the band made very little money.

Cindy moved to Northampton and, later, Andi did as well. Both lived at Green Street at different times.

Cindy later played for three years in LA bands that toured Japan and the Southern US. Kathy stayed active musically, but may be better known to this community for her Lavender Lips webpage. She died in 2013 at the age of 62 after a seven year cancer struggle. No promo photos, clippings, or recordings have yet been found for Artandryl. If you have any please contribute them, or at least copies, here or to an archive.

Ladies Chain is the fifth band I find mentioned very briefly in the Chronology in the 1970s: “Feb. 4, 1977. Contradance with women musicians.”  A wonderful description of what was the first gig and, I think, the beginning of Ladies Chain was included in the Valley Women’s Union mimeographed newsletter dated March 1977. The band might have been Northampton based and included at least one lesbian. More info welcome. Let’s at least save some pictures.

ladies chain_edited-1Valley Women’s Union (Northampton) newsletter, March 1977

The next part of this music herstory will be about the beginning of the lesbian discjockeys who operated out of Northampton. It seems that the more women danced, the more dancing they wanted. As the big women’s bands went out of the valley onto the professional club circuit, they left a hunger behind them. 

SOURCES:

__Star, Belinda. Interviewed by Kaymarion Raymond via phone. July 21, 2004.

__Vazquez, Mary. Interview by Kaymarion Raymond. Northampton.

__Torf, Adrienne. Webpage. http://www.adriennetorf.com/

 

 

“Adrienne Torf began studying piano at the age of three. Her early experience included playing for theater productions, choral groups and an all-girl disco band while a student at Smith College. After graduating from Stanford, she became a contract studio and touring keyboard player, touring and recording with Holly Near, Linda Tillery, Ferron, Kay Gardner and others. Her keyboard compositions and arrangements appear on more than 20 albums, including her own two solo releases: Brooklyn From The Roof (1986) and Two Hands Open (2003).”

__ Frances, Claire. Memorial page . http://rememberingclair.blogspot.com/

__NLN, Kat. Email to Kaymarion Raymond. Dec. 8, 2004.

__NLN, Cindy. Facebook messenger correspondence with Kaymarion, July 25-26, 2017.

__[Raymond], Kaymarion and Letalien, Jacqueline, editors. The Valley Women’s Movement: A Herstorical Chronology 1968-1978. Ceres, Inc. Northampton. 1978. http://www.vwhc.org/timeline.html

__Valley Women’s Union newsletter. March 1977. Northampton.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Left, Gay & Green: A Writer’s Life – Allen Young


Butterworth Farm in Royalston MA, the gay male commune/collective/extended family founded in 1973 in the country just northeast of the Valley , is at the heart of Allen Young’s autobiography. Not only valuable as  rare gay local  history, his personal story of many decades of political activism well  illustrates the beginning and evolution of the U.S.  gay revolution and its entwinement with other social change movements.  I particularly appreciate his recounting the unique  gay back-to-the-land story, its radical urban origins and the flow of ideas that came to settle in the hilltowns and weave a larger connection.

And here is a link to a more extensive review by Felice Picano:

via Left, Gay & Green: A Writer’s Life – Allen Young (CreateSpace)

Amazon Publishing


Gina and Laurel, editors of the Amazon Quarterly, were guests at the rooming house on Green Street  late July of 1973. They didn’t at the time use their patronymns Covina and Galana, in common with many other radical lesbians. They had started to publish the lesbian feminist arts journal in the basement of their Oakland California home the previous summer. Now, with the loan of a VW camper van, they were making a three month circuit of the U.S. and Canada visiting the Quarterly’s readership. This “lesbians around the country expedition” would eventually encompass 12,000 miles, gathering a collection of fifty-two taped interviews with lesbians along the way, as well as new contributors and subscribers.

AQ best

Volume 1, Issue 1, Fall 1972

Despite, or maybe because of, “having heard much about you women from Robin Morgan,” they just collapsed in the Kollwitz room at Green Street when they arrived in Northampton. After nearly two months on the road, they needed several nights here to quietly decompress. Gina later wrote a thank you note to me:

 I want to let you know how important the space you allowed was for me, & for Laurel too. That week was the first time on the trip we’d stopped long enough to think at all, and understandably we found ourselves far from ourselves. We were able to change after that, & continue a more mythic journey than the professional lesbian ambassadress headset had allowed. I hope (& expect) to see you again when I don’t feel the need to reserve myself as I did then just because it was allowed and understood.

Your vision of community is still strongly with me. We met other women the rest of the trip, not groups but a few women here and there, who also are living out of the same vision. I hope some of the best that’s happening__no not that but the highest visions__ will show in A.Q. this time.

         Love to you & the sisters there. Gina

The note included a request for artwork, some of which I sent to them in Oakland. They published a double issue in October 1973  to begin to share the material they had gathered on the trip. It included five of the many newly transcribed interviews as well as an extensive directory of the feminist and lesbian activity that they had discovered on the journey. The listing of women’s centers and feminist or lesbian groups; publications; bookstores; art groups (radio, theater, film, music, visual); presses; and lesbian bars included the Valley.

volume 2 #1

 

The next issue of Amazon Quarterly (Dec. 1973) included two of my woodcuts. Also printed was a review by the Northampton Women’s Film Coop of Jan Oxenberg’s film short Home Movie, one of the first (and positive) self–portrayals of lesbians.

AQ print

My woodcut published in AQ Dec. 1973 issue

More of my artwork was published in the July 1974 issue as well, which also included an excerpt from Northampton author Elana Nachman’s (later, Dykewomon) just published novel Riverfinger Women. Laurel’s review describes the hardcover ($3) from Daughters, Inc. Plainfield VT as “a whirlwind picaresque psychedelic nostalgic piece about the author’s often ill-fated adventures in youth and lesbian cultures of the late 60s and 70s.” (This AQ issue also had work from their poetry editor Audre Lorde!)

The July 1974 issue was the first to be published on the East Coast. Gina and Laurel had just moved to West Somerville Massachusetts from California. One reason for the move was to enable them to teach an ovular on contemporary lesbian culture as part of the Cambridge-Goddard School for Social Change Master’s degree program in feminist studies.

Despite their intentions, only two more issues were forthcoming. The editors sought to leave the city for a home in the country somewhere, perhaps the New England woods. An anthology of Amazon Quarterly content was published instead in 1975 as The Lesbian Reader, followed in 1977 by The New Lesbians: Interviews with Women Across the U.S. and Canada.

lesbianreader

The Lesbian Reader: An Amazon Quarterly Anthology. Dec. 1975. Barn Owl Books. Amazon Press Oakland CA.

new lesbians

The New Lesbians: Interviews with Women Across the U.S. and Canada. 1977 Moon Books. Reprinted 2000 Random House.

In some ways, they had prepared their readers for this discontinuation through their last two issues. In the final issue, March 1975, they focused on sexuality, noting that it would be the last time they focused content on lesbianism per se. Future issues, rather, would be about what passionately interested lesbians. The next issue was to be devoted to energy: kinds of energy, how to create, share, and use it. They introduced this subject with a Ouija reading on sexual energy.

In the previous issue, Nov. 1974, they completed the three installments of Laurel’s “How to Make a Magazine,” sharing the hard-won knowledge gained over their three-year publishing history. The do-it-yourself demystification of the newly available offset printing press publishing process for magazines, books, and newspapers encouraged others with no experience to try it. Typesetting, layout, printing and distribution were all covered step by step.

how to make magazine_edited-1

Amazon Quarterly Nov. 1974

Accompanying this DIY message was an annotated directory of “the Feminist Press,” those women around the country who were already doing it. The listing by Gina of fifty-two U.S. feminist periodicals was limited to those having more than a local newsletter-type content. Eight English Language periodicals outside the U.S. were also listed.

Of these sixty periodicals listed in the October 1974 issue, nine were noted as being lesbian. In addition to the Amazon Quarterly, two Daughters of Bilitis chapters in San Francisco and Boston, and lesbian feminists in Chicago, Lansing, Iowa City, Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Palo Alto were producing newsletters, newspapers, magazines and pamphlets. Northampton lesbians in the early 1970s shared news, opinions, as well as creative work, in at least some of these new publications: The Lesbian Connection, Lavender Woman, Lesbian Tide, and Off Our Backs. Focus, the Boston DOB publication, also included some news of the Valley.

The AQ was prescient in encouraging self-publication.  The 70s witnessed the greatest explosion of lesbian periodicals seen to date. Prior to Stonewall, only four U.S. lesbian publications are known: Vice Versa (1947-48), The Ladder (1956-1972), No More Fun and Games (1968-73), and Maiden Voyage (1969-71). In a partial compilation on Wikipedia from archive holdings, at least seventy-eight titles from the 1970s have been identified. I would note that the overlap with feminist publications is fuzzy. Also some (probably many) smaller, obscure periodicals are missing, such as Northampton’s Old Maid and Dyke Doings.

Like Northampton lesbians’ novice attempts, many of these new 70s publications around the country produced just a few issues. It was joked that if any four lesbian feminists got together they would produce a newsletter. Only about a quarter lasted a handful of years or more. The words and art of local lesbians were also printed in some of the more successful of the lesbian magazines that started in the later 70s, including Sinister Wisdom and Womanspirit. In this way, local lesbians joined a country-wide community of ideas, a network of shared information and vision claiming an identity, creating change, and shaping a new world.

 

FYI: Gina and Laurel eventually returned to the West Coast. Gina Covina is, according to internet info, farming in Northern California. She published the authoritative Ouija Book (1979 Simon & Schuster) and a speculative fiction City of Hermits (1983 Barn Owl Books.) Laurel Galana Holliday got an advanced degree from Antioch College, became a Psychologist, and has been teaching Psychology and researching gender identity in Seattle, Washington.

SOURCES:

__Gina. Undated [early Sep. 1973] letter to Kaymarion.
__ pdf’s of the 9 issues of AQ can be found online at the lesbian poetry archive: http://www.lesbianpoetryarchive.org/AmazonQuarterly

__Potter, Clare. the Lesbian Periodical Index. Naiad Press. Tallahassee FL. 1986.

__Wikipedia. “List of Lesbian Periodicals in the United States.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_lesbian_periodicals_in_the_United_States

__Latimer,Tirza True. “Amazon Quarterly: Pre-Zine Print Culture and the Politics of Separatism” in Rachel Schreiber, editor, Modern Print Activism in the United States, Ashgate Publishing, Burlington VT. 2013. http://www.lesbianpoetryarchive.org/sites/default/files/ModernPrintActivismintheUnitedStates pdf

__Further reading, some brief background on lesbian magazines: https://www.autostraddle.com/six-lesbian-magazines-that-changed-the-world-and-then-disappeared-140806/

The Printed Word


The printed word was essential to the spread of radical ideas and information in the 1970s, both the means to reproduce pages and to circulate the resulting papers. Any information that challenged the dominant narrative was simply not available in the mainstream newspapers. It wasn’t broadcast on radio or TV, and was not available at newsstands, bookstores, or libraries. Valley Feminists and Lesbians, as well as Gays, out of necessity, created their own news media, literature, and distribution networks, joining others in the region and nationally.

The dearth of factual information and critical thought was so great in the 1970s that it resulted in many new groups immediately forming libraries. These collections of all kinds of hard-to-find printed material were brought back from events outside of the Valley and ordered or subscribed to by mail. I saw these pamphlets, small paperback books, newspapers, and magazines make their way into libraries at the UMass Student Homophile League/Gay Liberation Front office (where I was a co-coordinator), and in each of Northampton’s Valley Women’s Center , Lesbian Gardens, and Common Womon Club. All these groups had the physical space to shelve them.

closet door oct 71_edited-1

UMass Student Homophile League mimeographed newsletter 1971

Most new local groups also produced a newsletter for members. Archives today often house odd-appearing local ephemera from this period such as the Student Homophile League newsletter included above, unevenly printed in splotched typewriting. While a  very few groups (early Springfield Women’s Center) employed the purple-lettered ditto process to duplicate pages, the AB Dick mimeograph machine was indispensable to most groups. The usual run was under a thousand copies. This was how the Valley Women’s Center printed its hand collated, stapled, and addressed monthly newsletter. The use of that machine was lent by VWC to other groups, including the Student Homophile League.

A cousin of the silk screen printing process used for posters and T-shirts, the mimeo impression to be printed was cut in the coating of the fabric stencil with a manual typewriter, another indispensable tool of the time. The mimeo machine was cranked by hand and had a center tank filled with ink. One sheet of paper at a time was printed with ink that poured from the tank through the stencil wrapped around it.

2000px-Mimeograph.svg 1970 wikipedia

Subscription to these mimeographed newsletters, as well as to newspapers, were often exchanged between groups, forming valuable networks of information on the latest news, actions, gatherings, upcoming events, research findings, and analysis. Despite the risk of snooping and sabotage, most of these were circulated by [snail] mail to group members and other groups. Given the high cost of postage, it was well worth the effort to, if at all possible, get a non-profit bulk mailing permit. Mailing lists became valuable commodities, as was any technology that helped transfer the address onto the pieces to be mailed other than handwriting each.

vwu news mail 76_edited-1

My subscribed to newsletter mimeographed from Valley Women’s Union with carbon-copied, peel-off mailing label

Mimeograph duplication wasn’t limited to little local flyers or newsletters. Some of the national and regional news sources we came to rely on here in the Valley also had mimeo origins. Made available at the one-shelf Sweetcoming Bookstore in Lesbian Gardens, Lesbian Connections, the oldest still existing national Lesbian publication, started as a stapled mimeograph in 1974. Gay Community News, the New England radical newspaper produced in Boston, started in 1973 as Gay Community Newsletter with a two page mimeo. Their publication New England Gay Guide 1975 was also mimeographed. Yes, the stapler was also a very necessary tool.

gcn_p1[1]-238jun 17 73 the history project

Gay Community Newsletter June 17, 1973. Courtesy of the history project (Boston.) First edition of what was to becomes Gay Community News .

Frequently found today in archives are the now brittle and tanned tabloid-formatted newspapers, offset printed on cheap newsprint. These were produced by larger organizations in the Movements.  They were distributed by mail, carried in bundles to and from various events or gatherings, and eventually sold locally at alternative newsstands or bookstores. The national feminist news became available in Off Our Backs,  the offset printed newspaper started in 1970.

Also available for reading and sale at Northampton’s Valley Women’s Center at 200 Main St. was the now classic women’s health handbook, Our Bodies, Ourselves, in a 1970 first edition as a large stapled newsprint pamphlet titled Women and Their Bodies: a Course printed by New England Free Press. This had been developed from mimeographed handouts created as the course was taught to Boston-area women in 1969.

women_and_their_bodies_cover

1970 first edition of what was to become Our Bodies, Ourselves, the classic manual of  health information that had been hidden from women or misinterpreted by Patriarchal medicine.

Before the existence of the internet and its electronic media, this meant having, or having access to, an offset press for issues reproduced in large numbers, which meant a thousand or more. “Access to an offset press” meant finding a printer who had, not only a press, but also tolerance, if not acceptance, of radical material. Regionally, the New England Free Press, which opened in 1968 in Boston, began to fill that need. They printed the Northampton Women’s Film Coop’s first catalog in 1972. For the most part, they produced new radical left material. However, feminist and gay pamphlets printed by them included “The Woman Identified Woman;” “Out of the Closet: A Gay Manifesto;” “The Politics of Housework;” “The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm;” and Witches, Midwives and Nurses. I was able at the time to find most of these at events and in the Valley Women’s Center library.

Valley feminists briefly broke into tabloid-formatted print with single issues of the Full Moon in 1972 and 1973.  The printer is not credited, but the directory included in each newspaper traces the regional development of the feminist network, including its publications.

full mon 72 73

full moon contacts 72_edited-1

Listing in 1972 Full Moon the regional beginnings of a feminist publications network

It was a significant event when women bought a used Chief press and set it up in rented space on Hawley Street as Mother Jones Press in July 1973. With this, Northampton joined the Feminist Press Movement* that was spreading across the country. Some of what they printed included the Valley’s first Lesbian newspaper, Old Maid; the second Women’s Film coop catalog; flyers used by Valley Women’s Union in organizing waitresses; and the 1973 Women’s Guide to Amherst-Northampton produced by the Women’s Information Project.

womens guide 73 lorie leininger il_edited-1

Illustrated by Lorie Leininger

These printed materials were not readily available in Northampton in the early 1970s unless one visited Lesbian Gardens or the Valley Women’s Center, attended an event, or subscribed.  Materials became more visible and available when the radical Spark Bookstore collective formed in Florence in 1974 and moved to downtown Northampton space, on the second floor next to the Calvin Theatre in 1975.  They made sure to include lesbian , gay and feminist publications and advertised that in Dyke Doings. A similar effort began on the UMass Amherst campus in 1975 as the People’s (Women’s) Newsstand and Spread the Word Distribution.

spark ad spring 75_edited-1peoples newstand 77_edited-1

There is also a feminist and Lesbian literary publishing history for this period, as well as a history in film and broadcast, which I will address in later posts. The initial publishing efforts here laid the groundwork for the 1979 milestones of the first publication of the Valley Women’s Voice newspaper and the opening of Womonfyre Books on Masonic Street in Northampton.

Throughout the 70s, mimeograph continued to be relied upon. When the Valley Women’s Union was evicted from 200 Main Street, they moved their mimeograph machine to the upstairs of the Common Womon Club, where it continued to be used by radical groups until it was supplanted by photocopying.

mimeo money_edited-1

Mimeo IOU paper envelope from Common Womon Club

Sources:

__Lesbian Connection is online. http://www.lconline.org/

__“How Boston Powered the Gay Rights Movement.” Boston Globe. https://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2013/06/01/how-boston-powered-gay-rights-movement/wEsPZOdHhByHpjeXrJ6GbN/story.html

__History of Off Our Backs. http://www.triviavoices.com/an-interview-with-carol-anne-douglas.html#.Weya_Yhrw2w The history of this longest running feminist paper, and past and current media influences, is discussed in an interview with OOB staff woman Carol Anne (“Chicken Lady) Douglas posted in the now online journal Trivia.

__ Our Bodies, Ourselves history. http://www.ourbodiesourselves.org/history/preface-to-the-1973-edition-of-our-bodies-ourselves/

__New England Free Press publications listing Healey Library UMass/Boston http://www.lib.umb.edu/node/1628

Further Reading:

__*A brief overview of the Women In Print Movement can be read as a sample “look inside” on Amazon.com. See this Introduction by Jaime Harker and Cecilia Koucher Farr to This Book is an Action: Feminist Print Culture and Activist Aesthetics. University of Illinois Press. 2015. https://www.amazon.com/This-Book-Action-Feminist-Aesthetics/dp/025208134X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1527873535&sr=1-1&keywords=this+book+is+an+action#reader_B016LLE3H2

A Spontaneous Outbreak of Wimmin’s Softball


In the 1970s, there was a spontaneous outbreak of interest in softball by women in five different parts of Hampshire County. After they eventually found each other, these players melded wide differences into a unique softball organization that endures today as the Mary Vazquez Womyn’s Softball League . As this independent, player-run league with a preponderance of lesbian athletes began to mature, its organization became centered in Northampton.

In 1973, the Southwest Women’s Center at UMass in Amherst sponsored a feminist student intramural team named after abolitionist Lucy B. Stone. Marjorie Posner recalls that they stressed non-competitive sports and were very funny. Warm-ups consisted of rolling on the grass and deep breathing. In the spirit of being equal, they all stenciled the identical number on the back of their purple T-shirts, “1818,” the year of Stone’s birth.

SWWC softball team t-shirt courtesy Peg Cookson

In 1975, they became independent from the university intramural system. This allowed women who were not students to play, including staff, and also made room for looser rules. A notice was posted in Northampton’s Lesbian Gardens’ Old Maid about Saturday pickup games on the field across from SWWC.

softball 1975
in the notices Old Maid Spring 1975

These UMass women were interested in playing for the fun of it. They also wanted to re-invent the game to encourage older women who had never had a chance to play. They drew an odd mix of novices, “real jock” PhysEd instructors, and every level of experience in between. From the beginning, they tried to foster a non-competitive but supportive sports philosophy. Peggy Cookson, a novice, comments that being supportive sometimes got a little ridiculous, as when she refrained from taking a swing at a pitch that rolled toward her on the ground, and was complimented with a yell: “Good eye!”

Allowing everyone, no matter the skill level, a chance to play was central to the experience. That meant that teaching the game was, too. Windflower, then known as Annette Townley, was astonished to find herself pitching, something she had never done before, in her team’s very first Womyn’s League game. Rules were bent or made up on the spot to reflect this new philosophy. One rule allowed a woman to stay at bat until she got a hit.

At about the same time over in South Hadley, Jean Grossholtz’s lesbian feminist household on Jewett Lane began playing Sunday afternoon pickup games on a Mt. Holyoke College field. They were also interested in a non-competitive game that encouraged and allowed all women to play regardless of their level of skill. By placing ads in the Holyoke Transcript and Daily Hampshire Gazette, they recruited enough women to make a viable team.

In spring of 1976, “Digger” from Hatfield placed an ad in the Valley Advocate looking for women to form a new softball league. She and her friends (and many cousins) were Lassie League graduates who continued to play on a field laid out at one of their homes. The ad drew response from the South Hadley team and two others in Easthampton and Northampton, enough for a first season of play with four teams.

In addition to the Hatfield cousins’ team, two others were serious about softball and interested in a fast-pitch game rather the more usual slow-pitch promoted for women. The Easthampton team had recently played together in high school and continued on a field at Williston Academy. The College Church team from Northampton had many women who had played college varsity ball. They agreed, according to Zulma Garcia, that fast pitch rules allowed for more exciting play with base stealing and bunting.

Regardless of this fast pitch competitive league beginning, the South Hadley group with its feminist, older woman character was eager to be a “real” team with “real” uniforms. Picking purple for their T-shirt color, they tongue-in-cheek named themselves the Hot Flashes.

As word spread of the new league, three more teams joined in the second (1977) season.  One was a team that played at the Hadley Young Men’s Club. The other two were the Nutcracker Suite and Common Womon, each named after recently opened Northampton lesbianfeminist ventures which will be covered in future posts. The nucleus of Common Womon had been forming at UMass as the Lucy B. Stoners. The Hatfield team had dropped out, so six teams celebrated the very first end-of-year banquet, at Common Womon Club in Northampton.

The Common Womon team illustrated the melding of sports philosophies that the new league was beginning to attempt. They wore red T-shirts which read “Every ball missed advances another womon.” Common Womon player Kathryn Girard, who came up with that saying, recalls, “I loved our first year. We lost every game by 15 runs or more. I felt right at home. We really just played to get together, no coach, many like me with no skills, and not much interest in acquiring them.”

The league was so diverse in terms of the sport that, in the beginning, the rules of play had to be negotiated before the start of many games. Much of the League’s history is in how a creative integration of these differing needs was gradually achieved, resulting in its unique character.

Zulma Garcia was a grad student at UMass in 1976, when she started playing third base with the College Church team. Their home field was lined-in on the grass  lawn in the Northampton Church’s back yard on Pomeroy Terrace. Zulma believes they had the best pitcher and catcher in the league at that time. Their pitcher “was intimidating, and though she tried to let up on her pitches (for novice batters) she only knew one way to play.” The teams into what Zulma called “support” softball rotated women through positions so they could learn. The College Church women all had set positions.

Zulma remembers the Easthampton team of post-high school women having to learn to tone it down, be less serious, in order to play in the League. There was a wide range of ages in the beginning. Zulma points out that the Hot Flashes battery was over a hundred years old (combined ages of pitcher and catcher), and they played against teams of women barely in their twenties.

The College Church team in their dark blue shirts represented other differences as well. Most were members of the Church. The team started games with a prayer that no one would get hurt and everyone would have a good time. They were teased a bit for this but generally respected, forming particularly close bonds with the Common Womon team. Zulma recalls showing up at a Common Womon player’s house for an intrateam barbecue, knocking on the door, and asking, “Is this where the prayer meeting is?” That got a laugh. She doesn’t recall the lesbian composition of other teams ever being discussed, though it was obvious. The College Church players did however occasionally joke about being “the token straight team.”

Common Womon proved to be such a popular team that in order to give every player a turn on the field, the team spawned new ones. The first was Bonnie Keene, formed in 1978, which was named after a feminist theatre production. In 1979 Womynrising was formed, named for the leftover conference T-shirts that had become available.

By the end of the decade, the Wendell Mosquitoes had come and gone, as had the Hadley, Easthampton, Bonnie, and Nutcracker teams. In spite of the losses, in some undocumented fashion, by 1981 twelve teams were playing, eight of them new. They also badly needed a structure to support this league. Many recall it as having, in the beginning, no rules, no money, no umps, and no fields! The story of developing that structure in the next decade and how the league was named is still to come.

STILL LOOKING FOR:

__Photos of those 70s teams and their t-shirts to include here__anyone?

FURTHER READING:

__Griffin, Pat. “”Diamonds, Dykes, and Double Plays.” In Sportsdykes: Stories from On and Off the Field. Susan Fox Rogers Editor. St. Martin’s Press. 1994. Funny fictional spoof on traditional jock meets Valley Womyn’s Softball by a Common Womon team player.

__[Johnson, Lacey.] In league with us [sound recording]: the story of the Mary Vazquez Women’s Softball League, Northampton, MA / Elle Jay Productions. A video history of the League combining interviews, stills and homemovie clips, on DVD is available from Forbes Library in Northampton.

__Researchers can find a growing collection of materials on the Mary Vazquez Womyns’ Softball League  within the Valley Women’s History Collaborative Collection at the UMass/Amherst DuBois Library Special Collections and University Archives. http://scua.library.umass.edu/ead/mums531.html.

__a webpage for the Mary Vazquez Women’s Softball League  http://www.maryvsoftball.org/

SOURCES:

__Girard, Kathryn. Email to KM. Aug.25, 2003.

__Grossholtz, Jean. “Softball: A Celebration of Strength and Sisterhood.” Valley Women’s Voice. May 1983.

__Van Arsdale, Sarah. ”Shaking In Their Sneakers: Feminist Softball in the Valley.” Valley Women’s Voice. Aug 1981.

__Tracy, Susan. Interview with KM. June 19, 22, 2000.

__Stewart, Eileen. Interview with KM. Aug. 27, 2003.

__Vazquez, Mary. “The Mary Vazquez Softball League: 1976-2003.” Unpublished paper. 2003.

_________________Interviews with KM Jun 17, 2000, Nov. 2003.

__Garcia, Zulma. Interview by KM. Oct. 22, 2003.

__Posner, Marjorie. Email to KM. Sep. 4, 2003.