The Lesbian Separatist War


1976 conference, poster by co-coordinator Kaymarion [Raymond]

In May 1976, I went to a workshop on Horizontal Hostility at the Women and Violence conference held at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. When the facilitator Carol Drexler attempted to open the workshop, one lesbian requested a lesbian-only session. This came in spite of there being a lesbian-only lesbian and violence workshop convened by Jacqueline Letalien earlier in the day. I agreed to facilitate a session and, after locating an empty room, we reconvened with only lesbians in the room.

As we tried to procede again, she began haranguing me, starting with why she had to ask for a separate session. She was speaking with such vehemence that spit flew out of her mouth. She went on for the entire scheduled time. There was no way to respond to her or stop her from verbally attacking me and other lesbians for political incorrectness. I wound up sitting on the floor next to my best friend and weeping. This kind of aggressive barrage became so frequent in the 1970s within feminist and lesbian communities that it came be referred to as trashing someone. This was a national phenomenon.

from the conference program schedule

That workshop was one of the last attempts to negotiate a ceasefire in what we came to call Northampton’s [Lesbian] Sep’ War. Instead of continuing to try to work together, some lesbians left town in disgusted disillusionment; others stopped speaking to each other; while small groups continued to gather around shared interests regardless of criticism.

It was not a phenomena unique to Northampton Lesbians. Black feminist Florence Kennedy used the term “horizontal hostility” in an essay published in 1970 to describe how oppressed people turn on each other in oppressive ways. The destructive divisiveness within New York City’s Radical Feminists from the early seventies is also well documented .

The series of linked occurrences in the Northampton area over roughly a two year period was large, loud, and painful enough for me to think of it as a war, even though it was actually confined, to begin with, to more politicized Lesbians. The vehemence of some of that conflict reverberated outward and caused lesbians to take sides against each other. It caused many lesbians to think less fondly of the new ideal of Lesbian community.  I have to come to think of the mid-seventies as the time when concept of “the Community” as “they,” made up of something or someone other than oneself, was added to our local lesbian vocabulary. The idea of political correctness came to us during this time, as well. “P.C.” had nothing to do with, as yet unknown, personal computers.

The idea of Lesbian Separatism had been introduced to the Valley primarily via the CLIT papers in early 1974. The fact that many local lesbians had adopted these ideas led to the establishment of Lesbian Gardens in the third floor space rented by the Valley Women’s Union on Main St. in Northampton. Separatism was not a totally new idea. Amherst Women’s Liberation, which established the Valley Women’s Center at 200 Main St. in 1970, had earlier debated and decided against male membership. Gay women, as well, had organized separately from gay men in the first Valley group the Student Homophile League at UMass/Amherst in 1971.

A major contributing factor to the conflicts in 1975 was the rapidly increasing number of lesbians willing to come out and meet some place other than the bars in Springfield and Chicopee. The Old South St. Study Group, described below, estimated that Northampton’s political lesbian community grew from twenty to two hundred over a short six month period, with another two hundred lesbians associated with its more social aspects. Those original twenty (estimated) lesbians had struggled together as feminists in the Valley Women’s Center and/or Union. They knew each other, and had learned to speak across differences with an assumption of good will. The same could not be said of all of the newcomers.

A group of Northampton Lesbians who were part of or witness to these struggles later gathered to try to make sense of what happened. Calling themselves the #13 Old South Street Study Group they identified and analyzed a series of conflicts in 1975-76 in the Valley. They wrote a paper which was published in the Lesbian Connection in 1977.LC had a national circulation and was published in Michigan. It concluded, ”Though we share a common oppression as dykes, our solutions are different, and we often engage in power struggles over what the community should look like.”

Many of the arguments among Lesbians in the Valley during this period were about where to draw the line in defining Lesbian space, and also about how Lesbians should focus their organizing energy. The Study Group started its analysis with the differences evident within what came to be called the Dyke Patrol in Northampton. Formed during the summer of 1975 in reaction to male threats of violence to lesbians going to the Gala bar, the group provided presence and escort to those at the Gala, Zelda’s, Lesbian Gardens, and occasional women’s dances. Some within the group objected to protecting male-owned businesses and straight women, wanting to only put energy into protecting Lesbian space. Others thought the group should be teaching self-defense in the bars. The group disbanded after five months when street threats appeared to end.

the Gala Cafe. Handtinted photo by Sandra Leigh Russell, used by permission of the photographer.

The next event identified by the Study Group was the unilateral decision at the end of 1975 by a small number of Lesbians to make the third floor space of the Women’s Center used by Lesbian Gardens into a 24-hour Lesbian space. This prevented the original, though occasional, use of the space for large meetings of the Valley Women’s Union membership and women’s events. According to the Study Group, other lesbians objected to the decision and the way it was made, both at the time and later. Still, the decision was never rescinded. I infer from this that the radical norm of consensual decision-making was ignored by a few. That created a breach in common trust that the group found no way to correct. It was, as well, an increase in the ideological distance between lesbians who perceived straight women to be the enemy and those who didn’t.

Over the winter of 1975-76, a larger group of Lesbian Separatists confronted the Amherst Feminist Repertory Company (AFRC) to demand change. The lesbian-led theatre company had formed at the beginning of 1975 to present original plays about women’s lives. They were rehearsing their second production, “Women On My Mind,” in a large UMass dormitory lounge when Separatists walked in and demanded to speak to the AFRC lesbians. After the straight women left the room, the Separatists criticized the company for putting on a production that shared content about lesbian lives with men and for allowing a straight woman to act the part of a lesbian coming out. They demanded that AFARC change this. What would happen if they didn’t was left hanging in the air as the Separatists marched out of the room.

I was an accidental witness to this confrontation, having gone to the rehearsal after working late at Everywoman’s Center on the UMass campus in hopes of getting a ride home. AFARC’s sound person lived at Green Street . So too did one of the lesbians in the group of Separatists, which included several former tenants, as well. I rode home with the sound tech. It wasn’t long before word spread of this action.  There were many arguments. Lesbians began taking increasingly rigid sides as rumors grew that the Separatists were going to picket the play performance and a counter group would block them.

The play was scheduled to be staged in mid-May 1976 at Bowker Auditorium at UMass. It was not legal to have women-only, let alone lesbian-only, events in that space. The work-around that AFARC had invented was to schedule a one night first performance for women-only that was labeled a “dress rehearsal.”  AFARC was not going to cancel the production or replace the straight actress playing the role of a lesbian coming out.

benefit became a default community meeting about the disagreements

VWU’s Susan Saxe Defense Committee had planned an April benefit to raise legal funds but, because of the increasing distress, turned it into a lesbian community meeting instead.  The meeting was held, according to the recollection of the Old South Street Study Group, “in order that the hostilities, tensions, and rumors which had been growing around many issues and events be aired.” I heard that this meeting was of limited value however because many of those directly involved didn’t attend.

The Horizontal Hostility workshop I organized at the beginning of May was the next attempt to figure out how to deal with internal dissension. Again, a Separatist demanded lesbian-only space during the workshop, and, as I described in the first paragraph of this account, I got targeted by someone’s “rage masquerading as radicalism,” as happened among feminists elsewhere.

The AFRC production went on stage two weeks later as scheduled without any protesting pickets. I was there. As I recall it played to a full and enthusiastic house full of mostly feminists who enjoyed the humorous account of running a women’s center.

One more attempt at dialogue between lesbians was hosted the next month. In June, the Susan Saxe Committee planned lesbian-only small group discussions of various issues. As this agenda was being initially presented by the Committee, however, heated argument broke out. The focus of the meeting got lost, and according to the article by the Study Group, people “literally stopped hearing each other, and past dynamics took over—screaming at each other, assuming sides, not wanting to appear disloyal to friends, etc.”

The Study Group went on to conclude that lack of experience in power dynamics and leadership let a few lesbians take power over others and that many lesbians let them. Their “ harshly critical and absolutist” behavior did not take into consideration the range and complexity of applying Separatism in lesbians’ individual lives; and some Separatists’ “impatient and simplistic” dismissal of other issues further increased  alienation of lesbians from each other.

part one of the study groups report in Lesbian Connection

The fallout from this intense period of conflict was a very active period of Lesbians (and lesbians) voting with their feet. The growth of Lesbian activities did not falter because of this failure to unite around a common vision. Rather, the budding of Lesbian community was pushed into multiple new forms in 1976-77 as Lesbians simply went toward what they wanted. In spite of a few additional sniping attacks from the more rabid, the blossoming of Lesbian culture in the Valley was to become vigorous.

Years later, walking across the Smith college campus after an Adrienne Rich reading, I saw two women holding hands. I was somewhat bemused to recognize the (former) leader of the Separatist group that confronted the theater group now partnered with the (at one time) straight actress who played the role of a lesbian coming out.    

SOURCES:

__Kennedy, Florynce. “Institutionalized Oppression vs. the female.” Sisterhood is Powerful anthology. Robin Morgan editor. 1970.

__Old South Street Study Group. ”Analysis of a Lesbian Community.” Lesbian Connection. East Lansing, Michigan. Part one, July 1977. Part two, Sep. 1977.

__Faludi, Susan. ”Death of a Revolutionary: Shulamith Firestone helped to create a new society. But she couldn’t live in it.” The New Yorker. April 15,2013. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/04/15/death-of-a-revolutionary

__Joreem.  “Trashing: the Dark Side of Sisterhood.” Originally published in Ms. Magazine April 1976, prompting a record number of letters in response, most sharing similar experiences. In which she quotes Anselma Dell’Olio “…rage masquerading as a pseudo-egalitarian radicalism.”  https://www.cwluherstory.org/classic-feminist-writings-articles/trashing-the-dark-side-of-sisterhood

further reference on horizontal hostility and feminism;

__Joreen. “The Tyranny of Structurelessness.” the Second Wave. 1972.

https://fromwickedtowedded.files.wordpress.com/2019/03/6bb41-tyrannystructureless.pdf

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