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 Peak of Lesbian Enterprise


An unprecedented number of Lesbian enterprises existed in Northampton in 1976-77, both old ones and new, that evolved out of the 1975-76 Separatist struggles. What particularly made this creative flowering different was that Lesbians were, for the first and only time, able to control, rent, and/or buy multiple spaces within downtown Northampton.

This was made possible in large part by the economic decay of the downtown. Its largest business, McCallums Department Store, had closed and many others followed as the city’s population sprawled and shopping malls were built further and further down King St.

When I moved to Green St. in 1970,  everything I needed was within walking distance. Over the next decade, much of that disappeared except for a changing cast of banks, bars, and restaurants. One by one, all but two of the neighborhood markets folded as well as the A&P on Bridge St. and the supermarket on Conz St. The working population that lived downtown in rooming houses or over just about every business aged and declined, too. Two downtown schools – Hawley Junior High and St. Michaels – closed. The working people’s businesses I relied on began to close their doors: Fine’s Clothing, Woolworth’s Five and Dime, Tepper’s General Store, Foster and Farrar Hardware, Whalen’s Office Supply. For a brief time, before real estate speculation and gentrification took hold and turned Hamp into Noho (competing nicknames), space affordable to women became available.

Below is a map of current downtown that I’ve amended with the location of the major 1970s Lesbian enterprises, which peaked in 1976-77. Following it is a brief description of the activity that took place at each address. All of this will be detailed in future posts if I haven’t already.bst 70s map_edited-2

#1. 200 Main St. Lesbian Gardens. Third floor space that was originally rented along with half the second floor by the Valley Women’s Center/Union. 1974-77. Currently Harlow Luggage building.

#2. 66 Green St. Green St.Top two floors, rooming house that started to be lesbian in 1972 and continued to be all or mostly lesbian at least until 1991. Building bought and demolished by Smith College. Currently grass.

#3. 1 Bridge St. Gala Café.  Lesbian backroom 1975-1979. Torn down, part of Spoleto’s currently in that space.

#4. 25 Main St. Nutcracker Suite. One large room on a back corridor as I recall, I believe on the fourth floor, 1976-77. This address also was used by the Grand Jury Information Project, Ceres Inc., and later, I believe, by Chrysalis Theatre. It was in what is now known as the Fitzwilly’s (Masonic) building.

#5. 19 Hawley St. The Egg and Marigolths. 1976-77 (estimated). Originally rented in 1973 by Mother Jones Press which in 1976 became Megaera Press and joined with Old Lady Bluejeans distributing and the Women’s Film Coop to form the Women’s Image Takeover WIT. Additional space in the building was rented to accommodate several craftswomyn and Greasy Gorgon Garage auto repair. These formed a collective of businesses with the self-chosen odd name. Sweet Coming bookstore moved there in 1977.

#6.  78 Masonic St. Common Womon Club. 1976-82. Private dining club for feminist vegetarians owned by the non-profit Ceres Inc. Later bought by Bill Streeter for his book bindery. Currently it is the Mosaic Café.

#7.  68 Masonic St. Nutcracker Suite: Women’s Self Defense and Karate Dojo. Moved from Main St. 1977-78. Womonfyre Books. 1978-82. Owned by Ceres Inc. Later bought by Bart’s Ice Cream as their bakery. Currently it is lesbian owned Bela Vegetarian Restaurant.

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

1970s Overview: Lesbian Community Emerges


In the seventies a Lesbian (with an intentional capital “L”) community consciously emerged in Northampton out of the local Women’s Liberation Movement with an infusion from the Gay and perhaps other radical movements in the area. Largely invisible to the general public, the focus of activity was on creating what Lesbians needed specifically for themselves. Places and ways to be together were a first priority.

By 1976, five Lesbian spaces existed in town, each groundbreaking in its own way: a rooming house on Green Street, the Lesbian Gardens and Common Womon Club spaces that functioned as community centers, the Egg business cooperative, and the Nutcracker Suite karate dojo. Within these spaces, new activities, expanded communication, and cultural expression began. Many firsts included a restaurant, weekly coffeehouse night, newsletter, library, bookstore, publisher, and distribution of local lesbian music, writing, and art, as well as a variety of interest and support groups.

Each of these spaces will have their story included in future posts, as well as much more, and I welcome information and guest posts. The rough draft timeline below is just sort of a visual teaser, as well as a way for me to begin to organize the writing topically as well as sequentially.

1970s working timeline02132015
an early draft timeline trying to see some order in the decade.                      yes its incomplete . do you have info to add?

Efforts also took place this decade to expand the more traditional gay bar culture to town. Three all-women (lesbian) rock bands playing in the area helped spark a dancing boom. Lesbian space was temporarily obtained at two town bars, the Gala and Zelda’s, and larger spaces were occasionally rented for the new phenomena: wimmin’s (only) dances. Northampton lesbians also helped form what would become a countywide Wimmin’s Softball League. The odd spellings are a story in themselves of the radical reclamation of language.

Many of the initial community organizers were radicals, but there were differences among them in theory and practice. Though there were growing numbers of newly identified lesbians (politicized or not) at both of the spaces that served as community centers, some were excluded for political reasons or became alienated during clashes that came to be called the Separatist Wars. The new elements of a bar culture in town were to a degree more inclusive, with fewer issues to debate.

Though many Lesbians continued to be active in the feminist movement, little energy during this decade was devoted to external political change specifically for lesbians. Creating Lesbian or Wimmin’s space with its attendant culture, though largely hidden from public view, was in itself a form of political opposition to the mainstream norm. This coming out and unintentional visibility did not, however, go unnoticed. A fight for child custody, harassment and violence on the street, the FBI’s incursion into the community, and an eviction were all early warning signs of how society would resist change.

Coming Next: How it began.