Gracious Guests at Green St.


One night in 1974, Adrienne Rich and Robin Morgan slept over at my house.  They stayed in room #9, rented in the name of Käthe Kollwitz by five of us lesbians, at the 66 Green Street  rooming house in Northampton. For a year that room on the third floor functioned as a common space and as emergency housing offered through the two local women’s centers and word of mouth in the lesbian community.

The occasion for Adrienne and Robin’s visit to the Valley was the National Women’s Poetry Festival, a weeklong extravaganza of what I later realized were a tremendous number of the finest feminist voices in the country. It was an inadvertent introduction to an art that I came to treasure.  I began to seek out then hard-to-find, slim volumes of truth-telling, which hadn’t been included in my recent college education.

nwpf 74 poster by me_edited-1

(Poster was created by me. I didn’t want to take credit because I think it’s poorly done. I meant it to be a representation of the Triple Goddess using as models Maid__myself, Mother__Coretta Scott King, Crone__Georgia O’Keefe.)

I was familiar with Robin’s rabble-rousing from two previous Valley appearances. That’s what prompted me to volunteer the Kollwitz room as her housing when the call went out from the Feminist Art Program, the Festival organizers who had a desk in Everywoman’s Center’s immense office space where I also worked. Thus, I was also handy when the woman who was to pick Audre Lorde up at Bradley International Airport had car trouble. I was dispatched at the very last minute to get this other poet I had never heard of and take her directly to the auditorium at UMass for her reading.

audre-lorde
Audre Lorde

Green Street guests Adrienne and Robin were gracious about twin mattresses on the floor, the shared toilet down the hall, even the instant coffee served for breakfast. Later in the year, I would welcome several Kollwitz room guests referred by Robin, women from out of state desperately in need of refuge.

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Robin Morgan

After Adrienne returned home to NYC, she mailed me a handwritten note of thanks accompanying a check in the amount of her Festival honoraria to be used for the local women’s community.

Adrienne wrote, in part, “I want to thank you for a glimpse of possibilities in living & creating with other women… The visit came at a kind of watershed in my life & was especially meaningful for that reason.” I was very touched by her comments, and later they gained even more significance to me.

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Adrienne Rich

It was a relatively small amount of money, $164. I sent a note to UMass and Northampton women’s centers asking for proposals and set a time for representatives to meet with me at Green St. to decide the use of the money. We made our decisions using what I called “the UCM model.”

I don’t remember now what UCM stood for, but I do recall being sent to Boston by the Valley Women’s Center a couple of years earlier to ask the Haymarket People’s Fund for $50 to buy a used typewriter for the drop-in center log and general use. At that meeting, everyone asking for money (radicals from all over New England), sat around in a circle and presented their needs. The discussion went round and round until a consensus was reached as to who would get what. That took part of a second day. We bunked the first night in our sleeping bags on the attic floor of some big house.

At Green St. in 1974, four proposals came in for using the Rich honoraria: the Valley Women’s Union on behalf of the Mother Jones Press; the counselors at Everywoman’s Center; The Feminist Counseling Collective; and the Chomo Uri staff. Using a consensual decision making process, it was decided that the money would be divided between the Mother Jones Press and Chomo Uri staff to help defray the costs of a mutual misunderstanding.

Chomo Uri was conceived as a feminist arts journal as part of the Feminist Arts Program in Amherst. They had contracted with Mother Jones, the new feminist press in Northampton, to print the first issue. The finished print, however, didn’t meet the reproduction standard expected by the publication’s staff, particularly the photographs. They refused to accept the job. Since the two groups had come to an agreement before the funding meeting, it was relatively easy for the rest of us to see the importance of resolving the issue.

I sent Adrienne a note of thanks with news of the results. The connection set me to dreaming of her, literally. Later that summer, I wrote a crush confession to her.  What follows is her beautiful response.

 July 21 (1974). Dear Kaymarion. First, thank you for sharing. There were moments during the brief time in N’Hampton when I wished there were more time, no conference, space in which we could really talk. I came away very much moved by what I saw of you, of your life. I should tell you – in exchange for your trust in me – that only shortly before the time I was in Northampton a woman I’d known for about 2 years & I had become lovers. I was feeling extremely vulnerable, not like being public at all, and I was grateful for the sense of private space you gave, the peacefulness of Greene [sic] St., the kind of energy I felt flowing from you & from several of your sisters there.

And so I can accept your fantasy out of a whole part of myself that was for years stifled & in abeyance. I feel at times I’ve been slowly waking from a long sleep punctuated by dreams I didn’t understand. And at the same time I resist women-romanticizing-women – I’ve done, I hope, with the romantic, I want us – all women- to see each other as we are & fight against mythification. Yes, we should have our fantasies & share them – work with them as with dreams – they are a source, a metaphor for our deep psychic life –

Just now I feel like someone on the edge of a new landscape which is nonetheless full of familiar shapes & colors – Unconsciously I’ve known it all my life & now I am here in my waking life. You’ve lived there awake longer than I though there must be 20 years between us. It’s strange to feel you sensed without words where I was – though not strange really.— I’d like to believe we’ll meet again & really talk. I have always loved women. Talked best with women, but never so much as now, in a whole relationship with one particular woman.

Please forgive me if I’ve answered you in any clumsy way. Your letter moved me very much & I wanted to meet you with the same honesty –  with love  Adrienne.

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adrienne letter back_edited-1

I believe I saw her next at Hampshire College. She was reading from her most recent work. I don’t remember it or the year. Perhaps it was an early version of Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying, Twenty-one Love Poems, and/or Of Woman Born, but I do remember that in the course of that evening, Adrienne said  publicly that she was a lesbian.

adrienne notesadrienne inside notes_edited-1

SOURCES:

__Feminist Arts Program. National Women’s Poetry Festival poster. UMass Amherst MA.

__Rich, Adrienne. Letter to Kaymarion Raymond. Postmarked Mar. 15, 1974 from New York City.

__Kaymarion {Raymond}. Letter to Women’s Centers soliciting proposals. Mar 21, 1974. Everywoman’s Center UMass Amherst MA.

__Various groups. Proposals for funding. April 1974.

__Rich, Adrienne. Letter to Kaymarion Raymond. Dated July 21, 1974. New York City.

__Rich, Adrienne. Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying.  Pamphlet, printed in 1977 by Motheroot Publications/ Pittsburgh Women Writers.

Further reading:

this first essay includes some of the history Adrienne Rich and Michelle Cliff’s stay in Western Mass (Montague) and editing of Sinister Wisdom 1981-83. The second link includes Rich’s reflection on what she started learning about relationships with women, very early as a lesbian.

https://www.lambdaliterary.org/features/news/08/04/what-remains-remembering-michelle-cliff-beth-brant-and-stephania-byrd/

 https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/11/13/adrienne-rich-women-honor-lying/

Beginning to Create Lesbian Space 1974-75


The Valley Women’s Center was at 200 Main Street in Northampton. In 1974 the Center reorganized itself along socialist feminist lines into a union: Valley Women’s Union (VWU). When a coordinating board was formed to represent the various enterprises and action groups* comprising the VWU, Lesbians asked for and were given an at-large seat. While very present in various activities Lesbians did not yet have a formal group, but shortly after getting a seat on the board  a Lesbian Issues Discussion Group formed. It met weekly, and grew to include thirty to forty women, mostly lesbians, some of whom hadn’t previously been part of VWU.

In May of 1974, the CLIT (Collective Lesbian International Terrors) Papers were circulating nationally. Initially, the CLIT Collective called for lesbians to withhold their energy from straight media, which continued to define and co-opt lesbians. The Collective advocated the creation of a separate Lesbian media. The idea was further expanded to mean withdrawing from the straight world as much as possible, including straight feminists, and creating a separate Lesbian community and culture.

CLIT intro para OOB May 75
CLIT Papers opening paragraph from Off Our Backs May 1974

The CLIT Papers, by a NYC group, caused a furor in feminist communities from coast to coast, including the feminist community in Northampton. They resonated particularly with Lesbians such as myself, who had devoted a lot of energy to women’s issues, but whose needs as lesbians were largely unrecognized. As a result of this new thinking some VWU Lesbians wrote a position paper asking for separate space at 200 Main Street. They began scheduling Lesbian-only events in the third-floor general meeting room, calling it “Lesbian Gardens.”

Increasing numbers of Lesbians began to identify themselves with this radical thinking and literally spelled it out. The different usage of lesbian (lower case) as a sexual identity and Lesbian (capitalized) as a political identity began to appear. If you see it here it is as carefully deliberate reflection of how it began to appear in local Lesbian writing and publications starting in 1974.

While still a student at UMass I helped start Everywoman’s Center, housed initially in 1972 in one large room in Munson Annex. In the beginning we pretty much invented our jobs, even as volunteers, and I wound up coordinating publications (a newsletter) and educational programming. We had inherited a workshop program for women designed to encourage continuing education, Project S.E.L.F. and in one of the first series Cindy Shamban and I co-facilitated a four week workshop in 1972 called “the Woman-Identified Woman.”  The topic and title came from a 1970 position paper by NYC Radicalesbians which I found and brought back from the second Christopher Street Liberation March. This may have been the first such offering in the Valley.

After I graduated from UMass I continued to work at Everywoman’s Center as paid part time staff with no benefits. The eight week long workshop program was one of my main responsibilities and  continued to be for several years, growing to an attendance of 350-400 women enrolled every semester, half of them non-students. Every semester I was able to include at least one with lesbian focus. The most popular was Julia Demmin’s “Lesbians in Literature,” which she offered numerous times, often with her partner Nancy Schroeder.

1975 began with the last program I coordinated for Everywoman’s Center, what may have been the largest gathering up to that time of Valley women, a week long University (UMass) Women’s Conference in Amherst attended by over 700 students, staff, faculty and community women. It also included the largest gathering of lesbians, more than sixty, who attended one or more of the three lesbian workshops.

75 womens conf

At the end of the conference, energized by this response, planning began for a similar conference for Lesbians in a collaboration of the UMass Gay Women’s Caucus; Lesbian Gardens; and UMass, Springfield, and Northampton women’s centers. The BiMillenial Lesbian Week was held in May 1975 with events in Springfield, Amherst and Northampton, culminating in a weekend retreat in Cummington which I attended. “BiMillenial” referred to two thousand years of Lesbian culture since Sappho.

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This happening, as we used to say, was advertised in Lesbian Gardens’ first publication. Old Maid: the Lesbian Magazine. The BiMillennial Lesbian Week marked the beginning of a proliferation of Lesbian activities. An increasing number of these took place at Lesbian Gardens, including a Saturday Night Coffeehouse with music by Lou Crimmins and other local musicians, the showing of the first U.S. Lesbian-made films, the formation of the Magical Lesbian Playgroup (a mother-daughter group?) , and the convening of the first Skills Exchanges and Winter Solstice Celebrations. Lesbian Gardens  also provided space for the initial  meetings of what became new enterprises; the women’s restaurant project, the women’s self-defense and karate school, and the Lesbian back to the land movement.

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slightly used cover of the Old Maid by Laura Kaye,  by permission of the artist
definitionold maid
From the Old Maid, Spring 1975

In the late Fall of 1975, the Lesbians coordinating the use of Lesbian Gardens proclaimed it to be 24-hour Lesbian space, contentiously precluding its use by straight VWU feminists. The Sweet Coming Bookstore (more like a bookshelf) was established there to sell the scant but growing number of Lesbian publications from around the country: the first mimeographed and stapled issues of Lesbian Connection, coming out stories, health information, news and discussions by and about Lesbians. A Lesbian distributor, Old Lady Blue Jeans, also began to have locally created products for sale there. An album by local musician Linda Shear, as well as some coloring pages by me as Great Hera’s Incunabula, were listed in Old Lady Blue Jeans’ catalog.

The BiMillennial Lesbian Week collaboration between Northampton, Springfield, Amherst, and hilltown Lesbians provided a supportive base for a Lesbian cultural flowering and new level of feminist activism over the next decade.  A significant portion of it was to happen in Northampton, which seemed to have a population explosion of newly-out lesbians. Though this Valley Lesbian Movement was to be fraught with struggle, both internal and external, its very depth and breadth was to exhibit a maturity that reflected the same pains, questions, doubts, and resolve experienced across Lesbian Nation.

*Valley Women’s Union initial coordinating board represented Mother Jones Press, Women’s Film Coop, Employment, Staffing, Newsletter, Childcare, Study and Research work groups.

SOURCES:

__[Raymond}, Kaymarion and Letalien, Jacqueline E., editors.  The Valley Women’s Movement: A Herstorical Chronology 1968-1978.  Northampton, Ceres Inc. 1978.

__Collective Lesbian International Terrors. “CLIT Papers, Part One and Two” and OOB Staff editorial. Off Our Backs. Washington DC. May and July 1974.

__Conference Evaluation Committee.  “1975 University Women’s Conference January 21-25: Report and Evaluation”. EWC, UMass Amherst Mar. 1975. I coordinated this conference and wrote parts of the evaluation including that about lesbians.

__Old Maid: A lesbian magazine. Northampton. Spring 1975.

__Old South St. Study Group. “Analysis of a Lesbian Community-Part One” and “-Part Two.” Lesbian Connection [E. Lansing MI]. Jul.1977.

__Kraft, Stephanie.  “BiMillenial Celebration: 2000 Years From Sappho.” Valley Advocate. 30 Apr. 1975.

__[Raymond],Kaymarion.  “The Cloning of Old Lady Blue Jeans.” Sharer’s Notes #3. Great Hera’s Incunabula. Nov. 1975.

_________. “Valley Women’s History”, Meeting notes. Common Womon Club, Northampton. 15 Apr. 1980.