An Intense Confluence of Radical Ideas: Umass Fall 1971


 

The 1970 co-founders of UMass/Amherst Student Homophile League (see previous posts)  had rapidly moved into other forms of activism creating a leadership vacuum within the group. Kathryn Girard joined the Women’s Caucus of the School of Education and Michael Obligado started, with other more radical SHL members, the local Gay Liberation Front. I stepped into this opening for leadership that Autumn of 1971, editing a few editions of SHL’s newsletter the Closet Door, and ushering the group through the process of getting recognized status as a student group and student senate funding.

beter kathyrn n me04052016
Kathyrn Girard and I outside the GLF space in the Student Union basement (across from the Hatch) early 1971, photographer unknown

Shortly after I started going to SHL meetings in the fall of 1970, I broke up with my partner Susan  and moved into a rooming house in Northampton. I had to leave the cats and dog in her custody. In addition to a subscription to the lesbian magazine the Ladder, my partner and I had established a mutual correspondence with its editor Barbara Grier (publically Gene Damon). Susan sent clippings of relevant news and book reviews. I contributed black and white line drawings on demand that were published as illustrations under the pseudonym Kate McColl.

ladder illustration04052016
Illustration I did for the Ladder under the pseudonym of Kate McColl. I don’t have the date for this issue.

I sent Barbara a letter telling her of this change in relationship, and also about my involvement with the area’s first gay group, SHL. I think she was in St. Louis, Missouri, working as a librarian and living with a partner, Helen. Her response was, “…enjoy your gay lib play therapy.. but when the boys take over go find a women’s lib groups and educate them…”

b grier memo edited
Dictaphone memo sent to me from Barbara Grier dated 11.12.70.

It took an eventful year before I finally understood and took Barbara’s advice. I was, after all, a recent veteran out of Ohio. I was Republican (“I like Ike“) stock and older than most UMass undergrads. I looked around at freshman orientation in 1969, at the anti-war protests, hippies, and drugs, and, when surveyed by the school, projected my four year experience there would make me, in a reactionary way, more conservative. Ha ha!!

I cannot adequately describe the intense confluence of radical ideas flooding the campus (and Valley) at that time, some of which were (literally) hallucinogenic. This was a massive influx that stunned then stirred my brain into bursts of new synapses. Light bulbs turning on, indeed.

Sifting through a book of paper scraps jammed together, I see the autumn of 1971 as being pivotal, not only for my personal identity, but as a further base-laying for Northampton’s unique LGBTQ culture. Three historical developments are apparent then: 1.) An early organizational separation between gay women and gay men; 2.) a wide emphasis on radical (as opposed to reform) feminism that began receiving regular energy boosts from nationally known feminists (and lesbians); and 3.) the melding of these two circumstances that would lead to the emergence of a phenomenally strong and multi-faceted expression of Lesbian feminism.

Several news items of note appeared in the October 1971 Closet Door. There are notices of the beginnings of three collectives. The women’s collective would live together in North Amherst on Leverett Road. They overlapped with another newly forming group, the women’s newspaper collective that was to produce the area’s first feminist newspaper, The Full Moon. The Men’s Collective mentioned was, in fact, gay. Michael and friends rented a large house on Butler Place in Northampton. Included in the newsletter is the invitation to attend weekly parties there after the SHL Thursday evening meetings. I think the cover charge for the parties  helped pay the rent. The guys would show off their latest drag costumes garnered from the free store at the Valley Women’s Center.

closet door collectives formedited
Closet Door SHL newsletter Oct. 1971

I am not sure how it happened but by the end of Nov. 1971 I had written a multipage report on the status of women and activism at UMass which was printed in the alternative campus paper, Poor Richard’s.  In the meantime, I came out to my mother over the phone because I was included in the first mainstream media coverage of the Valley’s Gay Movement, Dec.7 in the Springfield Union. My mother’s response was that she had read something in the Readers’ Digest and would pray for me.

gay society forms  edited
Courtesy Springfield Union published Dec. 7, 1971.
michael n me in shl office04052016
Michael and I clowning around in front of the Union photographer, Really? Print this!

I also let it be known in SHL that I would be doing less in the group as, instead, I organized a Dec. 8 first meeting of the Gay Women’s Caucus. The space advertised was JQA lounge near the brand new Southwest residential area Women’s Center, in what, I heard, was a former janitor’s closet. The Caucus was the foremother of the UMass Lesbian Union. The attendance was small and my memory needs to be refreshed by others (Jane? Dale?), but my recollection is that the small size and very wide range of interests meant we mostly met socially with each other rather than suggested potlucks or CR/study/action groups. It was a clear statement, however, that gay women had needs separate from gay men, something that other women outside SHL may have already concluded as they joined feminist groups on campus or Amherst Women’s Liberation.

first mtg gwc ad04052016
schedule of events at the end of 1971 published in an article I wrote in Poor Richard’s

 

The year ended for me with euphoria when nationally known feminist and poet Robin Morgan spoke at UMass as part of the Distinguished Visitors Program. (I would like to know who orchestrated this major funding coup.) Addressing a capacity crowd of mostly women in the Student Union Ballroom, she focused on the current state of radical feminism in the U.S. It was the first of many solo appearances by Robin in the Valley. She had previously visited the Smith Campus at the invitation of undergraduate Sandy Lilydahl in 1968 as part of WITCH, Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell.

I fell in love with Robin when she refused to take questions from men after the lecture. I also loved her handling of a student reporter. A few of us sat with her in the campus center coffee shop afterwards, where a male from the Collegian persisted in asking her questions.  My mouth must have dropped open when she told him to “stick his prick in his mouth and sew it shut.” Oh my!

robin at umass 7104052016
Photo caption reads “Robin…makes a point about why she feels women.” Massachusetts Daily Collegian Dec. 15, 1971. My guess is that since Robin wouldn’t talk to male reporters they finally got it and allowed a woman to report. From my scrapbook.

A few days later a (first) regional women’s conference was convened at UMass by the Leverett Rd. Women’s Collective. Among the ten scheduled-in-advance workshops was a “gay” one, facilitated by yours truly. Little did I anticipate the explosion of political activity I would be swept into over the coming decade, except I knew it would be with women, with sisters.

regional womens conf 7104052016
First (?) regional women’s conference 1971.

Sources:

__ McColl, Kate. Illustration. The Ladder. Circa 1970-71.

__Grier, Barbara. Memo note to Kay Raymond. Dated 11.12.70.

__Closet Door, newsletter of the Student Homophile League, UMass Amherst. Oct 1971.

__Bradley, Jeff. “Gay Society Emerging on UMass Campus.” Springfield Union. Dec. 7, 1971.

__Raymond Kay M. “Part II. The Other 42%.” Poor Richard’s: a Weekly Magazine. UMass Amherst. Dec. 3, 1971.

__Spencer, Buffy. “Ms. Morgan Says Women’s Movement Alive.” Massachusetts Daily Collegian. Amherst. Dec. 15, 1971.

__Raymond, Kay(marion) and Letalien, Jacqueline, editors. A Herstorical Chronology of the Valley Women’s Movement, 1968-1978. Ceres, Inc. Northampton. 1978.

__Flyer, mimeographed. Regional Women’s Conference.  UMass Amherst. Dec. 17-19, 1971.

the Girls Club


Gay women were in the minority, by far, in the UMass Student Homophile League and its 1971 spinoff activist group the Gay Liberation Front. One survey reached twenty four women out of a total of one hundred members attending SHL events. It often felt like many fewer women. One of the first things we did independently of the gay men was take a field trip to The Girls Club, the women’s bar in Chicopee that we had heard about.

I don’t recall who got the directions, but they really had to be specific because the place wasn’t visible from the road or otherwise marked.  In time-fuzzed images, I see us entering at the walk-in basement level from the parking lot at that back of a small building that housed another bar up above. I retain the impression that it was near water, and in an industrial area not well lighted, definitely off the beaten track unless you lived or worked nearby.

I later heard it had been opened in the late 1940s specifically as a women’s bar, and remained so until at least 1993 though its name was changed to the Hideaway or Our Hideaway. It was a working class bar with pool table (with tournament sign-up sheet and news of the softball team on the bulletin board), pinball machine, and jukebox all handy to the bar and space for a DJ or band in the next room, with tables around a small dance area.

dancing at club03202015
the small dance floor at the Girls Club, (Michelle Faucher photo album)

 

The clientele was diverse, though mostly white, ranging from regulars who had been going there for decades to “tourists” like those of us from SHL visiting from what seemed like a different planet. From my own experience in the military, there were probably WAF from nearby Westover Air Force Base in attendance as well. This was, as far as I know, the only lesbian bar in Western Massachusetts at the time, and one of the few in New England outside of Boston.

I later met someone who grew up in the area, the drummer Michelle “Micki” Faucher, who played the Girls Club as part of an all-“girls” (as they were called back then) rock band the Reflections of Tyme. When not playing the Club, the band made music at weddings and other straight events as the Patches of Blue. I’m guessing that this was late 1960s to early 1970s.

micki the band at club03202015
Drummer Micki Faucher playing at the Girls Club with the Reflections of Tyme (sic) . (Michelle Faucher photo album)
the band at club03202015
Reflections of Tyme playing at the Girls Club. (Michelle Faucher photo album)
reflections of thyme03202015
The Patches of Blue, the band’s “straight” guise. (Michele Faucher photo album)

 

There is a fine novel by Sally Bellerose  called The Girls Club  (Bywater Books, 2011) which accurately includes this very same bar as a not so minor setting. Highly recommended.

Looking for: The names and whereabouts of the other band members, more of the Club’s history.  Recollections anyone? Please comment here or email me (see contact above).

Coming next: “T” is for…

Sources:

__Cercone, G. James. “Survey of 100 Homosexual Members of the University of Massachusetts Student Homophile League (April 1971). For a Sociology 391 Seminar. I only have the pie-chart graph from this.

__Rothenberg, Heather. “Our Hideaway: history and ‘herstory’ of a lesbian bar as a social institution.” Project Proposal. Smith College. September 1998. Project may not have been done, it included interviewing the bar’s owner who had retired to Florida.

__Faucher, Michelle. Photo album undated given to Kaymarion Raymond.

 

 

 

Just Before the Revolution


Was there a gay revolution in Northampton? A look at the gay subculture that existed here just before 1970 may help answer that. I am still looking for and surveying existing literature but here’s a summary of one piece of research.

Lack of documents is one thing noted by Vincent Bonfitto in his 1990 search for Valley gay history prior to the modern gay and lesbian political movements. Only by interviewing seven older gays and lesbians (all of whom may have been white), including Warren Clark and Jean Grossholtz, for his Master’s thesis at UMass was he able to add a little to our sparse knowledge of post-WWII Valley gay subculture.

In general he found this subculture was largely limited to very private social networks meeting in each others homes; and, often isolated individual couple relationships. Gays and lesbians in this era often had to go out of town to find venues for meeting each other. The experiences of men and women and their subcultures differed in significant ways.

Those interviewed by Bonfitto noted that social life for gay male academics centered around private Smith College cocktail parties and trips to Jacob’s Pillow dance center in  Becket MA in summer. Gay male social life was absent at Amherst College, where a gay male faculty member had been asked to resign in the 1950s. No information was included on UMass, except that couples existed. One social network consisted of gay priests in the diocese. Three of the four men interviewed had lost jobs because of homosexuality, one not rehired at Amherst High School in 1962 for, among other things, being “effeminate.”

Gay men in the Valley cruised public facilities for anonymous sex in Amherst, Holyoke, and Greenfield, as well as Northampton. The largest cruising grounds familiar to the men were in Springfield, including the lobby of the Bridgeway Hotel, a huge public men’s room next to City Hall, and the park behind Old First Church off Court Square.

The nearest gay bars were also in Springfield. Though they occasionally were visited by gay women, they were largely for men, with varying clientele. The fourth floor bar and restaurant Blakes was run like a private club, very “high class,” and had drag balls during the holidays. The Arbour was a formal, “posh” piano bar for the over-thirty crowd, while the Arch and Sports Lounge were more informal and mixed class. The Arch, in particular, was known as a pickup place. Bonfitto doesn’t mention the race of bar patrons, the location of the bars, or dates of existence.

Gay women’s or lesbians’ culture appears to have been much more restricted and largely separate from the men’s. Throughout his thesis, Bonfitto refers to the women as “lesbians,” with no note of the actual self-referents of those he interviewed. The three women noted very closed social networks, little bar attendance, but the known existence of a reputed butch-femme bar culture with alcohol-fueled violence. At Mt. Holyoke College, students who came out (were discovered) were moved by the administration to live by themselves in single dorm rooms or off campus. The only alternative to the Springfield bars mentioned above, for women,  was attendance in Boston at Daughters of Bilitis events and vacationing in Provincetown.

Aside from Bonfitto’s thesis there are a few other published sources I have yet to review that contain bits about this period. Some scraps have come my way. I was told by a Smith College alumnae who came to live at Green Street in the early 70s that she had been suspended for a semester and sent home to get psychiatric treatment because her feelings for another woman became apparent to others.

In 1969, among the many old WAC friends who visited my partner Susan and me in Williamsburg, was a gay female couple then living in New York. They brought the portentous news that one of them was transitioning to male. Because of Susan’s regular correspondence with Ladder editor Barbara Grier, our friend Karl (literary pseudonym) wrote what may have been the first article on transsexuals published by the magazine. In 1972, the couple, now legally married and with an adopted child, moved to Northampton and totally assimilated.

The Ladder Apr/May 1970. Written by a transsesexual who moved to Northampton in 1972 with his wife and child.
The Ladder Apr/May 1970. Karl (a literary pseudonym) moved to Northampton in 1972 with his wife and child.

The semi-rural nature of the Valley and the generally small size of towns, even those with academic institutions, undoubtedly contributed to the very private and often isolated existence of gay people in Northampton and the area prior to 1970.

What began to change and how it happened are the topics of the next series of blogs on the 1970s. I am very much looking forward to getting my personal copy of Lillian Faderman’s new history the Gay Revolution. It’s been given fine reviews and I’m sure, like the other volumes I have of her work, I will underline, highlight and scribble madly in its margins. A timely publication that can be referred to as we lay out the story of the revolution here in the Valley. Stay tuned in!

COMING NEXT: A Kind of Revolution: Overview.

SOURCES:
__Bonfitto,Vincent F. “The Formation of Gay and Lesbian Identity and Community in the Connecticut River Valley of Western Massachusetts, 1900-1970.” Journal of Homosexuality, Vol. 33(1) 1997, 69-96. Haworth Press. I will include more material in future blogs.
__Ericsen, Karl. “The Transsexual Experience.” The Ladder, Apr/May 1970, 25-27. Daughters of Bilitis, San Francisco.

FUTURE WORK? LOOKING FOR: I have also been told about, but not yet verified and researched, semi-pro women’s baseball and basketball teams in Springfield, and a Valley-wide industrial women’s softball league that may have existed in the 1960s. Who knows about this? Also were there male equivalents? Or bar leagues as have been found in other large cities? Does anyone know the location of the Springfield bars mentioned by Bonfitto, or (pie in the sky) have photos? I will post a blog soon on the Girls Club, lesbian bar in Chicopee started in the 1940s.