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

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/

“Green Street” Origins; 1970-78


66 green
66 Green Street

In 1970, I had just started my sophomore year at UMass when I broke up with my partner Susan and needed a cheap place to live on the bus route to Amherst. Since I was in a non-functioning emotional state, it was only due to the one friend we had made in Northampton, Madeline Littlefield, that I got moved into a rooming house in town.

The old three-story house at 66 Green Street, with its maze of hallways leading out from a central staircase on the top two floors, looked as though it had been designed to be a rooming house. What had probably been a deep, covered front porch with a little yard and an adjacent alley, however, had been converted to cinderblock storefronts built right up to the sidewalk, though the two old apartments still existed behind them. One had to step back from the pink, painted, stucco front to get a glimpse of the original shingled edifice, which had steeply slanted roofs and a turret hiding a whole other world from that of the Smith College campus right across the street.

My beautiful picture
Three large old rooming houses next to each other on Green Street, number 66 on the far right with the blocky front addition.

 

“Elmhurst Apartments” was painted on the glass transom over the entry door located between the shops. The door led into a small, narrow foyer with flat, black, metal mailboxes affixed to the right hand wall and a carpeted staircase with wooden banister leading upward on the other. Dimly lit, creaking steps, slightly slanted into the void and crowded by a wall with painted over wallpaper, led to the fourteen rooms and two apartments above. There were shared bathrooms and hallway sinks on the second and third floors as well as a kitchen on the third which had originally been room #5.

Mrs. Snowden was the housekeeper, a term new to me. She was a combination manager and maid, sending the bed linens out to a laundry service but washing the towels in the basement machine. A furnished room for single occupant came with a weekly change of linen (one of the sheets, pillowcase and towel) for eight dollars a week. The top floor rooms had slanted ceilings, and those in the corners of the building claustrophobically fit only a single twin-size bed, dresser, and straight backed chair.

A few of the tenants were longtime residents, older single or widowed, retired or employed by nearby Smith College. They set a clean, quiet, mind-your-own tone. The majority, though, were transients, mostly men, who saw the ad in the Gazette, placed there whenever there was a vacancy. I recall people just discharged from the State Hospital up the hill and migrant workers between crops passing through.

Busy with school and multiple activities, I didn’t initially engage much with the other tenants, except for hellos and a worry that they might smell the pot smoke leaking into the hall through the blanket covered door and transom. Or notice increased noise and the occasional presence of a woman lover, as over the next couple years friends from Student Homophile League and then the Gay Women’s Caucus and Valley Women’s Center began increasingly to visit.

david j at g st
David J. SHL friend with stoned munchies. I had very little furniture.

Over time, I got to know a bit about the regulars.  The housekeeper Ada Snowden was friends with another widow on the third floor named Eva Crovo. The two of them could be heard clattering in the kitchen together every evening before and after they ate in Ada’s room.  On the second floor, the retired widower Abner Solon went out somewhere for the day, including, it appeared, all his meals. Living next to Abner at the top of the stairs to the second floor was Sophie Szarek, a retired old maid who was to become somewhat of a legend in those early years at Green Street.

After I had been living there a few months, I noticed that sometimes when I came home, just as I was reaching the top of the stairs to the second floor, I would hear a door slam shut. Sophie, that elusive tenant, would peek out of her room to see who was coming up the stairs and then hide before she was seen in return.  When I started taking a psychology class and learned of operant conditioning, I decided to try it on Sophie. Now when I came in, I called hello to her, and gradually was able to engage her in neighborly conversation.

Sophie had come from Poland to the Valley as a twelve year-old. A cousin had found her work as a maid in a “Yankee” household, which she did for her entire working life. Even with her heavily accented English, it was possible to understand her scornful contempt for all things “Yankee,” which seemed to extend to the few other women in the house, who never befriended her. I was able to introduce her to more congenial and increasingly bemused neighbors as friends of mine moved into the house.

sophie szarek
Sophie Szarek. Once she became a friend she would walk right into a room, even if you were sleeping  🙂

I was somewhat surprised when Mrs. Snowden asked me to substitute for her as the housekeeper over a summer. She worked as a cook at one of the Smith houses during the school year, but returned to her home in Nova Scotia when she could during the summer school break. The job at 66 Green Street broadly entailed renting the rooms and collecting the rent, cleaning the common areas and vacant rooms, checking the boiler, handling the laundry, and reporting to the landlord. In exchange, the room was rent-free and a phone paid for by the landlord was installed.  Mrs. Snowden was pleased enough with me that when she retired from her cook’s job in the summer of 1972 and wanted to return permanently to Canada, she recommended that I be her replacement.

For the next three years, as Green Street’s housekeeper, I filled every new vacancy that I could by word of mouth, with known or recommended women, most of them lesbian. In the remainder of 1972, eight women, five of them lesbian, filled vacancies. With the addition of another lesbian at the start of 1973, five of us collectively rented a room in the name of Kaethe Kollwitz that served as a common room. We also offered it as emergency housing through the Valley Women’s Center in Northampton and Everywoman’s Center at UMass. Over the two years we maintained the room, it temporarily housed a few famous and infamous women.

By Fall of 1975, I was ready to quit the job. Lesbians now lived in the majority of the rooms and one of the apartments at “Green Street,” as it was increasingly referred to in the women’s community. As the town built elder housing, all but one of the senior tenants had moved to those better accommodations. They took their moderating influence with them.  As well as a 100% turnover in tenants, usual for a rooming house, the change brought increased noise, traffic, and mess in the common areas, which increasingly frustrated me as housekeeper.  I had to draw a large poster for the bathroom illustrating how to replace a used-up roll of toilet paper.  I’ve been reminded by a former tenant of the time I went in the kitchen and threw every unwashed dish, glass, skillet, pot, utensil (piles of them) out the third floor window. I kept living at Green Street even after I was no longer the housekeeper.

Peggy C., old UMass friend and resident down the hall from Sophie and Abner, agreed to take over the job with the landlord’s blessing. However, the ever-increasing cleaning chores and wrangles as the “authority” figure discouraged her, too, and within only a couple weeks she was ready to quit.

Peggy C. housekeeper, after me, for a very short time,

Faced with the possibility of losing this now largely women’s, space, the tenants agreed to experimentally form a sub rosa cooperative that would share the work of maintaining the house and making decisions, including who would live there, greatly reducing the responsibilities of the landlord’s hired housekeeper, now the secret tenants’ co-op’s front person as well.

Kate A. became the first housekeeper under this new arrangement toward the end of 1975. A notebook was set up on a dresser in the second floor hall as a house communications log, with the weekly job rosters, house rules, and meeting notices. Over time, messages about happenings in the community as well as individuals’ lives accumulated in the log. [The log has been preserved at the Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College with appropriate use restrictions.]

By the time I left in 1978, to be with my dying mother, at least seventy different women, mostly lesbians, had lived at Green Street over that five year period, some multiple times. A few stayed for only a week or two, others rented for years, with 6-8 months being the average stay.  Though many were college educated, initially most lived there because it was the cheapest housing available and near the bus route. Being able to be open with each other and have like-minded neighbors became a desirable bonus.

The drawback was that it was often like living in a soap opera, witnessing fights between lovers or class clashes in the hallways. Because so many of us were to be involved in creating the new Lesbian community, community conflicts carried over into our living space as well. Green Street’s story as a Lesbian cultural institution continues well into the next decade and beyond. That, as well as little tales from the seventies as they are relevant, will be included in future blog posts.

My beautiful picture
Stage set design for “Green Street; the Soap Opera” by Kaymarion Raymond

 

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.