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.

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(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.

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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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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.

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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/

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.

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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.

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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…”

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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.

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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.

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Courtesy Springfield Union published Dec. 7, 1971.
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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.