WAFs Against the War


On Veterans Day October 25, 1971 at least seventy active duty military personnel, veterans and supporters rallied in the rain at a gate to Westover Air Force Base in Chicopee, Massachusetts. WAFB, home to the 99th Bomb Wing, was being used to support the war in Vietnam.

One of the main speakers at the rally was Airman [sic] First Class (AIC) Pat Turney, representing the GIs present. She called for an “immediate end to the senseless waste of human lives in Indochina.” She also called for unity, urging GIs, veterans, and civilians to stand together against the war.

turney speaks at rally
Pat Turney speaking at Oct 25, 1971 WAFB rally. Photo from 99th Bummer.

There is a photograph of the event that was printed in the Base’s alternative newspaper, 99th Bummer . Two women can be seen on either side of Turney on the platform. The woman on the left, Sgt. Pam Speers, co-signed for the rally permit and had been active in producing the newspaper and creating a GI drop-in space.

After Armed Forces Day in the previous spring, a group of active duty Westover Airmen had started 99th Bummer. An alternative monthly, 99th Bummer included radical articles from similar groups around the country as well as ongoing critique of the Air Force Base and its role in the War. Calling themselves the Westover Action Project, the group rented a space off-base. In September, they opened a drop-in center there for military personnel. Off the Runway, as it was called, provided recreation as well as legal counseling and counseling for addiction.

bummer head turney co_edited-1

Westover AFB Command reacted by removing four activists they could identify from their Air Force jobs; Speers and Turney and two men who worked at the Base newspaper with Speers. The activists brought a suit through the ACLU, but the Air Force discharged three of them, including Speers. The fourth, Pat Turney, applied for Conscientious Objector status. She needed Congressional pressure to get WAFB to follow the process to earn a March 2, 1972 honorable discharge as the first U.S. enlisted woman Conscientious Objector.  A letter of support from Representative Bella Abzug  to Turney was printed in 99th Bummer.

abzug leter_edited-1

Speers and Turney, and other women in the Project not mentioned here, went on to become part of the feminist rebellion in Springfield, helping organize the Springfield Women’s Center and the Hotline to End Rape and Assault (HERA) among other actions. Some of them came out as Lesbians and were part of the network connected to Northampton. Pat Turney became known as Banshee and co-founded Northampton’s first women’s self-defense and karate school in 1976.

Sources:

__”Drizzle, Confusion Mar Day.” Springfield Union. Oct. 26, 1971. Springfield MA.

__Westover Action Project. 99th Bummer. No.4. Nov. 5, 1971. Westover Air Force Base, Chicopee.

__Westover Action Project. 99th Bummer. No.7. April 1972. Westover Air Force Base, Chicopee.

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.