The Egg


The very first issue of mimeographed Dyke Doings, Sep/Oct 1976, carried the announcement that several lesbian-run businesses had opened in the rear of the building at 19 Hawley Street in Northampton. Calling themselves the Egg and (later added) Marigolths, the collectively-run spaces initially contained three businesses, as well as two craftswomyn studios, and a residence. Starting in July 1976, the all-Lesbian business ventures began sharing rent and utilities while operating independently. egg DDso76_edited-1

Dyke Doings Sep/Oct 1976

Mother Jones Press, a feminist offset press collective, had been renting space at 19 Hawley St. since its founding in 1972. The staff had dwindled to three, all Lesbians. In May 1976, they decided to close Mother Jones and open Megaera Press to publish Lesbian work. They also continued to print for women.

magaera opens_edited-1

The Women’s Film Coop was also an older venture, started in 1972 when the Women’s Institute project at the Valley Women’s Center inherited eight films and a slideshow from New Haven feminist distributors. Operating out of a teeny space at VWC 200 Main St., the Film Coop had expanded their holdings of films available for rent and formed a non-profit corporation, Women’s Image Takeover (WIT), with their own PO address and mailing permit.

wfc brochure_edited-1

In 1973, the Coop had produced the first Valley (and perhaps New England) Women’s Film Festival, a week-long event at what became the Pleasant Street Theater in Northampton. The dearth of positive images at the time is demonstrated by the only films available to show at the Lesbian night: Maedchen in Uniform; the Children’s Hour;  and several shorts. The shorts were Jan Oxenberg’s first film, Home Movie (1972), and maybe one by Barbara Hammer. The second edition of the Coop’s critical catalog of media that reflected the real experience of women included reviews of an increasing number of films just starting to be created by feminists and lesbians in the US.

WFC catalogue 1974_edited-1

1974 edition Cover art by Barbara Johnson

By the time it moved to Hawley Street in 1976, the Women’s Film Coop had dwindled to one Lesbian, Elana Dykewoman (later, Dykewomon), as minimally paid staff. In the new organization, Megaera Press was folded into WIT’s corporate umbrella, as was Dyke Doings, Old Lady Blue Jeans Distribution, and eventually Sweetcoming Bookstore.

the egg in lesbian tide editedcopy_edited-1

Lesbian Tide Sep/Oct 1976, courtesy of Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College

The newest of the three businesses in the Egg was the Greasy Gorgon Garage. Two Lesbians repaired women’s cars on a scaled-fee basis and assisted women wanting to work on their own vehicles. They planned to offer auto maintenance classes, with a larger goal of establishing a non-profit training center for women mechanics. Also new were the two studios, one of which was occupied by a Lesbian carpenter/cabinetmaker and the other by a Lesbian jeweler/seamstress.

raelyn ad so dd 76_edited-1

Ad Dyke Doings Sep/Oct 1976

Megaera Press’s first Lesbian publication came out in September 1976. It was Elana Dykewoman’s [Dykewomon] They Will Know Me By My Teeth: Stories and Poems of Lesbian Struggle, Celebration, And Survival.

teeth pub announcement_edited-1

cover by Laura K Vera, used by permission

It stated in the volume that “This book was printed, financed, typed, corrected and bound entirely by lesbians.” The 3,000 copies were hand-collated, Elana recalled in a 2001 interview. It also stated on the cover: “To Be Sold To And Shared With Women Only.”  While anyone may now get used copies through internet used bookstores, in the 70s before the feminist bookstores began, Old Lady Blue Jeans was the sole distributor of the book.

The local one-womyn enterprise was already distributing other art by Valley Lesbians: notecards by (now) anonymous; Linda Shear’s LP album of original songs “A Lesbian Portrait;” and Great Hera’s (Kaymarion’s) Incunabula prints-to-color. The old lady of Old Lady Blues Jeans took these items, a brochure, and Elana’s book to Lesbian events to sell. Mail orders were solicited through advertisements in the increasing number of national Lesbian publications coming into being at that time . OLBJ eventually circulated hundreds of Lesbian-made products, though the owner never made a living from this work.

OLBG collage_edited-1

Collage of parts of OLBG catalog. Linda Shear photo used by permission. Great Hera’s Incunabula by Kaymarion [Raymond]

Megaera Press’s second, and final, Lesbian publication was a collection of local Lesbian creations. Visual art, music, and writing by forty womyn were included in The Rock: a Collection of Lesbian Expressions. Decisions on what to include and the physical process of producing it were done collectively by the contributors and others from the Lesbian community. A publication party was held April 4, 1977 at the Common Womon Club  to premiere this for-wimmin-only book and celebrate its issuance. On a personal note, it included a drawing of me by a Green St. tenant; my fourth and last issue of Great Hera’s Incunabula, a woodcut print; and a poem by someone else that I think referred to me entitled, “Horizontal Hostility.”

rock collage_edited-1

Collage of the more public bits of the Rock

The Dec.1976 Dyke Doings contained an announcement from Elana Dykewomon that she was planning to leave the Valley the next summer and was looking for someone to take over the Women’s Film Coop.  By mid-1977, no one had volunteered for this, so the films and slides being distributed by the Coop were returned to their makers and the business was closed. Megaera Press sold their offset press and closed that summer as well. The papers for the umbrella non-profit corporation Women’s Image Takeover were handed over to a local Lesbian volunteer.

While the rest of the Egg collective withered after a year, the Greasy Gorgon Garage (Triple G) had expanded to three and a half womyn mechanics and two apprentices. Twice weekly repair classes were being offered. They found new space, a “real” garage, for their business in nearby Hatfield in August 1977. At the end of the year, according to their notice in Lesbian Connections, they were seeking funds to buy the rented building.  I find no record of their later history. Does anyone know?

3G LCdec77_edited-1  LC Dec 77

The Egg only lasted a year and the collective members became dispersed across the country. Some, Elana  recalls, moved to Minneapolis where there was a sobriety community. She herself initially wound up in Oregon via Springfield MA and Florida, and later settled in Oakland CA where she continued to write and circulate work by Lesbians. Raelyn Gallina  fetched up in California where she established herself in the Lesbian and S/M communities as a nationally known pioneering practitioner of piercing and scarification, particularly for women. Elana estimated that by 1978-79, all the dykes of the Egg had left the area.

SOURCES:

__[Raymond], Kaymarion and Letalien, Jacqueline, editors. The Valley Women’s Movement: A Herstorical Chronology 1968-1978. Ceres Inc. Northampton MA. 1979. http://vwhc.org/timeline.html

__ Dyke Doings. Northampton MA. Sep/Oct, Dec 1976.

__ Women’s Film Coop. Catalogs 1972 and 1974. Northampton MA.

__ “The Egg: Dyke Building Opens.” Lesbian Tide. Sep/Oct 1976. Courtesy of the Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College. Northampton MA.

__ Dykewomon, Elana. Interview by Tryna Hope. Aug. 20, 2001. Valley Women’s History Collaboration Collection. UMass Special Collections and Archives. Amherst MA.

More information at https://www.dykewomon.org/

__Old Lady Blue Jeans. Catalog. Undated, probably 1976. Northampton MA.

__The Rock: a Collection of Lesbian Expressions. Megaera Press. 1977. Northampton MA.

__ “GREASY GORGON GARAGE.” Lesbian Connection. Dec. 1977.

__Vale, V and Juno, Andrea editors. Interview with Raelyn Gallina. Included in Modern Primitives. RE/Search 1989.

__Johnson, Barbara. http://barbarajohnson.com/index.htm

__Shear, Linda.  Family of Womyn https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zLM-xZnTsPA. 

More about the album  https://queermusicheritage.com/oct2001b.html

__Gallina, Raelyn. Interview https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZRA0JmSIpQ

Obituary https://infinitebody.com/blogs/news/r-i-p-raelyn-gallina

__ Review and view Maedchen in Uniform https://www.afterellen.com/movies/79116-review-of-mdchen-in-uniform-1958 Link to view https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJDEvwftR94

__ Childrens Hour https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/childrens_hour

__ Jan Oxenberg https://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/onlinessays/JC24-25folder/JanOxenberg.html

__Barbara Hammer the early films http://barbarahammer.com/films/barbara-hammer-the-early-films-1968-72/

The Peak of Lesbian Enterprise


An unprecedented number of Lesbian enterprises existed in Northampton in 1976-77, both old ones and new, that evolved out of the 1975-76 Separatist struggles. What particularly made this creative flowering different was that Lesbians were, for the first and only time, able to control, rent, and/or buy multiple spaces within downtown Northampton.

This was made possible in large part by the economic decay of the downtown. Its largest business, McCallums Department Store, had closed and many others followed as the city’s population sprawled and shopping malls were built further and further down King St.

When I moved to Green St. in 1970,  everything I needed was within walking distance. Over the next decade, much of that disappeared except for a changing cast of banks, bars, and restaurants. One by one, all but two of the neighborhood markets folded as well as the A&P on Bridge St. and the supermarket on Conz St. The working population that lived downtown in rooming houses or over just about every business aged and declined, too. Two downtown schools – Hawley Junior High and St. Michaels – closed. The working people’s businesses I relied on began to close their doors: Fine’s Clothing, Woolworth’s Five and Dime, Tepper’s General Store, Foster and Farrar Hardware, Whalen’s Office Supply. For a brief time, before real estate speculation and gentrification took hold and turned Hamp into Noho (competing nicknames), space affordable to women became available.

Below is a map of current downtown that I’ve amended with the location of the major 1970s Lesbian enterprises, which peaked in 1976-77. Following it is a brief description of the activity that took place at each address. All of this will be detailed in future posts if I haven’t already.bst 70s map_edited-2

#1. 200 Main St. Lesbian Gardens. Third floor space that was originally rented along with half the second floor by the Valley Women’s Center/Union. 1974-77. Currently Harlow Luggage building.

#2. 66 Green St. Green St.Top two floors, rooming house that started to be lesbian in 1972 and continued to be all or mostly lesbian at least until 1991. Building bought and demolished by Smith College. Currently grass.

#3. 1 Bridge St. Gala Café.  Lesbian backroom 1975-1979. Torn down, part of Spoleto’s currently in that space.

#4. 25 Main St. Nutcracker Suite. One large room on a back corridor as I recall, I believe on the fourth floor, 1976-77. This address also was used by the Grand Jury Information Project, Ceres Inc., and later, I believe, by Chrysalis Theatre. It was in what is now known as the Fitzwilly’s (Masonic) building.

#5. 19 Hawley St. The Egg and Marigolths. 1976-77 (estimated). Originally rented in 1973 by Mother Jones Press which in 1976 became Megaera Press and joined with Old Lady Bluejeans distributing and the Women’s Film Coop to form the Women’s Image Takeover WIT. Additional space in the building was rented to accommodate several craftswomyn and Greasy Gorgon Garage auto repair. These formed a collective of businesses with the self-chosen odd name. Sweet Coming bookstore moved there in 1977.

#6.  78 Masonic St. Common Womon Club. 1976-82. Private dining club for feminist vegetarians owned by the non-profit Ceres Inc. Later bought by Bill Streeter for his book bindery. Currently it is the Mosaic Café.

#7.  68 Masonic St. Nutcracker Suite: Women’s Self Defense and Karate Dojo. Moved from Main St. 1977-78. Womonfyre Books. 1978-82. Owned by Ceres Inc. Later bought by Bart’s Ice Cream as their bakery. Currently it is lesbian owned Bela Vegetarian Restaurant.

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/

The Printed Word


The printed word was essential to the spread of radical ideas and information in the 1970s, both the means to reproduce pages and to circulate the resulting papers. Any information that challenged the dominant narrative was simply not available in the mainstream newspapers. It wasn’t broadcast on radio or TV, and was not available at newsstands, bookstores, or libraries. Valley Feminists and Lesbians, as well as Gays, out of necessity, created their own news media, literature, and distribution networks, joining others in the region and nationally.

The dearth of factual information and critical thought was so great in the 1970s that it resulted in many new groups immediately forming libraries. These collections of all kinds of hard-to-find printed material were brought back from events outside of the Valley and ordered or subscribed to by mail. I saw these pamphlets, small paperback books, newspapers, and magazines make their way into libraries at the UMass Student Homophile League/Gay Liberation Front office (where I was a co-coordinator), and in each of Northampton’s Valley Women’s Center , Lesbian Gardens, and Common Womon Club. All these groups had the physical space to shelve them.

closet door oct 71_edited-1

UMass Student Homophile League mimeographed newsletter 1971

Most new local groups also produced a newsletter for members. Archives today often house odd-appearing local ephemera from this period such as the Student Homophile League newsletter included above, unevenly printed in splotched typewriting. While a  very few groups (early Springfield Women’s Center) employed the purple-lettered ditto process to duplicate pages, the AB Dick mimeograph machine was indispensable to most groups. The usual run was under a thousand copies. This was how the Valley Women’s Center printed its hand collated, stapled, and addressed monthly newsletter. The use of that machine was lent by VWC to other groups, including the Student Homophile League.

A cousin of the silk screen printing process used for posters and T-shirts, the mimeo impression to be printed was cut in the coating of the fabric stencil with a manual typewriter, another indispensable tool of the time. The mimeo machine was cranked by hand and had a center tank filled with ink. One sheet of paper at a time was printed with ink that poured from the tank through the stencil wrapped around it.

2000px-Mimeograph.svg 1970 wikipedia

Subscription to these mimeographed newsletters, as well as to newspapers, were often exchanged between groups, forming valuable networks of information on the latest news, actions, gatherings, upcoming events, research findings, and analysis. Despite the risk of snooping and sabotage, most of these were circulated by [snail] mail to group members and other groups. Given the high cost of postage, it was well worth the effort to, if at all possible, get a non-profit bulk mailing permit. Mailing lists became valuable commodities, as was any technology that helped transfer the address onto the pieces to be mailed other than handwriting each.

vwu news mail 76_edited-1

My subscribed to newsletter mimeographed from Valley Women’s Union with carbon-copied, peel-off mailing label

Mimeograph duplication wasn’t limited to little local flyers or newsletters. Some of the national and regional news sources we came to rely on here in the Valley also had mimeo origins. Made available at the one-shelf Sweetcoming Bookstore in Lesbian Gardens, Lesbian Connections, the oldest still existing national Lesbian publication, started as a stapled mimeograph in 1974. Gay Community News, the New England radical newspaper produced in Boston, started in 1973 as Gay Community Newsletter with a two page mimeo. Their publication New England Gay Guide 1975 was also mimeographed. Yes, the stapler was also a very necessary tool.

gcn_p1[1]-238jun 17 73 the history project

Gay Community Newsletter June 17, 1973. Courtesy of the history project (Boston.) First edition of what was to becomes Gay Community News .

Frequently found today in archives are the now brittle and tanned tabloid-formatted newspapers, offset printed on cheap newsprint. These were produced by larger organizations in the Movements.  They were distributed by mail, carried in bundles to and from various events or gatherings, and eventually sold locally at alternative newsstands or bookstores. The national feminist news became available in Off Our Backs,  the offset printed newspaper started in 1970.

Also available for reading and sale at Northampton’s Valley Women’s Center at 200 Main St. was the now classic women’s health handbook, Our Bodies, Ourselves, in a 1970 first edition as a large stapled newsprint pamphlet titled Women and Their Bodies: a Course printed by New England Free Press. This had been developed from mimeographed handouts created as the course was taught to Boston-area women in 1969.

women_and_their_bodies_cover

1970 first edition of what was to become Our Bodies, Ourselves, the classic manual of  health information that had been hidden from women or misinterpreted by Patriarchal medicine.

Before the existence of the internet and its electronic media, this meant having, or having access to, an offset press for issues reproduced in large numbers, which meant a thousand or more. “Access to an offset press” meant finding a printer who had, not only a press, but also tolerance, if not acceptance, of radical material. Regionally, the New England Free Press, which opened in 1968 in Boston, began to fill that need. They printed the Northampton Women’s Film Coop’s first catalog in 1972. For the most part, they produced new radical left material. However, feminist and gay pamphlets printed by them included “The Woman Identified Woman;” “Out of the Closet: A Gay Manifesto;” “The Politics of Housework;” “The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm;” and Witches, Midwives and Nurses. I was able at the time to find most of these at events and in the Valley Women’s Center library.

Valley feminists briefly broke into tabloid-formatted print with single issues of the Full Moon in 1972 and 1973.  The printer is not credited, but the directory included in each newspaper traces the regional development of the feminist network, including its publications.

full mon 72 73

full moon contacts 72_edited-1

Listing in 1972 Full Moon the regional beginnings of a feminist publications network

It was a significant event when women bought a used Chief press and set it up in rented space on Hawley Street as Mother Jones Press in July 1973. With this, Northampton joined the Feminist Press Movement* that was spreading across the country. Some of what they printed included the Valley’s first Lesbian newspaper, Old Maid; the second Women’s Film coop catalog; flyers used by Valley Women’s Union in organizing waitresses; and the 1973 Women’s Guide to Amherst-Northampton produced by the Women’s Information Project.

womens guide 73 lorie leininger il_edited-1

Illustrated by Lorie Leininger

These printed materials were not readily available in Northampton in the early 1970s unless one visited Lesbian Gardens or the Valley Women’s Center, attended an event, or subscribed.  Materials became more visible and available when the radical Spark Bookstore collective formed in Florence in 1974 and moved to downtown Northampton space, on the second floor next to the Calvin Theatre in 1975.  They made sure to include lesbian , gay and feminist publications and advertised that in Dyke Doings. A similar effort began on the UMass Amherst campus in 1975 as the People’s (Women’s) Newsstand and Spread the Word Distribution.

spark ad spring 75_edited-1peoples newstand 77_edited-1

There is also a feminist and Lesbian literary publishing history for this period, as well as a history in film and broadcast, which I will address in later posts. The initial publishing efforts here laid the groundwork for the 1979 milestones of the first publication of the Valley Women’s Voice newspaper and the opening of Womonfyre Books on Masonic Street in Northampton.

Throughout the 70s, mimeograph continued to be relied upon. When the Valley Women’s Union was evicted from 200 Main Street, they moved their mimeograph machine to the upstairs of the Common Womon Club, where it continued to be used by radical groups until it was supplanted by photocopying.

mimeo money_edited-1

Mimeo IOU paper envelope from Common Womon Club

Sources:

__Lesbian Connection is online. http://www.lconline.org/

__“How Boston Powered the Gay Rights Movement.” Boston Globe. https://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2013/06/01/how-boston-powered-gay-rights-movement/wEsPZOdHhByHpjeXrJ6GbN/story.html

__History of Off Our Backs. http://www.triviavoices.com/an-interview-with-carol-anne-douglas.html#.Weya_Yhrw2w The history of this longest running feminist paper, and past and current media influences, is discussed in an interview with OOB staff woman Carol Anne (“Chicken Lady) Douglas posted in the now online journal Trivia.

__ Our Bodies, Ourselves history. http://www.ourbodiesourselves.org/history/preface-to-the-1973-edition-of-our-bodies-ourselves/

__New England Free Press publications listing Healey Library UMass/Boston http://www.lib.umb.edu/node/1628

Further Reading:

__*A brief overview of the Women In Print Movement can be read as a sample “look inside” on Amazon.com. See this Introduction by Jaime Harker and Cecilia Koucher Farr to This Book is an Action: Feminist Print Culture and Activist Aesthetics. University of Illinois Press. 2015. https://www.amazon.com/This-Book-Action-Feminist-Aesthetics/dp/025208134X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1527873535&sr=1-1&keywords=this+book+is+an+action#reader_B016LLE3H2

Lesbians in the Valley Women’s Movement: 1970-1973


 

Detractors would have had women believe that the early second wave feminists were all lesbians*. Yet in those early years lesbians who were in the Movement in the Valley were largely invisible and uncounted. Some of them have told me that there were more lesbians contributing than have been given credit. I was one of them, and have used data collected by others as well as my own memories to consider the lesbians who participated in this political work against sexism.

The initial spread of radical feminism is easily traced up and down the Valley through the appearance of women’s centers in Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden Counties. These spaces were rented in communities with donations and largely staffed by volunteers, or else they were given institutional space on campuses with some funded staff positions.

VWC05032016

Northampton’s Valley Women’s Center was the first, established in 1970. It also lasted the longest of the community-based centers, to 1977.

SWWC05032016
artist unknown

After VWC was opened in Northampton, there followed  UMass/Amherst Southwest (residential area) Women’s Center (1971), Greenfield Community Women’s Center (1972), UMass/Amherst Everywoman’s Center (1972), Springfield Women’s Center (1973), Hampshire College Whole Women’s Center (1973), Smith College Women’s Resource Center (1974) and at UMass/Amherst centers briefly in five residential areas.

SpfldWC05032016

In 1977, women’s centers opened in Athol and at Mt. Holyoke College. Everywoman’s Center at UMass, under a new name, is the oldest women’s center still existing in the Valley. All the community centers are long gone, some partially replaced by institutional services.

EWC05032016I worked as a staff person at both VWC and, later, Everywoman’s Center as an out lesbian. Through that work, I came to know lesbians who were active in all of the other community centers and some of the campus ones. It did seem to me that as new activities and groups started at the Valley Women’s Center in Northampton, an increasing number of new members becoming involved were lesbians, but in those early years it’s just anyone’s guess. Here’s how I made one.

My best guess was prompted by some Smith students’ research. They compiled a list of Western Mass lesbians and feminists who would be valuable resources on that early history. One document they found was_- a 1971 member list for fifteen Amherst Women’s Liberation support groups. They also found other sources for work groups that were organized out of AWL’s Valley Women’s Center, as well as a very limited number of names of feminists who were active in other centers. Going through those names, I marked those I knew to be lesbians at that time, which is probably an under count, and estimated lesbians to be about 10% of AWL/VWC’s general membership, as well as of the women’s centers in Springfield, Greenfield and Athol.GnfldCWC05032016

Other than what I’ve already mentioned, at UMass in Amherst, there was little overt lesbian organizing within the Valley Women’s Movement until 1974. In Northampton however, these years before that were important to lesbian history because of the relatively large and active numbers who developed a grounding in radical feminist theory, process, and vision which would eventually burst into Lesbian form.

One of the most influential groups for me was the Women’s Institute. This group came and went briefly but intensely in 1971-72.  When a State prison in Framingham was slated to be closed down, feminists saw an opportunity to convert it to a residential women’s education center. With others from VWC, I took a tour of the grim narrow buildings. I looked at worn red bricks stark against the bright green grass common, and tried to envision the place as a farm and self-sufficient community, conference center, and media hub. Smile. For about a year, a group at VWC brainstormed a utopia and wrote a million dollar grant proposal to the Ford Foundation for the establishment of  the Women’s Institute. Of the two dozen names listed in its records, I recognize a third of them as lesbian. That opportunity to dream big influenced our future activism.

Wagainst war05032016
cover drawing probably by Lorie Leininger, journal produced by the VWC writers’ group

In 1972, the Women Against War group and the Women’s Film Coop formed at the Valley Women’s Center. The WAW Lizzie Borden Brigade sat-in at the gates of Westover Air Force base and marched through Pittsfield streets as part of the large anti-Vietnam War movement.  When I found a news clipping of those arrested at one protest, I recognize eight of the thirty women as lesbians. In the meantime, over in Amherst, women took over the UMass ROTC building and turned it into a childcare center.

WAW at 05032016
part of Lizzie Bordan Brigade WAW. I am 4th adult from the left in my Army jacket. Photographer unknown, from the 2nd WFC Catalog.

The Film Coop inherited a few films, slides and a mailing list from New Haven feminists who were getting out of that film distribution project. Several lesbians who had fantasized about a media center in the Women’s Institute carried the work forward with other women at VWC.

wfc fall72_edited-1
cover by Kaymarion Raymond

At a time when very little media by and about women and women’s issues was available (or, at least, little that was realistic), the WFC rented out an increasing number of films and videos to groups and classes across the country. The WFC held the Valley’s first women’s film festival in Northampton at the Globe Theatre (later the Pleasant St. Theatre?) in 1973. A majority of the WFC were lesbians.

Another new Northampton group furthered the dream of a media center. Mother Jones Press opened on Hawley Street in 1973. A small group of women, some who were lesbians, set up a used Chief offset press and went into the printing business. I will be including more on these two ventures in later posts.

mother jones press 73_edited-1
flyer by Kaymarion Raymond

In 1973, VWC and EWC sponsored a speakout against rape in Northampton. This marked the beginning of the movement against violence against women in the Valley. It began with volunteer rape crisis services and advocacy, then enlarged to multiple groups addressing domestic violence, self-defense, and women’s martial arts. Lesbians, in unknown numbers, were active in this work up and down the Valley over the next decade.

All of this activity, which in Northampton, centered around the Valley Women’s Center at 200 Main Street would set the stage for the Lesbians coming out as a group within the Women’s Movement in 1974 and the beginning of Lesbian Feminist activism.

*Footnote: lesbian is consciously spelled here in this article with a lower case “l” in recognition of its usage at that specific time as meaning a sexual orientation and not, yet, as a political identity.

Sources:

__ Hanna, Christine. “Names” (list of lesbians and feminists in western Massachusetts compiled from a limited search of document sources in the Sophia Smith Collection and College Archives at Smith College). 1998.

__[Raymond,] Kaymarion.  “The Valley Women’s Movement 1968-78.” File of the visual exhibit shown at the Common Womon Club. 1978. Northampton.

__[Raymond,] Kaymarion and Letalien, Jacqueline, editors. “A Herstorical Chronology of the Valley Women’s Movement, 1968-1978.” Ceres Inc. Northampton. 1978