APA Style 6-7 page paper, needs references cited. I will provide the links for what is needed for the essay. No outside sources.It should also be written as though you have a particular audience in mind: (As you see, I shall find it a bit complex to specify, given the emphasis today on “identity” as a category of analysis. But I do mean you might write about women from any particular perspective, so long as you make your focus and definition clear.) Examples of audience follow—you may think of another one for your work.a) If, as an example, you are thinking about telling a high school class of girls and boys about “what the women were doing” or “what is women’s history” from 1870-2000, what would you write?b) If, as another example, your audience is a specific ethnic, race, class, or other group of women: what “integrated historical perspective” would you write to add to their understanding of their fore mothers? You might wish to write about educated, professional women; you might wish to write about working class women; you might wish to focus on a specific ethnic or racial group in either of these. You might wish to discuss the interactions among ethnic/racial groups and white women (seen as the “privileged” majority).c) If, as another example, you wish to write to men who have not thought about the experience of women historically apart from the normative, universal male point of view, how would you present women’s perspective and its distinction from the usual historical narrative?Women’s Rights and Gendered
Spaces in 1970s Boston
The status of women and the nature of cities have changed dramatically since
World War II. In fact, the two phenomena are related. By pursuing greater
rights, the contemporary women’s movement created opportunities for
women to claim urban space for daily use. The struggle for reproductive control took shape in women’s health clinics. Establishing the right to personal
safety in the home produced shelters for victims of domestic violence. And the
quest for rights to an independent identity was expressed through women’s
centers, feminist bookstores, and banking facilities. These were voluntarily
gendered spaces created by and for women, and new to American cities and
suburbs. Despite schisms caused by internal arguments over organizational
structure, goals, sexuality, class, and race, feminism had revolutionary consequences for the rights of all women, not the least of which was the opening
up of the city. Using interviews and archival data for 1970s Boston, I expand
our understanding of the Second Wave by exploring its spatial consequences.
1970s BOSTON
During the 1970s feminists in Boston declared their rights to their own bodies
by establishing women’s health clinics and domestic violence shelters. In doing so, they wrote a modern chapter in the distinguished history about how
women have shaped the city.
Almost one hundred years earlier, in 1877, the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union opened on Boylston Street as a center to promote women’s intellectual and economic independence.’ Elite and middle-class women of the
era also sought a role in urban politics. They became “municipal housekeepers” who did more than clean up the city the way they cleaned their homes.
By learning as much as they could about local government, these women influenced policies that improved air and water quality, public health, and chil-
152 FRONTIERS/2011/vOL. 32, NO. 1
dren’s welfare. Other women of privilege established settlement houses that
became “neighborbood living rooms” where immigrants could take English
and citizenship classes and escape filthy tenements. Settlement house residents
also lobbied for housing reform that had a major impact on the regulation of
tenement construction. Women often worked together through voluntary associations to provide places of respite in the urban landscape. Members of tbe
Young Women’s Cbristian Association (YWCA) and tbe National Association
of Colored Women (NACW) opened vocational scbools and boardinghouses
to educate and protect young women living in the city away from their families. According to historian Sarah Deutsch, women in the late nineteenth century “took a hand in altering the map of the city and defining its meaning.”^
Women’s successes in making themselves visible and viable in tbe urban
realm were remarkable, given tbe general male intransigence to their presence.
For example, wealthy male patrons of Chicago’s Hull House cut off donations
when Jane Addams backed Eugene Debs and tbe workers in tbe 1894 Pullman
railroad strike.’ Yet Hull House persevered for many more decades as a major site of Progressive reform.” Barkeepers vigorously opposed temperance, yet
the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union closed thousands of saloons in its
battles for Probibition. When women marched for suffrage, some men were so
outraged that they attacked demonstrators. On March 3, 1913, the day before
President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration, more than five thousand suffragists
took to the streets of Washington, DC, on bebalf of tbeir cause. Mobs heckled,
tripped, and shoved the women, sending more than one hundred to the hospital and injuring hundreds more.’ Yet women eventually won the vote in 1920.
Much had changed for women by tbe twentieth century, but mucb remained to be done. Tbe women’s movement of tbe 1970s, known as tbe Second Wave, continued the fight for women’s rights.*^ Legalized abortion, personal safety, and equal pay and credit opportunities were tbe most important
issues. In tbe process of pursuing gender equality, tbe feminist movement created new openings for women in tbe postwar city.
This article illustrates how women in the Boston metropolitan area establisbed their place in the city during the height of the contemporary women’s
movement. Spaces created by and for women provided health care, shelter
from domestic abuse, and validation of nontraditional identities. Sucb gendered spaces inscribed newly won rights on the built environment.^
Tbe prototypical American woman reaching adulthood in the 1950s had a
fairly predictable life. If sbe was wbite and middle-class, sbe would marry
Spain: Women’s Rights and Gendered Spaces 153
young, have three or more kids, and stay home to raise them. If African American she would also marry early, but be more likely to enter the labor force out
of economic necessity and have a larger family than a white woman would.*
Regardless of race, the absence of effective means of birth control made it
difficult to predict the timing of pregnancies, and the lack of access to legal
abortions made it almost certain that even unplanned pregnancies would be
carried to term.
If a woman in the 1950s wanted or needed to enter the labor force, she
would look for a job in the classified ads of the newspaper under “Help
Wanted—Female.” Moreover, since women’s jobs paid less than men’s, she
would be a secondary earner; her economic security would depend on her
husband’s income, as did her ability to own a house. Married women’s earnings were routinely discounted in mortgage applications because financial
institutions assumed they would become pregnant and drop out of tbe labor force. Nor could wives establish credit separately from their husbands. In
an era of low divorce rates, though, these barriers to economic independence
raised few concerns among women.’ Women could depend on staying married, just as men could depend on staying with the same job until retirement.
Women were wives and mothers. Men were breadwinners.
Cities too were following predictable trajectories in the 1950s. Most had
lost population due to extensive suburbanization.'” Thanks to the GI Bill and
Veterans Administration mortgages, the suburbs promised relief for families
living in cramped city apartments. If they were white, couples could buy a
spacious nine-hundred-square-foot home for a small down payment. By the
mid-1950s commercial developers had caught up with the suburbanizing population and begun to build regional shopping centers.” Economic restructuring insured that the manufacturing city would evolve into the informationand service-driven metropolis as jobs also left tbe city for tbe suburbs.
Concerned by the suburban exodus, the federal government launched urban renewal to clear slums, build public housing, and save cities from population loss. Thousands of people, disproportionately African American, were
displaced from their homes. Although originally intended to replace substandard housing and dilapidated shopping areas, urban renewal almost exclusively engaged in demolition and clearance for commercial redevelopment.
When the private sector failed to develop the cleared parcels, huge swaths
of land were left vacant.’^ The blight caused by urban renewal and bigh-rise
public housing often equaled or exceeded the very blight it was meant to
eliminate. Far from revitalizing the city, urban renewal became another factor
pushing families to the suburbs. Interstate highway construction made it easy
to get there, and cheap fuel made car ownership affordable.
Numerous urban spaces in the 1950s and 1960s were identified by the gen-
154 FRONTIERS/2011/vOL. 32, NO. 1
der of their primary occupants. During the 1970s one sociologist described
the city as masculine, the suburbs as feminine. He proposed that the gender of
the daytime suburban population, its domesticity, and its alienation from the
“serious work which has always taken place within the masculine province of
the city” symbolized femininity; the suburbs, like women, were “passive and
intellectually void.””
While feminists would disagree with this characterization, de facto gender
segregation did in fact exist; most jobs were still located in the central city, the
majority of new homes were in the suburbs, and the two-thirds of women
not in the labor force spent much of their time in the home. By contrast almost 90 percent of men were in the labor force. The abundance of men and
the scarcity of employed women made the workplace predominantly male.'”
Corporate boardrooms and legislative bodies were decidedly masculine.
Elite men met for leisure and to discuss business and politics at private clubs
from which women were excluded. Working-class men could use neighborhood bars as a masculine retreat. Men had their hair cut at the barber shop,
and women went to the beauty parlor. With few exceptions masculine spaces
tended to reinforce men’s privileges and rights.”
The women’s movement desegregated some previously gendered spaces. The
majority of women now are in the labor force, making the home a less feminine
space and the workplace less masculine. Jobs have moved to the suburbs, reducing the dichotomy between masculine cities and feminine suburbs. Women
have entered boardrooms and elective office, private clubs that discriminate on
the basis of gender are rare, and bars serve both men and women.”^
Desegregating old spaces was not enough, however. Feminists created new
gendered spaces that enhanced rights for all women. To the extent that social relations are bound up in urban space, these places challenged traditional
power hierarchies by asserting women’s rights to control their own bodies
and to choose nontraditional roles. These places qualified as both a perceived
space of objective bricks and mortar and a conceived space of meaning and
symbolism.” Women’s health clinics, shelters for victims of domestic abuse,
women’s centers, feminist bookstores, and feminist credit unions were real
places that publicly announced women’s presence.’* Regardless of location or
size, gendered space gave tangible form to reproductive rights, rights to personal safety, and rights to an independent identity.
Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, published in 1963, is credited as the
catalyst for the contemporary women’s movement. When Friedan wrote
Spain: Women’s Rights and Gendered Spaces 155
about “the problem that has no name” among suburban women, she meant
their frustration with their primary identities as wives and mothers. Friedan
was a suburban wife and mother herself, but also a college-educated journalist who could articulate the deep discontent that eventually fueled significant
changes in women’s status. Friedan’s book signaled the end of compulsory
domesticity for women.”
Friedan and other feminists founded the National Organization for
Women (NOW) in 1966 to lobby for legislation on behalf of women’s rights.^*’
Open to both men and women, and patterned after the National Association
for the Advancement of Colored People, its membership was predominantly
middle aged, middle class, and white. At its first national convention in 1967
NOW issued a Bill of Rights with eight demands: passage of the Equal Rights
Amendment; enforcement of the law banning sex discrimination in employment; maternity leave rights in employment and in social security benefits;
tax deductions for home and child-care expenses for working parents; child
day-care centers (established by law on the same basis as parks, libraries, and
public schools); equal and unsegregated education; equal job training opportunities and allowances for women in poverty; and the right of women to
control their reproductive lives.^’
Some of these demands, such as reproductive rights, have been met, while
others have not, most notably the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).^^ Reproductive rights were insured by widespread adoption of the Pill during the
1960s and legalized abortion after 1973; the “contraceptive revolution” would
become the bedrock on which all other rights depended.^’ With the exception
of day-care centers, the BiU of Rights was largely aspatial. Yet in its struggle for
equality between the sexes the women’s movement embodied abstract rights
in actual places.^”
The majority of feminists, and feminist institutions, were white and middle class during the 1970s, though a number of historians have acknowledged
previously obscured activists of color, like Ella Baker and Fannie Lou Hamer,
who were central to the successes of the Civil Rights Movement.^’ Yet the racial demography of the feminist movement mirrored that of the country in
1970, when 87 percent of Americans were white.^*
Although NOW was a predominantly white organization, black feminists
played important roles in its early years. Pauli Murray cowrote the first NOW
Bill of Rights, and Aileen Hernandez served as the new group’s second president in 1971. But Hernandez became dissatisfied with NOW’s single focus on
the ERA and resigned in 1979 after urging black women not to join NOW until it had dealt with its own racism.”
Among black women who agreed with Hernandez were early NOW mem-
156 FRONTIERS/2011/vOL. 32, NO. 1
bers Florynce Kennedy and Margaret Sloan, who formed the National Black
Feminist Organization (NBFO) in 1973. Among other issues the NBFO campaigned for safe abortions and against forced sterilization. Present at that first
meeting in New York City were Eleanor Holmes Norton, Alice Walker, Shirley
Chisholm, and Boston author Barbara Smith. In 1975 Smith founded Boston’s
Combahee River Collective, whose members published a manifesto in 1976
that came to define black feminism.^’ The collective also worked for abortion
rights and against sterilization abuse. A decade after the NBFO was founded,
black feminists established reproductive rights as a priority when Byllye Avery
launched the National Black Women’s Health Project (NBWHP) in 1983.^’
A younger and more radical branch of the women’s movement developed
independently of NOW and black feminist organizations. Baby boomers were
coming of age and demonstrating in large numbers for civil rights and against
the Viet Nam war. Younger feminists were mostly white and middle class, and
many were still in college. They also came from a more confrontational tradition of protest politics associated with the New Left. One veteran of the time
remembers the exact date when New Left women mobilized on their own behalf: it was June 1968, when “young female activists were hissed and thrown
out of the SDS [Students for a Democratic Society] national convention by
their male comrades for demanding that women’s liberation become part of
the platform.”^” Consciousness-raising groups and collectives were the organizing vehicles for this branch of the women’s movement. The names they
chose conveyed their anger: Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from
Hell (WITCH), the Furies (a lesbian separatist group in Washington, DC),
and the Society for Cutting Up Men (SCUM).” Less famous, but no less radical, was Boston’s Bread and Roses.” The collective formed in 1969 as a splinter
group of women activists who had been marginalized by men in the antiwar
movement. Bread and Roses identified itself as an organization of socialist
women who believed a revolution was necessary for women’s liberation.”
“ERA NOW!” reflected NOW’s focus on legal rights that would be guaranteed with passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. “Sisterhood is Powerful!”
was the slogan of the thousands of younger women in consciousness-raising
groups. There they sought liberation from stereotypes about women’s proper
place. Feminists’ struggles for rights and liberation would work in tandem to
change the way women used urban space.
Boston was a major hub of feminist activism in the early 1970s. The local
chapter of NOW was founded in 1969, three years after the national organi-
Spain: Women’s Rights and Gendered Spaces 157
zation. A fund-raising appeal in 1970 listed numerous successes: forcing an
abortion-law-repeal bill out of committee in the state legislature, compelling Harvard University to investigate the status of women there, setting up
a day-care center, distributing a pamphlet entitled “Women and the Law in
Massachusetts,” and launching a drive to desegregate want ads in local papers.
In the next few years Boston NOW helped to pass the ERA in Massachusetts
and lobbied successfully for the State Equal Credit Act. In 1977 the chapter
published an extensive “Selected Guide to Women’s Resources” tbat included
day-care facilities, women’s centers, abortion providers, temporary sbelters,
and numerous other services.'” Similar to those in the parent organization,
members of Boston NOW were mostly white, middle-class, and middle-aged
women (and some men) committed to improving women’s rights through
legal and legislative means.
Among the radical groups Bread and Roses was the most active. The group
included more than 250 women who were members of about two dozen subcollectives organized around separate projects.” One of those projects focused on women’s lack of knowledge about their own bodies. Out of that
group came the impetus for the Boston Women’s Health Course (later Book)
Collective (BWHBC). By 1969 the group had written Our Bodies, Ourselves,
which is still in print and credited with initiating the subsequent national and
global women’s health movement.”^ Another group founded the Women’s
Community Health Center (the Center) in 1973 to provide high-quality and
low-cost medical services. Like the book collective the Center emerged out of
talks among young feminists who saw a need to assert control over their bodies.’^ Membersbip in tbe groups often overlapped. Gene Bishop, for example,
was a member of Bread and Roses and a founder of the Women’s Community
Health Center.’*
The women’s movement in Boston was simuar to that in other cities in
terms of its multiple sources. Historian Anne Enke has identified the types of
places I call gendered spaces as sites of origin for feminist activism.” But they
were more. Gendered spaces, created voluntarily by and for women, inscribed
rigbts for all women on tbe urban landscape.
A herstory, as opposed to a history, of the clinic’s origins appeared in the first
annual report of the Women’s Community Health Center in 1975. De- (or re-)
gendering traditional uses of language signaled the group’s feminist roots.
Jennifer Burgess, Cookie Avrin, and Terry Plumb founded the Center. They
158 FRONTIERS/2011/vOL. 32, NO. 1
met in 1973 through their common interests in women’s self-help health care
and subsequently sponsored the First Annual Women’s Health Conference at
the Boston YWCA. More than 150 women attended, about twenty of whom
joined the collective to form the Center. They were united by the belief that
good medical care was a human right that should be free.””
After an initial meeting on November 11, the group met once a week, then
twice a week, trying to figure out what a “woman-owned and controlled”
health center would look like and how it would function financially. In an
early meeting run collectively because no one wanted to chair it, the group
decided on nonprofit status to allow tax-deductible donations.”‘ Organizers
worked out a suggested fee schedule for services. A rigid fee schedule would
have conflicted with their goal to make the Center available to all women,
and a sliding scale would require them to make value judgments about other
women’s abuity to pay. Both the rigid and the sliding scales were incompatible with their political philosophy. They assumed that women who could pay
more than the suggested fee would do so in order to finance the center for
those who could not afford the fee.”^ The clinic operated on this philosophy
until it declared bankruptcy in 1981.
The founders’ political orientation was made clear in the first annual report’s mission statement. The Women’s Community Health Center would be
a nonprofit health center owned, controlled, and operated by a collective of
women. They worked toward women’s control of their bodies and lives. Since
knowledge was the key to that control, they planned to educate women to
claim “formerly forbidden medical knowledge.””‘
The “formerly forbidden medical knowledge” was a reference to doctors’
failure to inform patients of the side effects and long-term consequences of
taking the Pill or using intrauterine devices (IUDs). Our Bodies, Ourselves was
a scathing attack on the entire capitalist male medical establishment. The book
provided information on pregnancy, birtb control, abortion, venereal disease,
and childbirtb in order to reduce doctors’ power over women. According to
its autbors doctors treated women as if they were “stupid, mindless creatures,
unable to follow instructions.” This could be avoided if women took personal
responsibility for their own health care. Doctors could no longer “control the
knowledge and thereby control tbe patient.””” The Center educated women in
plain language, dispensed contraceptives, and performed abortions.”‘
From the beginning the Boston group was connected with the national
women’s health movement. In January 1974 the Los Angeles Feminist Women’s HeaJth Center began to send fifty dollars per week to defray start-up
costs. In February the founders filed for incorporation as a nonprofit. And
in March Robin Morgan, editor of Sisterhood Is Powerful (1970), read ber po-
Spain: Women’s Rights and Gendered Spaces 159
etry at a benefit that netted seven hundred dollars. Thanks to that money, a
matching anonymous donation, and the sale of spéculums, the group could
start paying a staff member twenty-five dollars per week. They also received
a five-thousand-dollar grant from the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective. By April the Center was renting its first office at 137 Hampshire Street in
Cambridge. By the summer the Center had hired a woman doctor and begun offering gynecological services, including pregnancy screening. Self-help
groups that taught women how to use a speculum were central to the Center’s
mission. In 1975 the clinic began the process for obtaining a license and also
began to perform first-trimester abortions. Reflecting a less violent time in
the history of abortion services, the Center held open houses for friends and
community members to acquaint them with its facilities and mission.””
The Boston Center became a member of the national network of Feminist
Women’s Health Centers (FWHC), joining California clinics in Los Angeles,
Santa Ana, San Diego, and Chico, and those in Detroit, Atlanta, and Tallahassee.”‘ Each clinic’s publications carried information about the others, especially if it involved harassment. The Boston Center’s Second Annual Report
included an update on actions against clinics in Los Angeles and Tallahassee.
For example, in August 1975 the Los Angeles Board of Medical Quality Assurance recommended that the district attorney bring “unspecified” criminal
charges against the local FWHC. That same year doctors working at the Tallahassee FWHC were pressured by local gynecologists with loss of hospital privileges, referrals, and good standing in the medical community. The FWHC
responded by filing suit in U.S. Federal District Court. It charged the physicians who had made the threats with conspiracy to restrain trade and create
a monopoly in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. The Boston Center
contributed to the legal defense fund and urged its clients to do likewise, reminding them that women must stand together to achieve control over their
bodies and fight when their rights were violated.”*
The Boston Center experienced its own difficulties. It was operating legally
under the licenses of its doctors, but needed a clinic license to apply for thirdparty payments like Medicaid. The city of Cambridge conducted numerous
building inspections and repeatedly lost application forms filed by the center, while the state of Massachusetts challenged the Center’s ability to provide abortions even as the Center was in the process of obtaining a license.
The Center moved to 639 Massachusetts Avenue to avoid bringing the Hampshire Street facility up to code. In April 1978 it was granted a license, three full
years after initiating the process. In that year’s annual report members of the
collective noted that they were convinced that the bureaucratic red tape they
had encountered during the licensing process was a form of harassment. They
160 FRONTIERS/2011/vOL. 32, NO. 1
were sure the clinic had become a target because of its anticapitalist, feminist,
self-help focus. The Center, they believed, threatened the medical establishment and ultimately the political and economic system.”‘
But the system finally won. Constantly underfunded, the Center was eventually unable to pay its bills. It closed and filed for bankruptcy in 1981. The
organizers did not go quietly. In a last-ditch fund-raising letter announcing
their imminent closing, they claimed the Center was a victim of conservative
politics and a depressed economy and declared that they were outraged that
so many years of hard work still left them with no other option.’*’ Financial
instability caused by a decline in the number of patients and large past debts
also contributed to the Center’s demise.”
Betty Friedan admitted publicly in 2000 that her husband Carl hit her after
they moved to the suburbs. His beatings became more frequent as she became more famous. Friedan remained married despite numerous black eyes
and serious injuries that scarred her face. After repeatedly taking shelter with
friends, Friedan divorced her husband in 1969.’^ Battered women like Friedan
had few choices in the 1960s. Restraining orders did not exist, nor did shelters
for victims of domestic violence.
Women in Boston were among the first in the nation to recognize and act
on the need for shelters. One of the two earliest shelters was created in the
early 1970s by women only loosely affiliated with the women’s movement.
Pauline Dwyer and three friends (Anne Broussard, Jean Luce, and Maureen
Varney) began talking about domestic violence when it was still a taboo subject.” Mothers whose children attended the same Somerville public school,
they were also activists involved in numerous political causes. At one time
or another they helped establish the Somerville Women’s Health Project; the
Women’s Mental Health Collective; and the Somerville Community Corporation, which bought and renovated houses for rent and sale to low-income
households.'” After community meetings they would come together over coffee or drinks to develop a vision of a place for women in transition: a place
that would help women get off welfare, provide a safe place for runaway teens,
help women buy a house, and shelter battered women. None of the founders was a member of NOW, which they considered antimale. Instead they
thought of themselves as “feminists who liked men,” “tough women taking
care of themselves and others.””
One of the men they liked was Somerville’s reform mayor Lester Ralph. Us-
Spain: Women’s Rights and Gendered Spaces 161
ing Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA) funds, the mayor hired
Jean Luce, former director of the Somerville Neighborhood Youth Corps, to
organize the group’s incorporation; it became RESPOND, Inc., in 1975.”‘ The
acronym stood for Responsible Escape for Somerville People through Options and New Development. As its mission expanded and the shelter took in
women from a larger geographic area, the S came to stand for “Special.” Mayor
Ralph donated a four-room apartment in the Mystic River public housing
project to serve as the first shelter. The apartment soon became too small, and
Maureen, a single mom with six kids, put up her house as collateral to buy
a house for RESPOND on Walnut Street in Somerville. Volunteers—mainly
the staff and their family members—painted and completed all the necessary
repairs. Pauline managed the house, which at the time included teenage girls
who had run away from abusive relationships.”
The shelter quickly outgrew the Walnut Street house. RESPOND moved to
Oak Street, where the mortgage was under the names of two other members
of the group. Still, more women were seeking shelter than there were available
beds. Some of the staff took women home with them if the shelter was fuU;
some invited them to their own homes on holidays. RESPOND faced opposition from the board of assessors, which objected to a nonprofit house in a residential neighborhood. Neighbors also complained, but the shelter remained
on Oak Street.’*
For many years the administrative tasks of the organization were carried out in someone’s home. Eventually the founders rented an office in the
Somerville MultiService Community Center. The group paid rent and also insisted on paying its staff, since they believed women had served as volunteers
for too long.”
Funding for the shelter was always precarious. Bake sales and pie dinners seldom generated enough money. Jean Luce remembers one, though,
that was particularly successful: Harvard theologian Harvey Cox brought his
band, and they took in an unprecedented $300 to $400 in one night.*” Even
that amount was insufficient to establish solvency. In an alarming letter to
RESPOND’s board of directors, dated December 22, 1979, the treasurer reported that the organization’s financial position was “extremely grave” and its
future “in serious jeopardy.” Part of the problem was the failure of $28,000 in
a federal Community Development Block Grant to arrive as expected. Staff
members had submitted an application for funds, but the Somerville Department of Gommunity Development had notified the organization that its proposal would have to be rewritten. RESPOND’s staff had already faced similar
bureaucratic hurdles. The treasurer reminded the board that
162 FRONTIERS/2011/vOL. 32, NO. 1
this is the same grant that over one year ago, as a result of women storming City Hall, exerting political pressure, getting TV coverage, was approved and the money slated for Respond. We have not been able to bill
against tbis money as yet and are now told tbe revised proposal is denied.
In simple english [51c], WE ARE BEING SCREWED!”‘
Members of RESPOND, like tbose of tbe Women’s Community Health Center, felt constantly under siege from authorities and threatened by financial
Transition House, anotber pioneering sbelter for victims of domestic violence, was founded in Cambridge at about the same time RESPOND opened
in neighboring Somerville.” Altbough in close geographic proximity, the shelters were the products of women with very different political agendas. Transition House was staffed by college-educated women, some of whom were
openly lesbian. RESPOND women were working-class and straight. According to RESPOND’s founders, the two groups talked about merging over tbe
years, but had philosophical disagreements. Transition House would take only
women who had left or were leaving an abusive relationship, and it would accept no adolescent boys. In contrast RESPOND accepted women and tbeir
adolescent sons whether the women planned to stay in or leave an abusive
relationsbip. Tbere was also tbe issue of lesbian separatism. RESPOND sponsored a support group for lesbians, but sexual preference was never part of
the shelter’s identity. As one founder explained, RESPOND’s philosophy was
“anti-violence and anti-abuse of power,” but never antimale.^’
Another source of their differences was the separate paths by wbicb tbey
had come to understand domestic violence. Somerville women learned about
it tbrough Alcoholics Anonymous and Al Anon meetings, the only places
women talked about tbe problem openly. RESPOND women saw alcoholism
as the source of domestic violence and thought that if alcohol were subtracted
from the equation, a marriage might be saved. Cambridge women, on the
other hand, saw the source as male power and alcoholism as only an excuse for
battering. Transition House founders may bave bad a larger political agenda,
but RESPOND founders bad more political clout locally, as demonstrated by
tbeir close relationsbip with the mayor and other community leaders.””
The idea for Transition House originated in 1976 with Chérie Jimenez and
Chris Womendez, victims of abusive relationsbips. Tbey moved in togetber
and opened tbeir five-room apartment to otber battered women and tbeir
cbildren.’*’ Wben tbey ran out of room for sleeping bags, they sought a larger
apartment, then moved to a rented house in 1976, and in 1977 bougbt and
renovated a twenty-two-room house.”””
Spain: Women’s Rights and Gendered Spaces 163
Within a year Transition House staff members were seeking advice about
licensing from the Women’s Community Health Center. Halfway houses and
community residences needed a license in Cambridge, and the city had placed
restrictions on licensing due to neighborhood opposition. But the biggest
hurdle for Transition House was that newspaper notices of licensing requests
required that the address be made public. Since the security of residents was
of primary importance, the location of the shelter had to be kept secret. A
staff member of WCHC advised them to sidestep the licensing process by
amending the articles of incorporation to define the shelter as a boardinghouse, which needed no license. At all costs they were to avoid any appeals or
asking for a variance that would put them at the mercy of city officials. The
WCHC also warned them that the city had repeatedly lost their forms, so they
should send all mail return-receipt-requested and follow up every meeting
with a telephone call or letter.*’
Transition House, like RESPOND, took the safety of residents seriously. A
newsletter on shelter security reminded readers of the strict rules concerning secrecy. Women who stayed or worked at the shelter were not allowed to
meet friends nearby or to give out its location. Women in the immediate vicinity who needed refuge would be sent to another shelter in the network of
the Massachusetts Coalition of Battered Women Service Groups to preserve
their anonymity. Violating these rules could have serious consequences. Men
had been known to kidnap tbe women and children they had abused or, in
extreme cases, to commit murder. A woman in Massachusetts was shot and
kiUed outside a shelter when the batterer discovered its location; newspaper
coverage revealing the address forced the shelter to move.**
Part of Transition House’s mission, like RESPOND’s, was to educate the
public about the problem of domestic abuse. Local filmmakers produced a
thirty-five-minute documentary about Transition House titled We Will Not Be
Beaten. After a showing at a Boston independent film festival, it was circulated
nationally. The film also received international distribution, first to a feminist
film cooperative in the Netherlands, where it was translated into German, then
at a UNESCO conference on Women, Media, and Community Development.*’
In addition to RESPOND and Transition House, at least three other shelters for battered women were in operation in the Boston area by 1977. Casa
Myrna Vazquez, in the South End, had a predominantly Latina clientele. Its
founders were grassroots neighborbood activists who saw victims of abuse
every day. The organization was named for Myrna Vazquez, a popular Puerto
Rican actress who had worked on behalf of the community. Volunteers staffed
the first shelter in an eight-bedroom brownstone. Another shelter, the Living
Space, was available to battered women in Chelsea, Revere, and Winthrop.'”
164 FRONTIERS/2011/vOL. 32, NO. 1
The third shelter, the Elizabeth Stone House, had a slightly different mission from the others. It was founded in 1974 by a group of feminists and former mental patients. The house was named in honor of Elizabeth Stone, a
nineteenth-century advocat*e for the rights of mental patients. Its objective
was to provide alternatives to institutionalization and traditional mental
health services for women in emotional distress. Using a peer-based model
called the Therapeutic Community, the residential program served fifteen
women and their children, sometimes for as long as two years. The goal of the
program was to enable women to return to the community with better coping
skills. In 1979 the Elizabeth Stone House began offering a program for battered women. With just six beds it served primarily as overflow housing when
other shelters were full.”
Attention should also be given to a shelter that did not materialize. Members of the Combahee River Collective had hoped, during their first year, to
open a refuge for battered women in one of Boston’s black communities.
They cited a lack of any shelters in Boston at the time.’^ Whether RESPOND
or Transition House had already opened is unclear. Even if either had, it is
possible that black women did not know about these shelters due to tensions
between white and black feminists.” Perhaps because it failed to find funding, the collective’s shelter was apparently never opened. Unequal access to
resources created a significant difference between white and black women’s
ability to organize. According to the collective, it lacked the racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class privileges that white women’s groups could call on, which
prevented even “minimal access to resources and power that groups who possess any one of these types of privilege have.”‘”
The movement to create shelters for battered women took the issue of domestic violence out of the private sphere and into the public domain. It also
revealed that wife abuse cut across class, racial, and income lines.
“Women’s Group Seizes Harvard Building: Demand Low-Income Housing
and Permanent Women’s Center.” This story appeared in the March 8,1971,
issue of the Harvard Crimson, the student-run daily newspaper of Harvard
University. About 150 women had ended a parade celebrating International
Women’s Day on March 6 by occupying a building at 888 Memorial Drive, in
which the Graduate School of Design taught architectural technology workshops. The building was barely habitable and had already been slated for de-
Spain: Women’s Rights and Gendered Spaces 165
molition in preparation for Harvard’s construction of graduate-student and
faculty housing on the site. Organizers of the takeover included members
of Bread and Roses, the Old Mole Women’s Caucus, and Gay Women’s Liberation. At 3:00 PM they issued a statement declaring “this liberated building a women’s center where women from all over will be able to meet with
each other, exchange ideas and feelings, and determine what we need to do
together.” The women demanded that Harvard build low-income housing
on the site in consultation with the surrounding Riverside community; provide a women’s center for Boston women; and grant the occupiers full use of
the building, with heat, plumbing, and electricity, until it was time to tear it
down. Archibald Cox, professor of law and Harvard’s troubleshooter, was sent
to the scene.”
The organizers of the takeover called the building the “Liberated Women’s
Center” and denied entry to men. Women from the community came for
classes in karate, auto mechanics, and silk screening; child care was provided
communally. The mood in the building was jubilant. Women danced and
sang and painted murals on the walls. When the university sent in an electrician to padlock the switch box controlling the electricity, women cut the padlock with a saw. Occupiers also fixed broken plumbing facilities. They had no
heat, however, and it was a cold month. But if Harvard thought it could freeze
them out, it was wrong. On March 9 the university was granted an injunction
ordering the women to leave the building. The women refused.’*”
Internal dissent between straight and lesbian women marked the beginning of the occupation. The takeover also generated external conflict with the
surrounding Riverside neighborhood. The Riverside Planning Team had been
negotiating with Harvard for two years about building low-income housing
on the site. Although the women occupying the building allied themselves
with Riverside by demanding low-income housing, members of the community resented their involvement, calling the takeover “a very typical example
of white middle-class cooptation.” They accused the women of exploiting the
issue of housing for low-income blacks for their own purposes. One leader
pointed out that when blacks had taken over Harvard’s University Hall the
previous December, the university obtained an injunction the same day rather
than waiting three days as it had for the women. Saundra Graham, president
of the Riverside team, had previously denied any connection with the group
occupying the building. But after meeting with the women to explain their
concern about losing leverage with Harvard, the occupiers modified their demands to stress that any talks about low-income housing should take place
between Harvard and the community.^’
Women inside the building expected to be evicted by police at any mo-
166 FRONTIERS/2011/vOL. 32, NO. 1
ment. Negotiations continued throughout the week. Harvard’s position was
that their forcible takeover was unacceptable and that the building was unsafe
for occupancy. The women kept reiterating their demand for a women’s center. The very fact of their occupancy, however, was already transforming the
space. A group of Radcliffe students calling themselves the Ad Hoc Committee to Defend the Women’s Center and the Right to Live issued a statement
declaring that “they [the occupying women] are not just sitting, paralyzed by
Harvard’s attempts to remove them; they’re building a women’s center.”‘* One
of the occupiers shared this sentiment, observing that “even while a women’s
center is being demanded, it is being created.” The women were determined to
create a space in which gay and bisexual women could gather, something they
had lacked.”
Archibald Cox had the authority to order a police raid, but never used it.
Instead he worked with the women to find a new space. On March 15 he announced that space had been found near Central Square and that an anonymous donor had contributed five thousand dollars for its purchase. The
women declared the designated basement and one room inadequate, reminding Cox that they were demanding a women’s center, not a closet. They needed
more space to continue their classes, day care, and medical and legal counseling and demanded “space for a lesbian lounge.”””
The occupation finally ended on March 16, when about sixty-five singing and chanting women left the building after rumors of an impending police raid. As they marched along Massachusetts Avenue, another one hundred women joined them. Their destination was the Old Cambridge Baptist
Church, where Bread and Roses sometimes met. Women spray painted graffiti
on cars, walls, and sidewalks. They attempted to seize cameras from photographers, fearing photos would be used for identification. They had reason to
worry. University attorneys and administrators had reviewed pictures taken
by a police photographer at 888 Memorial Drive for just that purpose. By the
end of March, however. Harvard had taken no legal action against the occupiers. Subsequently, the women who had occupied the building conducted a
search of more than fifty sites looking for a suitable location for a women’s
center. They narrowed the choices to three properties and began the process
of incorporating as the nonprofit Women’s Educational Center, Inc. They finally settled on a large house at 46 Pleasant Street in Cambridge. The Women’s Center spawned various other gendered spaces, including a Rape Crisis
Center, Transition House, and Elizabeth Stone House.”
No less radical, but choosing a more moderate avenue to establish their
rights to an independent identity, were the founders of New Words. Opened
in 1974 in a one-room storefront at 419 Washington Street in Somerville, New
Spain: Women’s Rights and Gendered Spaces 167
Words was one of the first feminist bookstores in the United States.*^ It was
created by a collective of four women: Rita Arditti, Gilda Bruckman, Mary
Lowry, and Jean MacRae; it soon carried about five hundred titles. In 1976
New Words moved to a larger building at 186 Hampshire Street in Cambridge’s Inman Square. It became an informal community center, bosting
readings by authors and other events.” In the 1977 NOW Guide to Women’s
Resources, New Words advertised books, feminist presses, journals, posters,
records, cards, T-shirts, and nonsexist children’s literature.
New Words played a significant role in the dissemination of women’s books
and periodicals. Best sellers would have been Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1952) and The Feminine Mystique. Alice Rossi’s The Feminist Papers:
From Adams to de Beauvoir (1973) migbt have been on tbe sbelf, as would Susan Brownmiller’s Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape (1975) and Robin
Morgan’s Sisterhood Is Powerful (1970). Numerous feminist journals existed at
the time. At least three were local: the Female Liberation fournal, published in
Somerville since 1968; the New England Women’s fournal of News, Opinions,
and the Arts; and Sister Courage, established in 1975 and published monthly.
The last was subtitled Greater Boston’s Independent Feminist Newsjournal. National journals included Equal Times, a biweekly publication created to belp
women “see the world around you through a woman’s perspective,” and Off
Our Backs, a Women’s Liberation Newspaper published every other week.’*”
Over the years the list of authors hosted by the bookstore represented a pantbeon of feminist writers. Robin Morgan, bell books, Adrienne Rieb, Kate
Millett, and May Sarton all read excerpts from their current work.*’
Books and journals alike encouraged women to form opinions and speak
their minds, take responsibility for their own health, engage in “verbal karate”
to combat sexism, and embrace their sexuality. Many publications expressed
and therefore legitimized the anger, even rage, women had toward men.
Among the more extreme was the Redstockings Manifesto, reprinted in Sisterhood Is Powerful:
Women are an oppressed class. Our oppression is total, affecting every
facet of our lives. We are exploited as sex objects, breeders, domestic servants, and cheap labor. We are considered inferior beings whose only
purpose is to enhance men’s lives. Our humanity is denied. Our prescribed behavior is enforced by the threat of physical violence.**
This was heady stuff. Whether responding to radical Redstockings or to the
comparatively tame Feminine Mystique, women had found their voices.
Establishing independent identities went hand-in-hand with seeking economic independence. It seems logical, then, that the Massachusetts Feminist
168 FRONTIERS/2011/vOL. 32, NO. 1
Federal Credit Union (MFFCU) opened at 186-1/2 Hampshire Street, next
door to New Words Bookstore. Organizers of the MFFCU used models previously developed in 1972 by Detroit’s Feminist Federal Credit Union and in
1974 by the New Haven Feminist Federal Credit Union. They all formed out
of the common belief that women should control tbeir money. By 1976 there
were seventeen feminist credit unions in eleven states and Washington, DC.”
Although tbe Equal Credit Opportunity Act bad been passed in 1973,
women stiU bad difficulty borrowing money from banks. Before 1973 married women could not establisb a separate credit record, making it difficult
to secure a loan. Even after 1973 they were often required to have a husband’s
signature for a loan or refused a loan for an abortion or divorce. A feminist
credit union would solve those problems. Its deposits would make money
available to members at better rates and with less trouble tban commercial
savings institutions. Deposits would be insured up to $40,000 by the National
Credit Union Administration. By April 1976 the MFFCU had 850 members;
$404,000 in shares; and $258,000 on loan to members. Another $20,000 was
on loan to other feminist credit unions.**
The midwinter 1976 issue of Sistershares, the newsletter of the MFFCU, reported its first dividend at a 2 percent annual rate for the month of January.
It also summarized a members’ survey sent out in an earlier issue. The results
showed that over one-half of the eighty-seven respondents had heard about
MFFCU through word-of-mouth. One-half were employed full-time, and
about one-quarter worked part-time; the rest were self-employed, students, or
unemployed. Answers to a question about the most appealing aspects of the
credit union ranged from its emphasis on independence and self-sufficiency
to “being able to put my money where my heart is.”*’
Members of the MFFCU board of directors attended a conference in November 1976 in Detroit to form an organization linking feminist credit unions
and unifying feminist enterprises across the country. Instead dissension broke
out among the two hundred delegates about tbe purpose of a national feminist economic organization and its internal structure. Tbe conflict centered
on process. One camp believed in the decentralized sharing of power, encouraging participation by everyone, and reaching decisions by consensus even if
it took hours to achieve it. The MFFCU representatives agreed with this approach as a matter of feminist principle, joining the Feminist Economic Alliance. In contrast, the Feminist Economic Network endorsed power-tripping
and competitive methods used by men, according to the MFFCU contingent,
who accused the Network of using fascist tactics and goals.'”
The problem, of course, is that it is hard to run a business built on consensus, especially wben the process takes so much time. But many white middle-
Spain: Women’s Rights and Gendered Spaces 169
class feminists did have time to devote to process, which was as important
as results in many of their organizations. Working-class women and mothers could resent the assumption that everyone had fi-ee time. Constant tests
of ideological purity could also fracture groups. If women were called fascist
because they used accepted business practices, dissolution of the group would
be hard to avoid.
Spaces created by and for women produced marginal changes in the urban
fabric compared with major infrastructure projects in Boston. Gendered
spaces could not compete with skyscrapers or highways in shaping the city. In
fact, because most such spaces used by these women already existed for other
purposes, they tended to blend in. But assigning new identities to them was
part of women’s claims to urban space.
Gendered spaces increased women’s access to the city, whether through benign acquisition like the Women’s Community Health Center or hostile takeover like the Women’s Center at Harvard. Women created safe havens that
allowed them to seek services and develop alternative identities without interference ft-om men. They now had places to obtain contraceptives and abortion, seek shelter from an abusive partner, meet socially with other women,
read feminist literature that promoted nontraditional roles for women, and
invest their money where other women banked.
The processes of establishing rights proceeded with starts and stops. Most
of the places originated with women talking informally about a common
need, whether for a self-help medical center or a shelter for battered women.
In every case the goal was to act collectively. Still, the movement was fraught
with conflict. Internally, women argued over processes that should govern
new places. Were they to be collectively run, or did efficient management dictate more traditional procedures? There were also tensions between straight
and lesbian women and between white and black feminists. Externally, new
spaces were constantly challenged by men, and some women, who saw them
as threats. The Women’s Community Health Center, along with Transition
House, faced numerous bureaucratic obstacles to licensing.
Three of the places discussed here no longer exist. In the face of rising competition from superstores and the Internet, New Words closed its doors as a
bookstore in 2002 and reinvented itself as the Center for New Words. Its current mission is to “foster and enhance the expressive and intellectual culture
of women that flourishes at the intersection of literacy, books, culture, activism, and politics.”” The Women’s Community Health Center closed in 1981,
170 FRONTIERS/2011/vOL. 32, NO. 1
unable to pay its bills. The Massachusetts Feminist Federal Credit Union no
longer exists.’^ Others have survived despite repeated financial crises. Transition House has expanded its services in a larger location on Cambridge
Street.” In 2007 RESPOND raised $2.5 million in a capital campaign that allowed the purchase of a newer house with double the number of beds.'” Casa
Myrna Vazquez and Elizabeth Stone House are also operating. The Women’s
Center, still in its original location at 46 Pleasant Street, continues the fight for
women’s rights.” In March 2009 the Women’s Center unveiled a plaque at 888
Memorial Drive commemorating its origins in the 1971 takeover.’*^
By the 1980s nearly every major city had a women’s center and a shelter for
battered women. Today domestic violence is a national concern.’^ The story is
different for clinics offering abortions. Although they multiplied during the
1970s, many have since closed due to a virulent campaign by the right-to-life
organization Operation Rescue. The murder of Dr. George Tiller in June 2009
resulted in the permanent closure of Women’s Health Care Services, Inc., in
Wichita. Operation Rescue denied any involvement with the murder suspect,
despite their ongoing efforts to close the clinic. The clinic was the state’s only
remaining abortion provider outside the Kansas City area.’*
Operation Rescue’s extreme tactics demonstrate the lengths to which antichoice factions will go to block women’s legal access to abortion. The very
presence of a clinic threatens their belief that a fetus has greater rights than a
pregnant woman. Protecting clinics is a reminder of the importance of space
and place to assuring reproductive rights. Although urban gendered spaces do
not guarantee women’s rights, they go a long way toward institutionalizing
Thanks are due to two anonymous reviewers, the editors, and members of RESPOND for comments that improved this article.
1. Sarah Deutsch, Women and the City: Gender, Space, and Power in Boston, 18701940 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 144.
2. Deutsch, Women and the City, 4. See also Maureen Flanagan, Seeing with Their
Hearts: Chicago Women and the Vision of the Good City 1871-1933 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002); Nina Mjagkij and Margaret Spratt, eds.. Men and Women
Adrift: The YMCA and the YWCA in the City (New York: New York University Press,
1997); Daphne Spain, How Women Saved the City (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001).
3. Louise W. Knight, Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 2005), 318,319.
Spain: Women’s Rights and Gendered Spaces 171
4. Women, on the other hand, continued to fund Hull House and support its programs. See Kathryn Kish Sklar, “Who Funded Hull House?” in Lady Bountiful Revisited: Women and Philanthropy and Power, ed. Kathleen McCarthy (New Brunswick,
NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1990), 94-1155. Sheridan Harvey, “Marching for the Vote: Remembering the Woman Suffrage Parade of 1913,” in The Women’s History Resource Guide (Washington, DC: Library of
Congress, 1998), http://wv«v.loc.gov/loc/lcib/98o3/suffrage.html.
6. The suffrage movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is
considered the First Wave. See Lori D. Ginzberg, “Re-Viewing the First Wave,” Feminist
Studies 28 (Summer 2002): 419-34.
7. This approach adds a spatial perspective to the literature revaluating the Second Wave. See Elisabeth Armstrong, The Retreat from Organization: U.S. Feminism
Reconceptualized (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002); Sara Evans, “ReViewing the Second Wave,” Feminist Studies 28, no. 2 (2002): 259-67; Brian Norman,
“The Consciousness-Raising Document, Feminist Anthologies, and Black Women in
Sisterhood Is Powerful” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 27, no. 3 (2006): 38-64.
8. Suzanne M. Bianchi and Daphne Spain, American Women in Transition (New
York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1986), 47,146.
9. The divorce rate (number of divorces per one thousand married women age fifteen and over) was 9.2 in i960. After reaching a peak of 22.6 in 1980, it has declined
since. See Daphne Spain and Suzanne M. Bianchi, Balancing Act: Motherhood, Marriage, and Employment among American Women (New York: Russell Sage, 1996), 35.
10. Robert Beauregard, When America Became Suburban (Minneapolis: University
of Minnesota Press, 2006).
11. Lizabeth Cohen, A Consumer’s Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in
Postwar America (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003).
12. Martin Anderson, The Federal Bulldozer: A Critical Analysis of Urban Renewal,
1949-1962 (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1964).
13. Barry Schwartz, “Images of Suburbia: Some Revisionist Comments,” in The
Changing Face of the Suburbs, ed. Barry Schwartz (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1976), 334. By the mid-1970s, however, changing trends in women’s employment
and the relocation of jobs to the suburbs were challenging this dichotomy. See Susan
Saegert, “Masculine Cities and Feminine Suburbs: Polarized Ideas, Contradictory Realities,” in Women and the American City, ed. Catherine Stimpson (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1981): 93-108.
14. In 1955 68 percent of the labor force was male. Employed women were concentrated in clerical, teaching, and private household occupations that segregated them
further within the workplace (Bianchi and Spain, American Women in Transition, 141,
15. Daphne Spain, Gendered Spaces (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina
Press, 1992).
172 FRONTiERs/2011/voL. 32, NO. 1
16. Andres Duany, architect and founder of New Urbanism, lamented vanishing
male spaces at a Congress for the New Urbanism conference in 2006: http://www.cnu
17. Mark Purcell, “Excavating Lefebvre: The Right to the City and Its Urban Politics
of tbe Inhabitant,” Geojournal 58 (2002): 99-108. For examples of another minority
group asserting its right to the city, see Christina M. Jimenez, “Performing Their Right
to the City: Political Uses of Public Space in a Mexican City, ]88o-i9ios,” Urban History 33, no. 3 (2006): 435-56.
18. Shelters for victims of domestic violence are an obvious exception, since their
locations have to remain secret.
19. In 2009, 29 percent of women aged twenty-five and over had a college degree.
See http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2on/tables/11so226.pdf Almost 60 percent of women aged sixteen and over were in the labor force in 2009. See http://www
20. Transcript of the NOW “Herstory” session at the Jan. 1992 NOW Global Feminist Conference, Betty Friedan Papers, Collection MC577, carton 1, file 8, Schlesinger
Library, Radcliffe College.
21. Robin Morgan, ed.. Sisterhood Is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings from the
Women’s Liberation Movement (New York: Vintage, 1970), 512.
22. The proposed Equal Rights Amendment stated that “equality of rights under
the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” The ERA was written in 1923 by Alice Paul, founder of the National
Woman’s Party, and introduced into every session of Congress between 1923 and 1972.
It was passed in 1972 and sent to states for ratification, but fell three states short of the
required thirty-eight. See “The ERA: A Brief Introduction,” http://www.equalrights
amendment.org/overview.htm. See also Sarah Soule and Susan Olzak, “When Do
Movements Matter? The Politics of Contingency and the Equal Rights Amendment,”
American Sociological Review 69 (Aug. 2004): 473-97.
23. Charles F. Westoff and Norman Ryder, The Contraceptive Revolution (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1977); Elizabeth Siegel Watkins, On the Pill: A Social History
of Oral Contraceptives, 1950-1970 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998).
24. On the right to the city, see Henri Lefebvre, Writings on Cities, trans. Eleonore
Kofman and Elizabeth Lebas (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1996), 147—59.
25. See Vicki L. Crawford, Jacqueline Anne Rouse, and Barbara Woods, eds.. Women
in the Civil Rights Movement: Trailblazers and Torchbearers 1941-1965 (Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1990); Joanne Grant, Ella Baker: Freedom Bound (New York:
John Wiley and Sons, 1998); Lynne Olson, Freedom’s Daughters: The Unsung Heroines
of the Civil Rights Movement ftom 1830 to 1970 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001);
Barbara Ransby, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic
Vision (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003).
Spain: Women’s Rights and Gendered Spaces 173
26. Eleven percent of the population was black at the time of the 1970 census; Hispanics were 5 percent of the population, according to sample data. See U.S. Census
Bureau, “Historical Census Statistics on Population Totals by Race, 1790 to 1990, and
by Hispanic Origin, 1970 to 1990, for the United States, Regions, Divisions, and States,”
27. Loretta J. Ross. “African American Women and Abortion,” in Abortion Wars: A
Half Century of Struggle, 1950-2000, ed. Rickie Solinger (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 192.
28. They named their group after an 1863 “guerilla action” organized and led by
Harriet Tubman that freed more than 750 slaves in the Port Royal region of South
Carolina. See Combahee River Collective, The Combahee River Collective Statement:
Black Feminist Organizing in the Seventies and Eighties (Albany: Kitchen Table: Women
of Color Press, 1986).
29. Ross, “African American Women and Abortion,” 184-91.
30. Roberta Salper, “U.S. Government Surveillance and the Women’s Liberation
Movement, 1968-1973: A Case Study,” Feminist Studies 34 (Fall 2008): 445.
31. Rosalyn Baxandall and Linda Gordon, eds.. Dear Sisters: Dispatches from the
Women’s Liberation Movement (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 12. For a comprehensive analysis of the multiple origins of tbe women’s movement written during tbat era,
see Jo Freeman, The Politics of Women’s Liberation: A Case Study of an Emerging Social
Movement and Its Relation to the Policy Process (New York: Longman, 1975). SCUM
gained notoriety in 1968 when member Valerie Solanis, a “disturbed banger-on in the
New York art scene,” shot Andy Warhol in pursuit of the group’s goal to eliminate all
men. See Gail Collins, When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American
Women from i960 to the Present (New York: Little Brown and Company, 2009), 191.
32. The name Bread and Roses was taken from the 1912 textile strike in Lawrence,
MA, in wbich women strikers demanded fair wages and decent working conditions
(Wini Breines, personal e-mail to author, Aug. 12, 2009). See Bruce Watson, Bread and
Roses: Mills, Migrants, and the Struggle for the American Dream (New York: Viking,
33. Bread and Roses Draft Internal Statement, n.d., Wini Breines Papers, Collection
89-M17, carton 1, Scblesinger Library.
34. Fund-raising letter, Aug. 12,1970, list of accomplishments, n.d., and “A Selected
Guide to Women’s Resources Published in Celebration of Women’s Equality Day, August 26tb, 1977,” all in Papers of the Boston chapter of the National Organization for
Women, Collection MC496, carton 170, files 6 and 7, Schlesinger Library.
35. Ann Hunter Popkin, “Bread and Roses: An Early Movement in tbe Development
of Socialist-Feminism” (PhD diss., Brandeis University, May 1978).
36. Jane Pincus, “How a Group of Friends Transformed Women’s Healtb,” women’s
Enews.org, Mar. 13, 2002, http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm/dyn/aid/844.
174 FRONTiERs/2011/voL. 32, NO. 1
37- Women’s Community Health Center, First Annual Report, Aug. 1975, Women’s
Community Health Center Papers (WCHC Papers hereafter). Collection MC512, carton 1, file 13, Schlesinger Library.
38. Gene Bishop was a graduate of Radcliffe. See Gene Bishop Papers, Finding
Guide, Schlesinger Library.
39. Anne Enke, Finding the Movement: Sexuality, Contested Space, and Feminist Activism (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007).
40. The women organized the conference at the suggestion of Carol Downer, cofounder of the original self-help clinic in Los Angeles in 1971. Downer and Lorraine
Rothman traveled around the country in 1971 with a slide presentation to explain the
self-help concept to other women. See WCHC Papers, carton 1, file 2, and carton 14,
file 2.
41. Notes from meeting of the founding group, Nov. 19,1973, WCHC Papers, carton
42. Catherine DeLory, “Women’s Health, Inc: An Organizational Analysis,” 5, 6,
WCHC Papers, carton 1,file3.
43. First Annual Report, WCHC Papers, carton 1,file13.
44. Boston Women’s Health Course Collective, Our Bodies, Ourselves: A Course By
and For Women, 3rd ed. (Boston: New England Eree Press, 1971), 134.
45. Hospitals performed 80 percent of abortions in 1973. By the early 1980s about
one-half of all abortions were provided in hospitals. That proportion had dropped
to one-third by the 1990s, where it has remained. See Rachel K. Jones, Kathyrn Kost,
Susheela Singh, Stanley Henshaw, and Lawrence B. Einer, “Trends in Abortion in the
United States,” Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology 52, no. 1 (2009): 119-29.
46. Eirst Annual Report, WCHC Papers.
47. Feminist Women’s Health Center Newsletter 1, no. 4 (Mar.-May 1972), WCHC
Papers, MC512, carton 4, file 2.
48. Second Annual Report, n.d., WCHC Papers, carton 1,file13.
49. Finding Aid, WCHC Papers.
50. Letter to friends of the Women’s Community Health Center, July 22, 1981,
WCHC Papers, carton 1,file10.
51. Finding Aid, WCHC Papers.
52. Betty Friedan, Life So Far (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000), 87,166, 227.
53. Reaching Out: The Newsletter for RESPOND, Inc, New England’s First Domestic
Violence Agency 17, no. 1 (2008): 2.
54. Maureen Varney, telephone interview with the author, Sept. 25, 2009.
55. Founding members of RESPOND, Inc., interview with the author, June 22, 2009.
56. Jean Marie Luce, telephone interview with the author, Sept. 25, 2009.
57. Luce, interview, Sept. 25, 2009.
58. Founding members of RESPOND, Inc., interview, June 22, 2009.
Spain: Women’s Rights and Gendered Spaces 175
59- Founding members of RESPOND, Inc., interview, June 22,2009.
60. Luce, interview, Sept. 25, 2009.
61. Treasurer to RESPOND Board of Directors, Dec. 22,1979, RESPOND, Somerville, MA; founding members of RESPOND, Inc., interview, June 22, 2009.
62. There is a long-standing debate between the two shelters about which was actually the first to open (founding members of RESPOND, Inc., interview, June 22, 2009).
See also the Transition House newsletter. Shelter Security (Fall 1980), which refers to
women having come to the shelter for five years. The fifteenth-anniversary-celebration publication cites 1976 as the year the shelter opened. The discrepancy can be reconciled if the newsletter is referring to the apartment and the anniversary publication
to the first house. See Transition House Records, Collection 84-M18, 91-M187, carton
25, Schlesinger Library.
63. Founding members of RESPOND, Inc., interview, June 22, 2009.
64. Luce, interview, Sept. 25,2009.
65. “Transition House Records, 1975-1983: A Finding Aid,” Transition House
66. Transition House newsletter (Sept. 1979); Jennifer Schwartz, “Group Expands to
Reduce Abuse: Transition House Seeks Funding,” Boston Globe, Oct. 26,2008.
67. JAS memo re. meeting with Molly Lovelock and Susan Ketchum, July 13,1978,
WCHC Papers, carton 18, file 4.
68. Shelter Security (Fall 1980), Transition House Records, file 25.
69. Transition House Records, file 25.
70. Boston NOW, “A Selected Guide to Women’s Resources” (1977); History of Casa
Myrna Vazquez, http://www.casamyrna.org/history.html.
71. “Elizabeth Stone House Community Update: A Boston Women’s Residential
Mental Health Alternative” (Spring-Summer 1983), Archives of the Women’s Center,
Cambridge, MA.
72. Combahee River Collective, Combahee River Collective Statement, 9,16.
73. Winifred Breines, The Trouble between Us: An Uneasy History of White and Black
Women in the Feminist Movement (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006). Norman, “Consciousness-Raising Document,” 9, argues that the tensions between white
and black feminists did not necessarily mean that their goals were in opposition.
74. Combahee River Collective, Combahee River Collective Statement, 14.
75. Katharine L. Day and the Crimson Staff, “Women’s Group Seizes Harvard Building,” Harvard Crimson, Mar. 8,1971, http://thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=3553i5.
76. Margot R. Hornblower and the Crimson Staff. “Women Still Hold Harvard Building,” Harvard Crimson, Mar. 9, 1971, http://vfww.thecrimson.com/article.
aspx?ref=355332; Joyce Heard and the Crimson Staff, “Harvard Obtains Injunction;
Women Brace for Possible Raid,” Harvard Crimson, Mar. 10,1971, http://www.thecrim
176 FRONTIERS/2011/vOL. 32, NO. i
77- J- Anthony Day, “Graham Denies Alliance,” Harvard Crimson, Mar. lo, 1971,
http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=355353; Judith Freedman and the Crimson Staff, “Bust Likely at Women’s Center,” Harvard Crimson, Mar. 13, 1971, http://
78. Mary Eisner and the Crimson Staff, “Women Still Hold Building: Harvard Issues Statement,” Harvard Crimson, Mar. 12,1971, http://www.thecrimson.com/article
79. Julie K. Ellison, “Solidarity Builds in Center,” Harvard Crimson, Mar. 15, 1971,
80. “Cox Gives Final Warning; Women Reiterate Demands,” Harvard Crimson, Mar.
15,1971, http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=3554i6.
81. Carol R. Sternhell, “Chanting Women Vacate Building to Avoid Rumored
Bust by Police,” Harvard Crimson, Mar. 16, 1971, http://www.thecrimson.com/article
.aspx?ref=355433; Samuel Z. Goldhaber and Julia T. Reed, “Attorneys Scan Photos
for Evidence,” Harvard Crimson, Mar. 17, 1971, http://www.thecrimson.com/article
.aspx?ref=355445; Katharine Day, “Women Continue Work towards Center,” Harvard
Crimson, Mar. 31,1971, http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=355670.
82. By 1982 a list of feminist bookstores compiled by Womansplace Bookstore
in Phoenix provided addresses and phone numbers for sixty-five stores in twentynine states (New Words Records, Collection 2002-M130, cartons 1 and 2, Schlesinger
83. New Words Records, Full Catalog.
84. Boston NOW, Collection MC 496, carton 170, file 7, Schlesinger Library; Morgan, Sisterhood Is Powerful, 580-82.
85. New Words Records, carton 5.
86. Morgan, Sisterhood Is Powerful, 533.
87. WCHC Papers, carton 16, files 8 and 9.
88. WCHC Papers, carton 16, file 8.
89. WCHC Papers, carton 16,file8.
90. WCHC Papers, carton 16,file8.
91. New Words Records, Full Catalog.
92. Massachusetts Directory of Credit Unions, http://www.masshome.com/
93. Reaching Out 17, no. 1 (2008): 1, 6; Newsletter for Respond, Inc, New England’s
First Domestic Violence Agency (2008).
94. Reaching Out 17, no. 1 (2008). On Oct. 3, 2009, the city of Somerville honored
founder Pauline Dwyer, who died in 2008, with a plaque at the corner of Berkley Street
and Central Avenue in recognition of the contributions she made to the community
(Shelley Dwyer-Murphy, telephone interview with the author, Aug. 13, 2009).
95. Women’s Center, http://www.cambridgewomenscenter.org/aboutus.html.
Spain: Women’s Rights and Gendered Spaces 177
96. On Our Way, Newsletter of the Women’s Center (Spring 2009).
97. In July 2009 President Barack Obama appointed a Wbite House advisor on violence against women. The appointee is Lynn Rosenthal, former executive director of
the National Network to End Domestic Violence. See “An Advocate for Women,” New
York Times, July 1, 2009.
98. Monica Davey, “Kansas Abortion Clinic Operated by Doctor Who Was Killed
Closes Permanently,” New York Times, June 11, 2009.
178 FRONTiERs/2011/voL. 32, NO. 1
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Out of the Smoke and the Flame:
The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and its Legacy
By Eileen Boris and Annelise Orleck
Feminism and
the Labor
A Century of Collaboration
and Conflict
A century after the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, women have become
nearly half of the unionized labor force. They work in the growing service and
public employment sectors as nurses, home attendants, teachers, and clerks.
Previously labeled women’s issues—maternity leave, equal pay, sexual harassment, and work-family balance—have become union issues. Women hold leadership positions in the AFL-CIO and Change
to Win. With the disappearance of manufacturing and the growth of service labor,
women of color—both immigrant- and U.S.born—have become the driving force in the
labor movement for safe jobs, living wages,
and dignity at work, leading women-dominated unions and worker associations. It is
not an overstatement to say that the future of
the labor movement appears up to the
It hasn’t always been this way. For at least
a century, labor feminists have fought for the
interests of wage-earning women and workingclass housewives, both within the feminist and
the labor movements. Still, the priorities of the
women’s movement for sex-based rights and
those of the labor movement for class solidarity
often diverged during the twentieth century.
Working-class feminists struggled against
middle-class feminists who focused primarily
on achieving equality with male professionals
and executives. They also battled men who
sought to exclude women from unionized jobs
and who denied organized women workers a
full share of power in the labor movement.
Highlighting key moments when feminists
and unionists came together over the last century, this essay offers a usable past drawn from the
fraught—but often productive—relationship
New Labor Forum 20(1): 33-41, Winter 2011
Copyright © Joseph S. Murphy Institute, CUNY
ISSN: 1095-7960/11 print, DOI: 10.4179/NLF.201.0000006
between feminism and labor. An examination
of the contact between organized women’s
groups and organized labor, women’s organizations within the labor movement, and feminist
labor organizing shows that when feminists
and unions worked together, both benefited.
Labor gained when it understood women’s
issues as crucial for the advancement of the
working class. The women’s movement was at
its strongest when its membership and agenda
crossed class lines. Recognition of this history
may help to revitalize feminism as much as
organized labor.
Labor Feminism Before the
1960s: The Women’s Trade
Union League
he years surrounding 1911’s
Triangle Shirtwaist Fire saw significant
and broad-based collaboration between
labor activists and middle- to upper-class feminists in the United States. That period began
with the creation of the Women’s Trade Union
League (WTUL) in 1903. The League, as it was
known by its members, drew together educated
women reformers (mostly white, Protestant, and
native-born) and young women workers (many
of them immigrant Jews, Italians, and Irish) to
improve factory wages, working conditions, and
hours. The WTUL embodied both an unusual
degree of collaboration between feminists and
the labor movement, and the many tensions
that arose from longstanding attempts to build
lasting and productive relationships.2
This cross-class women’s network deepened with the uprisings of young women
garment workers that began in New York in
1909 and then spread over the next few years
into other Eastern and Midwestern cities.
Middle-class and affluent supporters of woman
suffrage—including League activists, college
students, and even wealthy socialites—saw
these strikes as an opportunity to win working
women to the cause. Forming what the press
34 • New Labor Forum
dubbed “mink brigades,” affluent supporters
marched alongside young immigrant women
on picket lines in a largely successful attempt to
reduce high rates of police brutality. After they
bailed arrested strikers out of jail, they spoke
(alongside the released strikers) for woman
suffrage on the steps of jails and courthouses.
Affluent feminists brought working women
into existing suffrage organizations, as well as
offering financial support for the establishment
of working-class suffrage groups. Working
women understood, as Polish Jewish cap maker
Rose Schneiderman explained in 1907, that
they “must . . . secure political power to shape
their own labor conditions.”3
Women factory and manufacturing
workers knew they needed the political and
financial support of these more affluent “allies.”
Nonetheless, imbalances in social power and
financial resources generated much conflict
in the first two decades of the century, when
working-class members felt bullied, condescended to, or generally misunderstood.
While many working-class women embraced
socialism and anarchism, their better-off allies
mostly shied away from revolutionary politics,
preferring to reform the existing system. The
refusal of working women to eschew more
radical approaches moved affluent women to
withdraw financial support from independent
working women’s groups, prompting angry
responses. “It is up to the working people to
save themselves,” Schneiderman tongue-lashed
a theater full of affluent New Yorkers after the
Triangle Fire.4
In the aftermath of the fire, women labor
activists and reformers redoubled efforts to
win the vote, and industrial feminists (the
self-name of labor feminists of that day) like
Schneiderman began to focus as much on
passing laws to regulate wages and labor conditions as they did on union organizing. Frances
Perkins (the future U.S. Secretary of Labor
under Franklin Roosevelt) of the National
Consumers League and Pauline Newman (a
E. Boris & A. Orleck
former Triangle employee and WTUL activist)
were appointed as investigators for the New
York State Factory Investigating Commission
(FIC), positions they used to educate powerful
politicians about the conditions under which
working women labored. Over the next three
years, the New York FIC, and sister organizations in the other industrial states, pushed
through a dramatically expanded regulatory
structure for factory labor—including laws
that empowered state commissioners of labor,
banned the labor of children under the age of
fourteen, and required inspection of elevators
and fireproof devices.5
In the aftermath of
the Triangle Fire,
women labor activists
redoubled efforts to
win the vote.
During World War I, this collaboration
between middle-class feminists, women
labor activists, and Democratic Party politicians resulted in the founding of a Women
in Industry Service to monitor conditions of
women working on defense contracts. After the
war, President Wilson established a permanent
Women’s Bureau in the U.S. Department of
Labor to investigate women’s working conditions. Its creation marked the ascension of
“industrial” and “social” feminists to federal
government positions of authority, a significant
move toward remaking the state as a force
sympathetic to at least some of the goals of the
labor movement.6
By the 1920s, when the WTUL came
to be run by labor union women—such as
Schneiderman and Newman—it was genuinely a cross-class, multi-ethnic organization.
Still, once U.S. women won the right to vote,
relations between the self-described feminists
of the National Women’s Party (NWP) and
women in the labor movement frayed. In the
early 1920s, NWP leaders began lobbying for
an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the
Constitution, which declared it unconstitutional to discriminate on the basis of sex.
The labor movement rejected the ERA out of
fear that it would negate hard-won legislation
protecting women workers. Ignoring industrial
feminists’ pleas to adopt a more piecemeal
approach to gender equality, the NWP introduced the ERA into every session of Congress
from 1921 into the early 1970s, driving a deep
and lasting wedge between the labor movement
and feminist activists.
Labor opponents of the ERA gained the
upper hand with the election of Franklin D.
Roosevelt in 1932. He was, along with his wife
Eleanor, a key ally of the New York WTUL.
With the appointment of League leaders like
Perkins and Schneiderman to key government
positions, FDR signaled support for the goals
of the labor-feminist alliance. Perkins oversaw
the extension of wage-and-hour and safety
protections for all workers, regardless of gender,
through the National Labor Relations Act of
1935 and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
of 1938. These laws marked a turning point
for union men who had long been ambivalent
toward the idea of legislating labor conditions.
No longer were strategies for improving the
lives of workers so starkly divided by sex.
Still, race continued to divide the working class. The new legislation intentionally
denied coverage to agricultural and domestic
workers—the fields in which most women
of color were employed. Many within the
labor-feminist coalition pushed to expand
federal laws, including the Social Security
Act of 1935, to extend coverage to these
occupations. They also expanded the reach
of the labor movement, by supporting organizing drives among service workers, many
of whom were women of color. In reaching
Feminism and the Labor Movement
New Labor Forum • 35
out to black and immigrant organizers like
Maida Springer Kemp, Dolly Robinson, and
Charlotte Adelman, the mid-1930s WTUL
brought laundry workers, waitresses, and hotel
maids—who had been largely ignored by white
male unionists—into the labor movement.
This same period saw the mass organizing of
Caribbean immigrants and Puerto Ricans in
the East, and Mexican-Americans in the West.
These populations had long been ignored by
the male-led unions.
With the coming of World War II, largescale employment of women in defense plants
moved feminist labor issues into the center
of public discussion. Early in the war years,
manufacturers attempted to label any new
jobs in defense production as “female” work,
enabling them to pay women workers less
than the prevailing union wage. Labor leaders’
longstanding attempts to keep the best-paid
jobs for white male union members had to be
rethought, given the labor shortages resulting
from the wartime draft. Reluctantly at first,
more enthusiastically later, some unions—most
notably the United Electrical Workers (UE)—
began to resist sex-based pay differentials.
Even leaders with little concern for women’s
salaries worried that, if they allowed manufacturers to pay women less during the war,
when men came home afterwards, it would
be difficult to bring wages back up. Other
unions retained sex-based pay differentials
in their contracts, but in 1942 the National
War Labor Board—responding to years of
lobbying by labor-feminist groups like the
WTUL—established a policy of equal pay for
men and women performing the same jobs. The
1963 Equal Pay Act, the first time the federal
government put its power behind equal pay
for equal work, was the fruit of continuing
labor-feminist agitation on this issue.
With wage-earning mothers constituting
36 percent of the labor force by the war’s end,
work and family balance inevitably became
an urgent labor issue. Joint efforts between
36 • New Labor Forum
feminists and male unionists mitigated the
“double day” with publicly supported child care,
flexible hours, and more convenient shopping
options. Industrial unions recognized womanpower through special women’s committees; the
United Automobile Workers (UAW) committee
carried forward the labor-feminist agenda into
the early postwar years, in collaboration with
the U.S. Women’s Bureau.7
Labor Feminism Since 1960
he 1960s and 1970s saw an
explosion of interactions between
feminists and trade unionists, and an
energetic feminism within the labor movement.
As women’s liberation activists discovered the
working class—with help from World War
II-era trade unionists and leftists—feminist
caucuses sprung up within existing unions. At
its first convention in 1974, thirty-five thousand
women gathered together not “to swap recipes,”
as Myra Wolfgang of HERE taunted George
Meany and the rest of labor’s male leadership,
but to organize the Coalition of Labor Union
Women (CLUW). Along with explicitly feminist
groups like the Union Women’s Alliance to
Gain Equality (Union WAGE) and 9to5, CLUW
declared women’s issues to be union issues.8
In honoring WTUL stalwart Pauline
Newman at its founding meeting, CLUW recognized generational continuities among labor
feminists. Its stated priorities explicitly echoed
those of the WTUL: strengthening the role of
women in unions; organizing unorganized
women; achieving pay equity; and increasing
the involvement of women in the political and
legislative process. But CLUW added goals
that reflected changing times—promoting
affirmative action for women in the workplace,
addressing the concerns of aging women workers, and tackling substance abuse. In 1980,
CLUW president Joyce Miller became the first
woman on the AFL-CIO’s executive board—a
modest and long-overdue recognition of the
significance of women in the labor movement.
E. Boris & A. Orleck
Trade union feminists helped launch a
revitalized women’s movement that sparked
new demands for women’s rights at home, on
the job, and within unions. Clericals, flight
attendants, and domestic workers contested
the dominant assumption within the AFL-CIO
that women workers were unorganizable.
Collective action hit pink-collar occupations.
This trend was exemplified by the formation of
Trade union feminists
helped launch a
revitalized women’s
movement that sparked
new demands for
women’s rights at home,
on the job, and within
Stewardesses for Women’s Rights, the Willmar
Bank Employees’ Association strike in 1977,
and the highly creative and flexible campaign
to organize Harvard’s clerical and technical
workers. Independent women’s associations,
like Chicago’s Women Employed, were far
more likely to initiate such efforts than were
traditional labor unions. At a time when most
unions still concentrated on manufacturing,
feminists argued for both the economic value
of women’s unpaid labor in the home and the
worth of women’s work in service industries.
They anticipated the strategies needed to
organize the future economy.9
At the same time, trade union women
shaped the new feminism in two ways. First,
they complicated the meaning of equality by
bringing to the feminist agenda issues like
child care and flextime that women needed
to balance wage-earning with family life. By
the 1970s, labor feminists went beyond an
anti-discrimination program to insist that
women’s rights at work included pregnancy
leave and other labor standards, and that these
issues mattered to the labor movement even if
they did not apply to men. The World War II
efforts of the International Union of Electrical,
Radio, and Machine Workers (IUE) laid the
basis for feminist organizing in the 1970s that
culminated in the Pregnancy Discrimination
Act of 1978. In 1982, twenty thousand
Chinese-immigrant garment workers forced
union-sponsored day care onto the agenda of
the labor movement by leaving their babies on
the desk of previously unresponsive garment
union president Jay Mazur.10
Second, they had an institutional impact.
Not only would longtime union activists, like
Stella Nowicki from Chicago’s stockyards,
become involved with women’s liberation—
they also helped birth its most national
manifestation. In 1966, Caroline Davis and
Dorothy Haener from the UAW’s Women’s
Department became key founders of the
National Organization for Women (NOW),
providing office space and clerical services to
that fledging organization. NOW’s co-founder
and most famous leader, Betty Friedan, had
learned to organize in the UE.11
UAW women were in the forefront of
shifting labor’s stand toward the ERA. Like
other women in male-dominated or mixedsex industries—and unlike allies in the U.S.
Women’s Bureau—they viewed women’s labor
laws not as protective devices but as tools of
both management and hostile male workers
who sought to limit women’s opportunities
and pay. They applauded the striking down of
sex-based labor restrictions under Title VII of
the 1964 Civil Rights Act, achieved through the
cooperation of labor and feminist legislators.12
Feminism and the Labor Movement
New Labor Forum • 37
In the years that followed, many local
groups bridged the gaps between trade
unionism and the women’s movement.13 In
California’s Bay Area, two activists rooted in
the old left—Jean Maddox of the militant Local
29 of the Office and Professional Employees
International Union and Ann Draper of the
Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union—
established Union WAGE in 1971. They aimed
to counter NOW’s neglect of working women
and support organizing through rank-and-file
movements and independent associations. The
larger women’s movement, in turn, influenced
WAGE, which fought for reproductive rights,
struggled against sexual harassment and racism, and condemned discrimination on the
basis of sexual orientation, age, and disability.14
Citywide clerical associations, along with
workplace-based women’s caucuses, more typically represented the collective action inspired
by feminist and other radical insurgencies
against the AFL-CIO.15 In the early 1970s,
9to5 expanded from a consciousness-raising
group among Harvard clerical workers to
become (first) an organization of Boston
clerical workers, then part of the National
Association of Working Women. In 1975, it
created a companion union—Local 9to5—that
was affiliated with the SEIU. Under the banner
“Raises not Roses,” clerical women petitioned,
picketed, sued, and engaged in creative street
actions. In the 1990s, founder Karen Nussbaum
brought a feminist perspective to her tenure
as director of the U.S. Women’s Bureau and,
in 1996, as the head of the AFL-CIO’s new
Working Women’s Department.16
Feminists also established caucuses within
established unions. Among the most effective,
the District 31 (based in Northwest Indiana’s
Calumet Region) Women’s Caucus of the
United Steelworkers mobilized “burly” men to
march for the ERA in Illinois, a major industrial state resisting ratification. It joined with a
multiracial coalition of Chicago-area women’s
groups to fight against job discrimination and
38 • New Labor Forum
violence against women and for abortion rights.
It also defended women’s jobs during layoffs.17
In the early 1970s, black feminist leaders
Shirley Chisholm and Eleanor Holmes Norton
sought to jointly mobilize the civil rights,
labor, and women’s movements to improve
the conditions of domestic service. While the
AFL-CIO still could not imagine organizing
such workers, its members joined a cross-class
and multiracial mix of feminists in supporting
the 1974 expansion of the Fair Labor Standards
Act to cover domestic workers. With the support of the National Committee on Household
Employment, a black feminist organization
initially founded by labor feminists, domestic
workers themselves mobilized as the Household
Technicians of America (HTA) in 1972. Given
the stigma associated with domestic service,
local groups across the nation sought not only
traditional bread-and-butter improvements
but also respect for their work and humanity
through written contracts, public recognition ceremonies, and training and education
Las Vegas became a surprising base for
labor feminism when a multiracial workforce
of hotel maids turned the city’s Hotel and
Culinary Workers Union Local 226 into the
largest private union local in the United States
in the 1990s. Beginning in the 1940s, AfricanAmerican women assumed leadership roles. In
the 1950s, under pioneering business agent Sara
Hughes, black women who labored as “back
of the house” workers in the city’s hotels and
casinos became organized. But, twenty years
later, African-American workers contested the
union’s collaboration with hotel management to
segregate them into the lowest wage positions
in the hotel workforce. A series of protests
and court challenges yielded a federal consent
decree forcing the union and Las Vegas hotels
to train and place women and workers of
color into higher-paid jobs. In the late 1980s,
the union’s multiracial membership ratified
some of the best contracts in the nation for
E. Boris & A. Orleck
service workers. This period of success for
unionized women of color culminated in 1990
when Hattie Canty—a black migrant mother
of ten—became president of the Culinary
Toward the Future
he relationship between the
women’s movement and organized labor
has shifted over the last twenty-five
years. The AFL-CIO has incorporated major
concerns of wage-earning women into its formal
agenda, calling for: equal pay, work and family
balance, and prevention of violence against
women in the workplace. Middle-class feminists
played a role in pushing unions to recognize
these concerns, but too often they ignored
how class structures the outcome of gender
inequality, as in questions of remuneration, time
flexibility, and the double day. While feminists
of all classes easily embraced equal pay, middleclass people are less active in seeking redress
for underpaid caregivers. Jamaican immigrant
Evelyn Coke—the Long Island home care
worker whose exclusion from the minimum
wage law the SEIU litigated—garnered meager
feminist support for her plight. On the other
hand, feminists gave crucial support to new
Middle-class feminists
too often ignored how
class structures the
outcome of gender
formations—like Domestic Workers United
in New York City and other ethnically-based
associations—that seek dignity and recognition
as well as better working conditions. These
efforts culminated in September 2010 when
New York became the first state to adopt a
Domestic Worker Bill of Rights.20
Most significantly, women have become
the new face of labor, composing the majority
of union recruits. As manufacturing declined
and the service economy exploded, immigrant
women in low-wage jobs brought a new vitality
and militancy to unionization. The numbers of
In service industries,
women’s numbers have
begun to close the
overall membership
[gender] gap.
jobs in teaching, nursing, and clerical work that
employed more women than men continued to
grow right up to the beginnings of the current
recession, increasing women’s percentage of
the unionized workforce. In service industries,
women now make up half of all unionists.
Their numbers have begun to close the overall
membership gap.21
While unions once saw women as
unorganizable, today they count on them.
Examples range across the labor force, but
concentrate in the health care sector. Most of
the seventy-four thousand Los Angeles home
aides who voted to join the SEIU in 1999
were women. The 150,000-strong National
Nurses United, formed in 2009 from three
nurses groups, became the nation’s largest
union of medical professionals.22 Though the
numbers of women in leadership positions
are nowhere near parity, Mary Kay Henry
replaced Andy Stern as the head of the SEIU
in 2010. Linda Chavez-Thompson served
as executive vice-president of the AFL-CIO
Feminism and the Labor Movement
New Labor Forum • 39
for over a decade, and then was replaced by
another AFSCME (American Federation of
State, County, and Municipal Employees)
leader, Arlene Holt Baker. And, in 2009, Liz
Shuler of the IUE became the first woman
elected as the federation’s secretary-treasurer.
Women of color—many of them immigrants—have spearheaded fights against today’s
sweatshops in the fields and in homes, and
have organized workers in food processing
and garment production. They have revived
hotel worker militancy, as evidenced by HERE’s
ongoing Hotel Workers Rising initiative and
Boston chambermaids’ protest against the
Hyatt chain.23 Joined by middle-class feminist
allies—some of whom were from the same
ethnic group (as with Asian Immigrant Women
Advocates)—they are addressing workplace
conditions and occupational safety issues that
represent today’s equivalent to the hazards of
a century ago, including carpel tunnel injuries
and industrial fires. In the 1990s, Mexicana
farm workers of Líderes Campesinas investigated the impact of pesticides on pregnancy
and highlighted sexual harassment as well
as the continued low wages paid for work in
California’s fields.24 Worker centers—like the
Garment Worker Center in Los Angeles and
many others—are linking feminism, immigrant
rights, and worker justice on a daily basis in
working-class communities.25
A century ago, the Triangle Fire horrified
New York City and the nation as a whole, forcing the labor movement, feminists, and political reformers to more systematically address
the murderous conditions facing American
workers. Over the years, feminists and trade
unionists came together in numerous ways,
engaging in vibrant coalitions that enabled
them to transcend their differences. Today’s
labor movement has become, in large measure,
a women’s movement. Whether it will stay that
way remains to be seen. Is the feminization of
the labor movement yet another indicator of its
decline? Or is it a harbinger of labor’s renewal?
One hundred years after Triangle that question
remains unresolved. One thing is certain: the
future strength of the labor movement depends
on its women, and the future of feminism will
continue to be shaped by labor.
1. Kate Bronfenbrenner, “Organizing
Women: The Nature and Process of Union
Organizing Efforts Among U.S. Women
Workers Since the 1990s,” Work and Occupations 32, no. 4 (2005).
2. Annelise Orleck, Common Sense
and a Little Fire: Women and WorkingClass Politics in the United States, 19001965 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995).
3. New York Evening Journal, July 14,
4. New York Times, April 4, 1911.
5. Frances Perkins, The Roosevelt I
Knew (New York: Viking Press, 1946), 22.
6. Orleck, Common Sense, 138.
7. Karen Anderson, Wartime Women:
Sex Roles, Family Relations, and the Status
of Women During World War II (Westport:
Greenwood Press, 1981); Nancy Gabin,
Feminism in the Labor Movement:
Women and the United Auto Workers,
40 • New Labor Forum
E. Boris & A. Orleck
1935-1970 (Ithaca: Cornell University
Press, 1990).
8. Dorothy Sue Cobble, “‘A Spontaneous Loss of Enthusiasm’: Workplace Fe…
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