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CWLU and Culture in Women’s Liberation

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Chicago “radical women” came together in the “westside” group in late 1967 following the infamous refusal of the Chair of SDS’ National Conference on New Politics to allow Shulamith Firestone to present the “women’s resolution” to the assembly.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Cool down, little girl. we have more important things to do here than talk about women’s problems (this version is from Jo Freeman’s recollections. Other versions of this quote that circulate include “Move on little girl; we have more important issues to talk about here than women’s liberation,”

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 The Westside group not only gave rise to some of the earliest feminist analysis, and member Jo Freeman published Voice of the Women’s Liberation Union, the first nationally circulated newsletter of the emerging, movement, but also included some founders of the CWLU, including Heather Booth, Amy Kesselman, and Naomi Weisstein. The decision to split from the male Left was incredibly difficult, “like divorcing your husband” Vivian Rothstein described it, and unfolded gradually over the span of two years.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 2 In the spring of 1968 Women’s Radical Action Project (WRAP) came together around the University of Chicago. [FN*] The group sponsored a citywide conference, and became involved in Marlene Dixon’s fight to gain tenure at the University.  Constantly evaluating their position to the male left, as in  “Toward a Radical Movement” (April 1968) in which Heather Booth, Evie Goldfield and Sue Munaker compared the situation of women in the New Left to that Casey and Hayden had articulated for women in SNCC.  In 1968  Members of the “Chicago” group attended the first women’s liberation conferences, in Sandy Springs, Maryland in August of 1968 and at Lake Villa, Illinois over Thanksgiving 1968.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 In the written introduction for the latter  (and here I draw on Irene Peslikis’ archived copy, as well as her photograph below)

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 3 Participants at the Lake Villa Conference, photograph by Irene Peslikis from the Redstockings ArchiveParticipants at the Lake Villa Conference, photograph by Irene Peslikis from the Redstockings Archive

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 a group from Chicago wrote what may be deadly earnest quite tongue in check. I’m reading here as the latter.[fnx] The group described themselves as “pure theorists” mocking perhaps the movement heavies from DC.  The “cultural heroine” they described themselves seeking to “”heal our cities, smile on the harvest of our farmers, leap tall buildings with a single bound,” ridicules the idea that any social movement could do all things, possibly a jab at the New York women.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Even as the split from the male left caused dissent, and some women proved uneasy about women’s liberation as a panacea, women in Chicago moved closer to creating an autonomous group. At the Radical Women’s Conference in Palatine, Illinois held in October of 1969, the decision to form an umbrella organization for the various groups under the name Chicago Women’s Liberation Union occurred. Over its 7 year history, the CWLU spawned numerous chapters and formed nineteen separate work groups, an influential speakers bureau, and an early liberation school over the years. However, the CWLU may have been best known in the movement through the posters created by the graphics collective and the music written, performed, and recorded by the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union rock band.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Video of Heather Tobis Booth, Demita Frazier, Amy Kesselman, Chris Riddiough, Vivian Rothstein, Naomi Weisstein (in absentia) presenting CWLU history at Boston University in 2014

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 This use of cultural forms of activism marked the CWLU as unusual, especially among the women’s groups that emerged from the New Left. The belief that the energy and organizing born of the civil rights, free speech, black power, and anti-war movements had dissipated into the counterculture had bitterly disappointed some leftists who sneered at the counterculture as a lifestyle revolution. When the “autonomous women’s movement,” emerged out of the Left, some women brought with them this suspicion of culture as inherently apolitical, which when combined with a defensiveness about the authenticity of their revolution made them even less likely to embrace the idea of women’s culture.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Image accompanying 2000 history of the CWLU founding conference https://www.uic.edu/orgs/cwluherstory/CWLUAbout/cwluintro.html

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Some members of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union, however, saw culture as an important strategy for the movement At the CWLU founding conference, held over Halloween Weekend in 1969, the organizers turned to drama as a way to “unify” attendees and to illustrate that they were not “inherently counter-revolutionary.” While the conference invited “women who are primarily committed to the development of an independent, multi-issue women’s movement,” organizers expected a cadres of Leftist women to disrupt the proceedings. The play Everywoman, Past Present and Future offered an extended argument in support of the idea that “women’s liberation is a revolutionary struggle,” an idea formally adopted in November of 1969 by the CWLU.[ii]


14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 FN* I’m drawing here on the excellent history byChristine Riddiough,  a CWLU participant. “Our Band of Sisters Building Culture and Community in the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 FN x The group at the Lake Villa conference is often described as the westside group and named attendees including Rothstein and Booth were at times members of the westside group. The only member I’ve been able to associate with the north side group is Margaret Schmid. in the fall of 1969, just as the CWLU organized, Margaret Schmid, published a piece in Women: A Journal of Liberation which deals critically with matriarchalist thought, something similar to the heroine searching described above: “recently there has been a tendency on the part of some women to try to prove that there have been periods (or at least a period) in history in which women were superior and dominant in a society. If such a contention could be documented satisfactorily, this would be lovely, although largely irrelevant to present realities; however, the attempts which I have seen thus far have failed to present a case” (7).

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 [i] Proposed Statement of Political Principles, adopted at CWLU founding conference Oct 31-november 2, 1969.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 [ii] THE LAST OF THE RED HOT MAMMAS, OR, THE LIBERATION OF WOMEN AS PERFORMED BY THE INMATES OF THE WORLD (1969) by Marylee A., Ellen A., Amy C., Pat (Miller). Sherry Jenkins (in band), Amy Kesselman, Naomi Weisstein (1969)” also known as Everywoman, Past Present and Future. Apparently not anuncommon practice. Notice in Jan 1970 CWLU newsletter for Midwest WL conference says that Cleveland WL will perform skit Free the Dolls (Charlotte Bunch, b ehrenreich in this group). Play also used at the March 1970 international women’s day (or proposed at least in the jan 1970 newsletter)

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Source: https://politicsofwomensculture.michellemoravec.com/about-2/book-pre-fall-2016/consciousness/step-2-oppression/cwlu-and-culture-in-womens-liberation/