Tag Archives: Feminism

Austin Women Workers

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The following text is taken from a 1975 leaflet of Austin Women Workers.

What is Austin Women Workers?

Austin Women Workers is an organization of women from all backgrounds who have come together to analyze and act on those problems in our society which most directly affect our lives. We are all workers although some of us are in the role of unpaid mothers and housekeepers.

We know that the struggle for women’s liberation is a revolutionary struggle because the realization of our demands will bring about a basic transformation in our society. We cannot settle for less than the possibility of engaging in meaningful and creative activity: the opportunity to develop those skills which will enable us to do useful work; adequate compensation for what we do; free, loving care for children; control over the reproductive processes; sexual self-determination for all women and especially for lesbians; the development of personal relationship based on mutual responsibility; and the power to make decisions about all areas of our lives. There will not be a revolution until these changes are made.

We also know that the liberation of women will not occur until all people are free. We do not intend to gain a greater degree of independence at the expense of other oppressed people. Therefore, we struggle against all forms of racism, capitalism, and imperialism. Our most important work is the creation of a society in which every person is provided with the basic necessities of food, clothing, and shelter; every person participates in the decision-making process; and every person is able to expand his or her consciousness to the fullest extent.

The first activity of Austin Women Workers was to join with women all over the world in celebrating International Women’s Day. We also worked with other local organizations in planning the demonstration against Rockefeller. Since that time we have organized around the issue of prostitution, distributing educational material and encouraging people to attend prostitution trials held in Austin. Another project has centered on organizing women in various workplaces throughout the city. We offer legal classes, distribute literature, and help women form ongoing organizations. Still another activity has been the formation of a women’s theater group which is currently performing Sugar and Spice and Nothing Nice and put on several performance of The Independent Female or A Man Has His Pride. Recently a lesbian caucus has formed with AWW whose initial activity was the formation of a consciousness-raising group.

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Austin Women’s Movement in 1975

In October 1975, a two-page spread in The Rag featured the wide range of activities taking place in Austin’s women’s community: a Women’s Community Calendar, Cyclar, (image is featured above); a peer counseling center, Womenspace; a women’s printing collective, Fly By Night Printing Collective; the Women’s Health Organization; Common Woman Bookstore, and a Women’s History in Texas calendar by People’s History of Texas focused on the untold history of Texas women.

For the full article, visit the digital archive in the Independent Voices collection of Reveal Digital.  Over three hundred issues — not quite the entire run — are scanned at this site.  The articles are on pages 9-10 of the October 24, 1975 issue at the Independent Voices site.

The Rag article announced that the Common Woman Bookstore Collective would open its store in December 1975 at 2004 ½ Guadalupe, and had taken its name from lines by Judy Grahn, poet and member of the Women’s Press Collective, Oakland, California.

The same article described the Fly By Night Printing Collective as a one-year-old alternative press collective with four women printers, and plans to maintain regular hours at 901 West 24th Street, accepting any and all non-sexist and non-racist printing jobs.  Plans to move to the Bread and Roses Center were also announced.  Fly By Night was the predecessor of Red River Women’s Press (featured in a separate post on Collective Impressions).

The Women’s Community Calendar, Cyclar, was described as a collective effort to give a sense of the emerging women’s community and further develop the meaning of “women-identified women.”  Photographer Robin Birdfeather and artist Rita Starpattern were credited with conception, design and direction.  Cynthia Roberts and Melita Abrego of Fly By Night Press were credited with layout, publicity, and printing.  The Rag article says, “In fact, this calendar has been put together by women from scratch to finish.”

Women/Space was described as a peer counseling and referral center for women in the Austin community. “As a feminist group we believe that women in this society share common pressures, problems, and feelings, and that exploring these with other women is a valuable way to expand self-awareness, get in touch with personal resources, and find alternatives to life situations. Women can find strength and support in other women.”  Women/Space was described as having a three-fold thrust.  Individual, non-sexist counseling – including abortion, birth control, and lesbian counseling – was available free, on a walk-in basis, every weekday evening in the Women/space room at the University Y.

The Rag article described the Women’s Health Organization, (see separate post), this way:  “W.H.O. in Austin has encouraged women to use knowledge as a major weapon against fear by becoming familiar with various diseases and conditions in the vaginal area, and when professional care is necessary, to insist on better treatment from the male-dominated medical profession.”

The Women’s History in Texas calendar, described in The Rag article, was the first project of People’s History in Texas, a non-profit that has gone on to produce film documentaries on Texas history.  The calendar explores women’s role in Texas history (i.e., Black women in Texas, women in the Texas labor Movement, Chicanas, pioneer women in Texas, and women in athletics), with original historical analysis, artwork and photography.

 

 

 

Women’s Health Organization

The Women’s Health Organization (W.H.O.) in Austin was formed in 1974 with three main objectives: education for women, improving existing health care, and the establishment of new services for all women. W.H.O. targeted two areas of education: self-knowledge and improved relationships with gynecologists. They distributed a questionnaire to area gynecologists, set up an evaluation and doctor referral service based on feedback, and actively sought to bring a “progressive woman gynecologist” to Austin to include among referrals. They produced informational pamphlets and reading lists. W.H.O. also established a Self-Help Clinic and trained women in self-cervical and self-breast examinations. Similar to the groundbreaking work of the Boston Women’s Health Collective, publishers of “Our Bodies; Ourselves,” this local women’s group empowered women with information about their bodies, challenged patronizing gynecologists, and opened space for new services such as birthing centers and midwife-assisted home-births. The model of peer support survives today with lactation coaches and breast cancer support groups.

Nancy Simons illustrated the W.H.O. pamphlets. She shares these memories:

I remember us having a table at a Health Fair and encouraging women to write in a book about their personal experiences with local gynecologists (sort of an early version of Yelp!). I remember our provocative (for that feminist era) poster with a naked woman and the words “HELP YOURSELF.” I will never forget how small and sweet our mysterious cervixes seemed. I remember doing a cartoon of Wonder Woman with a speculum in hand saying “AT YOUR CERVIX.” The whole thing was very liberating for women whose bodies had previously been mostly defined by male doctors.

The Women’s Cranky

The Women’s Cranky came to Austin courtesy of the Women’s Street Theater from the Bay Area in 1970. The instructions and graphics were published and distributed by People’s Press in San Francisco, California.   The Women’s Street Theater described the cranky this way:

A cranky is a paper movie or cartoon sequence inside a simple wooden frame. The moving paper roll unwinds (is cranked) onto a take-up reel, enabling you to tell a story with a minimum number of words and maximum number of strong images. THIS cranky is a brief history of women’s oppression and struggles. About how the myth of women’s inferiority began and has been perpetuated to oppress us, and about how women are refusing to submit to that HIS-STORY any longer. We, the Women’s Street Theater, wanted to share the script and directions… with all our sisters. …It’s been great at rallies, small meetings, in parks, on the back of flat bed trucks, and on the marble steps of the Pacific Stock Exchange. People love it. They laugh, get involved, and have always been eager to discuss it afterwards.

Here is how the Cranky starts:

In the beginning          [Cymbal clash followed by tambourine shake about 5 seconds]

Women were ALWAYS pregnant

The cranky was low-tech media. It took more time to draw the images onto a scroll of butcher paper than it takes to shoot and post a You Tube video. But it was a great device for introducing women’s liberation to a crowd. It was performed in the Student Union at the University of Texas at Austin, at the Oleo Strut GI coffeehouse in Killeen, Texas and many other places. With its compelling graphics and easy script, it made for lively street theater. It only took a handful of women – two to crank the story along, one to read, and the others to produce sound effects with tambourines, pots and pans, and kazoos. It should be remembered for its no-software, no-electricity-required, means of production. It never failed to draw a crowd and get them laughing along with a radical message about women’s liberation.

 

 

Souer Queens

The Soeur Queens were described by Vernell Pratt in the June 1975 Soeur Queens Songbook as follows:

the soeur queens are an all-girl-honky-tonk-barroom band that has (have) done music together off and on since 1971.

for at least as long as we’ve been playing & singing, we’ve been talking about a songbook. here, hot in your hands, it finally appears, through the hard work, beer, sweat and tears of:

fly-by-night print collective and the souer queens, and especially our sisters behind bars, marcelle and mary, who did the center spread, alice, gail, krissy, nancy, frances, all the others who’ve ever sung along with us, the socialist feminist conference for the impetus to finally get it together, and especially the people whose songs are included, helping us to make it a people’s songbook.

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In July 1971 the Soeur Queens played at the founding conference of the National Women’s Political Caucus at the Rice Hotel in Houston. They also played at the Austin’s One Knite on Lavaca and at the University of Houston for the Gay Student Association. They performed at the Ritz in Austin in 1973 to benefit Bach Mai Hospital (a Vietnamese hospital targeted by a 1972 U.S. bombing raid). One of the final performances of the Soeur Queens was at Liberty Lunch in the fall of 1976 to raise funds to send Vernell Pratt on a slow boat to China for a cultural exchange. The Songbook’s cover illustration shows these women (from left to right): Nancy Crothers (stand up base), Vernell Pratt (guitar), Frances Barton (piano), Lori Hansel (guitar) and Gail Caldwell (flute).

 

 

 

Red River Women’s Press

Fly-By-Night Printing Collective, the predecessor of Red River Women’s Press, began operations in May 1974. Fly By Night’s press had been donated and overhauled in a press repair class at Austin Community College. After the class, the press was moved upstairs to 901 West 24th Street. The Soeur Queens Songbook was printed by Fly By Night in June 1975. In the Fall of 1975, Cynthia Roberts and Melita Abrego, Fly-By-Night press operators, completed a large print run of Cyclar, a 1976 Women’s Community Calendar. Rita Starpattern and Robin Birdfeather collaborated on the design.

On November 4, 1975, Fly-By-Night’s Multilith 1250 was lowered downstairs and rolled down 24th and San Gabriel to Bread and Roses Community Center, 2204 San Gabriel Street. A member of the collective was offered employment while still serving a prison sentence for destroying draft records in 1969.  She came to Austin from Alderson Prison in the fall of 1976.

Red River Women’s Press (RRWP) began as a feminist print shop in January 1977. A successful musical benefit February 2nd at Soap Creek Saloon laid the foundation for a move to a storefront in June 1977 at 908-C West 12th Street in the Enfield Shopping Center. The press was an Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) union shop. The IWW union bug was proudly placed on countless print orders – stationery, envelopes, leaflets, pamphlets and posters (both offset and silk-screened). The shop employed two full time staff and received Comprehensive Education and Training Act (CETA) funds to train several women as printers. The movement provided a steady set of customers – law collectives, the Brown Berets, the Austin Committee for Human Rights in Chile, Womenspace – as well as walk-in orders.

On West 12th Street, Red River Women’s Press occupied a storefront that backed up to a quiet Shoal Creek. Two presses, a Multilith 1250 and a Multilith 1850, paper supplies, typesetter and light tables were at street level. A copy camera, darkroom and silk-screen shop were in the basement. Shoal Creek flooded on May 25, 1981 (Austin’s Memorial Day Flood). Floodwaters inundated the basement, submerging the copy camera and rising about 10 inches on the presses upstairs. The press dug out of the mud, but closed later that year. The initial Red River Women’s Press collective included the following women: Alice Embree, Rita Starpattern, JoAnn Mulert, Linda Evans, Gail Lewis, Lori Hansel, Marce Lacouture, Barbara Krasne and Kandy Littrell. Maria Flores and Angelina Mendez were two of the CETA trainees.