Forty years ago, both the women’s movement and the movement for gay rights were in their infancy. The forerunner of Glad Day Books was operating out of a private residence with a locked door. It was pretty much a “Joe sent me” kind of situation. The forerunner of Toronto’s Women’s Bookstore was a small library/bookshelf at The Women’s Place, at 31 Dupont St.
“Homosexuality” was still the “love that dare not speak its name,” but the closet door was just starting to creak open. Only a few of us had heard of Stonewall at that point. There was no Pride flag, no pink triangle, no Lesbian Organization of Toronto (LOOT). There were small pockets of men and women who met in their homes or at the Community Homophile Association of Toronto (CHAT) and talked about “what if.” What if we were free to go out publicly and hold hands? What if our bars weren’t raided on a regular basis? What if society accepted us for who we are?
The women’s movement, with its obvious roots in the US, seemed to be the province of academic and business women. Ms magazine existed, but we still pretty much called ourselves “Miss” or Mrs” for fear of “making a big deal out of it.” The movement did not refer to lesbianism. The big players – like Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan and Bella Abzug – were all straight.
Then, amazingly, thanks to federal funding and personal donations, a centre for all women was created in Toronto. Lesbianism wasn’t referred to, even though a solid core of lesbian professional women was the driving force behind The Women’s Place. At first there was a “lesbian caucus” to give lesbians a voice. Then, slowly, more and more women came out. Lesbianism was out and loud and proud. I am one of the baby boomer women who “walked in straight and walked out lesbian.”
I know only the names of a few of the founders: Chris Lawrence, Judith Lawrence, Beverley Allinson, Eve Zaremba, Moira Armour. And I’m still in the dark about how The Women’s Place actually came about. Even a search through the Canadian Women’s Movement Archives yields little on the subject. Many of the founders are gone now. I wish I had thought to thank them back then, or a decade or two later when I was a bit older and wiser. But activists tend to look forward, rather than backward, and it wasn’t until my own baby-boomer friends started dying that I realized an important chapter in the Canadian women’s movement and the Canadian queer movement seems to have left very little record.
I decided to try to collect as many first-person accounts as possible while many of the participants, if not founders, are still alive. I have found a potential publisher in a non-profit feminist press. I’ve got a Facebook group and a dedicated email address. Now all I have to do is find as many women from the early 1970s in Toronto who used The Women’s Place and would like to share a brief story about how the house and the women they met there changed their lives.
This is not a call for submissions for professional writers. There’s no pay and no cachet in being part of this project. It’s a labour of love. To honour one’s elders and mentors is a good thing to do. Please help me find contributors.
If you know women in the 60-plus age bracket who lived in Toronto in the early 1970s, please pass on our email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am searching for our founding mothers and celebrating myself and the other “Daughters of Dupont.”