During the early phases of second wave feminism (1968-1978), the Pioneer Valley served as a center for lesbian and feminist activity in western Massachusetts, and was home to over 400 hundred, often ad hoc, groups, such as the Abortion and Birth Control (ABC) Committee, ISIS Women's Center, the Mudpie Childcare Cooperative, and the Springfield Women's Center. The records of the Valley Women's History Collaborative document the activities of these groups as well as the efforts of the founders of the Women Studies program and department at UMass Amherst to preserve this history.
The collection is open for research.
The Valley Women's History Collaborate (VWHC) was formed in 1998 by Susan Tracy, Joyce Berkman, and Kaymarion Raymond in order to preserve contemporary local women's history through a collaboration among those who participated in the history and those who had the resources to document it. The Pioneer Valley has served as a center for lesbian and feminist actvity in western Massachusetts, with over 400, often ad hoc, groups known to exist from 1968 to 1978, many continuing onwards with new groups ever forming.
The focus of the Collaborative is the history of feminist, lesbian, and progressive people's efforts to promote female equality and social justice as well as the freedom to express a variety of gender and sexual orientations. The VWHC seeks to document the period from 1968 to the present in Franklin, Hampshire, and Hampden Counties. With the passage of time, there is an increased urgency to preserve the early history of the women's movement in this region. The VWHC hopes to capture this history before there is a significant loss of these memories as members of the community begin to age and die, relocate to other parts of the country taking their knowledge and stories with them, or discard documents of value to researchers and activists.
In 1999 an oral history project was established at the Collaborative through grants from the MacArthur Foundation awarded by Hampshire College and from the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities. In recent years, the focus of the Collaborative has steadily shifted from collecting physical documents to actively pursuing oral history interviews of feminists. While there are various projects underway, the collection currently includes oral histories of women who provided abortion counseling pre-Roe vs. Wade, lesbian musicians and DJ's, pioneering therapists, several politicians, a rural lesbian "matriarch," and members of the Mary Vazquez Women's Softball League, a lesbian softball league. With the help of historian David Cline, the group has collected and transcribed 23 interviews with the women and men involved in reproduction rights activism from 1960-1990s.
The collection of the Valley Women's History Collaborative (VWHC) contains the group's organizational papers, including materials relating to events organized or sponsored by the VWHC, as well as the records of the Abortion and Birth Control (ABC) Committee, ISIS Women's Center, the Mudpie Childcare Cooperative, the Springfield Women's Center, Springfield Women's Union, and the Valley Women's Union. Also present are the personal papers of VWHC organizer Susan Tracy and of Collaborative partipants: Alice Dembner, Robin Dizard, and Lorna Peterson. The collection contains, too, background information on feminist theory, socialist feminism and women's health issues.
In addition, the collection offers brochures on women's health issues and newspaper clippings from the Amherst Bulletin and the Daily Hampshire Gazette, and full issues of the Valley Women's Voice. The 23 oral histories are preserved as audio recordings with both full transcipts and edited versions. Oral history interviewees include: members of the Amherst Women's Liberation Movement and Abortion and Birth Control Group, Jean Baxter, Merry Boone, Robin Dizard, Rev. Franklin A. Dorman, Ruth Fessenden, Lorraine Florio, Elaine Fraser, Dr. Robert Gage, Dr. Merritt F. Garland, Rev. Samuel Johnson, Rabbi Yechiael Lander, Leslie Tarr Laurie, Meridith Michaels, Elizabeth Myer, Lawrence Siddall, Springfield Women's Health Collective, Ellen Story, Sam Topal, Susan Tracy, Rev. Richard Unsworth, Carol Wall, Dr. Jane Zapka D.S.
Finally, the records of the Mary Vazquez Women's Softball League, a women's modified fast-pitch softball league based in Northampton, Massachusetts, are also part of this collection. Formed in 1976 to provide lesbians and their friends a feminist sports center for social activity in the Pioneer Valley, the league's primary goal is simply to offer women a chance to enjoy the game. The league's founders, Jean Grossholtz, Eileen Stewart, Susan Tracy, and Maryann Jennings, initially fielded six teams: Common Womon, Hot Flashes, Woman Rising, No Nukes of the North, and a team from College Church and from Hatfield. Under Mary Vazquez's organizing efforts and skills, the league grew from six teams to sixteen at its height. Each team has its own personality, level of competitiveness, variety of sexualities, and unique history, but all have the common goal of having fun on the field while improving softball skills and playing fair.
Acquired from Susan Tracy in August 2007 and 2009.
Collection processed by Penni Martorell, November 2007. Addition to collection processed by Kristen Johnson, 2009
Since the Valley Women's History Collaborative is an ongoing organization, additions to the collection are expected.
For additional material related to feminist activity in western Massachusetts in the Special Collections and University Arhives, see:
Please use the following format when citing materials from this collection:
Valley Women's History Collaborative Records (MS 531). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.