Gainesville-area Women's Liberation Movement pioneers honored in NYC
Several Gainesville-linked feminist pioneers, including Beverly Jones and Judith Brown, were among the founders of the Women's Liberation Movement honored recently at an event Dec. 13 in New York City. The event was a tribute to the Women's Liberation Movement on the 30th Anniversary of its first meetings and action plans. The women were honored by Veteran Feminists of America, a group started by a veteran NOW activist, Jacqueline Ceballos of New Orleans.
Gainesville in the '60's was a significant cradle of activism, dubbed the 'Berkeley of the South' because it was such a spirited center of civil rights, university free speech and anti-war organizing. Not incidentally, Gainesville was also home to the publication of one of the most influential pamphlets of the reawakening feminist movement, "Toward a Female Liberation Movement" by Beverly Jones and Judith Brown. This made Gainesville an attraction point for feminists around the country.
Naomi Weisstein, of the early Chicago West Side women's liberation group, recalled the galvanizing effect of the pamphlet, soon known as "The Florida Paper": "After [our group] got started, for months we were paralyzed with doubt: was there any need for an independent women's movement...? ... Then the paper [Toward a Female Liberation Movement] came out ... It transformed our thinking, and we were ecstatic over it. Now we knew we were doing the right thing. Here was a vision of the liberation of women so real, palpable and compelling that our doubts dissolved... After that paper, there would be no turning back for us, or for the rest of the movement."
Both Judith Brown and Beverly Jones had been civil rights movement activists. Brown, a University of Florida student, was arrested numerous times in protests against segregation and was in 1963 a staff organizer with the Congress of Racial Equality in Gadsden County. Jones had been one of the founders of Gainesville Women for Equal Rights, which organized to end segregation of such places as hospital waiting rooms and doctor's offices. After moving to Pennsylvania in 1968, when her husband Marshall was removed from his UF teaching post for his civil rights movement activism, Jones worked in the National Organization for Women (NOW).
Judith Brown went on to found Gainesville Women's Liberation, the first women's liberation group in the South with Carol Giardina, an organization they revived in the mid-'80's. In her professional life, Brown was an attorney and for many years a partner with Albert Bacharach in the firm Brown & Bacharach. She died in 1991 after a three-year battle with breast cancer.
Other Gainesville-area honorees were:
Carol Giardina, already mentioned co-founder of GWL, was Gainesville's representative at the August 1968 protest of the Miss America Pageant, the action which made Women's Liberation a household word. In the heyday of the '60's, she wrote her Master's thesis in philosophy at UF on Marxism and male supremacy. She currently coordinates Gainesville Women's Liberation, and designed and taught the Gainesville Women's Liberation course in 1991, which has been which has been given regularly since then.
Carol Hanisch, originally of of New York Radical Women, came to Gainesville as a women's liberation organizer and lived and worked in Gainesville '69 '73. Hanisch was an editor of the 1975 Redstockings' Anthology Feminist Revolution and in 1997 published a book of newspaper columns, Frankly Feminist, as well as a play, "Promise and Betrayal" on the ideas and conflicts of the women's rights and anti-slavery movements. Hanisch, too, was a civil rights movement organizer in the South prior to her Women's Liberation Movement activism, working with the Southern Conference Education Fund (SCEF), which employed her to start a "freedom for women" project, headquartered in Gainesville. She now lives in upstate New York.
Kathie Sarachild, who divides her time between Gainesville and New York City, coined the phrase "Sisterhood is Powerful" in January 1968, and wrote the "Program for Feminist Consciousness-Raising" in October 1968. She was a volunteer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Mississippi in 1964 and '65. Sarachild taught a class on "Feminist Activism" in the University of Florida Women's Studies Department in 1994. She is currently director of the Redstockings Women's Liberation Archives for Action.
Marlene Dixon was a radical sociology professor at the University of Chicago whose passionate articles in magazines and anthologies of the late '60's and early '70's helped spread the movement. She was one of many professors driven from their university positions in that era. She wrote about this in a book called Things Which are Done in Secret. Dixon later went on to found the Democratic Workers Party in California.
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