First Radical Feminist Alumnae Reunion
Organized by Mount Holyoke
Nearly fifty feminist alumnae returned to campus in April for the first radical feminist alumnae reunion. The event was organized by members of the Mount Holyoke Women's Center who felt that their annual women's weekend would benefit from the presence of feminist alumnae. The women's center, in its second year of operation, is a successor to the group which had formerly called itself the Pioneer Sisters. As Mary Mulligan mentions in her article on the following page, the Center had had some problems in gaining support. Today it is growing, receiving increasing financial backing from the Student Government Association and offering a greater number and variety of events to the College community. Although the notion persists in some quarters that there is no need for a women's center at a women's college, the center's leaders respond that although Mount Holyoke is a women's college, it is not a feminist institution. The women's center gives the feminist perspective. It holds weekly discussion meetings on a wide range of topics: women and mental health, battered wives, alternative forms of marriage, to name a few; and with other groups such as the film committee and Afro-Am it co-sponsors lectures and films. Its annual women's weekend, designed primarily for Mount Holyoke faculty, staff and students but open to the public at no charge, included this year at least ten workshops a day. During the weekend Footholds, a play about women's lives, was presented and a concert of women's music was performed by Theresa Trull and Julie Homi.
The idea of holding a radical feminists alumnae reunion in combination with the women's weekend was conceived last fall and publicized in the Quarterly. Alumnae response was good, and those who attended participated in and conducted workshops and discussions througout the weekend. The spectrum of subjects covered in the workshops ranged from self-defense, mime and feminist therapy to women under apartheid, Cuban women and revolutionary change, and sexual harassment.
Diana Hassel, Diane Metzger and Susan Yohn, all members of the class of 1979, have written the following about the alumnae participation:
"Ginny Berson '67 of Olivia Records, a women-owned recording company which functions as a collective, discussed the formation and running of Olivia. Berson emphasized the trust and cooperation among the women in the business, which was founded on their shared political goals. Lydia Wood Sargent '63 returned as a member of the Newbury Street Theatre of Boston to perform in the play Footholds, which is a collage of women's experience drawn from the works of such women as Agnes Smedley and Dorothy Sayers.
"In a workshop entitled 'Willingness to Change,' alumnae gathered to share their ideas about the probability of a continued commitment to Mount Holyoke by its feminist alumnae. Opinions on the subject varied. Some felt little need for support from Mount Holyoke; they had independently established networks of feminist support outside the college. Younger alumnae felt more of a commitment and connection to the College; they wanted to continue building the feminist support systems which they had begun here. The group agreed, however, that feminist activity at Mount Holyoke was necessary and extremely important, and they were very gratified to see it on campus. Many said it had been lacking when they were students.
"The members of the women's center had organized the reunion to establish a network of connections between the feminist alumnae and students. The reunion was successful to some extent, as we discovered many resources in the alumnae who were present during the weekend. However, our dream of a Mount Holyoke feminist network was diffused by the alienation that many feminist alumnae feel from the College and thus they are reluctant to place their efforts towards the creation of such a network. The reunion was important to students, however. We have gained much from the weekend and hope that this year's return of feminist alumnae marked the beginning of a tradition."
In spite of the students' misgivings, one alumna at least had a very positive response to the weekend. Patricia Roth Schwartz '68, a therapist working with women and children in Hartford and a poet whose book Hungers was published in 1978 by the Blue Spruce Press (a women's collective from the Hartford area), has written:
"Coming back to Mount Holyoke for the women's weekend and the radical feminist alumnae reunion was for me a crucial personal experience. Integrating all the parts of ourselves and our life experience is a vital task in creating identity. Returning to the place where I spent four years of my life living and learning in a women's community helped me to see the feminist I have become rooted in this part of my past.
"Especially meaningful to me was getting to know the students who organized the weekend and who run the women's center. Their energy, resourcefulness and dedication were inspiring compared to the apathy of the Mount Holyoke of my generation. I found, too, that I and other alumnae who returned for the weekend had something to offer to these younger women - a sense of the connectedness of the Mount Holyoke experience to the rest of the world. Yes, there is life (and feminism) after graduation. All of us are indeed out there creating alternative ways of living, working, relating, having many of the same struggles within different contexts.
"All of us, on campus or off, live precariously within a patriarchal society that seeks to deny us full expression of our potential. What feminism teaches us is that our greatest strength lies in the sustenance and support we can give each other - that bond of sisterhood that those who went before us - Mary Lyon, Mary Woolley and so many others - held out as their vision."