Book explores bonds forged at an Adirondack feminist collective
Editor’s note: Lorraine Duvall is hosting an online book reading and discussion of this book via Zoom at 5 p.m. Wednesday, June 24. CLICK HERE for more info.
By Leigh Hornbeck
To appreciate Lorraine Duvall’s book, “Finding A Woman’s Place: The Story of a 1970s Feminist Collective in the Adirondacks,” it helps to understand the inequality women faced in those years.
Women earned 59 cents to every dollar men made, according to a report commissioned by President John F. Kennedy in 1963. Birth control pills were largely unavailable. Women weren’t allowed to serve on juries throughout the country until 1973. It wasn’t until the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 that women could open a credit card without their husband’s signature.
In Duvall’s introduction, she mentions a TV show, “Father Knows Best,” which portrayed the society’s ideal role for a woman: a homemaker with no aspirations beyond raising children and keeping house.
Duvall, now 82, was a young woman in the 1960s and struggled under the narrow definition of what was acceptable for a woman. She was thrilled to read Betty Friedan’s 1963 book, “The Feminine Mystique,” which revealed women were not universally content in roles as wives and mothers.
It was in this environment that A Woman’s Place was created by seven women who bought the former Moose Mountain Lodge in Athol, a Warren County hamlet, in 1974. Duvall’s book resurrects the history of the collective and tells the story of women who wanted a life removed, exempt and free from patriarchy.
Duvall attended workshops at A Woman’s Place, but her decision to write a book about it grew from an interest in intentional communities and a chance meeting with Naomi Tannen in 2014. Duvall learned Tannen and her husband had been the hosts of a women’s retreat in the summer of 1974 in Paradox that Duvall and her daughter attended. It was there that many of the women met and then started A Woman’s Place.
In 1974, Duvall was recently divorced and had returned to her home state for a job as a computer programmer in Rome. She was a feminist looking for like-minded women. She found them at the Paradox retreat.
After meeting Tannen, Duvall dove into the history of A Woman’s Place, piecing it together through numerous interviews with the founders and others who visited the collective; 1970s newspaper articles, a chapter written by one of the founders for the book “Lesbian Land,” and two trips to the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn. One of the women who contributed to Duvall’s research is Robin Zander, whose mother, Marie Deyoe, was among the founders of A Woman’s Place. Zander was the oldest of the children who moved to Athol.
“As a child of 14, I wasn’t really involved in the forming and running of the place. I just saw my unusual mom doing yet another unusual thing. She was always that way,” Zander said. “It’s in her nature.”
In the book, Duvall describes the day 10 of the women living at the collective drove into Warrensburg to register their children for school, creating a spectacle. Zander remembers the local kids made fun of her and the other kids from the collective and called them names.
Reflecting on it now, Zander says everyone has unpleasant times, “no matter where or when we grow up.”
“The fact that I was singled out in school because of where I lived was hard, but it was overshadowed by the positive feelings of belonging and family I had. My main difficulty was getting the attention of a very busy mom who was always in the middle of a crowd of women. That, I would say, was the hardest thing,” Zander said.
She met women from all over the world, took part in workshops and observed, firsthand, “how women working together can do amazing things.”
Duvall’s book describes the ups and downs that the women of A Woman’s Place experienced. They took vocational classes to learn how to do the upkeep on the large property, which included the main house, cabins and a barn. Instead of calling on a man to help when the pipes froze, they learned how to handle it themselves. To earn money, they hosted weekend retreats for women, advertised in Ms. magazine. More than 200 women attended the retreats the first fall, Duvall writes.
“They came to participate in consciousness-raising groups, and to attend retreats on aging, women and alcohol, women in art and theater, lesbianism, and money management. The goal was to empower women and help them combat the sexism in their daily lives.”
Women also held fundraisers in New York City for the collective.
But finances were a constant worry, Duvall writes, and ultimately led to A Woman’s Place closing in 1982. By the time Duvall started her research, all trace of the collective was long gone. New owners hold the Moose Mountain Lodge now.
Duvall retired in 1990 and lives in Keene with her partner, Bruce Berra. In the spring of 2018, she organized a Woman’s Place reunion. She invited all the women she met and interviewed for the book. It gave her an opportunity to meet in person many women she had only spoken to by phone or through email.
“We were a family of sisters, bonding as women,” Duvall wrote.
“Finding A Woman’s Place”
By Lorraine Duvall
Bloated Toe Press, 2020, $20