The first “women’s group” that I was involved in was not born out of feminist theory or organized by intellectual women on campus. Rather it was in 1966 in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, and its members were poor African-American moms on welfare and thirtysomething (looking 50) Appalachian women, newly arrived from Kentucky and West Virginia.
Not much older than me, many of the women in the group provided physical testament to the possible effects of multiple childbirths while young and poor. The work of the group ranged from food co-ops to welfare reform, from rent strikes to learning to read. The impetus for the group, however, was a clear-eyed view that welfare was a “women’s issue,” and the need – among the Appalachian women in particular – for protection and camaraderie in the face of their husbands’ explosive anger upon learning that “their” women were seeking information about birth control from government VISTA volunteers. Back then the outraged cry from men was not about “religious freedom,” but about male prerogative and the duties of women.