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Valley Women's Center records, 1971 - 1977 (Bulk: 1971-1972)
5 boxes (2 linear ft.)
Collection number: MS 383

Women's center. Founded in Northampton, Massachusetts, the VWC identified with radical feminism and provided a myriad of free services to women in the community, such as legal and educational resources; pregnancy counseling; vocational counseling; and support groups. The records reveal the inner workings of a local feminist organization at the height of women's liberation movement in the early 70s. Materials include correspondence, administrative records, histories, photographs, publications, and subject files.

Terms of Access and Use:

Restrictions on access:

The papers are open to research according to the regulations of the Sophia Smith Collection.

Restrictions on use:

The copyright owner of this collection is unknown. It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyrights. Permission to publish reproductions or quotations beyond "fair use" must also be obtained from the Sophia Smith Collection as owners of the physical property.

Sophia Smith Collection
Smith College
Northampton, MA

Biographical Note

March 26, 1971 marked the founding of the Valley Women's Center (VWC) in Northampton, Massachusetts. It evolved from an Amherst women's liberation group consisting of 75 members to a non-profit corporation catering to the needs of women in the whole Pioneer Valley. Initially, its main purpose was to inform women about legal and educational means to improve their lives. Men were not permitted to be members of the organization. Pat Sackrey, Smith '71, started the VWC and Nancy Greenman, Smith '69, was the group coordinator.

The VWC identified itself with radical feminism, scorning the National Organization of Women (NOW) for encouraging women to obtain positions of power in a patriarchal society as opposed to dismantling the patriarchy. It also allied itself with Third World causes and political battles. In addition, VWC members were among the first to address rape as a political issue.

The VWC office was staffed by volunteers and it had an open library with archival material about the women's movement. The office was open daily and two evenings per week, offering a myriad of free services to women. For example, there was a free store on the premises where one person could donate items in exchange for someone else's donated goods. In 1971, the VWC began sponsoring welfare rights programs and vocational counseling. It also offered pregnancy counseling, its most used-service. The VWC organized classes in self-defense, auto mechanics, writing, art, women's studies and health, and sponsored lectures and discussions about feminism. The organization also facilitated support groups for women. The film co-op enabled women to create films about their own experience, as well as to come to the office to watch films about women.

In 1971, the VWC proposed to create the Women's Institute. Had it become a reality, its components would have included a group home for delinquent girls, designed to teach them independence and self-reliance; an artisan colony providing women artists "a room of their own;" and apprenticeships for women in skills programs in such traditionally gender-segregated fields as carpentry and truck driving. The Women's Institute would have supported research in women's history, in addition to developing child care services and an experimental school.

In 1973, the VWC began to face financial difficulties due to its non-profit status. The Center was chronically understaffed and the group had a difficult time coordinating child care for members who were interested in volunteering their time. Racism was also a concern since few African-American women were active in the group. The membership of lesbians, who had always been an active force in the organization, dwindled due to the later admittance of men to the working groups. These two issues caused internal conflict and declining membership.

After much thought and debate the group determined that offering free services to women did not necessarily persuade the women receiving the services to participate in the women's movement. Thus the VWC dissolved in November, 1973 and a new organization, the Valley Women's Union (VWU), was formed. The VWU occupied the same space as that of the VWC, at 200 Main Street, Northampton. The VWU was more structured, and members were required to agree to socialist/feminist political principles and to take part in political actions. The political ideal envisioned in 1974/1975 was a Marxist revolution with no couples permitted, men being bussed off to labor camps, society having universal child care, and everyone trading job duties to avoid alienation and class privilege. One example of VWU political involvement was the "women in prison" work group, formed to protest women being held in jail. This group was active in supporting the campaign to free Angela Davis. To mitigate the alienation of lesbian members, a series of talks was held about sexual orientation and heterosexual privilege. The VWU also created a "lesbian garden," a space above the main office for lesbians only. Moreover, men were excluded from general membership.

Although the Valley Women's Center faced a number of difficulties, as a result of its pioneering work a plethora of organizations were founded to provide the services that it had originally offered. The VWC was an integral component of the women's liberation movement in the Pioneer Valley.

Scope and contents of the collection

The records of the Valley Women's Center consist of 2 linear feet and date from 1971 to 1973. There is also a small amount of Valley Women's Union material, dating from 1973 to 1976, although the bulk of VWU records are held by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. They provide excellent documentation of how a group of local feminists organized at the grassroots level to address a wide range of problems particular to women, as well as the struggle to resolve internal conflicts and differences of opinion. The energy and optimism of the women's liberation movement in the early 1970s is almost palpable, as are the frustrations when the organization begins to encounter difficulties. The VWC's efforts to grapple with the political and economic realities of the times are also well documented. Types of material include correspondence, minutes of meetings, daily logs, photographs, publications, and project proposals.

Organization of the collection

This collection is organized into five series:

  • I. Administration
  • II. Correspondence
  • III. Publications
  • IV. Projects
  • V. Subjects

Information on Use
Terms of Access and Use
Restrictions on access:

The papers are open to research according to the regulations of the Sophia Smith Collection.

Restrictions on use:

The copyright owner of this collection is unknown. It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyrights. Permission to publish reproductions or quotations beyond "fair use" must also be obtained from the Sophia Smith Collection as owners of the physical property.

Preferred Citation

Please use the following format when citing materials from this collection:

Valley Women's Center Records, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Mass.

History of the Collection

The officers of the corporation began donating the records of the Valley Women's Center in 1971 and continued through 1977.

Processing Information

Processed by Burd Schlessinger, 1998.

Additional Information
Contact Information
Smith College Special Collections
Young Library
4 Tyler Drive
Northampton, MA 01063

Phone: (413) 585-2970
Fax: (413) 585-2886

Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Series Descriptions
1971-1974, undated
.5 linear feet

SERIES I. ADMINISTRATION consists of the organization's charter and by-laws, minutes of staff meetings, memoranda, and photographs. It also contains daily logs, which are of particular interest in that they document all visitors to the VWC and the activities that took place there, as well as all inquiries and requests for help and information via telephone, from the VWC's inception in 1971 to its dissolution in November 1973. The memoranda and minutes of staff meetings of both the Valley Women's Center and the Valley Women's Union illustrate the issues and difficulties that this group of women faced as they sought to define their goals and their function in the women's liberation movement. The series also contains several histories of the organization, or "progress reports," written from time to time by Valley Women's Center staff members.

1971-1974, undated
.5 linear feet

SERIES II. CORRESPONDENCE is arranged chronologically and consists primarily of letters to the VWC from the general public, and from the staff to like-minded individuals and organizations in an effort to network and to seek funding for various projects and services; there is also a small amount of VWU correspondence. This series also contains responses to a questionnaire sent out to women on the mailing list in 1972; the responses are arranged alphabetically by surname.

1971-1977, undated
.25 linear feet

SERIES III. PUBLICATIONS contains newsletters and brochures for both the Valley Women's Center and the Valley Women's Union. Submissions, galley proofs and published copies of The Woman's Journal, published in 1971 and 1972 and featuring the writings of local women, are also included.

1971-1972, undated
.5 linear feet

Material relating to projects and services designed to benefit women comprises SERIES IV. PROJECTS. The records of the Women's Institute, a proposed sub-organization that would have administered a residential community for women and girls at the recently abandoned Lancaster Industrial Home for Girls in Boston, may be of particular interest.

1971, undated
.25 linear feet

The final series, SUBJECTS, contains printed material relating to local, state and national political issues.

Contents List
1971-1974, undated

Charter and by-laws

Box 1: folder 1

Box 1: folder 2
Memoranda to members

Box 1: folder 3
Minutes of staff meetings

Box 1: folder 4

Box 1: folder 5
Public relations

Press releases
1971-73, undated

Box 1: folder 6

Box 1: folder 7
Daily logs

Dec 1971 - Sep 1972

Box 1: folder 8-17
Oct 1972 - Nov 1973

Box 2: folder 1-11
Valley Women's Union: memoranda and minutes of staff meetings
Nov 1973 - Jan 1974, undated

Box 2: folder 12
1971-1974, undated

1970-74, undated

Box 3: folder 1-12
Questionnaire, A-Z

Box 3: folder 13-14
1971-1977, undated

Newsletters and brochures

Valley Women's Center
1970-73, undated

Box 4: folder 1
Valley Women's Union

Box 4: folder 2
The Woman's Journal

Correspondence and editorial material
1971, undated

Box 4: folder 3
Vol. 1, No. 2

Published copies,
Fall 1971

Box 4: folder 4
Galley proof,

Box 4: folder 5

Box 4: folder 6
Vol. 1, No. 3

Published copies,
Dec 1971

Box 4: folder 7
Galley proof,

Box 4: folder 8
Vol. 1, No. 4

Published copy,
Mar 1972

Box 4: folder 9

Box 4: folder 10
Vol. 2, No. 1: "Women Against War,"
Aug 1972

Box 4: folder 11
Miscellaneous submissions

Box 4: folder 12-13
1971-1972, undated

Auto mechanics course

Box 4: folder 14
Community health clinic

Box 4: folder 15
Counseling services

Box 4: folder 16
Sexism in the schools

Box 4: folder 17
Women in the arts

Box 4: folder 18
Women in prisons

Box 4: folder 19
Working Conference on the Women's Movement, sponsored by the Valley Women's Union, UMass-Amherst,
January 24-27, 1974

Restrictions on access:

[Original tapes closed - use copies must be made]

Valley Women's Union workshop

Box 4: folder 20
Community Organizing workshop

Box 4: folder 20
Lesbian Feminism

Box 4: folder 20
Union of Third World Women workshop

[use copy available]

Box 4: folder 20
Women's Institute

Correspondence, incorporation documents, and lists of board members
1971-72, undated

Box 4: folder 21
Press release and clippings
1972, undated

Box 4: folder 22
Request for sponsorship to Committee on Five College Cooperation

Box 4: folder 23
Notes on proposal
1972, undated

Box 4: folder 24
Proposal outlines

Box 4: folder 25
Proposal drafts


Box 4: folder 26

Box 5: folder 1
Fragments of proposal drafts

Box 5: folder 2
Notes on work allocation

Box 5: folder 3
Action group minutes
Sep 1971 - May 1972

Box 5: folder 4
Financial information


Box 5: folder 5
1972, undated

Box 5: folder 6
Group home plan
1971, undated

Box 5: folder 7
Lancaster Industrial Home for Girls

Proposal for Women's Institute to take over the facility,

Box 5: folder 8

Box 5: folder 9
Media programs: Notes and financial information

Box 5: folder 10
Orientation material

Box 5: folder 11
Individual and small group projects

Box 5: folder 12
Miscellaneous material
1971, undated

Box 5: folder 13
1971, undated


Box 5: folder 14
Feminism and women's liberation

Box 5: folder 15
Women's activities in the Pioneer Valley

Box 5: folder 16

Box 5: folder 17
Forging a New Political and Cultural Identity: Socialist Feminism in the Valley Women's Union, Northampton, Massachusetts by Patric A. Whitcomb
11 May 1998

Box 5: folder 18
Cassette tape, interview with Ann Ferguson, taken by Patric A. Whitcomb
21 April 1998

Box 5
Pat Sackrey (aka Patricia Lee Lewis): anecdotes

[2 original audio cassette tapes; 2 use copies]


Box 5: folder 19
"Confidential Report to the N.O.W. Governing Board on the Activities of the Socialist Workers Party and the Young Socialist Alliance,"

Box 5: folder 20
"Theory of Feminism From a Class Perspective," by Zillah Eisenstein: audiocassette

Box 5: folder 21

Search Terms
The following terms represent persons, organizations, and topics documented in this collection. Use these headings to search for additional materials on this web site, in the Five College Library Catalog, or in other library catalogs and databases.

  • Feminism--Massachusetts--History--20th century--Sources
  • Feminists--Northampton (Mass.)--History--20th century--Sources
  • Northampton (Mass.)--History--20th century--Sources
  • Valley Women's Center (Northampton, Mass.)--History--Sources
  • Women--Societies and clubs--United States--History--20th century--Sources

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