overview

In the early 1970s, the Women’s Liberation Center was founded as an important meeting space for many women’s groups, including those that specifically served the lesbian community.

The Center operated here from 1972 to 1987.

Header Photo

Credit: Christopher D. Brazee/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2016.

On the Map

 
Photo Above

Jean O'Leary, founder of the Lesbian Feminist Liberation, speaks at the National Women's Conference, 1977. Photo by Bettye Lane. Courtesy of the Lesbian Herstory Archives.

History

The Women’s Liberation Center was a meeting and community space for numerous women’s organizations, including lesbian groups. Dances were also held here. The Center was originally located at 36 West 22nd Street from April 1970 until its move to this city-owned, former firehouse on West 20th Street in the summer of 1972. It appears that it was located in this building until 1987.

In 1973, Lesbian Feminist Liberation, a lesbian rights organization, began meeting here. The group, which had originally been the Lesbian Liberation Committee within the male-dominated Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), was founded a year earlier by Jean O’Leary. The group sought to bring attention to such issues as the difficulties divorced lesbian mothers faced in trying to keep custody of their children. It also worked to make lesbians more visible at political rallies and pride marches.

“We must dedicate our energies primarily to discovering ourselves and our special causes and acting as our own spokeswomen, to promoting ourselves everywhere, at all times, as lesbian women.”
Lesbian Feminist Liberation constitution

While headquartered at the Women’s Liberation Center, the group took part in a number of activist events in 1973. In August, for example, it led a 200-person demonstration – featuring a large lavender female dinosaur – at the American Museum of Natural History on Central Park West to protest the museum’s tendency to depict females of all species as subservient.

The Center was also home to the Lesbian Switchboard, an evening telephone service, from 1972 to 1987. The volunteer-staffed Switchboard provided counseling, referrals, and information about events and organizations of interest to the lesbian community. When this building underwent renovations in October 1987, the Switchboard moved to the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center (now the LGBT Community Center) in Greenwich Village. It would remain there until it closed in December 1997.

A 1973 New York Times article notes that the files of the Lesbian Lifespace Project were stored in the former firemen’s lockers, along with those of Radical Feminists, the Anti-Rape Group, and Older Women’s Liberation. It also mentions that the ground floor held the Food Conspiracy, which had previously been known as the Lesbian Food Conspiracy.

Courtesy of Making Gay History

Courtesy of Making Gay History

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