Project Update

Women’s Liberation Center listed to National Register of Historic Places

June 29, 2021

WOMEN’S LIBERATION CENTER
RECOGNIZED AS NATIONALLY-SIGNIFICANT
HISTORIC SITE

NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project research and advocacy leads to
listing of site connected to lesbian activism and herstory
on State and National Registers of Historic Places

NEW YORK, NY—Tuesday, June 29, 2021— The site of the Women’s Liberation Center, located at 243 West 20th Street from 1972 to 1987, has been listed on the New York State and National Registers of Historic Places. 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 Women’s Liberation Center was designated a New York City Individual Landmark in June 2019, following research and key advocacy by the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, in collaboration with key allies such as NYC Councilmember Corey Johnson. This latest designation speaks to the significance of the Women’s Liberation Center beyond New York City, to our state and national history.

Emily Kahn, consultant for the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project: “Listing the Women’s Liberation Center on the National Register of Historic Places recognizes the strong activism, community building, and empowerment of women and lesbians in New York City. Yet, by being listed under national level significance, the Women’s Liberation Center continues its legacy of championing for the representation of women’s and LGBT history and culture nationwide. Just as new feminist groups formed at the WLC, I hope that additional National Register listings honoring women, especially queer women, will emerge in the aftermath of the WLC’s listing. Special thanks are due to the site’s current tenant, Nontraditional Employment for Women, for their help completing this nomination during the pandemic and ongoing work to empower women!”

Erik Kulleseid, Commissioner of the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation: “We are proud to have our partners at the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project continue advancing listings on the New York State and National Registers. Their work is extraordinary; benefiting the much-deserved recognition of the history and accomplishments of our state’s LGBT+ communities and significant individuals. The Women’s Liberation Center increased the visibility of lesbians during the 1970s- and 80s-women’s liberation era and this designation pays tribute to the countless women who fought for equality historically and continue the movement today.”

Sarah Carroll, Chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission: “In 2019, the Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the Women’s Liberation Center for its role in the LGBTQ civil rights movement and listing on the National Register is an important recognition that reinforces the building’s historical and cultural significance.”

243 West 20th Street, the former location of the Women’s Liberation Center in (l) c. 2016. Credit: Christopher D. Brazee/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project; (r) c. 1980s. Courtesy NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission.

From the National Register nomination, completed by the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project: The Women’s Liberation Center (WLC) is significant under criterion A in the area of social history: LGBT and Women’s Rights as the first permanent advocacy space for women’s and lesbians’ organizations in New York City and as one of the earliest examples of a feminist gathering space nationwide. Founded in 1970 and relocated to 243 West 20th Street in 1972, the WLC served as a meetinghouse and a clearinghouse for grassroots, radical organizations associated with the women’s and lesbian liberation movements. Due to the ability of women of all backgrounds to gather and share ideas in this space, the WLC helped foster an increased acceptance of lesbians within the women’s liberation movement and illustrated the nationwide trend for lesbian organizations to operate out of women’s centers. The inclusion of multiple perspectives from diverse organizations helped to create a more radical version of feminism and affirmed the need for women’s spaces within male-dominated society.

Two prominent lesbian organizations — Lesbian Feminist Liberation and Lesbian Switchboard — developed at the WLC in the early 1970s to advocate for increased rights for and improved visibility of lesbians. In addition to serving as a pioneering women’s space, the WLC also helped to cultivate lesbian activism both within and separate from the general gay liberation movement, which often overlooked lesbian issues. By serving as an alternative to the general movement, the WLC provided women with increased autonomy to advocate for their own rights both inside of and separate from the gay liberation movement. The WLC set a precedent for other LGBT centers and activism spaces, showing how these centers could focus not only on the political but also on the social and cultural needs of LGBT individuals. Finally, the WLC fostered ongoing and increasing partnerships between feminists and lesbians, representing a departure from earlier tensions in the second-wave women’s liberation movement. Although the WLC closed in 1987, activists and organizations associated with the WLC have been influential in instituting women’s and gay rights into the political agenda of the state and the nation since.

The building is exceptionally significant under criterion exception G for its pivotal and sustaining involvement in numerous aspects of the second wave of the women’s liberation movement, for its early support of lesbian activism and gatherings at a time when the latter were shunned by other women’s and gay rights organizations, as the first permanent advocacy space for women’s and lesbians’ organizations in New York, and for its precedent setting advocacy of feminist gathering spaces nationwide. The building continues to serve as a space for women’s activities today. The period of significance captures the most significant and influential years of the group’s existence, beginning with its move into this building in 1972 and concluding when the group disbanded in 1987.