Lorraine Duvall’s new book – Finding A Woman’s Place: The Story of a 1970s Feminist Collective in the Adirondacks – is reviewed by Timothy Miller, Professor Emeritus, Religious Studies, University of Kansas, author of numerous books on intentional communities, including The Encyclopedic Guide to American Intentional Communities; The Quest for Utopia in the Twentieth-Century America, Volume I: 1900–1960; The 60s Communes: Hippies and Beyond.
“It’s an excellent book, and Duvall’s engaging way of writing kept me turning the pages.”
The 1960s era (late 1960s, early 1970s) saw many social upheavals, among them activism against the war in Vietnam, a new wave of feminism, and the countercultural explosion epitomized by the catchphrase “sex, drugs, and rock and roll.” One part of the era’s passion was a surge in back-to-the-land yearnings that resulted in the founding of thousands of intentional communities, the greatest such outpouring in American history.
Among those communities were many dozens, likely over a hundred, of women-only enclaves. Although all- or mostly-female communities had existed earlier, the new women’s communes were a major but often little-noticed part of the 1960s-era communal scene–little noticed in part because they often deliberately tried to maintain low profiles. They offered refuge for women driven to escape patriarchal oppression and often served as centers for consciousness-raising workshops and other feminist gatherings and projects.
The largest numbers of women’s communities were in the American West, especially the Pacific Northwest, but others were scattered throughout the country. Lorraine Duvall’s new book, Finding A Woman’s Place: The Story of a 1970s Feminist Collective in the Adirondacks, provides a detailed account of A Woman’s Place, a small but influential community in Athol, New York. Duvall’s research for the book was exhaustive; she combed feminist and regional archives and traveled extensively to track down and interview women who had lived or visited there, as well as neighbors who had observed the community during its eight years of existence. The storyline of the book artfully combines the history of AWP with the story of Duvall’s search for that history.
The book tells its story evenly. Although Duvall obviously has great fondness for the place she chronicles, she keeps her depiction of it balanced. Not every part of the story is pretty: there are interpersonal conflicts (has any intentional community not had those?), problems with the property, especially in the thirty-below Adirondack winter, and hard decisions (as with most feminist communes, letting single mothers bring their male children with them was an ongoing bone of contention). Financial shortfalls were a severe, ongoing disaster. But the dedication of an evolving group of women kept AWP open for eight years, until exhaustion and the ever-present funding struggle brought it to an end in 1982.
Duvall’s writing flows beautifully and keeps one reading. She weaves her personal story artfully with that of the community. Intentional communities are powered by ideals, and the idealism of AWP is presented on every page of the book. We all owe Lorraine Duvall a debt of gratitude for the enormous effort and talent she has given her readers.