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The Women's Center

By Carol R. Sternhell

For eight days in early March, a Harvard-owned building-the Architectural Technology Workshop at 888 Memorial Drive-was held by about 100 militant women as a "Liberated Women's Center." Amidst rumors and threats of an imminent bust by police, the building was finally vacated March 15.

The building-part of the Treelands site slated for demolition to make room for more graduate student housing-was returned to the Graduate School of Design, where it houses two classes per week. The women, after a triumphant march through Cambridge, stepped up their two-year search for a suitable center.

Right now, negotiations are being completed on a $28,000 house near Central Square. The $9000 needed for down payment has already been donated anonymously.

Meanwhile, 888 Memorial Drive, a huge, barnlike building near Peabody Terrace, has been newly cleaned and painted over. Spray-panted slogans-"Welcome Sisters," "Free Ericka and Angela"-are gone from the walls; the only words over the door read "Hingham Knitting Company."

The actual seizure of the building-the culmination of a March 6 march commemorating International Women's Day-caught most of Harvard by surprise. Few of the 150 women on the march themselves knew of their eventual destination or could identify the organizers-a group of from eight to twenty members of local Women's Liocration groups.

The women's first statement, issued at 3 p. m. Saturday (March 6), declared "this liberated building a Women's Center where women from all over will be able to meet with each other, exchange ideas and feelings, and determine what we need to do together."

That evening the building was filled to crowding with women from Radcliffe, Bread and Roses, Gay Liocration, and other local groups. Supporters provided tables of food, mostly organic, and mattresses and blankets.

At 7:15 p. m. Saturday, Maurice Kilbridge, dean of the Graduate School of Design, issued his first statement, calling the seizure "unauthorized and unlawful." He said the women were subject to "grave dangers" because of inadequate plumbing and heating facilities.

Although the University kept the heat turned off during the entire period, the women managed to restore the plumbing facilities by Sunday afternoon.

By about 1 a. m. Sunday most of the women had left the building and gone home, leaving about three dozen to stay the night. By that afternoon, however, about 100 had again gathered to discuss further plans and tactics. Their 6 p. m. Sunday press release said. "The University has stated that this building is unavailable. We agree. This building now belongs to the women of this city."

During the afternoon meeting. Saundra Graham, president of the Riverside Planning Team-residents of the neighboring Riverside community who have been fighting Harvard for low-cost housing over the past two years-spoke with women at the Center.

The women later announced themselves in support of the Riverside Planning Team, and claimed to have Graham's support. Later in the week Graham denied any connection with the occupiers of the building, but by Friday appeared to have ironed out difficulties with the women.

Acting in unofficial capacity, Graham explained to the women that she had feared with their intervention the community would lose its role in negotiations with Harvard over low-income housing to be built on the Treelands site.

The demands issued by the women-formulated after Sunday afternoon's meeting-were:

That Harvard build low-income housing on this, the Treelands site, in accordance with the demands of the Riverside Community;

That Harvard provide a women's center to serve the needs of women of the Boston area;

That Harvard give us full use of this building, with full facilities (heat, plumbing, electricity), until it is necessary to tear it down in order to break ground for the Riverside low-income housing.

At this point rumors of an impending police bust were already circulating, although no University officials would make any statements or predictions.

Cambridge Mayor Alfred E. Vellucci appeared at the door of the building

Sunday afternoon and expressed concern over the lack of heat inside. "Whether they were right or wrong in taking over the building the health and welfare of some people is at stake here," he said.

The following day. Archibald Cox '34, professor of Law and University troubleshooter, said, "The University has no intention of allowing the occupants of the Architectural Technology Workshop to remain there. We are currently considering the most effective means of requiring occupants to leave if they do not leave voluntarily."

Cox declined to elaborate, but said, "I am very opposed to negotiating with outsiders who have unlawfully taken possession of a University building."

Meanwhile, the women inside the building were bracing for a long stay. Despite elaborate security precautions-the women posted 24-hour rotating guard duty at both front and back entrances and at an upstairs window-most of the energy inside was directed toward remaking the building into an actual women's center.

All walls were brightly painted and covered with slogans-"Power to the Imagination," "I am a lesbian and I am beautiful"-while food was cooked and music played. On the walls of one room set aside as a day-care center the ceiling was covered with suns, the walls with stripes, and the windows with stars.

Although morale within the Center was high, and solidarity a major goal throughout the week, the action drew some sharp criticism from women both within and without the building.

"I really feel that this whole thing is manipulative," one Radcliffe student said. "It's like a group of people went in there, then thought up their demands and said 'new you have to support us." Many other women complained that an intangible leadership had somehow chosen the building.

Early in the week several straight women who visited the Center complained of tensions between them and certain of the gay women there. Most of the straight women actually spending time in the building, however, spoke of the presence of gay women as one of the most positive aspects of the occupation.

"Gayness has become a political decision as well as a personal issue," one of them explained. "Gayness is a way of relating to the sexually and emotionally exploitative nature of our society.... At the Center, it feels like there is no such thing as gayness-there are just a lot of women who love one another."

Some Radcliffe students objected that 'the women are defending the action on a completely emotional basis." And one Radcliffe House resident said. "Most people here have enough doubts about one aspect of it or another-either gay relationships or the tactic, or the question of whether Harvard should provide a center-so that not many people can support it completely."

However, a supporting rally at Harvard Tuesday drew over 250 people, and petitions supporting the occupation-delivered Tuesday to Dean Dunlop-gathered many signatures.

Also Tuesday, Harvard obtained a "Jane Doe" injunction from Middle-sex Superior Court directing the women to vacate the building immediately. The women denied that the injunction-read to them outside the Center-had ever been served.

Almost a week later, the building occupation ended of its own accord-before the anticipated bust could take place. About 65 singing, chanting women left 888 Memorial Drive at 2:30 p.m. Monday, March 15.

Bust rumors had begun circulating from various sources around noon, although University officials later denied that any police action had been planned. "I know there was nothing going to happen today," Robert Tonis, Chief of University Police, said that night.

The women in the building, however-expecting a bust by MDC police at 2:30 p.m.-voted after a one-and-a-half hour meeting to leave the building as a group. They marched out the door in pairs, with faces painted and banners waving, and headed down Putnam Ave. toward the Square, where they were joined by 100 more chanting women.

As they left, they locked the door of the vacated Women's Center and hung a large paper banner reading "MDC: Sorry We Couldn't Be Here" draping the doorway. A small, hand-written letter in blue ball point was tacked on the building. The letter read:

Dear Cambridge Police, Harvard Cops, and MDC: We waited and waited but you never came. Where were you? Hope to see you in the near future. Keep up the good work. Yours in struggle, (signed) Jane Does 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

In a press statement read that afternoon Cox said that charges against the women would not be dropped. He declined to comment on what sort of court action was planned or whether steps had been taken to identify women in the building.

However, one source revealed that night that the University had hired a commercial photographer during the preceding week to take pictures for identification purposes, but obtained no usable photos. "According to Cox, they didn't get any pictures even a mother could recognize," the source said.

Court proceedings were later dropped for lack of evidence.

Meanwhile, as the police reclaimed the building, the women marched down Mass. Ave., spray painting cars, walls and sidewalks with the biological female symbol and liberation slogans. "The people are a great ocean-they cannot be contained" one banner read.

"We decided to leave the building so that the love and energy generated in the last eight days can be used toward further creation of a center for women rather than in the courtroom for legal hassles," their final press statement read.

At present, negotiations for the new center-a twelve-room house on Pleasant St.-are being completed.

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