The Outreach Newspaper of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union
By Christine R. Riddiough and Margaret Schmid
The Chicago Women’s Liberation Union was formed in 1969 and played a leading role in the women’s liberation movement in Chicago during much of the 1970s. Throughout its history the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union advanced a sweeping vision of a new era for women. Not limited to issues of legal equality, the CWLU envisioned a society free of sexism in education, the family, the media, employment, health care, and all areas of social life. CWLU organizing was done with a clear focus on this overarching vision and also with emphasis on continual outreach. WOMANKIND, an early CWLU project, was started in order to communicate the CWLU vision to women who were not already involved in women’s liberation.
WOMANKIND was started by the CWLU in September 1971 because the organization “…felt there was a crying need for a paper whose function would be to reach women who were not already in the women’s liberation movement.’ A letter sent out by the WOMANKIND work group described its intended audience as “… women who have heard a lot of different things about the women’s liberation movement, who don’t know exactly what to think about it, who want to find out more.”
Prior to the launching of WOMANKIND, the CWLU had published a monthly CWLU News for its membership, which continued. However, it was recognized early on that this internal newsletter was not effective in introducing women to the women’s movement. Because CLUW activists were intensely interested in discovering ways to more effectively spread the word about women’s liberation and how it could empower and liberate women, this was recognized as a serious problem. Both an April 1971 membership conference and the CWLU Steering Committee endorsed the idea of a “mass newspaper” (e.g., WOMANKIND) to be published by a CWLU work group represented on the Steering Committee and responsive to Steering Committee direction.
What Was WOMANKIND?
The first issue of WOMANKIND came out in September 1971. It was published monthly (except in August) through November 1973. In keeping with the CWLU’s vision, it included articles about a broad range of topics: sex, oppression on the job, the economy, breast cancer, fixing a car, the war (the war in Vietnam was then raging), lesbians and gays. It also included a calendar of woman-related events, comments on the news, information about Chicago’s women’s movement, and CWLU events such as the CWLU Liberation School.
The ambitious scope of hoped-for content and the sweeping interconnections seen by these CWLU activists between women’s liberation and all aspects of society can be seen from an early memo from the WOMANKIND work group reading: “Here are some ideas we’ve had as to what we would like to see in the newspaper:
- Articles on the connections between “women’s issues” and everything else (e.g., housing, welfare, the war.)
- Articles about women in different situations (different workplaces, the home)
- Something about the women’s movement in other locales (to take advantage of the experience and knowledge of women who travel or who attend conferences)
- Political education articles on something concerning the CWLU
- Articles describing Union projects or chapters (the trials and tribulations of rap groups)
- Articles about children (e.g., what do you say when….?, childcare arrangements, schools)
- A section on sexuality (e.g., attitudes, “male” expectations, shared problems, aggressiveness, birth control, abortion, monogamy, gayness)
- A calendar with information about a variety of activities going on in the women’s movement and some other movement activities
- Articles by and about high school women; how-to-do-it articles; a health and nutrition section; reviews of movies, TV, TV commercials; reprints from other publications (if especially good); a possible good phone numbers section.
- And classified ads, cartoons, graphics, photographs.”
Deciding on WOMANKIND’s Content
WOMANKIND was produced by a CWLU work group that extensively discussed what articles to include. In keeping with CWLU’s anti-elitist and participatory ethos, rather than having a small editorial staff or single editor determining what would be published, the work group as a whole decided what to include. As noted in an article produced by the WOMANKIND work group, such discussions could be intense:
To illustrate how we talk about issues in an outreach paper [WOMANKIND], two good examples are lesbianism and the economy. Our first issue had nothing on gay women. We received a letter of criticism for that from a gay woman not involved in our organization. It initiated some very good discussion on how we were going to talk about lesbianism in WOMANKIND. We did not think it appropriate to cover it from the point of view of the continuing struggle between gay and straight women in the women’s movement and between gay liberation women and women’s movement women. Our reasoning was that the discussion was one internal to the women’s movement that should be thoroughly discussed in all publications directed to women’s movement women, and that what we should print in WOMANKIND would be those positions, ideas and understandings that result from the internal discussions. It took us until our third issue to have an article on lesbians. We reprinted LESBIANS AS BOGEYWOMEN and also published two personal raps by women in the work group, one straight and one gay. We took this approach because we see WOMANKIND being used basically by those women who have had only media contact with both women’s liberation and gay liberation. We see flaws in how we deal with the issue of lesbianism. First, there are still times when the gay women in the work group have to criticize the straight women for leaving them out… in our “Who We Are” blurb, in an editorial on the inter-relations of different oppressions. At times it shows that the issue of lesbianism, while not forgotten by us, is not well integrated into our perspective.
We have had several articles on the current economic crisis. We feel that it is crucial to explain what is happening and to talk about our analysis (socialist) in such a way that the women reading WOMANKIND can internalize it (go beyond rhetoric). The first step in this process is for us to internalize it. A problem that we see in our coverage of this topic and others is the fine line between not spouting rhetoric and being afraid to use words like revolutionary or communist when that is what we really mean.”
Another example from a fall 1971 issue of CWLU News, an internal publication for CWLU members, concerned electoral politics. Under the heading “ELECTORAL POLITICS???” came a short report including the following:
The WOMANKIND work group work group has begun discussing the question of electoral politics, specifically because we want to discuss electoral issues such as the National Women’s Political Caucus and Shirley Chisolm in the paper. Our first discussion brought out a number of different viewpoints, such as:
- it is ultra-leftist not to vote at all,
- voting doesn’t make that much difference in real power distribution anyway,
- a strong women’s vote, e.g., for Chisolm, would advance the cause of women’s rights,
- such a vote would divide the support for the least repressive candidates thus assuring that those farther right will be elected.
The results of these intense discussions varied. As these examples show, the CWLU and the WOMANKIND work group specifically made no small plans, but instead sought to rethink, reshape and remake what had been, to date, the accepted view of society and the world, and women’s position and power in it.
A Look at Sample WOMANKIND Issues
A look at the contents of three issues of WOMANKIND, September 1971, the first issue, September 1972, and September 1973, near the end, will illustrate the kinds of topics included and a sense of the approaches taken.
The first issue of WOMANKIND, September 1971, had a black and white cover with multiple drawings of diverse women.
- Page 2 promoted the CWLU’s newly established Liberation School for women, about to offer its first session.
- Page 3 focused on the Action Committee for Decent Childcare, a CWLU-lead project that used direct action tactics to pressure the City of Chicago to revise rules concerning the licensing of childcare centers so as to facilitate the opening of a broader range of safe and affordable centers.
- Page 4 was devoted entirely to a poem about a woman in prison, “prison didn’t improve me none.”
- Page 5 contained an article about women in Cook County jail (it was not related to CWLU), as well as an article about the oppression of high school students, especially women.
- Pages 6-7 contained an analysis of what has typically been seen as women’s work and how it has changed over time, including an investigation of the impact of technology as well as gender. A portion of page 7 included a debate as to whether women’s liberation should be involved in politics.
- Pages 8 – 9 offered “Up Against the Economy”, an analysis of the U.S. economy, and how it benefits the few.
- Pages 10-11 “....and Jill Came Tumbling Down” discussed how stereotypical sex roles that limit and oppress women are transmitted through child rearing practices, toys, books, and the like.
- Pages 12 – 14 contained a lengthy interview with a Menominee Indian woman, mother of six children and on ADC (Aid to Dependent Children, a program long since discontinued), and her struggles along with others from her community to find housing.
- Page 15 was a continuation of earlier articles, as were pages 18-19.
- Pages 16-17 contained a calendar of future, CWLU and other women-related events. Page 19 also included a note on the formation of the ACLU Women’s Rights committee.
- Page 20, the back, included three features that became standard: Who we are; What is CWLU; Why WOMANKIND, as well as a subscription blank.
By September 1972, the size of the paper used had been increased, yielding many more column inches of newsprint per page. On its cover were photos of three relatively young white women secretaries at their desks.
- Pages 2 and 3 were devoted to what had become a standard feature “Chicago Women Are Moving,” an aptly named feature with information on CWLU and non-CWLU activities including:
- the Edgewater and Evanston Women’s Centers;
- expanded pregnancy testing services provided by CWLU;
- the up-coming session of the CWLU Liberation School;
- a notice about the Chicago Women’s film co-op;
- an article about how the CWLU project D.A.R.E. (Direction Action for Rights in Employment) was working with City Hall janitresses to help them gain equal rights on the job;
- “Free the Abortion Seven,” a piece in support of seven women arrested for performing abortion or conspiracy to perform abortion (their cases were ultimately dropped);
- a notice that the CWLU-related Chicago Women’s Rock Band has released a record;
- a piece promoting the new CLUW Rape Crisis line and noting plans for other anti-rape work.
- Pages 4-5 included another now-standard features, “Looking at the News,” which the WOMANKIND workgroup used to comment on news it deemed important, including in this issue:
- Information on lead poisoning from old paint, especially among children;
- Attitude changes among younger women;
- Criticism of inadequate numbers of caseworkers in Chicago and the adverse impact on families in need;
- A look at changing divorce rates;
- A report on the then-current U.S. Supreme Court of U.S. abortion law (this prior to the Roe v. Wade decision);
- Information on Nixon’s price freeze and its impact on grocery prices.
- Page 6 was devoted to a report on a trip to Vietnam by an American delegation written by a Chicago (but not CWLU) woman who took part;
- Page 7 contained an analysis by a woman who worked as a secretary of secretarial work as contentless, degrading, and humiliating for women, followed by
- Pages 8 – 10, an article by a secretary recounting her success in organizing a union for secretaries in her office and, on page 10, a poem “I see you ma” about an older secretary with three children to support.
- Page 11 discussed the impact of children’s books on sex roles plus making recommendations of three children’s books that, atypically, did not promote standard sex role stereotypes.
- Page 11 also had an informational panel on voter registration, who is eligible, how to register.
- Page 12 had a full page article on how the law and police practices further harm and demean women who are rape victims.
- Page 13 “Nixon and Union Leaders: Let’s Make a Deal” took a critical look at the AFL-CIO “neutrality” in the Nixon/McGovern president election, and at how the Nixon administration assisted favored unions through policies, targeted lawsuits, and the like.
- Page 14 was a full page of poetry by women.
- Page 15 contained the calendar of women-related events.
- Page 16, the back page, contained the standard pieces Who we are; What is CWLU; Why WOMANKIND, as well as a subscription blank.
The cover of the Sept 1973 featured a colorful announcement of the start of the abortion referral service run by the CWLU project HERS (Health Evaluation and Referral Service).
- On page 2-3, the “Chicago Women Are Moving” section included:
- Information about the CWLU Speaker’s Bureau;
- An piece about the (non-CWLU related) Black Maria feminist literary quarterly;
- An announcement of the fall session of the CWLU Liberation School;
- Information about the Legal Clinic for women;
- A list of local facilities performing abortions including helpful information about costs, hurdles, etc. (this in the wake of the Roe v. Wade decision but in the face of lots of on-the-ground resistance to implementation);
- A report on “Women Tossed out of [Chicago City Council] Rape Hearing,”
- An announcement of the up-coming U.S. China Friendship Day’
- An advertisement for CWLU Graphics Collective posters, including black and white depictions of some of the posters.
- The standard feature “Looking at the News” on pages 2-3 included:
- Portuguese feminist writers charged;
- Textile union victory in South Carolina;
- A humorous barb aimed at Nixon (not related to women);
- Australian women protest churches anti-abortion stand;
- State Street protest March against rising prices, high taxes, job discrimination (CWLU took part);
- Lesbian health activist refused re-entry to U.S.;
- Another swipe at Nixon (related to his treatment of veteran reporter Helen Thomas);
- An article on the rising prices for chicken and eggs and how that relates to Nixon’s policies.
- Page 6 was devoted to a full page cartoon strip about high school and women students.
- Page 7 covered D.A.R.E. efforts to help two women use governmental agencies to fight job discrimination.
- Pages 8-9 discussed the scope of CWLU health programs for women, CWLU informational and referral services, and analyzed anti-women attitudes and practices in the medical profession.
- Page 10 contained “Mom on the Hook,” discussing the insecurities of being a mother and all of the societal factors that help create them.
- Page 11 covered a D.A.R.E. speech at a union rally supporting the Farah (clothing worker) strike, a picture of young women strikers, and a piece promoting unions as a means to assist women in the workplace.
- Pages 12-13 discussed and promoted opposition to the Vietnam war.
- Page 14 was devoted to an open letter believed to be from the women in the Weather Underground.
- Page 15 contained a statement of CWLU beliefs and a list of CWLU programs.
- The back page, page 16, discussed the Farmworkers Union boycott of non-union lettuce and grapes and encouraged support.
Analysis of this list of articles shows the emphasis on projects that would immediately help women improve and take charge of their lives whether through education (ex: Liberation School, Speaker’s Bureau, WOMANKIND itself), service (pregnancy testing, abortion counseling and later abortion referral, legal clinic), direct action (ACDC, D.A.R.E.), or the creation of “women’s culture” to support and nourish creative, non-sexist modes of community celebration (Women’s Rock Bank, Graphics Collective).
Another way to look at the ideas and information contained in the three plus years of the CWLU’s WOMANKIND is to look at the topics discussed and the frequency of their discussion in that time period. This review showed that the significant majority of articles (beyond things such as the monthly calendar and information on scheduling a speaker, signing up for Liberation School, or subscribing to WOMANKIND) fell into these categories:
- Sexuality: articles on lesbians and lesbianism; lesbian rights; the CWLU-related legal clinic’s assistance on lesbian rights cases; rape; the CWLU Rape Crisis Line.
- Reproduction: abortion, including abortion counseling and abortion referral; pregnancy and the CWLU pregnancy testing service; the CWLU HERS (Health Evaluation and Referral Service); birth and birth control; the Chicago Maternity Center.
- Production: analyses of the U.S. economy and how it impacts women; sex discrimination on the job; secretaries; the CWLU D.A.R.E. (Direct Action for Rights in Employment) project; analysis of unions as a resource to help women in the workplace (or, in some cases, not); how women are tracked into “women’s work”
- Socialization of children: articles on how sex roles limiting females are transmitted through child-rearing practices, books, toys, etc.; how society constructs the responsibilities of motherhood; children and childcare; the CWLU project ACDC (Action Committee for Decent Childcare); divorce.
Those familiar with the feminist literature from the era of the CWLU will recognize these categories as taken from the so-called “Juliet Mitchell Chart” from Mitchell’s article, Women:The Longest Revolution which the CWLU utilized as a guide for analyzing its program and planning future initiatives. As the CWLU used it, the Mitchell chart looked like this:
The CWLU did start out with the Mitchell chart as an organizational guide, and it is highly likely that most CWLU activists never read the article. However, as time went on and CWLU activists worked to develop a coherent approach to CWLU program and theory, the Mitchell chart both helped give order to CWLU work and suggest areas for future development.
Beyond this core set, other topics received much attention in WOMANKIND as well, including:
- Education: discussion of how the American system of education tracks women into limited jobs, marriage, and motherhood;
- Women as consumers: how marketing, media, education, and economic policies shape women’s shopping behavior and available choices;
- Women’s culture: a focus on the CWLU Women’s Liberation Band as well as articles about women’s literary magazines;
- Women of color in the United States and women in other countries: coverage of women fighting for equal rights in the American African American community and in other countries; and finally
- Articles criticizing the U.S. war in Vietnam.
In keeping with the initial heady emphasis in the women’s movement – certainly in the CWLU - on expanding women’s skills and knowledge and developing self-confidence, the WOMANKIND work group produced the newspaper in-house from start to finish, including producing the plates and running the press. In the words of the work group itself:
We do all the work of putting it out ourselves… soliciting and writing articles, and the printing. We are trying to distribute the technical skills evenly. We rotate responsibilities (like layout, co-ordinator, collating party organizer, mail answerer) every few issues. We make decisions as to what goes into the paper collectively. We try to have as much political discussion as possible – about the paper, the Union as a whole and the movement in general. We all really love working on WOMANKIND and find it fulfilling in ways we had not experienced before.
Because WOMANKIND was launched to do outreach, issues related to distribution were central and ongoing. The importance of this was underscored by the fact that producing the paper was, of course, not free, even though many hours of free labor went into each issue.
The CWLU generally teetered on the edge of insolvency, although it maintained a (low rent) office and had (poorly) paid staff, and so it could not directly underwrite the costs of WOMANKIND. Thus, the WOMANKIND work group had to continually address the issue of funding the WOMANKIND operation, including not only printing but mailing and incidental expenses as well, along with the task of increasing distribution to its desired readers.
CWLU members and others were urged to subscribe at $4 per year (a subscription blank was a regular feature of each issue) with a modicum of success. The work group communicated with other women’s groups and centers around the country, offering WOMANKIND at bulk rates ($.15 per copy in July 1972) for distribution of 25 copies or more, again with a modicum of success. The work group made arrangements with women’s centers on Chicago’s north side, in Evanston, and on Chicago’s south side to offer WOMANKIND for sale. Free copies of WOMANKIND were made available in the Loop YWCA and at two locations run by progressive political groups with which the CWLU had good relationships. The WOMANKIND work group wrote to women’s groups on college campuses suggesting that they ask their campus libraries to subscribe.
Further, in that era of still-plentiful local bookstores, the work group was able to arrange for as many as 30 copies of WOMANKIND to be offered for sale each month at twenty-four Chicago bookstore locations including several university bookstores, with a fair amount of success in terms of issues sold. As another measure of the work group’s ambitions for broad distribution, the work group even reached out albeit unsuccessfully to see if it could arrange for WOMANKIND to be distributed through a large commercial company that distributed newspapers and magazines throughout the city.
Several months after WOMANKIND was launched, the WOMANKIND work group noted that
Being a very new paper, our distribution is not all that we want it to be. Our goal is to be a combination of a subscription newspaper and a newspaper used by the CWLU as an organizing tool. We have over 100 subscriptions as of now (Nov., 1971). The CWLU uses the paper in all its outreach: Liberation School, speaking engagements, with women who use our abortion counseling service, at citywide meetings, citywide conferences and some of the chapters of the Union use it in their neighborhood and institutional work. Several of the women in the work group have taken papers to their high schools or to their offices. We’ve done street selling downtown to reach secretaries and clerks and we usually try to take it to marches and rallies even when they are sponsored by people that we have political differences with. We have put it in many bookstores and organization offices, but that is not a part of distribution that we emphasize.
After nearly a year of publication, the WOMANKIND work group indicated initial success in a written report (July 1972):
WOMANKIND has sold well on the streets (when we’ve tried) and at meetings. Street selling at places as varied as in the Loop and at an Edgewater shopping center have gone especially well. Women (and some men) seem usually to be interested in the existence of a “women’s newspaper” and the fact that the CWLU has real activities, centers, and projects which people can tie into and which are discussed makes the paper itself more interesting to women, and leads to easier sales.
In addition, though we don’t quite know how this has happened, occasional contacts with women from outside the city show that WKMD is known and liked in other places, Milwaukee, for example. While we have never seen areas beyond the Chicago area as priority, it seems important that the paper is known and liked to some extent beyond Chicago.
Feedback we have gotten indicates that WOMANKIND interests many kinds of women – office workers, junior college women, youth culture women, other movement women, four year college women, housewives. From what we can tell, we feel that the paper is successful in its basic aim of being an outreach, educational paper about the women’s movement, coming out of a political perspective which emphasizes the relationships between sexism, capitalism, racism, and imperialism. While the content, layout, etc., can (of course) be improved, our basic problem seems very clearly to be distribution. We believe that our experience so far has shown that WOMANKIND has a good sale potential, and that improved distribution will show real results quickly.
Despite these initial positive signs, distribution was always a problem, and a variety of proposals were made to address it. In October 1972, for example, the WOMANKIND work group proposed that each members of a CWLU chapter or work group sell five copies per month. By 1973, in yet another attempt to resolve the issue, it was decided that CWLU steering committee members themselves each would receive a set number of copies of WOMANKIND each month, with the charge to sell them and bring the money to the steering committee in the next month. Not surprisingly, this too failed to resolve the on-going distribution problems.
Tensions: Time, Money, Political Direction
Distribution continued to lag far behind work group (and CWLU) hopes. Work group members’ vows to spend more efforts on distribution did not produce significant results. As work group members continued to focus on the problem, one of the original and still active members of the work group to write a memo to the entire group saying:
It seems to me that we should now evaluate the way in which we as a work group are using our resources (mainly time, but also money) and also the kinds of goals which we have in practice chosen to stress as opposed to those which we are in practice minimizing. For me, this general discussion came up in connection with our production methods – i.e., making our own plates and doing our own printing – methods which save us a lot of money and cost a lot of time, and which represent a choice of emphasizing acquiring skills and consciousness for ourselves at the cost of doing more distribution (selling in supermarkets, Laundromats, in the Loop, etc.)….
…It is easy to fall into our current pattern – the newspaper is a concrete, immediate product, and it is very satisfying to work on it and to make it good. Acquiring new skills is fulfilling and confidence-building, also very satisfying and important. But it is not clear that we are in fact getting outreach circulation, and in my mind that is the reason for WOMANKIND’s existence….
Stemming from the on-going analyses, the WOMANKIND work group itself developed a proposal to make major changes by reducing the number of women in the work group from eleven to six; shifting responsibility for writing WOMANKIND articles from the work group to other CWLU work groups and chapters; instituting regular CWLU Steering Committee review and criticism of WOMANKIND in order to ensure a closer connection between the outreach newspaper and the political priorities of the organization as a whole; and making distribution the responsibility of all CWLU members.
Internal Divisions Within CWLU
Despite this proposal and the subsequent reduction in the number of women in the WOMANKIND work group as proposed, questions persisted over the use of time, money, distribution, and how (and whether) WOMANKIND reflected the political priorities allegedly set for WOMANKIND. The CWLU’s Socialist Feminist Paper, adopted in 1972, had demonstrated the organization’s political orientation. At the same time, some of the women who were newer to the organization criticized others in the CWLU as being bourgeois and insufficiently revolutionary and called for the CWLU to devote more time and energy to internal political education.
These new tensions were reflected in the WOMANKIND work group itself. In an evaluation done after the departure of some of the original work group members and a reduction in the size of the group, the WOMANKIND work group began by defining its view of the differing political priorities in the CWLU as follows:
There are members and work groups who represent the tendency toward direct action strategy involving mostly professional women; there are members and work groups who represent the working class situations…. Many people in WOMANKIND feel the lack of any clear program of internal political education. This is one of our major criticisms of CWLU.
And continued by saying:
Our struggles have been largely around the different directions the Union seems to be taking. In this respect, WOMANKIND is probably the most divided group in terms of the two directions mentioned earlier ….
The End Days
Ultimately, those remaining in the WOMANKIND work group submitted this proposal:
The WOMANKIND work group proposes a six month suspension of the paper with a re-evaluation of its function after six months. There are many aspects to this proposal: The high costs of putting out a paper are part of it. It costs about $350 per issue and we feel that other types of literature might be more widely distributed for that amount of money. Also, the energy crisis has hit WOMANKIND. There isn’t enough energy to put the paper out. Input from other work groups is needed for a representative Union paper. There are only six women currently working with WOMANKIND. There are only two who have been with the paper for a long time. The energy and money needed to get WOMANKIND out – and regularly – is extensive. The question has become not “how we can get the paper out?” but “Is the organization newspaper, WOMANKIND, the best way to serve the present needs of the CWLU?
Things had changed. New activists, new priorities and new ideas brought new issues to the fore, with new demands for CWLU time and energy. The outreach and lesbian work groups had begun publishing occasional, less ambitious newsletter to use in their organizing work, continuing written outreach in a more flexible, targeted way. As these factors played themselves out, November 1973 saw the publication of the last issue of CWLU’s WOMANKIND outreach newspaper.