rock band

Listen to the Mountain Moving Day Album

The Mountain Moving Day album had songs by both the Chicago and the New Haven Women's Liberation Rock Band. We have converted all of the songs to MP3 audio so that you may hear both the Chicago and the New Haven Bands. 

The Chicago Band

words and music by Sherry Jenkins

music: traditional
words: Virginia Blaisdell and Naomi Weisstein

Ain't Gonna Marry
music: traditional
words: Susan and Jennifer Abod

Mountain Moving Day
music: Naomi Weisstein
words: Yosano Akiko and Naomi Weisstein

The New Haven Band

Abortion Song
Words and music by the NHWLRB

Words and music by the NHWLRB

Prison Song
Words and music by the NHWLRB

So Fine
Words and music by the NHWLRB

Words and music by the NHWLRB


Song Lyrics

Lyrics for the Chicago and New Haven songs are available.

Lyrics to the Chicago Band Songs


Get up / Downtown
Don’t you wish that you could get out of this
No trust / Big bust
Doesn’t all those mumbles ever bother you

Men’s eyes / Fantasize
Memorizing thighs and getting off on you
Elevators / See ya laters
Don’t you think it’s time you had a change of life

Sister I believe you when you say you hate
Sister I could be you but it’s too late
Sister can you hear me. Better break your date
Stop it right now it’s already too late

Get up / Downtown / Think I’ll talk to Alice she may understand
No trust / Big bust / Wonder if the new girl lives alone
Men’s eyes / Fantasize / Jodi wants to tell the boss to fuck off
Elevators / See you laters / Tell all the girls noon in the lunchroom
And maybe we’ll all wear pants tomorrow!

words and music: Sherry Jenkins


Keep on truckin mama, truckin all the livelong day
Keep on truckin mama, truckin all your cares away
Wake up in the morning / Wake up late
Down to the corner to get yourself a date
If you can’t stop doing what you do to me
You’re just gonna run me wild

Papa don’t lay that shit on me, it just don’t compensate
Papa don’t lay that shit on me, I can’t accomodate
You bring me down / It makes you cool
You think I like it you’re a goddamn fool
Papa don’t lay that shit on me, it just don’t compensate

Papa don’t lay those sounds on me, I ain’t your groovy chick
Papa don’t lay those sounds on me, don’t you know they make me sick
Rolling Stones / Blood Sweat & Tears
I’ve taken that shit for too many years
Papa don’t lay those sounds on me, l ain‘t your groovy chick.

Papa l ain‘t your friend no more, ain’t gonna make your bed
Papa l ain‘t your friend no more, better get a dog instead
Back street girl / Under my thumb
Start looking out where you’re coming from
Papa I ain’t your friend no more, I ain’t a gonna make your bed

Papa don’t lay that shit on me, you just don’t turn me on
Papa don’t lay that shit on me, the fun and games are gone
It wasn’t my game / it wasn’t my fun
All that trashing is over and done
Papa don’t lay that shit on me, you just don’t turn me on.

Keep on truckin mama, etc.

music: traditional
words: Virginia Blaisdell, Naomi Weisstein


I ain‘t gonna marry / I ain‘t gonna settle down
Ain’t gonna marry /Ain’t gonna settle down
I’m gonna stay right here/And celebrate a freedom that I found.

Ain’t gonna be easy/It ain’t gonna be a life of ease
Ain’t gonna be easy /It ain’t gonna be a life of ease
But I’m a woman/And I’ll be damned if I can’t do as I please.

Ain’t gonna marry / I ain’t gonna be in chains
Ain’t gonna marry I / I ain‘t gonna be in chains
Don’t want no man’s lying / Saturatin‘ my brain.

Big strong woman / with a man hanging round
Big strong women / with a man hanging round
Every evening / that lovin man starts looking around.

Just when you think that / Your lovin’ man is true
Just when you think that / Your lovin’ man is true
You can bet your life / Somebody’s been fooling you.

Ain’t gonna marry (etc.)

Music: traditional
Words:Susan and Jennifer Abod


The mountain moving day is coming
I say so yet others doubt it

Only a while the mountain sleeps
In the past all mountains moved in fire

Yet you may not believe it
0 man, this alone believe

All sleeping women now awake and move
All sleeping women now awake and move

Can you hear the river
I can see the canyons as they stretch out for miles.
But if you listen you can hear it below
Grinding stones into sand
Yet you may not hear it
0 man, this alone hear
The waters now will tear the canyons down
The waters now will tear the canyons down

The mountain moving day is coming etc.

Music: Naomi Weisstein
Words:Yosano Akiko and Naomi Weisstein

Lyrics to the New Haven Band Songs


We're talkin' about abortion, it's against the law

But we know that it's our right

Control of our bodies we are going to will

We've got to get together and fight

They tell us to get married and have three or four kids
Change the diapers, be a good wife
But we will decide how many children to bear
We've got to control our own life


Free our sisters, abortion is our right

Free our sisters, abortion is our right

We're talkin' about abortion it's as old as time
Hidden in fear and pain
The witches began it, they were burned at the stake
For helping sisters break their chains

Next came the butchers with their blood-stained hands
We've lost too many sisters that way
Now you go to the doctors and ask them to help
They say come back another day


We're talkin' about abortion, gonna change the law
And make a better way
Those men with the power got to bend or break
They've got some heavy dues to pay


words & music: NHWLRB


I ain't gonna make it alone /Ain't got no parents and I ain't got no home
I had a baby and you took it away / You leave me nothing and then make me pay

That ain't alright / That ain't alright / That ain't alright with me

You took me to court and then you threw me in jail
And in this place, there ain't no bail
You tell me that I'm evil and you tell me that I'm wrong

That won't break me, it will make me strong

When we get out, things won't be alrght / Jobs will be hard and the money tight
I'm gonna see some lonely nights / Gotta find some people who will help me fight

words & music: NHWLRB


When I look at my sister's face

What is it that I see
I see a strength that I've never seen
And when I feel my sister's embrace
There's all the space and the love that I need
And it's strange, we didn't know
We didn't realize about each other's lives
Oh forgotten woman, forgotten woman, sister witch

In the fight, nobody's wife
Change of life, being strong, being strong
Got to move on, got to move on, got to move on
And take what's ours
It's strange, we didn't know
We didn't realize about each other's lives
Forgotten woman, sister witch

words & music: NHWLRB


So fine, yeah! / So fine, yeah! / So fine, yeah

Strength of my sisters coming out so fine

Wonder why it's taken us so much time

Wo-o-oh, Ye-a-ah, So fine!

Far out, yeah /far out, yeah / Far out, yeah Loving our sisters is so far out Feeling so good we want to jump and shout Wo-o-oh, Ye-a-ah, Far out!

Talk Break

Now I want to say something about how we got to feel so fine
We haven't always been this strong, and we're not as strong now as we're gonna be.
It takes a lot of work and it takes a lot of pain too.
We used to think that women really were inferior
We used to think we were only good for: pleasing men, having
babies, doing housework, having shit jobs, doing volunteer work,
and-you know-Sex!

We didn't know that women could get together and: play rock music, fix cars, give abortions, love our sisters, stay single, choose our own life style, and-you know-say No!

So high (etc.) Knowing where we're going makes us feel so high Gonna make an earthquake, seize the time Wo-o-oh, ye-a-ah, So high!

So fine (etc.)

words and music: NHWLRB


Shotgun! Shotgun! Shotgun! Shotgun! Shoot 'em down right now Rip 'em off sister now Shoot 'em down now!

A thousand women raped each day
We ain't gonna be treated that way
Hating them and angry now
Shoot 'em full of holes now

Walking up and down the street Afraid of every man I meet Had enough and gettin' tough Puttin' on my black belt now!

Buy yourself a shotgun now
Go downtown now
Break it down and load it up
Mess with us you're out of luck


words & music: NHWLRB

"One By One You're Gonna Know Our Power"

The Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band and the Politics of Cultural Transformation 
by Hillary Reser (2004): This is a seminar paper written by Hillary Reser of the University of Chicago under the direction of Professor Amy Dru Stanley.

The film footage is in black and white, its sound quality a little off, but the energy and electricity of the performance still manages to come pulsing outward towards the viewer.  On stage, the Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band performs the song, "Papa," a crowd favorite, "in carnival fashion" with "slide whistles and whoops of derision."[1]  The song, less rock- than ragtime-inspired, is upbeat and bouncy, urging women to "Keep on truckin' mama, truckin' all the livelong day/Keep on truckin' mama, truckin' all your cares away."  Female audience members dance and sing along in front of the stage, their movements free, uninhibited, and inspired.  Smiles abound, gracing the faces of the performers and the crowd as both groups move with a synchronized joy and exuberance.  At one point, members of the rock band simultaneously begin rolling up the legs of their pants, exposing white flesh and high, dark stockings in a gleeful parody of a striptease.  Audience members form a kick-line in front of the stage, belting out, "You bring me down/It makes you cool/You think I like it, you're a goddamn fool/Papa, don't lay that shit on me, it just don't compensate."[2] 

The Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band (CWLRB), founded in 1970 by Naomi Weisstein, functioned as a work-group of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union (CWLU), a socialist-feminist group that began in 1969.  Performing approximately 100 times during its three-year existence—many of those appearances similar to the one described above—the band attempted to infuse into the cultural medium of rock music a "bust-out bad-ass visionary political poetry" as a means of making political use of a cultural tool.[3]  A close examination of the Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band and its feminist project is particularly valuable because such an analysis of the band's avowedly political mission to raise and change consciousness through cultural intervention generates new questions in the historiographical debate surrounding cultural feminism.  The debate is a highly polarized one in which cultural feminism and its emphasis on women's culture and community formation is either attacked as retreatist or defended as political.

Importantly, the CWLRB straddles the permeable line "dividing" culture and politics by artfully combining both.[4]  The middle ground it occupies as a part of feminist history pushes us away from an either/or view of culture and politics.  Indeed, its effective melding of political intent and purpose with cultural creation demonstrates the inadequacy of singular and distinct definitions of both "culture" and "politics."  More specifically, the Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band's occupation of the grey area in which culture and politics both overlap and bleed into each other compels us, as historians, to abandon the simple question of "Was it, or was it not, politics?"  Feminist history is in fact much too complex to be analyzed via queries intended to yield one-word answers.  The CWLRB and its story—as well as the other bands who claimed similar missions—requires scholars to expand the nature of our analytical categories to account for the richly innovative and various means by which feminists sought to "do" politics.[5]  For in many ways, the history of the women's movement is one in which dedicated and driven women, in their struggle against an oppression that was at once social, cultural, and political, found it appropriate and effective to employ resistance strategies targeted at the various levels and modes of their subjugation. 

In this spirit, the avowedly political CWLRB embarked on a cultural course of action in the larger fight against patriarchal oppression.  It used the cultural realm as a weapon, as a tool of engagement in the battle to create a more egalitarian society.  The CWLRB recognized the value of culture in fostering women's self-awareness and confidence by providing a protected refuge from sexist society.  Yet the band pushed beyond this function to additionally embrace the political potential of cultural creation and intervention.  More specifically, the band felt that constructing a small, woman-centered community, while necessary and beneficial, was not, in and of itself, enough.  Feminism's success required looking beyond the "safe space," the refuge, the retreat.  It demanded a continued expansion of the borders of these pockets of resistance until all of society stood transformed.  This demand for expansion, for the extension of an insulated, libratory vision to encompass a dramatic restructuring and reconfiguring of society positions the Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band as both embracing part of the cultural feminist mission and, significantly, departing from its limitations.  Importantly, the band's occupation of a cultural and political middle ground, its strategic duality, provides an exemplary demonstration of the ways in which feminists sought a multi-faceted approach to the struggle against male supremacy.  Their belief in the interrelatedness of culture and politics, and their willingness to merge the two, reflects a different reality than the one suggested by the polarized historiographical debate over cultural feminism and the nature of women's community.  The story of the Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band is one of culture and politics, not one of culture or politics.

On one side of this divisive debate over cultural feminism stand those who hold that the increasing emphasis placed on women's community and female bonding in the early 1970s had grave implications for radical feminism.  More specifically, and as best articulated in historian Alice Echols' Daring to Be Bad, such a view attributes radical feminism's decline as a political movement to the ascendance of cultural feminism around 1973, though traces of it could be seen as early as 1970.  Cultural feminism of the early 1970s, in Echols' mind, insisted upon "women's essential sameness to each other and their fundamental difference from men."[6]  As an "impulse" in the women's movement, argues Echols, this brand of feminism celebrated female bonding and urged the creation of a female counterculture consisting of separatist, feminist institutions and a vibrant women's art and music scene.  Additionally, women's culture, through its celebration of female sameness and bonding, sought to gloss over the differences that existed between women, differences over which searing debates had begun to erupt by 1970, wracking and fracturing a once seemingly cohesive movement.  Indeed, the illusion of a universal and undifferentiated sisterhood shattered in dramatic fashion in reaction to "radical feminists' tendency to privilege gender over race and class."[7]  In what historian Ruth Rosen has described as a "dizzying diffusion of feminism," the early 1970s witnessed various splits within the movement that centered on addressing white racial bias, middle and upper class elitism, and heterosexual privilege.[8]  Echols notes the particular importance of an emphasis on female culture and values in alleviating tensions between straight and lesbian women in the movement.  The celebration of female community allowed sexual orientation to become less important than female identification and bonding.[9]  In addition to providing some form of unity, female community served as a "safe space" of sorts that, while initially conceived of as "a kind of culture of active resistance" to patriarchy—as one strategy among many utilized to confront women's oppression—eventually became a site of apolitical retreat and disengagement with American society.[10]  This valorization of escape and "personal solutionism" centered in lifestyle choices produced an extremely limited vision of social change, one "profoundly individualistic and far removed from the collectivist impulse that informed radical feminism."[11]  For Echols, cultural feminism's rise to prominence signified the end to radical feminism as an explicitly political movement.

Other scholars, however, have embraced and attempted to reclaim the woman-centered culture of 1970s feminism, viewing it not as a contributor to radical feminism's death as a movement, but as an important and vibrant part of that movement.  Feminist counter-institutions that sprang up across the country served many important functions (a number of them political) within women's communities.  Women's bookstores, coffeehouses, and bars, as well as a diversity of non-profit community organizations served women in different cities across the nation.[12]  These scholars also note that female communities were valuable beyond the fact that they provided a refuge from patriarchal oppression.  Specifically, their primary importance rested in that they nurtured and sustained political impulses within the women's movement, particularly during times of political backlash and retrenchment.  Cultural institutions accomplished this because they had in fact "served all along to recruit new members, rejuvenate old members, and connect participants in different women's movement organizations to each other," continuing to do so even during periods characterized by a low level of activism.[13]  Additionally, scholars attempt to reframe women's culture as fundamentally political by asserting that women's culture and community posed "a challenge to hegemonic understandings of women's natures and relationships."[14]  In posing such a challenge, women changed their own and others' consciousness and provided alternative models of how one could "be" female, an act that ran counter to cultural hegemony's attempts to silence nondominant and "deviant" points of view.[15]

Echols' belief that the rise of a seemingly apolitical cultural feminism marked the end of radical feminism's existence as a political movement is in fact complicated by the history of women's communities and their counter-institutions, many of which served political functions.  But a wholesale reclamation of women's culture as fundamentally political is equally problematic, especially given its limitations.  A number of cultural feminists, for example, believed that the values of their woman-run institutions reflected a sort of essential femaleness, that they embodied woman's allegedly "natural" capacity for "intimacy, reciprocity, and relationality."[16]  To radical feminists who had been laboring extensively to dislodge widely held beliefs about women's natural capacities and functions, this essentialist vision of woman, this celebration of "femaleness," seemed an alarming ideological development.  Further, the benefits of these counter-institutions were, as the Chicago Women's Liberation Union noted, "only available to a small minority of women."[17]  Because women were able to generate isolated pockets of liberation within a nation plagued by widespread subjugation, the formation of these women's communities often became "in and of itself the revolution."[18]  A woman-centered culture and community became an endpoint rather than a strategy to be used in the larger struggle against male supremacy.    

The Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band, though it operated in the cultural realm and recognized the unique value of female community, differed distinctly from cultural feminism in its particular approach to using and creating alternative cultures.  For while the band hoped to foster community and establish a sense of female solidarity, it rejected the idea that doing so exclusively constituted an effective challenge to patriarchy.[19]  The Chicago Women's Liberation Union, the CWLRB's parent organization, in its 1972 position paper on socialist-feminism, had articulated a similar stance in regard to women's community, describing this burgeoning emphasis on culture and community as a movement "toward new lifestyles within a women's culture, emphasizing personal liberation and growth, and the relationship of women to women."[20]  The Union, while supportive of this effort to "break loose from the old patterns," saw the tendency as "leading more toward a kind of formless insolation [sic] rather than to a condition in which we can fight and win power over our lives."[21]  It is particularly significant that the Union itself, while clearly cognizant and wary of the dangers inherent in an isolated focus on the creation of a female counterculture, also recognized the real benefits of this women's culture.  The Union believed that this culture and community had, for example, "provided a place for our creativity to be expressed and enabled us to have more independence and self-confidence in areas where we have been denied knowledge and opportunity for expression in the past."[22]  Because of this, women's culture and community had changed many women's lives, spurring a number of these same women on to more active political involvement in the women's movement.  Thus cultural projects, recognized the CWLU, could in fact serve political ends.  But the idea of fostering women's culture alone did not appeal to an organization that, while clearly committed to women's individual and personal liberation, also dedicated itself (with greater fervor) to organized, mass-movement activism aimed at altering society's structure.  Maximizing the feminist movement's effectiveness necessitated addressing both culture and politics, not forsaking one area to focus exclusively on the other.  Further, and perhaps more crucially, the very nature of women's struggle against the sexism that seeped into every sphere of American society required that oppression be dealt with on the cultural and political fronts.  Indeed, separating out the political from the cultural, as if the two were mutually exclusive, stood as an impossible task.

The CWLRB recognized this reality and thus explicitly joined politics and culture, embarking on its political mission of cultural intervention by using the wildly popular art form of rock music.  Importantly, rock music had close associations with the counterculture and was a popular art form with which many members of the Movement (a term I use here to encompass the anti-war, civil rights, and women's liberation movements) identified.  Ralph J. Gleason, for example, a writer of a regularly appearing column in Rolling Stone magazine, the publication perhaps most associated with rock music, often used his post as a forum for espousing the virtues of rock, focusing frequently on its strong links to the surging social and cultural movements sweeping the country at the time.[23]  Writing shortly after the Woodstock Music and Art Fair of 1969, regarded as a high point in the history of the counterculture, Gleason identified rock music as the "single most potent social force for change for several years now" in America, adding—with an unwavering confidence in the power of this art form—that "the change is coming and it is coming through the music."[24]  In a later column commemorating the 3-year anniversary ofRolling Stone magazine, Gleason reaffirmed his belief in rock music, describing it as "the glue which has kept this generation from falling apart in the face of incredible adult blindness and ignorance and evilness."  Gleason, in the same piece, repeatedly touted rock music as "the new educational system for reform" in the country, emphasizing the extent to which the music had fostered connections between disaffected youth, had created a common culture and vocabulary, had become "an energy source—unlike anything in history."[25]  It was particularly because of rock's musically expressed message, its articulation of community values and norms—a community of which many feminists felt themselves to be a part—that Naomi Weisstein and others perceived a need for their own intervention.

            For despite rock's close association with the counterculture and its vision of a radically altered and transformed society, a world in which the "old rules" of the Establishment would theoretically no longer apply, Weisstein and other feminists recognized within this supposedly anti-establishment art form a conservative, oppressive, and fundamentally backwards articulation of gender relations.  As Weisstein noted in retrospect:

Rock was considered "our music": dangerous, sexy, and our harbinger of the social changes to come.  No matter that rock assaulted women more savagely than anything in popular culture before it; many of us lived cocooned in rock's sound, oblivious to, or even worse, delighting in, the message.[26]

This message, more often blatantly proclaimed than subtly articulated, lumped women into several popular tropes.  The most common painted women as easy lays (read: sexually liberated women) whose primary purpose rested in sexually satisfying their male partners and existing as a site for male sexual conquest; ball-breaking bitches and unruly women who needed a strong-willed man to rein them in; and the mystic, wifely (or motherly) nurturing earth mother-types who were capable of soothing the psyches of restless, wandering, male rebels of the counterculture.[27]  As the CWLRB summarized it, rock painted woman as "the chick in the free fire zone, the mindless, soulless tease for whom no punishment was equal to her crime of independence," or "the bitch who deserved whatever she got, and more."[28] 

This reliance upon stereotypes found its greatest expression in so-called "cock rock," music in which "performance [was] an explicit, crude, and often aggressive expression of male sexuality," a general definition I take from popular music writers Simon Frith and Angela McRobbie.[29]  Cock rock shows in particular were "explicitly about male sexual performance," and during the shows, "mics and guitars [were] phallic symbols; the music [was] loud, rhythmically insistent, built around techniques of arousal and climax; [and] the lyrics [were] assertive and arrogant."[30]  Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" is a song that serves as a representative example of aggressive, male sexual performance coupled with woman being reduced to a "mere receptacle."[31]  Robert Plant, Led Zeppelin's lead singer, belts out:

You need coolin', baby, I'm not foolin'

I'm gonna send you back to schoolin'

Way down inside, a-honey, you need it

I'm gonna give you my love—

I'm gonna give you every inch of my love—

You've got to bleed on me, yeah.[32]

These lyrics, in combination with the driving guitar and pounding rhythm of the song, have Led Zeppelin, as one writer noted, coming on like "thermonuclear gang rape."[33] 

Yet such forceful and predatory expressions of sexuality were often equaled and surpassed by the Rolling Stones, a band that, in the words of music and popular culture writers Simon Reynolds and Joy Press, embodies the very "quintessence of rock" and additionally stands as "one of the most misogynistic groups ever." [34] The Stones are perhaps the best representation of aggressive, dominating "cock rock" and its regular employment of the aforementioned female stereotypes. "Under My Thumb," appearing on 1966's Aftermath, featured Mick Jagger crowing about

The squirmin' dog who's just had her day

Under my thumb

A girl who has just changed her ways

It's down to me, yes it is

The way she does just what she's told

Down to me, the change has come

She's under my thumb.[35]

Jagger's pleasure at having bent a previously spirited and indomitable woman to his will—surely upsetting to more than a few feminists—seemed rivaled only by the prospect of sexual conquest and gratification, as he unambiguously articulated in a number of other songs.  "Backstreet Girl," "Parachute Woman," "Midnight Rambler," and "Let It Bleed," for example, are transparent in their sexual imagery and innuendo, and were often made more blatant by the Rolling Stones' live performances.[36]  While performing "Stray Cat Blues," the "ultimate groupie song," for instance, Mick Jagger often changed the lyrics to render it even more offensive.[37]  The original, perhaps disturbing enough, proclaimed:

I can see that you're fifteen years old

No I don't want your I.D.

I can see that you're so far from home

But that's no hanging matter

It's no capital crime

Oh yeah, you're a strange stray cat

I bet, bet your mama don't know you scream like that[38]

Yet in concert, Jagger often preferred to sing that the girl featured in the song was only thirteen.  In combination with these revised lyrics, the Stones' lead singer enjoyed engaging in highly suggestive stage antics.  Specifically, Jagger, who had a penchant for "grinding his skinny hips and doing outrageous things with his tongue," was also partial to "dropp[ing] to his knees and wedg[ing] the microphone between his thighs phallus-like."[39] 

            For obvious reasons, feminists took issue with such songs that advocated and fostered female subjugation, sexual submission, and objectification.  Rock's sexism thus became an even larger issue because of its popularity and reach with a large segment of the American population, and the extent to which the music, as noted above, served to articulate and perpetuate the ideals and values of the countercultural and New Left communities.  Rock's ubiquitous presence in popular culture gave it immense power as a means of social indoctrination—both for men and for women.  "Every fourteen-year-old girl in [Chicago] listens to rock!" realized Naomi Weisstein, "How criminal to make the subjugation and suffering of women so sexy!"[40]  To compound the issue, few female voices capable of challenging and countering this skewed representation existed within the rock music scene.

            To be sure, women did have a place, albeit an extremely limited one, within rock music.[41]  Janis Joplin and Grace Slick, for example, two highly visible women in rock, both enjoyed successful careers with Big Brother and the Holding Company and the Jefferson Airplane, respectively, Joplin later embarking on a solo career cut short by a 1970 heroin overdose.  Yet these women were relegated to the role of singer and rarely played instruments.  Fronting their respective bands as lead singers of course provided these women with important roles, but in an electric rock culture founded upon the technical and skillful control of various instruments, being able to bend to one's will an electric guitar, for example, carried with it a respect and a status not available to "chick singers."  Playing an instrument and playing it well was, after all, fundamentally about mastery and domination, about harnessing the raw and surging power of this new art form.  Ego and prestige, so dependent upon the demonstration of musical prowess, were at stake, and in a rock culture grounded in a belief in the supremacy of amplifiers, pounding rhythms, and electrified sound, playing an instrument brought with it a level of perceived empowerment not available to those women who relied solely upon their voices.    

Further, though these women attempted to assume liberated positions as women within rock culture, they were rarely able to transcend popular female stereotypes.  As rock critic Ellen Willis has noted, male artists are "used to playing roles and projecting images in order to compete and succeed," while female artists "need images simply to survive."  A woman, Willis notes, "is usually aware, on some level, that men do not allow her to be her 'real self,' and worse, that the acceptable masks represent men's fantasies, not her own.  She can choose the most interesting image available, present it dramatically, individualize it with small elaborations, undercut it with irony.  But ultimately she must serve some male fantasy to be loved—and then it will be only the fantasy that is loved anyway."[42]  Patricia Kennealy-Morrison, editor of Jazz and Pop magazine from 1969-1971, recognized this irony in women's limited place and power within rock music.  Kennealy-Morrison felt that there were only two available roles for female rock artists to play: the first, the "Ice Princess," embodied by Grace Slick, "gelid, brittle, bitch goddess incarnate," and on the opposite end of the spectrum (though with few options in between), the "Down-Home Ball," as personified by Janis Joplin, the "earth-mother, scratch-your-back, tiger-lady stone soul fuck."[43]  Thus female rock artists, despite their best effort to assert their individuality and self-liberation by "revolt[ing] against conventional femininity," often found that their efforts "dovetailed with a stereotype" that circumscribed the parameters of their projected identity.[44]

            Yet members of the Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band did not view these image limitations as the only problem facing women in rock.  In addition, CWLRB members recognized that the musical content performed by women revealed an equally disempowered reality.  As band members perceived it, women in rock struck a deal of sorts.  Women's participation hinged upon their fulfillment of certain roles and stereotypes, and equally important, women musicians ("singers only, please—no instruments") had to "belt out the litany" that proclaimed that "women's pain [was] here to stay," that women, being born to suffer, always would, that this pain and suffering was in fact the "divine order of things," that the more women suffered, the more woman they would become, and that there existed no possibility that women "could exist for anything except men."[45]  Janis Joplin, perhaps the most known female rock icon and the only woman among men to achieve a paramount "importance as a creator/recorder/embodiment of her generation's history and mythology," nonetheless attained this status by performing songs laden with a deep and eviscerating pain caused by failed heterosexual relationships.[46]  Indeed, her two most well-known songs, "Piece of My Heart" and "Ball and Chain," are about the "inevitability of being screwed over by men."[47]  In the former, Joplin, with masochistic flair, agonizingly implores her lover to take and break "another little piece of [her] heart."  "Didn't I make you feel like you were the only man?" she asks, "Didn't I give you nearly everything that a woman possibly can?"  In the latter, Joplin's voice, ragged and controlled, notes that "Love's just draggin' me down, baby/Feels like a ball and chain."  "I hope there's someone out there who could tell me," she muses, "Why the man I love wanna leave me in so much pain."  Such lyrical content, in combination with the vicious and demeaning stereotypes of women articulated in men's songs, left writer Patricia Kennealy-Morrison to draw the undeniable conclusion that "for all its self-hype to the contrary, rock [was] just another dismal male chauvinist trip."  Notably, however, Kennealy-Morrison qualified this statement by citing "one important difference."  Rock had "the power and the looseness with which to change itself," she believed, but it had "better happen quick."[48]  Unbeknownst to her, members of the Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band had already taken it upon themselves to spur on rock's (and the larger society's) transformation, for they had also recognized the truly revolutionary potential contained within rock's "drive and 'guts' and rebellion."[49]

            The first call for the formation of the CWLRB appeared in the June 1970 issue of CWLU News, under the heading, "Rock Band Forming."[50]  "The man can bust our music," the announcement began, "and does all the time."  Calling attention to the sexist lyrics—all of which "reinforce male supremacist hegemony"—and the offensive performances of many rock groups, the announcement urged "anybody who is interested"—whether or not they knew how to sing or play an instrument—to join the band.  To counter the damage done by rock's sexism, women needed to write and perform songs, "songs of women loving other women, songs which show us collectively angry and fighting, songs which talk about women in such a way that their character, dignity, identity, uniqueness, intelligence, humaness [sic] are assumed.  Songs which forget about men entirely."[51]  If women were to be truly free and respected in American society, believed members of the band, they would need to take it upon themselves to challenge patriarchal oppression.  Confronting rock music and culture, especially given its reach and influence with American youth, thus seemed an apt place to start, for despite its "revolutionary" veil, rock culture stood as a place still wedded to the "old ways," a place where "male supremacy develop[ed] new modes and invent[ed] new tactics to respond to [women's] struggle for humanity."[52]  Yet band founder Naomi Weisstein, whose "small epiphany on a cold sunny afternoon in Chicago" led her to organize the group, also wanted to form a band because, in addition to being displeased with the sexist nature of rock music, she was "dissatisfied with the state of feminist consciousness in the Chicago women's movement and, in particular, in the Chicago Women's Liberation Union (CWLU)."[53]    

            Formed in 1969, the Chicago Women's Liberation Union, described by historian Alice Echols as the "first and most successful women's union in the country," claimed, at its largest, 500 dues-paying members.[54]  As an organization, the CWLU created and ran programs that were, as explained in an organizational press release, "aimed at changing the lives of all women and working towards building a new society in which all people will have the opportunity to develop their full potential."[55]  As a radical feminist organization avowedly committed to both socialism and feminism, the Union rejected the proposition (embraced by other radical feminist groups) that sexism served as the root of all other oppressions.  As the Hyde Park Chapter of the CWLU noted in Socialist Feminism: A Strategy for the Women's Movement, a 1972 position paper later adopted by the entire Union, "We find it futile to argue which is more primary—capitalism or sexism," for women are "oppressed by both."  As capitalism and sexism are dual "systems united against our interests," continued the paper, "so our struggle is against both."[56]  To accomplish these goals of socialist and feminist revolution, the Union organized a number of activities and programs "intended to move individuals beyond a raised consciousness into action to transform themselves and society."[57]  The CWLU's programs included (among other notable projects) an abortion task force and underground abortion agency, called "Jane;" a Direct Action for Rights in Employment (DARE) group that battled Chicago's City Hall to secure "equal job treatment and wages for women;" a health collective project that fought for "women's demands on the health care system" and provided "reliable, low cost pregnancy testing and abortion counseling;" a rape crisis line; a legal clinic; and the Liberation School for Women, a program offering three sessions of courses a year to help women obtain the information "which would allow us to control our lives, change society, [and] become independent."[58]  Most of the CWLU's projects were directed towards action, not consciousness-raising, the intent being to produce a radical structural transformation of society.

            Though Weisstein recognized that "structural change [was] absolutely necessary if [women were] to overthrow [their] oppression," she also felt that addressing structure alone was insufficient—structure was, after all, only "the tip of the patriarchal iceberg."[59]  A changed consciousness would not automatically follow from instituting structural changes because the ideology of submission had such power to "get into [women's] heads."  The only way "to get it out," believed Weisstein, was to "create alternatives to the dominant and dominating culture."[60]  More specifically, the band questioned whether, for example, the poor would "rise up, the working class [would] seize control of production, [or] women [would] overturn patriarchy" if they were not given a vision of the transformed society that the CWLU was trying to create.[61]  Simply explaining "why things are the way they are" would not be enough to generate a massive mobilization of American society and sustain that movement's energy in the face of fierce challenges and resistance from the Establishment.[62]  The CWLRB thus strongly believed that "defining an alternative, feminist, socialist vision [was] the Queen pin in the achievement of social change," as long as that vision was "so powerful, so urgent, so compelling, so immediate, so utterly convincing that women [could] no longer stand living the way they do."[63]

            Creating such a passionate and gripping vision of a radically transformed society, a "microcosm of our visionary world," remained a stated goal of the CWLRB in all of its appearances.[64]  Its first performance, at Chicago's Grant Park in August of 1970, consisted of "thirteen singers all bellowing to their individual muses."[65]  In addition to these singers, the "sixteen piece band or so" featured four guitar players. [66]  The impressive size of the rock band, however, did not translate into an impressive performance. Because the band had started with the intention of being "democratic and non-elitist, it was open to anyone," regardless of musical talent or skill.  The emphasis was on inclusion (in this case at the expense of expertise), a trend that also permeated the larger women's movement at the time.  Similarly, women's groups across the country who were dedicated to embodying the "concepts of participatory democracy, equality, liberty, and community emphasized that everyone should participate—and that everyone's contribution was equally valid."[67]  This sentiment, though meant to encourage the participation of women who had for so long been silenced by and excluded from a society that viewed their words and accomplishments with condescension and derision, would have unintended consequences for the rock band and for the wider movement.  A belief in the absolute equality and accomplishment of all women—embraced in response to the societal presumption that women were inferior in every respect—failed to account for the particular skills and talents that certain women possessed.  This, as some women felt, led many to believe—unrealistically and mistakenly—that "people would be interchangeable: that everyone could and would assume any task."[68]  As a number of feminists would therefore realize, actually putting into practice the most radical idealism of the movement generated unexpected problems and challenges, particularly as it concerned applying theories of egalitarianism, radically participatory democracy, and "leaderlessness."    

Facing such a challenge itself, the CWLRB, after its first lackluster appearance, found it necessary to retreat from a full commitment to egalitarianism and total inclusion.  To members of the band, it became clear that, though the CWLRB, regardless of its expertise, "would receive much support from other women in the movement," if its "music was not good [it] would be unable to reach new women."[69]  Pat Matthews (then Pat Miller), a drummer and guitarist who joined the band after hearing about its formation from a friend over a spaghetti dinner (what she described as "one of those life-changing moments"), reflected on the early state of the rock band:

When the band first got together, you know, the idea was that everybody could play anything.  Everybody who wanted to could be in the band.  And there was a large group.  I remember sitting around Naomi's and Jesse's [Naomi Weisstein's husband] living room there and there was a pretty large group of women.  And the idea was that we could all be in the band.  Anybody who wanted to.  And it took a long time for it to boil down to the fact that, jeez, you know it wasn't good for everybody to be in the band if we wanted to sound good, it just took a really long time to get there.[70]

The band did "get there" eventually, announcing in the October 1970 issue of CWLU News that it was holding auditions in order to "restructure itself."[71]  Restructuring was necessary, noted the band, because as a group, it was "serious about its role of creating a political counter-culture and [held] competence as a necessary means towards that end."[72] 

Pat Matthews attributed this slimming down of the band to "a lot of self-selection," adding that:

God forbid anybody should say, "You know, you really can't sing, honey—You know you can't keep a beat there, darlin'."  You know, God forbid—you couldn't say that because it would be exclusionary, you know.  And you can't be exclusionary.[73]

Eventually, post-auditions and post-"self-selection," the band settled into a relatively stable six-person formation (seven if you include the band's "womanager," Linda Mitchell): Naomi Weisstein, the band's founder, on piano; Pat Matthews on rhythm guitar, drums, and vocals; Sherry Jenkins on lead guitar, bass, and vocals; Suzanne Prescott on drums and vocals; Susan Abod on bass and vocals; and Fanny Montalvo on drums.[74]  This leaner and more focused group was serious about its politics, and while celebration and fun were indeed a large part of the equation, they were not to trump the CWLRB's foundational political purpose of inspiring cultural transformation.

            The band was "explicitly, self-consciously political about [its] performances," and, in addition to playing music, the group also "rapped" with the audience about feminism and sexism and distributed women's liberation literature and information about the CWLU  in venues across the country.[75]  The CWLRB, however, managed to avoid "leaden sloganeering."[76]  Essential to its performances was the use of humor, something the band considered to be "an anti-authoritarian vehicle and—an assertion of strength."[77]  As drummer and guitarist Pat Matthews remembered it:

Well, we did a lot of theater.  It wasn't just getting up there and singing songs.  We did a lot of theater.  We had a sense of humor.  We did—it was almost a little bit of slapstick—I had people complain to me that we didn't play enough music, we talked too much.  Eh, you know.  There was—on the one song, ["Don't Fuck Around With Love"]—you know, at the end there would be this big finale, and, uh, I think Suzanne and I were playing drums at that time, and we sort of, like, fell off the drum stool in our frenzy, you know.  That kind of stuff.  You know, there was just an element of silliness that permeated it.[78]

This lighthearted style of performance, celebration, and interaction, certainly not unique to the Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band, ran counter to the typical mainstream media representations of feminists that "invariably depicted them as dour and humorless women."[79]  As historian Ruth Rosen has noted, feminists were in fact "refreshingly goofy, silly, witty, and sarcastic, reframing the normal as bizarre, playing with role reversal, satire, and parody."[80]

The band's appearances, in addition to being suffused with humor, were decidedly and intentionally unconventional, a political tactic that, along with the singing of feminist songs, served to alter the entire dynamic of typical rock performances.  The CWLRB sought "some other way to make a hit besides bumping and grinding like Mick Jagger, raping and burning [their] guitars like Jimi Hendrix, or whacking off on stage like Jim Morrison."[81]  It started with completely restructuring the nature of a rock show.  Perhaps most important to this mission, the band sought to "involve [its] audience as equals, include rather than insult them, respect rather than degrade them, play for them rather than at them, [and] acknowledge that our audience is our life, our understanding, our spirit."[82]  To better include the audience in the performance, the band kept the lights on the audience (as opposed to on the band) and often distributed lyrics and tambourines so that those— attending the show could sing and play along.[83]  In between songs, the band "rapped" to the audience about "who we are, what we're doing, and where our songs come from."[84]  In addition to involving the audience, the CWLRB strove to "demystify the priesthood of the instrument and the amplifier."[85]  This meant moving and setting up all of the equipment before the shows, fixing technical problems that might arise during the performances, and being able to control all electronic and technical details the—selves.  Women were in control—of the lyrics, of the instruments, of the technical equipment.  They were assuming ownership in all dimensions of a realm that had for so long denied them equal access.

            Fundamentally, CWLRB performances were about empowerment, strength, and energy, about reclaiming a confidence and self-assuredness often trampled by the oppressive power of sexist cultural hegemony.  "How you gonna keep us down anymore/Now that we know your game?" the band sang.  "How you gonna treat us like before?/We'll never be the same/We're rough and tough and all together now/And one by one you're gonna know our power."[86]  This feeling of power, inspired and inspiring, often permeated the performance spaces in which the band played.  As Naomi Weisstein felt, "just the fact that we were all women standing up on the stage playing our heavy-duty instruments into our heavy-duty amplifiers was enough to turn many women on."[87]  Pat Matthews remembered that even when the band's play was sub-par, the group still inspired spirited reactions from the crowd.  In her words, "we always stirred things up, no matter what happened."[88]  Regarding an early CWLRB performance, Matthews laughingly recalled:

—[W]e were terrible!  Oh, my god!  We were so, we were so bad.  I mean, embarrassingly bad.  And I, you know, I wasn't even playing drums then, and I think our—for whatever reason—our drummer couldn't make it, and so I played the drums, and I just felt so awkward about it.  I, like, was barely hitting the heads.  And somebody had to come up and say, "We can't hear you."  I mean, you know, that kind of stuff.  It was just bad—[But] we got this standing, screaming ovation.  Because the—everybody there realized that it was really the start of something different. And it wasn't how well we played, it's that we were playing, and that we were bringing a different message.[89]

The rock band articulated this political message in shows across the country.  In addition to playing local shows in and around Chicago at (among a number of other venues and events) the IWW Hall, the People's Church, the Blue Gargoyle, the Second Annual Third World Transvestite Ball, poetry readings featuring writer and feminist Robin Morgan, various demonstrations at the Civic Center, and a summer camp for inner-city children, the group traveled to a large number of college campuses further east.[90]  Rejecting separatism as an ideology and as a practice, all performances were open to both men and women, inclusion being a primary feature of the rock band's policy.[91]  The CWLU maintained the same position on separatism, believing that the push among some in the women's movement toward a complete disassociation with men and male-centered mainstream society only "moves toward more and more purity, dividing us from our allies rather than uniting us on common ground and developing new common ground on which we can unite."[92]  According to the Union, "under certain circumstances, working with men is feasible, desirable, and necessary to achieve our vision."  Separatism, therefore, as a "political position [was] illusory."[93]

Playing to mixed crowds, the rock band delivered an uncompromising feminist message.[94]  In songs like "Secretary," the group sang about female objectification and sexual harassment in the context of a "typical pissed-off working day"[95]:

Get up


Don't you wish that you could get out of this

No trust

Big Bust

Doesn't all those mumbles ever bother you

Men's eyes


Memorizing thighs and getting off on you


See ya laters

Don't you think it's time you had a change of life[96]

In perhaps its strongest song, "Mountain Moving Day," the CWLRB urged "all sleeping women" to "now awake and move."  "Can you hear the river," the band asked.  "If you listen you can hear it below/Grinding stones into sand," for "the waters now will tear the canyons down/The mountain moving day is coming."[97]  In particular, "Secretary" and "Mountain Moving Day," when performed well, quite often "utterly transformed" the band's performances.[98]  Incidentally, both of these songs appeared on the 1972 album, Mountain Moving Day, recorded by the Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band and the New Haven Women's Liberation Rock Band and released by Rounder Records, a "small, non-ripoff [sic] recording company."[99]  Consisting of eight songs and selling for $3.50 asa "money-making venture for women's centers throughout the country," the vinyl LP became an underground feminist classic, reaching a large number of women who, due to the geographical constraints of the band's tour schedule, were unable to attend live performances.[100]  On record, the CWLRB performed, in addition to "Secretary" and "Mountain Moving Day," "Ain't Gonna Marry" and the crowd favorite, "Papa."[101]  Naomi Weisstein described recording the album as "exhilarating and terrifying," while Pat Matthews viewed the event as somewhat surreal, particularly given the fact that the rock band usually performed in front of enthusiastic and energized crowds.[102]  The sterile confines of the studio undoubtedly required a significant adjustment from the band, but the recordings on the album still manage to seep with a passion and fire that, while moving and easily felt on record, surely pales in comparison to the energy generated when the Chicago Women's Liberation Rock band performed the songs live.

Indeed, the words, the music, and the politics of CWLRB shows frequently inspired blissful communion between performers and audience.  Seared into Pat Matthews' memory is her experience at one particular performance:

Everybody in the room—was facing the stage and jumping up and down at the same time.  I mean, it was—it was really memorable to me, because it wasn't just people, you know, dancing like that.  I mean, we were all in this thing together.  There was like this pulse, and it might have been originating from the stage, but it was echoed back from—I think there was a fairly large crowd—.And it was just, everybody was jumping up and down together.  And it was very powerful, very powerful.[103]

During a performance at Cornell University, a joint concert played with the New Haven Women's Liberation Rock Band, enraptured female audience members removed their shirts and danced around "in undulating circles," topless.[104]  Some of the women in the crowd resorted to physically picking up some of the men in attendance and escorting them out of the room, while outside, "angry fraternity boys—threaten[ed] to attack."[105]  Incidentally, Cornell University changed its campus performance policies after the band's departure to ensure that similar events would not transpire in the future.[106]

            The scene at Cornell, however, was in many ways atypical.  At a number of shows played by the CWLRB, audience members did of course become heavily involved and immersed in the performance, but rarely did live shows produce such a "vibrant euphoric celebration."[107]  The CWLRB went so far as to liken the events that transpired at Cornell to the formation of a "small messianic culture."[108]  While the creation of such an environment proved to be undeniably exhilarating, the CWLRB believed it problematic that many women in the audience felt that this separate, insulated world was all they needed, that these women failed to realize that "their power did not extend beyond the doors of our small, woman-created environment."[109]  For though the CWLRB believed that creating alternative visions of society was necessary to ensure the success of the movement, that the "very act of bringing to life a dream of the future [set] in motion the machinery to realize that dream," simply rendering real and palpable this vision was not enough.[110]  It is in this respect particularly that the CWLRB and its project stand in opposition to the ideology espoused by cultural feminists.  Cultural feminism, though it also celebrated the creation of female-centered environments and feminist-inspired art, differed from the CWLRB's brand of feminism in two primary ways.  First, cultural feminism, in contrast to the rock band's policy, often adopted a separatist stance that called for the exclusion of men.  And second, for cultural feminists, the construction of this woman-identified sphere frequently served as a refuge, an endpoint, a goal in and of itself, rather than as a means for supplementing the struggle to engage with society and end patriarchal oppression.  The CWLRB remained wary of being swept up entirely by the euphoria of alternative revolutionary visions.  These visions were, after all, only "a what if, a fantasy, a poetry," that, while capable of "show[ing] us where to fight and what to fight for," were, by themselves, incapable of "carry[ing] on the campaigns or skirmishes" necessary to win the war for society's total liberation.[111]

Yet the Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band still recognized the importance of generating such alternatives, and did so not only because it felt it imperative to combat a sexist American culture while providing an ideal vision of a transformed society, but because it also recognized, more simply, the importance of celebrating the "seductive qualities of life."[112]  Rock music, with its "drive and energy, the electronic sounds, [and] the real technical and human magic" it required, expressed and generated a visceral joy, one that did not always come with leaden politics.[113]  As the CWLRB noted in a 1972 work group proposal, "the selected issues of importance in the Union [were] the lowest common denominators such as, adequate housing, adequate wages, adequate child care," and the band hoped to "work towards attaining things which [were] not just adequate, but exciting-creative-wonderful!"[114]  In this sense, the CWLRB positioned itself firmly in the tradition of performing cultural work.  But the band, however, insisted that it was not merely "an entertaining way to break the tensions that [came] from 'serious' political work."[115]  With its blend of art and direct and politicized cultural intervention, it served as "an organizing and agitating tool of the women's movement," one that, while associated with the CWLU, differed from it "on many points."[116]

In particular, tension seemed to exist between the Union and the CWLRB surrounding the very issue of cultural intervention.  In its 1972 work group proposal, for example, the CWLRB noted that within the Union there existed a belief that "culture itself was frivolous" and that "no serious revolutionary would indulge in such frippery."[117]  This sentiment perhaps led some in the CWLU to view the rock band's mission as "less serious" than other political work, and for that reason less important.  While designed and crafted as a political project, the CWLRB's endeavor did operate distinctively in the cultural realm.  Its function as a consciousness-raising tool—while loaded with political potential—also ran the risk of stalling out at the level of inspiring individual revelation.  It did not necessarily guarantee a subsequent flowering of group-based political activism and involvement.  The Union, after all, was an organization focused primarily on promoting action to generate structural change, and the band's attempt to "define a feminist vision" might have appeared to be "indulging in [a] fantasy" that, due to its possible limitations, was ultimately "a waste of time."[118]  While I could find no published documentation of this opinion in CWLU records, it seems to have been enough of an issue that it prompted the CWLRB explicitly to urge the Union to "recognize the seriousness of [the band's] commitment to the Women's Movement," as well as the general "seriousness of [its] work."[119]  CWLRB guitarist and drummer, Pat Matthews, lightly mocking the opinion of some Union members that the band's project "had an element of frivolity in it" noted, "God forbid you should have fun and be political at the same time.  I mean, what could be worse than enjoying yourself?  This is serious, goddamnit!"[120]  It must be noted, however, that despite this tension surrounding the perceived importance of the CWLRB's project of cultural intervention, overall, "there was little resistance [to] or backlash" from the CWLRB's formation, primarily because "the CWLU liked the band's function of establishing unity and solidarity within the CWLU, which invariably happened at performances."[121]

The Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band continued to generate and foster this solidarity within the Union and the women's movement at large until its dissolution in the spring of 1973.  Though it performed for the last time on May 1 at Southwest Junior College, the CWLRB's final performance in which all of the original band members were present took place in January.  The dance benefit, put on "by and for the [CWLRB]," was entitled "A Farewell to Alms, or Help Us Get Out of Debt," and featured the final appearance of band founder and keyboardist Naomi Weisstein.[122]  Weisstein had taken a job with Bell Laboratories and would be relocating to New Jersey to "continue her research in visual perception."[123]  Her departure would hurt the band, for she was, as Pat Matthews described, a "driving force," the "glue in many ways" that held the band together and kept it focused.[124]  Preceding the 8:30 PM benefit show was an hour-long jam session in which all women were invited to come and play with the band.  It yielded a substantial turnout, with women coming up to play "the guitar, bass guitar, piano, drums, congo, bongos, [and] tambourines," as well as sing "Summertime," and "oldie but goodie blues."[125]  The actual dance attracted 250 people, a mixed crowd of men, women, and children.[126]

After Weisstein's departure, the CWLRB performed several more times, drawing substantial crowds in places like Buffalo, New York, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.[127]  During its final appearance, a "Mayday Celebration" at Southwest Junior College in Chicago, the band gave a somewhat lackluster performance.  The CWLRB's decline was gradual rather than sudden, its members having had various discussions about whether or not to disband.[128]  A number of problems plagued the band, issues that Matthews noted "weren't dealt with real well."[129]  For the most part, these centered on personality conflicts, disputes over how things in the band "should be done," and various resentments "that got built up."[130]  In particular, resentment seemed to focus on Naomi Weisstein, the de facto leader of the band, and her prominence in the women's movement.  Weisstein, "a very articulate speaker," often had speaking engagements at places where the band would perform.[131]  She had also authored, in 1968, the widely published essay, "Kinder, Kuche, Kirche as Scientific Law: Psychology Constructs the Female."[132]  Matthews noted that certain resentments built up because of this, especially given the band's ideological stance that "everybody could do everything."  Remarking on this often constricting ideological policy of radical egalitarianism, Matthews joked, "God forbid anybody should be better at anything than anybody else."[133]

Weisstein cited similar internal problems in accounting for the CWLRB's dissolution, identifying two primary issues that emerged from the women's movement utopianism: first, the idea that "any woman should be able to do anything as well as any other woman," and second, that "there should be no leaders."[134]  Learning quickly that "these ideas were untenable," the band persisted in operating under the assumption that it truly was an "egalitarian collective" with no leaders and no skill and talent gap in terms of musical aptitude.  It was this contradiction between "what [the band] knew to be true versus what [it] pretended" that destroyed the CWLRB.[135]

The problems created by the untenable ideal of "leaderlessness" were not only pressing issues for the Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band.  On the contrary, the band's internal struggles and conflicts mirrored the problems and challenges that simultaneously wracked the larger women's movement.  As previously noted, radical feminist groups were founded on principles of equality and egalitarianism in an effort to promote the inclusion and participation of all women.  Feminists attempted to achieve this ideal by "eschewing leadership and formal structure," believing as they did that hierarchy of any kind served only to oppress and silence some women while giving power to others.[136]  In many respects, this aversion to leaders and formal structure was a response to the elitism that a number of feminists, having turned to women's liberation after prior involvement in the student, anti-war, and civil rights movements, encountered in various groups of the New Left.  Turned off by the operation of these groups, many of which consisted of "one or more men who act as charismatic spokesman, who speak in the name of the institution, and negotiate and represent that body to other bodies in and outside the Movement," feminists strove to distance themselves entirely from hierarchy and the tyranny of leaders.[137]  This commitment to leaderlessness proved unworkable in practice.  For while the women's movement and its numerous groups might have refused to officially designate leaders, some women, because of natural oratory or literary skills, coupled with the mainstream media's need to appoint feminist figureheads (known as the "star system"), became "movement heavies" (as prominent women in the movement were called) despite these efforts.  The emergence of these de facto leaders spawned the brutal practice of "trashing," a process by which "women often [found] themselves viciously attacked by their sisters."[138]  Through this form of character assassination, women who had become "too prominent" or were perceived to be "in a position to unduly influence policy and—use the movement and other women for their own purposes" had their credibility destroyed through gossip, backbiting, and charges of elitism.[139]  The practice was widespread and had the deleterious effect of driving a number of gifted women from the movement.  Despite the persistence and impact of similar problems in the life of the Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band, however, the group's official announcement of its disbandment made no mention of such issues.

Appearing in the May 1973 issue of CWLU News, the two-paragraph disbandment announcement glossed over the band's internal divisions, explaining only that the band was "breaking up after a notably long life-span during which [it had] served a useful purpose."[140]  The tone of the announcement was subdued, and while the band noted its sadness over the split, it asserted that the band's passing should not "be regarded with a sense of loss."[141]  It caught Naomi Weisstein by surprise when she opened the May issue of CWLU News.  For though Weisstein's name had been signed at the bottom of the notice, she had been uninformed and unaware of the band's decision to end its three-year existence.  Responding to the announcement, the band's founder typed a scathing letter, "A Dissent From the Announcement Made By the Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band," and mailed it to the CWLU staff, urging them to reprint her dissent in the next issue of CWLU News.[142]  In her letter, published in the following month's issue of the newsletter, Weisstein described the band's printed announcement as a "public relations job, a mystification, uninformative, explaining nothing."  Sarcastically, however, Weisstein added that it did not come as a surprise to see that "we had papered over what we were and why we split."  The CWLRB had, after all, been in some ways a public relations tool for the women's movement, and more specifically, "public relations for the vision of a society which was just and generous, in which it would be possible to live a joyous, creative life, a vision of what life could be like were it not for the savage patriarchy that surrounds us."  It was not shocking, therefore, that the PR would "spill over into areas in which it did not belong."  The announcement had therefore obscured the "grim truths" of a band

torn with conflict, struggle, self-hatred, inability to deal with the differences in our levels of skill, dishonesty about how uncollective our 'collective' enterprise really was; attack on initiative and suppression of individual's [sic] abilities lest they stand out; power plays; destructive incursions into the personalities of each of the members of the band, misery, [and] unfulfilled expectation.[143]

Weisstein urged the airing of these struggles and conflicts and warned against "acquiescing in a mythology which convert[ed] this bitter, exhausted failure into optimistic apologia," not because she was "vindictive," but because she considered the band's failure instructive.[144]  Understanding the reasons that precipitated the band's collapse would undoubtedly help its members figure out what they "might do better next time."

            This understanding, while beneficial to band members and to the CWLU generally, held value for the entire women's movement.  Like the band, the women's movement had in many ways fallen victim to its own ideology.  A belief in the virtues of radical egalitarianism, fully participatory democracy, and "leaderlessness" drove the movement from its inception.  The idealistic and well-intentioned adoption of these principles was meant to serve the best interests of a movement committed in theory and in practice to the equal participation of all of its members.  In its quest to create a society utterly transformed and egalitarian, the women's movement therefore sought to consciously embody the principles on which that new society would be founded.  But these radical visions—born of idealism and a hopeful belief in the possibilities that every woman could in fact do anything just as well as the next woman—frequently developed into dogmatic pronouncements and proscriptions that demonized those women who, because they held natural talents and abilities in certain areas, tended to stand out.  Ironically, then, the principles intended to help each woman meet her full potential became the very values that prevented a number of women from realizing the full extent of their talents and ambitions.

            Despite the persistence of these internal struggles and convulsions, the Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band did in fact succeed partially in fulfilling its political mission.  The band, as Weisstein noted in her 1973 letter, had set out "to play superb music, and [its members] wanted to be superb, funny, warm, entertaining performers in the context of a defining feminist revolutionary vision," and to a large extent, they did.  The CWLRB had hoped to, and succeeded in, constructing "a new set of relationships with audiences: respectful, playful, egalitarian, ecstatic."  By virtue of their performances, reflected Weisstein, members of the rock band hoped to "utterly—transform a culture which had mutilated women and made women weak—[They] wanted to create a culture that would help women understand the possibilities in [their] lives for joy and humanity and dignity, that would give [them] and all women the strength to bring about that changed society [they] long[ed] so desperately for."[145]  While it is impossible to definitively measure the extent to which the CWLRB influenced rock culture and the larger American society that fostered it, one can be sure that the band's performances had a profound effect on many audience members. 

By providing women with a sense of solidarity and strength in each other, the band's appearances generated a glimpse of the liberated society they hoped to usher into existence.  Such a mission was deeply rooted in cultural creation, yet it stood equally grounded in the spirit of political engagement.  The CWLRB's commitment to propelling a more substantial and expansive cultural transformation required that this vision encompass all of American society.  The band thus pushed for the extension of this vision and implored its audiences not to be satisfied with this powerful, but limited, woman-created environment.  A true liberation of all people required engagement with "outside" society, not seclusion or retreat from it.  The band's "visionary microcosm," therefore, stood as a guide and a hope intended to generate further political action, not as the revolution in and of itself.  Most importantly, the Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band's particular avenue of attack in the struggle to make real and palpable this revolution for all people stemmed from a firm belief in the multi-faceted nature of women's oppression and the subsequent need for innovative approaches to political activism.  Because women experienced their subjugation on simultaneously psychological, emotional, structural, and institutional levels, an effective feminist challenge would require a diversity of resistance strategies, strategies whose hybrid character—in the rock band's case, its explicit linking of cultural production and political activism—reflected the very nature of their societal targets.  Feminism's ambitious goals required equally ambitious and resourceful tactics that then, as now, defy easy and fixed categorization by historians.  The feminist rallying cry of "The personal is political" itself heralded the linkage of individual cultural and social circumstance to a larger framework of exploitation and domination.  As historians, we are thus well-advised to retain flexibility in our analyses of political action and movements to allow for a more nuanced view of the political sphere.  What "counts" as politics should not be determined by hard and fast distinctions, but by more fluid and shifting considerations that better reflect the complex reality of human experience.


[1] Naomi Weisstein, "Days of Celebration and Resistance: The Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band," in The Feminist Memoir Project: Voices from Women's Liberation, ed. Rachel Blau DuPlessis and Ann Snitnow (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1998), 353.

[2] This taped performance of the CWLRB appears in former band member Susan Abod's film, In the Realm of Utopian Desire, 1996.  Accessed online at the CWLU Herstory Website, <>.

[3] Weisstein, "Days of Celebration and Resistance," in The Feminist Memoir Project, 360.

[4] Clearly, the CWLRB's use of music toward political ends is by no means unique to American history.  Folk music's ties to labor in the 1930s and 1940s, the use of the blues by African American performers, the Communist Party's attempt to create a Popular Front to inspire working-class revolution, and the protest songs written by African-American soul performers in the 1960s and 1970s are only a few examples of this union of culture (specifically, music) and politics.  For more on these topics, see Robert Cantwell, When We Were Good: The Folk Revival (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996); Michael Denning, The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century (London: Verso, 1998); Benjamin Filene, Romancing the Folk: Public Memory and American Roots Music (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2000); and Maurice Isserman, If I Had a Hammer—:The Death of the Old Left and the Birth of the New Left (New York: Basic Books, 1987).

[5] Indeed, the CWLRB was not the only feminist music group that sought an explicitly political form of cultural intervention.  The New Haven Women's Liberation Rock Band, a group tied to New Haven Women's Liberation, in fact inspired Naomi Weisstein to start the CWLRB.  Family of Woman, a Chicago-area lesbian band, was also politically inclined (I thank Pat Matthews for bringing Family of Woman to my attention).  Undoubtedly, there existed many more such groups across the country, yet further research is needed for these stories to be told. 

[6] Alice Echols, Daring to Be Bad: Radical Feminism in America, 1967-1975 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989), 244.

[7] Ibid, 101.

[8] Ruth Rosen, The World Split Open: How the Modern Women's Movement Changed America (New York: Penguin Books, 2000), 272.  For more on the various splits, see Rosen, 263-294; and Echols, Daring to Be Bad, 203-241.

[9] Echols, Daring to Be Bad, 210-241.  For more on this "gay-straight" split, also see Rosen, The World Split Open, 164-175.

[10] Ibid, 5.

[11] Ibid, 251.

[12] Arlene Stein, Sex and Sensibility: Stories of a Lesbian Generation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 109.

[13] Nancy Whittier, Feminist Generations: The Persistence of the Radical Women's Movement (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995), 53.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.  For more on cultural feminism and women's community generally, see Linda Alcoff, "Cultural Feminism Versus Post-Structuralism: The Identity Crisis in Feminist Theory," in Feminism and Philosophy: Essential Readings in Theory, Reinterpretation, and Application, ed. Nancy Tuana and Rosemarie Tong (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1995); Flora Davis, Moving the Mountain: The Women's Movement in America Since 1960 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1991).  For works dealing with the subject in a favorable light, see Barbara Epstein, Political Protest and Cultural Revolution: Nonviolent Direct Action in the 1970s and 1980s (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991); Rosen, The World Split Open; and Verta Taylor and Leila J. Rupp, "Women's Culture and Lesbian Feminist Activism: A Reconsideration of Cultural Feminism," in Signs, Autumn 1993, 32-61.

[16] Stein, Sex and Sensibility, 107. 

[17] Hyde Park Chapter, Chicago Women's Liberation Union, Socialist Feminism: A Strategy for the Women's Movement, 1972, 1.

[18] Dana R. Shugar, Separatism and Women's Community (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1995), 51.

[19] Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band, [Untitled Paper on Culture], in CWLU News, 5 January 1973, Chicago Historical Society—Chicago Women's Liberation Union Collection (hereafter, CHS—CWLUC): Box 19, Folder 6.

[20] Hyde Park Chapter, Chicago Women's Liberation Union, Socialist Feminism, 1.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid, 27.

[23] Gleason's column, "Perspectives," appeared in each issue of Rolling Stone.

[24] Ralph J. Gleason, "Perspectives: Festival Paranoia," in Rolling Stone, 6 September 1969, 24.  While the Woodstock Festival and its "Three days of peace and music" in August 1969 has been identified, both historically and mythically, as a high point in the counterculture movement in America, it in many ways represented the end of that idealistic movement itself, and stood as the last truly large and successful music festival.  The Altamont disaster, for example, a free concert organized near San Francisco at Altamont Speedway by the Rolling Stones later that year (Dec. 1969), left four people dead, most notably an African-American man who was knifed to death by Hell's Angels supposedly serving as security guards.  As writer John Morthland has noted, though "hailed as the end of the counterculture," Altamont was "more accurately—a graphic symbol for what the counterculture had in truth become."  See Morthland, "Rock Festivals," in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, ed. Jim Miller (New York: Random House/Rolling Stone Press, 1980), 336-338.  Also seeRolling Stone's lengthy feature article on Altamont, "Let It Bleed," in the 21 January 1970 issue, 18-36.

[25] Gleason, "Perspectives: What We Are and What We Ain't," in Rolling Stone, 2 December 1970, 28.

[26] Weisstein, "Days of Celebration and Resistance," in The Feminist Memoir Project, 352.

[27] Simon Reynolds and Joy Press, The Sex Revolts: Gender, Rebellion, and Rock 'N' Roll (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995), 232-5; Sheila Whiteley, Women and Popular Music: Sexuality, Identity, and Subjectivity (New York: Routledge, 2000), 23.

[28] Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band, [Untitled Paper on Culture], in CWLU News, 5 January 1973, CHS—CWLUC: Box 19, Folder 6.

[29] Simon Frith and Angela McRobbie, "Rock and Sexuality," in On Record: Rock, Pop, and the Written Word, ed. Simon Frith and Andrew Goodwin (New York: Routledge, 1990), 374.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Charles Shaar Murray, Crosstown Traffic: Jimi Hendrix and the Post-War Rock 'n' Roll Revolution (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989), 60.

[32] Led Zeppelin, "Whole Lotta Love," on II, 1969.

[33] Murray, Crosstown Traffic, 60.

[34] Reynolds and Press, The Sex Revolts, 19.

[35] The Rolling Stones, "Under My Thumb," on Aftermath, 1966.

[36] "Backstreet Girl" appears on 1967's Flowers, "Parachute Woman" on 1968's Beggar's Banquet, and "Midnight Rambler" and "Let It Bleed" on 1969's Let It Bleed.  For discussions of these and other Rolling Stones songs, as well as explorations of the sexuality and gender dimensions of the Rolling Stones' live performances (particularly as they concern Mick Jagger), see Sheila Whiteley, "Little Red Rooster v. The Honky Tonk Woman: Mick Jagger, Sexuality, Style, and Image," in Sexing the Groove: Popular Music and Gender, ed. Sheila Whiteley (New York: Routledge, 1997); Whiteley, Women and Popular Music; Frith and McRobbie, "Rock and Sexuality," in On Record: Rock, Pop, and the Written Word; and Reynolds and Press, The Sex Revolts.

[37] Jerry Hopkins, "Kiss Kiss Flutter Flutter Thank You Thank You," in Rolling Stone, 13 December 1969, 6.

[38] The Rolling Stones, "Stray Cat Blues," on Beggar's Banquet, 1968.

[39] Hopkins, "Kiss Kiss Flutter Flutter Thank You Thank You," in Rolling Stone, 13 December 1969, 6-7.

[40] Weisstein, "Days of Celebration and Resistance," in The Feminist Memoir Project, 350.

[41] A number of women also enjoyed a place within other musical genres, most notably African-American female singers such as Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Tina Turner, and Nina Simone, who forcefully asserted themselves within the various traditions of soul, R & B, pop, jazz, and blues.  Joni Mitchell and Carole King, both female singer-songwriters in the folk and pop traditions, additionally claimed significant popularity with the American public.  These women's stories are equally deserving of examination, though for the purposes of this study, and in the interests of space and feasibility, I limit my analysis specifically to the rock & roll genre.  For more information on these and other women in popular music generally, see The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, ed. Jim Miller; Trouble Girls: The Rolling Stone Book of Women In Rock, ed. Barbara O'Dair (New York: Random House, 1997); and Whiteley,Women and Popular Music.

[42] Ellen Willis, "Janis Joplin," in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, 276.

[43] Patricia Kennealy-Morrison, "Rock Around the Cock," in Jazz and Pop, October 1970, reprinted in Rock She Wrote: Women Write About Rock, Pop, and Rap, ed. Evelyn McDonnell and Ann Powers (New York: Delta Books, 1995), 361-2.

[44] Willis, "Janis Joplin," in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, 276. 

[45] Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band, [Untitled Paper on Culture], in CWLU News, 5 January 1973, CHS—CWLUC: Box 19, Folder 6.

[46] Willis, "Janis Joplin," in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, 279.

[47] Alice Echols, Scars of Sweet Paradise: The Life and Times of Janis Joplin (New York: Metropolitan Books, 1999), 306; "Piece of My Heart" and "Ball and Chain" both appear on Big Brother and the Holding Company's 1968 album, Cheap Thrills.  For more on Janis Joplin, see Alice Echols, Shaky Ground: The '60s and Its Aftershocks (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002); Myra Friedman, Buried Alive: The Biography of Janis Joplin (New York: Harmony Books, 1992); Terri Sutton, "Janis Joplin," in Trouble Girls; Reynolds and Press, The Sex Revolts; Whiteley, Women and Popular Music.

[48] Kennealy-Morrison, "Rock Around the Cock," in Rock She Wrote, 363.

[49] Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band, [Untitled Paper on Culture], in CWLU News, 5 January 1973, CHS—CWLUC: Box 19, Folder 6.

[50]  CWLU News, June 1970, 4, CHS—CWLUC: Box 19, Folder 3.  CWLU News would eventually become, in September 1971, the internal newsletter of the Union, publishing meeting minutes and organizational information for those women already involved with the CWLU.  WOMANKIND, a separate CWLU newsletter that began publishing in September 1971, became the "external newspaper of the Union, and [would] be used to reach out to women not in the Union through coverage of events in Chicago and consciousness-raising articles."  CWLU News narrowed to a more internal organizational focus whenWOMANKIND began publication.  Descriptions of the CWLRB's performances often appeared in WOMANKIND, while the band's work-group reports, proposals, and papers appeared in CWLU News.  Announcements regarding these changes of focus can be found in the August 1971 issue of CWLU News, CHS—CWLUC: Box 19, Folder 4.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Naomi Weisstein and Virginia Blaisdell, "Feminist Rock: No More Balls and Chains," in Ms., December 1972, 26.

[53] Weisstein, "Days of Celebration and Resistance," in The Feminist Memoir Project, 351.

[54] Echols, Daring to Be Bad, 136, 387. 

[55] Chicago Women's Liberation Union, [Undated Press Release on Organization], CHS—CWLUC: Box 3, Folder 8.

[56] Hyde Park Chapter, Chicago Women's Liberation Union, Socialist Feminism, 7.  The CWLU formally adopted this position paper as a Union-approved publication at the November 1972 CWLU Membership Conference.

[57] Margaret Strobel, "Consciousness and Action: Historical Agency in the Chicago Women's Liberation Union," in Provoking Agents: Gender and Agency in Theory and Practice, ed. Judith Kegan Gardiner (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1995), 52.  Margaret Strobel is currently working on a book on the Chicago Women's Liberation Union.

[58] [Undated CWLU Press Release], CHS—CWLUC: Box 3, Folder 8.

[59] Weisstein, "Days of Celebration and Resistance," in The Feminist Memoir Project, 352.

[60] Ibid.

[61] Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band, [Untitled Paper on Culture], in CWLU News, 5 January 1973, CHS—CWLUC: Box 19, Folder 6.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band, "Work Group Proposal—Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band," in CWLU News, November 1972, CHS—CWLUC: Box 19, Folder 5.

[65] Weisstein, "Days of Celebration and Resistance," in The Feminist Memoir Project, 353.

[66] Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band, "Work Group Proposal—Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band," in CWLU News, November 1972, CHS—CWLUC: Box 19, Folder 5.

[67] Jo Freeman, The Politics of Women's Liberation: A Case Study of An Emerging Social Movement and Its Relation to the Policy Process (New York: David McKay Company, Inc., 1975), 105.

[68] D.C. Conference Committee for the Toronto Conference on Women and Anti-Imperialism, "Revolutions Are Never Easy: An Analysis of Women's Liberation and the Canadian Conference Process," in off our backs, November 1971, 11.

[69] Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band, "Work Group Proposal—Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band," in CWLU News, November 1972, CHS—CWLUC: Box 19, Folder 5.

[70] Phone Interview with Pat Matthews, 26 February 2004.

[71] "Rock Band Auditions," in CWLU News, October 1970, CHS—CWLUC: Box 19, Folder 3.

[72] Ibid.

[73] Phone Interview with Pat Matthews, 26 February 2004.

[74] Line-up given in a Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band Press Release, 16 June 1972, CHS—CWLUC: Box 3, Folder 8.

[75] Weisstein, "Days of Celebration and Resistance," in The Feminist Memoir Project, 353; Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band, "Work Group Proposal—Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band," in CWLU News, November 1972, CHS—CWLUC: Box 19, Folder 5.

[76] Weisstein, "Days of Celebration and Resistance," in The Feminist Memoir Project, 353.

[77] Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band, [Untitled Paper on Culture], in CWLU News, 5 January 1973, CHS—CWLUC: Box 19, Folder 6.

[78] Phone Interview with Pat Matthews, 26 February 2004.

[79] Rosen, The World Split Open, 220.

[80] Ibid.

[81] From "Who We Are and How We Got Here" [Album Liner Notes], Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band and New Haven Women's Liberation Rock Band,Mountain Moving Day, Rounder Records, 1972.  Accessed at: <>

[82] Weisstein and Blaisdell, "Feminist Rock: No More Balls and Chains," in Ms., December 1972, 27.

[83] Ibid.

[84] From "Who We Are and How We Got Here" [Album Liner Notes], Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band and New Haven Women's Liberation Rock Band,Mountain Moving Day, Rounder Records, 1972.  Accessed at: <>

[85] Ibid.

[86] Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band, "How You Gonna Keep Us Down?," lyrics appearing in an undated packet containing the words to songs and poetry performed by the CWLRB, CHS—CWLUC: Box 17, Folder 15.

[87] Weisstein, "Days of Celebration and Resistance," in The Feminist Memoir Project, 354.

[88] Phone Interview with Pat Matthews, 26 February 2004.

[89] Ibid.

[90] See press releases and calendar announcements in various issues of CWLU News and WOMANKIND; Also see Weisstein, "Days of Celebration and Resistance," in The Feminist Memoir Project.  Pat Matthews noted that the CWLRB rarely traveled west of Chicago to perform.

[91] Correspondence with Naomi Weisstein, 21 February 2004.

[92] Hyde Park Chapter, Chicago Women's Liberation Union, Socialist Feminism, 26.

[93] Ibid.

[94] CWLRB performances typically drew between 20 and 200 audience members, though they sometimes attracted more, depending on the occasion.  Correspondence with Naomi Weisstein, 21 February 2004.

[95] Weisstein, "Days of Celebration and Resistance," in The Feminist Memoir Project, 354.

[96] Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band, "Secretary," Lyrics accessed at <>

[97] Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band (Music), Yosano Akiko and Naomi Weisstein (Lyrics) "Mountain Moving Day," Lyrics accessed at Ibid.

[98] Weisstein, "Days of Celebration and Resistance," in The Feminist Memoir Project, 355.

[99] "Record Released," in WOMANKIND, September 1972, 3, CHS—CWLUC: Box 20, Folder 6.

[100] Ibid; "Band Record!," in CWLU News, 20 December 1972, CHS—CWLUC: Box 19, Folder 5; Weisstein, "Days of Celebration and Resistance," in The Feminist Memoir Project, 356-7; Phone Interview with Pat Matthews, 26 February 2004.

[101] The New Haven Women's Liberation Rock Band performed the remaining four songs on the album: "Abortion Song," "Prison Song," "Sister Witch," and "Shotgun."  An expanded version of the album with the new title, Papa Don't Lay That Shit On Me, is scheduled for reissue by Rounder Records in the near future.

[102] Naomi Weisstein, Correspondence with Author, 21 February 2004; Phone Interview with Pat Matthews, 26 February 2004.

[103] Phone Interview with Pat Matthews, 26 February 2004.

[104] Weisstein, "Days of Celebration and Resistance," in The Feminist Memoir Project, 354.

[105] Ibid.

[106] Phone Interview with Pat Matthews, 26 February 2004.

[107] Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band, [Untitled Paper on Culture], in CWLU News, 5 January 1973, Chicago Historical Society—Chicago Women's Liberation Union Collection, Box 19, Folder 6.

[108] Ibid.

[109] Ibid.

[110] Ibid.

[111] Ibid.

[112] Weisstein, "Days of Celebration and Resistance," in The Feminist Memoir Project, 353.

[113] Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band, [Untitled Paper on Culture], in CWLU News, 5 January 1973, CHS—CWLUC: Box 19, Folder 6.

[114] Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band, "Work Group Proposal" Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band," in CWLU News, November 1972, CHS—CWLUC: Box 19, Folder 5.

[115] Ibid.

[116] Naomi Weisstein, Correspondence with Author, 21 February 2004.

[117] Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band, "Work Group Proposal" Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band," in CWLU News, November 1972, CHS—CWLUC: Box 19, Folder 5.

[118] Ibid.

[119] Ibid.

[120] Phone Interview with Pat Matthews, 26 February 2004.

[121] Naomi Weisstein, Correspondence with Author, 21 February 2004.  Weisstein, however, also noted that there "may have been some ranking of work projects, with the CWLRB not as 'important' as, say, the health collective."

[122] [Advertisement for CWLRB performance], in CWLU News, 5 January 1973, CHS—CWLUC: Box 19, Folder 6.

[123] "Band Record Out," in WOMANKIND, January 1973, 3, CHS—CWLUC: Box 20, Folder 6.

[124] Phone Interview with Pat Matthews, 26 February 2004.

[125] "Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band," in WOMANKIND, February 1973, 3, Chicago Historical Society—Chicago Women's Liberation Union Collection: Box 20, Folder 7.

[126] Ibid.

[127] See concert descriptions/summaries in the March 1973 and 15 April-15 May 1973 issues of WOMANKIND, CHS—CWLUC: Box 20, Folder 7.  The CWLRB drew 500 audience members in Buffalo and 250 in Pittsburgh.

[128] Naomi Weisstein to CWLU Staff, "A Dissent From the Announcement Made By the Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band," 26 May 1973, CHS—CWLUC: Box 17, Folder 15.

[129] Phone Interview with Pat Matthews, 26 February 2004.

[130] Ibid.  Matthews notes that some members (notably, Sherry Jenkins) wanted the band to be a full-time project, not simply part-time, as it had been.  Yet multiple members had outside jobs and lacked the time to realistically make such a commitment.

[131] Ibid.

[132] Naomi Weisstein, "Kinder, Kuche, Kirche as Scientific Law: Psychology Constructs the Female," reprinted in Radical Feminism, ed. Anne Koedt, Ellen Levine, and Anita Rapone (New York: Quadrangle Books, 1973), 178-197.

[133] Phone Interview with Pat Matthews, 26 February 2004.

[134] Weisstein, "Days of Celebration and Resistance," in The Feminist Memoir Project, 357.

[135] Ibid, 357-8.

[136] Echols, Daring to Be Bad, 204.

[137] Marge Piercy, "The Grand Coolie Dam," in Sisterhood Is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings From the Women's Liberation Movement, ed. Robin Morgan (New York: Vintage Books, 1970), 475.

[138] Joreen, "The Tyranny of Structurelessness," reprinted in Radical Feminism, 293.

[139] Barbara Mehrhof, "On Class Structure Among Women," reprinted in off our backs, 10 July 1970, 12; Echols, Daring to Be Bad, 204-210.

[140] "An Announcement from the Band," in CWLU News, 18 May 1973, CHS—CWLUC: Box 19, Folder 6.

[141] Ibid.

[142] Naomi Weisstein to CWLU Staff, "A Dissent From the Announcement Made By the Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band," 26 May 1973, CHS—CWLUC: Box 17, Folder 15.

[143] Ibid.

[144] Ibid.

[145] Ibid.


A. Manuscript Collections

Chicago Historical Society, Chicago Women's Liberation Union Collection, Boxes 3, 17, 19, and 20.

B. Correspondence/Interviews

            Correspondence with Naomi Weisstein, 21 February 2004.

Phone Interview with Pat Matthews, 26 February 2004.

C. Books

            Altschuler, Glenn C.  All Shook Up: How Rock 'n' Roll Changed America.  New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Cantwell, Robert.  When We Were Good: The Folk Revival.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.

            Davis, Flora.  Moving the Mountain: The Women's Movement In America Since 1960.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 1991.

            Denning, Michael.  The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century.  London: Verso, 1998.

            DuPlessis, Rachel Blau and Ann Snitnow, eds.  The Feminist Memoir Project: Voices from Women's Liberation.  New York: Three Rivers Press, 1998.

            Echols, Alice.  Daring to Be Bad: Radical Feminism In America, 1967-1975.  Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1989.

            ------.  Scars of Sweet Paradise: The Life and Times of Janis Joplin.  New York: Metropolitan Books, 1999.

            ------.  Shaky Ground: The Sixties and Its Aftershocks.  New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

            Epstein, Barbara.  Political Protest and Cultural Revolution: Nonviolent Direct Action in the 1970s and 1980s.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.

Freeman, Jo.  The Politics of Women's Liberation: A Case Study of an Emerging Social Movement and Its Relation to the Policy Process.  New York: David McKay Company, Inc., 1975.

Filene, Benjamin.  Romancing the Folk: Public Memory and American Roots Music.  Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.

Friedman, Myra.  Buried Alive: The Biography of Janis Joplin.  New York: Harmony Books, 1992.

Frith, Simon and Andrew Goodwin, eds.  On Record: Rock, Pop, and the Written Word.  New York: Routledge, 1990.

Gardiner, Judith Kegan, ed.  Provoking Agents: Gender and Agency in Theory and Practice.  Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1995.

Hirshey, Gerri.  We Gotta Get Out of This Place: The True, Tough Story of Women In Rock.  New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2001.

Isserman, Maurice.  If I Had A HammerÉ: The Death of the Old Left and the Birth of the New Left.  New York: Basic Books, 1987.

Koedt, Anne, Ellen Levine, and Anita Rapone, eds.  Radical Feminism.  New York: Quadrangle Books, 1973.

Miller, James.  Democracy Is In the Streets: From Port Huron to the Siege of Chicago.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994.

Miller, Jim, ed.  The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll.  New York: Random House/Rolling Stone Press, 1980.

McDonnell, Evelyn and Ann Powers, eds.  Rock She Wrote:  Women Write About Rock, Pop, and Rap.  New York: Delta Books, 1995.

Morgan, Robin, ed.  Sisterhood Is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings from the Women's Liberation Movement.  New York: Vintage Books, 1970.

Murray, Charles Shaar.  Crosstown Traffic: Jimi Hendrix and the Post-War Rock n' Roll Revolution.  New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989.

Nehring, Neil.  Popular Music, Gender, and Postmodernism: Anger Is An Energy.  Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1993.

O'Dair, Barbara, ed.  Trouble Girls: The Rolling Stone Book of Women In Rock.  New York: Random House, 1997.

Redstockings, ed.  Feminist Revolution.  New York: Random House, 1978.

Reynolds, Simon and Joy Press.  The Sex Revolts: Gender, Rebellion, and Rock 'n' Roll.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995.

Rosen, Ruth.  The World Split Open: How the Modern Women's Movement Changed America.  New York: Penguin Books, 2000.

Stein, Arlene.  Sex and Sensibility: Stories of a Lesbian Generation.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Shugar, Dana R.  Separatism and Women's Community.  Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1995.

Tuana, Nancy and Rosemarie Tong, eds.  Feminism and Philosophy: Essential Readings in Theory, Reinterpretation, and Application.  Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1995.

Weiss, Penny A. and Marilyn Friedman, eds.  Feminism and Community.  Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995.

Whiteley, Sheila, ed.  Sexing the Groove: Popular Music and Gender.  New York: Routledge, 1997.

------.  Women and Popular Music: Sexuality, Identity, and Subjectivity.  New York: Routledge, 2000.

Whittier, Nancy.  Feminist Generations: The Persistence of the Radical Women's Movement.  Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995.

D. Articles

Alpert, Jane, 'Mother Right: A New Feminist Theory,off our backs, May 1973, 22, 26-28.

Alterman, Loraine, 'Hendrix's All-New Band of Gypsys,"Rolling Stone, 7 February 1970, 10.

Bangs, Lester, et al, "Let it Bleed,"Rolling Stone, 21 January 1970, 18-36.

Barry, Kathleen, "West Coast Conference: Not Purely Academic,"off our backs, September 1973, 25.

Baumgardner, Jennifer, "Aural History with the Women's Liberation Rock Bands: Second-Wave Feminists Kicked Out the Jams Long Before Riot Grrrl,"Bitch, Winter 2004, 75-80.

Booth, Stanley, "The Memphis Debut of the Janis Joplin Revue,"Rolling Stone, 1 February 1969, 1,4.

            Burks, John, "An Appreciation,"Rolling Stone, 15 October 1970, 8-9.

------, 'Hendrix: The End of a Beginning Maybe,'Rolling Stone, 19 March 1970, 40-42. 

Burks, John, Jerry Hopkins, and Paul Nelson, 'The Groupies and Other Girls,'Rolling Stone, 15 February 1969, 11-26.

off our backs Staff, 'Dear Sisters,'off our backs, 27 February 1970, 2.

Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band, 'Who We Are and How We Got Here'[liner notes from the album, Mountain Moving Day, Rounder Records], 1972.  Accessed online at the Chicago Women's Liberation Union Herstory Website, <>

Cott, Jonathan and David Dalton, 'Janis and London Come Together,'Rolling Stone, 31 May 1969, 6.

Ferro, Nancy, Coletta Reid Holcomb, and Marilyn Salzman-Webb, 'Setting it Straight,'off our backs, 25 April 1970, 3.

Fong-Torres, Ben, 'Jefferson Airplane Today,'Rolling Stone, 12 July 1969, 25-26.

Gleason, Ralph J., 'Perspectives: Another Candle Blown Out,'Rolling Stone, 29 October 1970, 16.

------, "Perspectives: Bullshit is Still Bullshit,"Rolling Stone, 3 September 1970, 18.

------, "Perspectives: Believe in the Magic,"Rolling Stone, 15 November 1969, 27.

------, "Perspectives: Festival Paranoia,"Rolling Stone, 6 September 1969, 24.

------, "Perspectives: The Music is Still Where It's At,"Rolling Stone, 8 July 1971, 24.

------, "Perspectives: What We Are & What We Ain't,"Rolling Stone, 2 December 1970, 28.

Greenfield, Robert, "Goodbye Great Britain: The Rolling Stones on Tour,"Rolling Stone, 15 April 1971, 14-16.

------, "Keith Richard: The Rolling Stone Interview,"Rolling Stone, 19 August 1971, 24-36.

Hopkins, Jerry, "Kiss Kiss Flutter Flutter Thank You Thank You,"Rolling Stone, 13 December 1969, 1, 6, 54.

------, "The Stones Tour: 'Is That A Lot?,''Rolling Stone, 15 November 1969, 16-17.

Hyde Park Chapter, Chicago Women's Liberation Union, Socialist Feminism: A Strategy for the Women's Movement, 1972.

''It Was Like Balling for the First Time,''Rolling Stone, 20 September 1969, 1, 20-26.

"Janis Joplin,"Rolling Stone, 29 October 1970, 1, 6-10.

"Jimi" Rolling Stone, 15 October 1970, 1, 6-8.

"Joni Mitchell,"Rolling Stone, 17 May 1969, 8-9.

"Lady Singers,"Rolling Stone, 1 November 1969, 40,42.

Landau, Jon, "Rock 1970: It's Too Late to Stop Now,"Rolling Stone, 2 December 1970, 41-44.

Marcus, Greil, "The Woodstock Festival,"Rolling Stone,'20 September 1969, 16-18.

------, "They Put the Weight on Mick & He Carried It,"Rolling Stone, 13 December 1969, 7.

Mehrhof, Barbara, "On Class Structure Among Women,"off our backs, 10 July 1970, 12.

Nelson, Paul, "Janis: The Judy Garland of Rock and Roll?,"Rolling Stone, 15 March 1969, 6,8.

"Revolutions are Never Easy: An Analysis of Women's Liberation and the Canadian Conference Process,"off our backs, November 1971, 10-11.

Ryan, Barbara, "Ideological Purity and Feminism: The U.S. Women's Movement from 1966 to 1975,"Gender and Society, June 1989, 239-257.

Taylor, Verta and Leila J. Rupp, "Women's Culture and Lesbian Feminist Activism: A Reconsideration of Cultural Feminism,"Signs, Autumn 1993, 32-61.

Weisstein, Naomi and Virginia Blaisdell, "Feminist Rock: No More Balls and Chains,"Ms., December 1972, 25-27.

Weller, Sheila, "Jimi Hendrix,"Rolling Stone, 15 November 1969, 28-29.

Women's Commune, "Mind Bogglers,"off our backs, 31 July 1970, 13.

Yorke, Ritchie, "Keith Richards,"Rolling Stone, 15 November 1969, 18.

E. Multimedia

            Abod, Susan.  Video excerpt from the film, In the Realm of Utopian Desire, 1996.  Accessed online at the Chicago Women's Liberation Union Herstory Website, <>

Big Brother and the Holding Company, Cheap Thrills, 1968.

Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band and New Haven Women's Liberation Rock Band, Mountain Moving Day, 1972.  Tracks accessed online through the Chicago Women's Liberation Union Herstory Website, <>

            Led Zeppelin, II, 1969.

            The Rolling Stones, Aftermath, 1966.

            ------, Beggar's Banquet, 1968.

            ------, Flowers, 1967.

            ------, Let It Bleed, 1969.

Suffragette City: The Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band

by Ben Kim (1994): This is a somewhat abridged version of an article that appeared in Chicago's alternative paper, New City in April of 1994). 

Changing the lyrics, controlling the equipment, making low the mighty—these are obvious [although difficult] tasks of a feminist, humanitarian music. Divesting rock of its sexism, however, leads to a startling development apparently, one can’t simply make nice, clean revolutionary rock without the rock itself—the musical form—changing. Maybe the quality of that energy which so characterizes relic is modified when it is used for dancing and celebration rather than as an insistent, repetitive power trip to keep the audience awed, obedient, and flat on its back
—Naomi Weisstein and Virginia Blaisdell from “Feminist Rock: No More Balls and Chains” (1972)

“Wanna start your own rock band, its easier than you think,” claims an article in this month’s Sassy. In “Kicking Out the Jams: A How-To Guide,” Mary Ann Marshall breaks it down neatly, from step one: “Learn to play an instrument,” to step 11: “Shop your demo to labels.” The band illustrated is comprised like Sassy’s targeted readership, of adolescent girls.

Notwithstanding prevailing sexism on the radio/video airwaves, in clubland, on the charts, and in the industry in general, things have come a long way: the Sassy article isn’t some fantasy, it’s a nuts-and-bolts guide to what hundreds of women can do, will do, are doing. The riot-grrl phenomenon, which welled up just a few years ago in a bright-hot fusion of postfeminist politics and postpunk rock, selected the guitar as a tool every girl should have to build a secret world apart. As never before, it’s a time for women to rock. But 24 years ago, a group of Chicagoans said it was time. And they were early. That is, they were first.

The Chicago Women’s Liberation Rock Band was the self- described “agit-rock” arm of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union. Founded in 1969, the union was an umbrella organization, rooted in principles that came to be identified as socialist feminism, focusing on projects in education, service, and direct-action, by and for women (This predilection for action distinguished the union from its more theoretically oriented counterparts across the country, which emphasized consciousness-raising.)

These projects included the Liberation School which predated most women’s studies curricula), Graphics Collective, Legal Clinic, Prison Project, Direct Action for Rights of Employment (DARE), Speakers Bureau, Action Coalition for Decent Childcare (ACDC), Rape Crisis Center, and the renowned Abortion Counseling Service, Jane.

Naomi Weisstein organized the band in March of 1970. Though later in the decade punk rock would affirm that indeed “anyone can play”, feminism spread that plain truth to women early on. “Our early women’s movement said that any woman could do anything” Weisstein writes. (Due to ill health, Weisstein could not conduct a personal interview. Her comments are drawn, with consent, from a recent essay and correspondence, cited at the end of this piece.) “As long as a woman wanted to learn an instrument or wanted to sing, I included her as a member, believing that with positive expectations and a good deal of enthusiasm she could quickly learn what she didn’t know.”

Many lent their efforts during the initial months, and the band debuted in Grant Park that summer with 12 singers and 4 guitarists: by all accounts it was a musical disaster, proving the open membership policy untenable. Soon after, the band’s core lineup solidified: Susan Abod (bass, vocals), Sherry Jenkins (guitar, vocals), Patricia Miller (guitar, vocals), Linda Mitchell (manager), Fania Mantalvo (drums), Suzanne Prescott (drums). and Weisstein (keyboards).

“We were trying to tackle the form,” recalls Abod.“With the exception of Sherry, we were all coming from classical or folk backgrounds so it was a real challenge for us. We were just trying to get our technical skills together and get a strong backbeat.” If the band’s musical quality was initially shaky, the enthusiasm of the audience more than compensated. “I remember one of our first gigs, in January of 1971, at Alice’s Revisited (a popular coffeehouse on Wrightwood),” recalls Pat Solo, formerly Patricia Miller. “We were just terrible. And we got a standing ovation. Clearly it wasn’t just for the music.”

Abod remembers the gig, too. “The place was packed to the gills with women. After I sang my first song they roared. Musically, we were schlocking our way through. But there was so much love and support for what were trying to do. They just thought we were the greatest!”

Like the union itself, the band was about action, but steeped in ideology, born of it. The band theorized its purpose, debated its role, and even documented the course of its thoughts. In a “Work Group Analysis,” written late in 1972, the band saw itself expanding the union’s scope in a vital way. “(In the union) there was no awareness of how a culture shapes what people want and how they should want it. Aspects of culture such as music, poetry and art were frivolous (The union should) recognize the seriousness of our commitment to the Women’s Movement. We are more than an entertaining way to break the tensions that. come from ‘serious’ political work”.

Every band, to some extent, concentrates on extra-musical details, everything that might possibly define what it stands for— today’s indie rockers, for example, focus enormous attention on graphic design.

As an explicitly political entity, this band treated its every move as explicitly political—as a nominally leaderless collective, the band hashed out every decision at length. “We were riding this wave of tremendous change,” Abod notes.” And when you do that, stuff comes up. What are we going to say, how, and why. Who can and can’t do what and who says so. What does it mean for our power structure. It was political self-analysis at its gutsiest.”

Meetings and rehearsals placed heavy demands—a minimum of 15 hours a week, excluding performances—on the members, all who had full-time engagements as professionals or students. In this band, working out your part meant more than learning notes.

The band’s extraordinary self-consciousness combined with its dutiful self--chronicling, yields a rare, deep look into in idea in time. If its merely taking the stage was revolutionary, the band’s imperative to rock was radical in ways not readily apprehensible, as explained in a “Culture Paper” submitted to the union in early 1973:

    We like rock and so do millions of others. There is creativity and music and a sense of joy in all of us. What rock told us, though, was that in order to be able to create this kind of music, you had to be magic, and you had to be male. And everybody accepted that. We accepted that, until the words got through to us, and we realized that we were despised. Why were we digging the celebrations of our degradation? Partly hype, partly real content. The hype was that this music was the new insurgency, that it was dangerous to the powers that were. And the content had to do with the music...We should tell it simply: we chose rock because we dug it so much. And so did many other people: every 14-year-old listens to rock music. Here was a cultural vehicle of great popularity, power and appeal. Maybe we could use it.

So they used rock to build q revolutionary, socialist feminist, humanist culture, first by writing politically charged lyrics, like the wonderfully angry “Secretary” (See Lyrics). But the band felt that lyrics weren’t enough.

    We have to change the total experience of the rock performance,” the band writes in its Culture Paper. “We have to involve our audiences as equals, include rather than insult them, respect rather than degrade them, play for them rather than at them, acknowledge that our audience is our life, our understanding, our spirit... We keep the house lights on them. We rap a lot with them.. .We do theater for them and with them...We pass out lyrics, teach them songs, and have them sing along.”

The band’s assault on male rock hegemony, simultaneously straightforward and tricky, used both music and humor. The latter came out primarily during the raps and theater. Abod recalls one particular crowd-phasing routine. “We did the Kinks ‘ You Really Got Me’ but with a whole new set of lyrics that started with ‘Man,’ instead of ‘Girl,’ and we pranced holding our ‘cocks’ like Mick Jagger. Or whatever rock star we found really annoying, and it would just look ridiculous. And the audience was totally into the guerrilla theater of it—they’d shriek and grab at our legs like groupies. It was so much fun, laughing at a culture that had kept us down.”

"We have been able to create an alternative to the total macho rock culture," the band wrote in its Work Group Analysis. In moving apart, they created a dialectic with that culture, casing Guyville and vandalizing its main street, mapping the regions of disgust and awe in a Mick Jagger, world not of their own making that would inescapably define their exile from it—all this around the time Liz Phair was gearing up for kindergarten.

All through 1971 and ‘72, the band racked up more gigs, traveling to Colorado Springs, Indianapolis, Ithaca, Lewisburg, Pittsburgh, Toronto and elsewhere, and playing locally at universities (U of C, UIC) Wobbly Hall on Lincoln, and the People’s Church on Lawrence. “Women are welcome to come with us on out-of-town gigs as space and money permits,” they wrote to union members. “Be willing to work a little and drink some”.

They got better as they played. And though clearly making history all along, the band was eventually able to freeze its moment in vinyl for posterity. In the spring of ‘72 they journeyed to Massachusetts, where, along with their counterparts in the New Haven Women’s Liberation Rack Band, they recorded on album for Rounder Records. “Mountain Moving Day” was released that fall, with each band contributing one side.

“We were perfectionists, so we weren’t satisfied with the product,” admits Abod. “We worked really hard on our stuff, and it still wasn’t where we wanted it so be.” Nevertheless, on “Mountain Moving Music” the band displays more than a fair amount of musicianship and spirit. The Chicago group contributes the mid-tempo rocker “Secretary:” the bluesy “Ain’t Gonna Marry,” a rag called “Papa” which transforms the traditional “Keep On Truckin'’ Mama” into an attack on —“Rolling Stones, Blood Sweat and Tears/I’ve. taken that shit for too many years”, and the stirring title ballad. Though “Mountain Moving Music” doesn’t rock hard by conventional standards, its strong convictions lend it considerable weight. In a sense, it’s the mother of riot grrl. foxcore, any rock by women who ask no quarter.

The band broke up in mid-1973, after Weisstein moved to the East Coast. The union continued until 1977. The others wrote to the union, upon dissolution, that “expanding a feminist vision through titanic will continue by the formation of new bands,” This, then, is the legacy of these women who played hard and thought rigorously—the very idea, so very empowering, of women rocking, echoed today in the riot grrl call for."all girls to be in bands."

"A lot of women came up to me after our shows and said,'I want to do that,'” remembers Abod. "and we tried to make them understood that they could. Any of them could. And I think a lot of them did."

“Our music is embedded in a context, Women’s Liberation and a vision of our possibilities as women,” the band wrote in its Work Group Analysis. The riot grrls dramatically reclaim that context just as Sassy—"This starting-a- band business is quite a committment...but if its something you’re meant to do, you’ll breeze right through it"-blithely accepts that birthright. And both versions--the battle still raging, the victory won—feel like progress. The vision of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Rock Band is a girl’s picture of herself rocking today. Rocking like it can change the world—like it’s the most natural thing in the world.

Who We Are and How We Got Here

These are the 1972 liner notes from the album Mountain Moving Day which featured both the Chicago and the New Haven Women's Liberation Rock Bands Both the Chicago Women’s Liberation Rock Band and the New Haven Women’s Liberation Rock Band were begun about 2 1/2 years ago by women in and around the women’s movement in our two cities. At that time some of us were already musicians who had gotten an education in sexism by playing in male bands. Some of us were fugitives of high school marching bands, folk music groups and Mrs. Porter’s music recitals. Some of us had stashed unplayed instruments under our beds years ago. And some of us were would-be musicians, learning to play for the first time. All of us wanted to create a new kind of band and a new kind of music, though we had no clear idea how to do that.

We knew what we didn’t want: the whole male rock trip with its insulting lyrics, battering-ram style and contempt for the audience. We didn’t want to write the female counterpart of songs like “Under My Thumb,” “Back-Street Girl,” “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” where men say to us ‘you’re beneath contempt and we will celebrate your degradation.’ We had to think of some other way to make a hit besides bumping and grinding like Mick Jagger, raping and burning our guitars like Jimi Hendrix, or whacking off on stage like Jim Morrison. We didn’t want to pulverize our audience’s (and our own) eardrums with 1010 decibels. As performers we didn’t want to get off by trashing the people we played for, and we didn’t want to have a star backed up by a squad of secondary musicians.

But what did we want anyway? We knew that we wanted to make music that would embody the radical, feminist, humanitarian vision we shared. And the lyric were the obvious place to begin—the field was wide open. Most of the rock songs women have sung till now were about the pain men cause us—the pain that’s supposed to define us as women. We didn’t want to deny that tradition (women struggled hard for the right to sing even that much) bvt we wanted to sing about how the pain doesn’t have to be there—how we fight and struggle and love to make it change. At first it was easiest to write new lyrics to old songs, but as time has gone on we have begun to write entirely new material (the record contains examples from both these phases).

We also had to demystify the priesthood of the instrument and the amplifier— move and set up the equipment, find the fuses, fix the feedback, mike, monitor and control it all ourselves. We had to try to break down the barriers that usually exist between performers and audiences by rapping a lot between songs about who we are, what we’re doing, and where our songs come from. Whenever possible we’ve played in places where people can dance, done some theatre and comedy, passed out lyrics so people could sing with us, and invited other women to come and jam with us.

The hardest thing to deal with was the music itself—what could we make out of such a motley collection of tastes, backgrounds and instruments? We had started from scratch, not by fitting accomplished musicians into traditional slots. We had no leaders, arrangers, managers, agents, roadies—even equipment or instruments. We thought of the bands as collectives, so we wanted to learn together and work toward eliminating the inequalities of (musical) power that existed among us. Our progress has been slow and difficult-it has come out of thousands of hours spent practicing, teaching each other, taking lessons, listening to other bands, jamming, writing and working all kinds of things out with each other. Over the past 2 1/2 years each band has evolved its own material and style which is partly the result of the combination of instruments we happened to end up with and largely the result of our efforts to make collective, non-assaultive joyful rock music.


We are the ‘agit-rock’ arm of our respective women’s movements. In Chicago this means we are a chapter of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union (more about this later). In New Haven we are all members of New Haven Women’s Liberation. We go places where leaflets can’t go—college dances, women’s conferences, rallies, benefits, festivals, prisons and miscellaneous events. And perhaps we say things that leaflets can’t say because we have music and performance to help us generate for those few hours while we’re playing some glimpse of the world we’d like to see happen. Some of our jobs have been more than just exciting—we and the audience have shared in a deeply-felt celebration of our vision. At others we’ve been met with bad vibes, hostile men, inadequate electricity, freezing weather.

We charge for our performances according to what people can pay, and so far have spent our earnings on equipment, transportation, food, drink, rent for rehearsal space and donations to the women’s movement. We don’t see the bands as profit-making (all of us have other jobs which support us) but as part of what needs to be done to change the culture of this society.

What we all want to do is use the power of rock to transform what the world is like into a vision of what the world could be like; create an atmosphere where women are free enough to struggle to be free, and make a new kind of culture that is an affirmation of ourselves and of all people.


We in the Chicago band wanted to add just a little note about the organization that we’re a part of because we feel that it has been important to us and to the women in Chicago. This is the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union, which is the only on-going radical feminist organization of its type in the country. In its three years it has provided a political unity and sense of direction for much of the women’s movement in Chicago. Some of the projects included in the Union are:

Women’s Graphics Collective (original feminist art & posters) 
Liberation School for Women (alternative education for and about women)
Health Project (which fights to keep city maternity centers open and offers pregnancy testing and health referrals)
Work Work Group (to equalize salary and job differentials for city employees)
Womankind (a women’s newspaper)
Speakers Bureau
Rape Crisis Center

Vintage Video of the Rock Band

Consumer video was still in its infancy in the early 1970's, but some video of Rock Band performances do exist.

In 1996, former band members Naomi Weisstein and Susan Abod collaborated on a compilation of those video clips. The image quality is not the greatest, but the enthusiasm and energy of the Band and its audience are infectious.

This video requires Quicktime .