Getting the Word Out

GETTING THE WORD OUT: CWLU Speaker’s Bureau and Media Relations Work

By Margaret Schmid

At the time the CWLU was founded, public and media interest in this strange new phenomenon called “women’s lib” was high. Requests to send speakers to events and classes came in frequently. Reporters wanted quotable quotes and stories about these strange new ideas, some with the goal of discrediting them. The new organization had to decide early on whether and how to get its sweeping new vision of liberation and empowerment for women out to a sometimes interested, often confused, and sometimes hostile (especially in the media) audience. Decisions on whether and how to communicate CWLU’s bold vision of liberation for women also required wrestling with important issues of egalitarianism and elitism, not just effective communication.

The Context

It is hard to think back to the early 1970s, when an ad from a poplar magazine read:

“Should a bride-to-be work as a Hertz girl before marriage? Yes, it gets her used to being taken for granted. And if that’s not perfect training for marriage, we’d like to know what is.”1

At the time, want-ads (then the major way of finding jobs) were listed by gender. Those women who didn’t follow the norm of getting married and having children could find work as teachers or nurses but seldom much beyond: only 8% of physicians were women; 5 % of lawyers were female.2 There were virtually no women news reporters (although there were a few “weather girls”)3 and news on the “women’s page” consisted mainly of society events, flower shows, and recipes. The term “sexism” had not yet been invented. Even in the New Left anti-war and civil rights movements, women were relegated to running mimeo (copy) machines and making coffee, while men made the decisions and the speeches. In fact, most New Left groups opposed the creation of an independent women’s movement as divisive.

To appear in front of a group and advocate for a radically different vision of the proper role and place of women in the world was a daunting challenge for all but the most experienced women. At the same time, the new CWLU wanted to avoid the “male” path of creating a select number of experienced star speakers while consigning all other CWLU members to sit in the audience. The struggle to communicate CWLU’s radical vision effectively while at the same time giving all CWLU members the opportunities, skills and support to participate in this broad and essential educational work created a tension that shaped the CWLU Speakers Bureau and media relations policy and practice.

Speaker’s Bureau: The Origin

The origins of the CWLU Speaker’s Bureau, set up early in the first year of CWLU’s existence, was described by two of CWLU’s founding activists:

The speakers policy arose shortly after the CWLU was formed. It was the time when people were interested in getting a women’s liberation spokeswoman on every talk show, church forum and college campus in the country. When requests came to the Union we would at first suggest women representatives from our membership who volunteered to speak publicly. All this did, essentially, was reinforce the kind of elitism which had previously existed. By promoting women who already had the confidence in themselves as political speakers, a star system was developing. This policy was criticized, and a new speakers policy was suggested which still functions in our organization. The policy is that all women who are members should learn to speak about the women’s movement. All speaking engagements are filled on a rotating basis. Each chapter has a turn to fill a request and must find a women member willing to do it. This has ensured that most women in our organization have spoken at least once about women-related issues, and it has ensured a more active, committed, self-confident membership. The speakers bureau was an example to us all of how we could develop “liberating structures.” It was popular to say then in the women’s movement, and still is today to some extent, that structures can only be oppressive. The speakers policy is an example of how this is not necessarily true and how, in fact, one can structure out elitism. It was the first innovation to really bring our organization into existence.4

To put this policy into practice, we developed Speaker’s Bureau training, giving everyone the chance to practice and take part in role playing. We provided support in the form of talking points, sample speeches, and sisterly critiques. We developed a resource file for use when preparing to speak. We sent women to speaking engagements in pairs, so that those giving their first talk could be supported by someone with more experience and confidence.

A sense of the spirit of this radical venture can be seen in excerpts from the announcement of the April 19, 1970 Speakers Training Day:

….We understand that if we can do something [public speaking] that our sisters cannot do, then it doesn’t mean shit until our sisters can do that thing too. Either we are all heavies, or none of us are heavies. What this means is that everybody learns how to SPEAK AT PUBLIC GATHERINGS, not just those who have gone to Cuba, been fired from jobs, written articles, been child stars, or have otherwise irrelevant credentials….
We propose a session in which we train women in speaking, in developing a style that they are comfortable with. We will work all day, we will drill, role play, criticize, and drill again; we will take turns being audience and star, co-panelist, second speaker and camera crew, we will video tape and play ourselves back, we will not leave our speaker training session until everybody has spoken and felt sure about it, and spoken again and felt double sure about it…5

While intimidating for some, the Speaker’s Bureau policy had some wonderfully liberating effects, as hoped:

I did a lot of work in the Speaker’s Bureau. And of course that was different than the other groups because your name was picked out and it rotated – you had to speak. You went with someone more experienced, often; and often you didn’t! I was very shy, I was very quiet – people I know [now] don’t believe this is true, but it’s true. I was very shy and timid and it was very difficult for me to go and speak. It made me do that. It gave people a sense that they could do things. I was not the only one, I know, that was transformed by that experience.6

The need to speak publicly about women’s liberation also required each CWLU member to consider how she would define women’s liberation, what it meant to her, and how best to convey the bold, new feminist vision that CWLU was all about. And there were many opportunities to do so: a report from March 1971 says that:

The Speakers Bureau has been running fairly well and close to the policy. The average number of speaking engagements has been 23 a month. The breakdown of the types of speeches from September to February goes like this:
37 high schools
37 women’s groups
34 mixed groups
27 colleges
3 all men’s groups
2 rallies7

That same report listed some of the problems: lack of feedback on the speeches, occasional difficulties with last minute cancellations by the assigned speaker; difficulties filling relatively last minute requests for a speaker. The same report discussed ways in which each of these problems could be overcome. One thorny problem, one reflecting the priority placed on combatting elitism and the tricky question of how, at the same time, to communicate most effectively, was the question of whether to develop a method to ensure that a speech on a specific topic would be given by someone with the relevant expertise. That need to balance the anti-elitist and confidence-building thrust of the CWLU Speakers Bureau with the need for relevant expertise and effective communication was recurrent. One assessment of the Speaker’s Bureau policy noted that:

It [the Speaker’s Bureau] was both wonderful and terrible….I think that in some ways it was a really wonderful idea, everybody would have to do their turn. It mean that people really had to think through their politics very well and this was the year in which you couldn’t get a book and open it and read – you know, we were creating it. So you really had to be prepared to answer…. It, I think, raised the level, by having people represent us to the public…..the problem is that some people were really gifted, like (name omitted)… and should have been allowed to use that gift.8

Ultimately, policy and program changes were made to maintain the spirit of engaging all women in public speaking while also more effectively sharing our vision. The Speaker’s Bureau policy evolved to allow chapters with special projects (for example: Action Committee for Decent Childcare, Rape Crisis Line, DARE [Direct Action for Rights in Employment]) to designate speakers on those issues. After much time and debate, the organization allowed the CWLU co-chairs to be the designated spokeswomen for the CWLU when a statement on behalf of the organization as a whole was required.

Throughout, the importance of large numbers of CWLU members speaking in public about women’s liberation continued to be a high priority, both as a means of building skills, self-confidence and empowerment, and as a central vehicle for sharing the CWLU vision of liberation and empowerment for women individually and collectively. The sophistication of the training program continued to increase, as can be seen in this agenda for a speaker’s training program offered by the CWLU Liberation School 1973:

1:00 – 1:15 How speaking relates to CWLU
1. how speakers bureau functions
2. what engagements do we accept; what are our priorities
3. who is available to speak
1:15 – 3:15 –
Developing skills
a. practice speaking to partners, small groups, into tape recorders, getting feedback on mannerisms, tone of voice, speed of delivery, etc.
b. possible content for speeches
Developing resources
a. what literature, slides, movies, tapes are available? How can they be used to best advantage?
b. How to operate projectors, tape recorders, etc.
Solving problems (or what to do when your worst dreams come true)
a. how to handle hostility, silence, etc.
b. how to bring out disagreements in panel discussions
c. how to integrate your personal experience into your rap
We’ll use role playing to simulate situations.
3:15 – 4:15 Media
1. How to carry off a press conference
2. How to do radio-TV talk shows
4:15 – 5:00 When and how to do follow-up on a speaking engagement.
5:00 Criticism of workshop and suggestions for others, then adjournment.9

All told, the CWLU Speakers Bureau provided a way to reach women (and sometimes men) with the message of women’s liberation. This was important particularly in the early days of women’s liberation when finding the movement could often be difficult, misrepresentations abounded and “the movement” was hard to find. In Chicago the CWLU Speakers Bureau offered one way for women to ‘find the movement.

Media Relations

The CWLU also developed a separate program for dealing with the media, a particularly thorny issue given the caricatures of “women’s lib” too often found in newspapers or on the TV of the era. To quote from “An Evolutionary Perspective,” a paper done by two CWLU activists in 1971:

Our initial reaction was not to relate to the media at all since we couldn’t have control over what they would write or say. We were suspicious and paranoid partly because we had seen some terrible things done on women’s liberation.
In addition there were very few women in the media and we didn’t want to relate to the men. As we developed our organization, though, we began to realize that we wouldn’t get any publicity if we maintained this position, and so we began to ask the question, in what way can we relate to the media which will give us positive coverage? We started to develop specific focused items where it would be difficult to misconstrue our point and to develop relationships with some of the women reporters who were being given more responsibility. Recognizing that we can’t change the media’s approach, we dealt with how to use them for our own purposes.10

After wrestling with these perspectives and after some exploratory media projects, the CWLU Steering Committee adopted a media policy, which read in part:

Believing that relations with the media (TV, newspapers, radio, etc.) can be an important part of our educational work, we have adopted the following media policy:
I. The Union guidelines will be:
a. The Union will deal with the media only in those instances which we feel would be beneficial to us.
b. The Union will always demand to deal with women reporters, disc jockeys, technicians, etc.
c. The Union will demand control over the content of the media content (what this means will obviously vary depending on whether this is a filming session, an interview, a talk-show, etc.)
d. Every effort will be made to obtain a democratic representation of the Union membership. This means that every chapter will be notified and encouraged to participate in contacts with the media.
e. As far as possible, contacts with the media will be planned in advance.11

The second portion of the policy dealt with establishment of a media committee to screen requests, find people to fill them, provide support and information, evaluate how the policy is working, and report to the steering committee. The third portion described additional possible functions of the committee including “to run educational sessions for selected (women) reporters, etc.” and reaffirming “… our belief that every woman can be a spokeswoman for the Women’s Liberation movement….”

One early project, in conjunction with Chicago NOW, was issuing invitations to nearly twenty Chicago media women to a coffee in February of 1970. The results of the meeting, as reported in CWLU News, are worth reproducing in their entirety for the boldness and scope of CWLU aspirations and the care and preparation put into executing them.


It’s too soon to speculate on the long-range results of our informal coffee with Chicago media women Feb. 24. The media committee had hoped for a real two-way gut exchange of ideas, goals and problems, ending with some kind of modus operandi. We didn’t come to any real understanding or agreement with the press women, but the meeting was a good thing. We learned a lot, both sides aired some grievances and channels of communication were opened. We clearly made some friends among the press women, but we also heightened the fear and hostility of several of them.
Out of the 18 press women invited, 12 came – a fantastic turnout. Thirteen women came from CWLU and three from NOW. The meeting room was too crowded to create the informal atmosphere we had hoped for, but we all fit in. The media women were given press kits which contained an information sheet on the Union written by Margaret Schmid, a brief fact sheet on NOW, some statistics on women in the U.S., and a really good list of suggestions for reporters to follow in covering the women’s movement. The suggestions, along with xeroxed clippings of glaring examples of miscoverage, were compiled by Joanna Martin.
Heather Booth and Vivian Rothstein led off with brief raps on the movement and the Union, followed by Mary Jane Robson, who discussed the structure and programs of NOW. The purpose of having both groups at the same meeting was to help clarify to the press that the two groups are very different but not antagonistic. Judging from the questions that followed, reporters were confused about differences between Women’s Liberation and NOW. Many of them had trouble understanding the radical approach of Women’s Liberation (i.e., CWLU).
I think perhaps (personal reaction) that we communicated facts, but failed to communicate the spirit of our movement. We were extraordinarily polite, soft-spoken and genteel. We all seemed to be afraid of coming on too strong, possibly because of the presence of NOW, but more likely because we were uncertain of where the media women stood, and we were afraid of turning them off. During the general discussion, the media women were interested but distant. They didn’t identify personally with what we were saying.
Towards the end of the meeting Joanna and I outlined some of the persistent problems the women’s movement has had with the media and made some suggestions for improving relations. We asked them about some of the problems they face as women reporters and what we could do to help them. For example, does it help or hurt when we demand only women reporters at press conferences or interviews.
Then things took off! We quickly realized that these media women saw their jobs and our movement through the eyes of their male bosses. They told us that editors were offended and often angry when we demand women reporters and why didn’t we try to communicate with and please the male reporters rather than excluding them. One reporter said her fear was that if we were to demand only women reporters, then those women might be stuck in the bag of covering primary women’s stuff (implication: women’s stories are women’s stories, whether society benefit or demonstration at the AMA).12

Media work continued, supported in part by media training in the CWLU Liberation School. CWLU media work often took creative forms as indicated by this news note:

On Saturday, September 26, some sisters in the University of Chicago chapter of CWLU broadcast an hour long program on WHPK, the campus radio station. The program was a wonderful blend of music and talk when not only defined the essence of women’s liberation but also presented the spirit of our movement. In short, it was a fun program to listen to whether you were new to women’s liberation or not.13

Ultimately, women’s liberation was no longer a hot new topic, and CWLU received fewer speaking and media requests. It is quite likely that the CWLU refusal to cultivate a small number of “star” spokeswomen limited CWLU’s visibility as a source of information and commentary on women’s movement issues. The emergence of national spokeswomen like Gloria Steinem and the launch of MS magazine in 1972 helped define women’s liberation in the eyes of the media. NOW became increasingly prominent and visible, both in Chicago and nationally. All of these provided other sources of information for local groups interested in learning about women’s liberation. While CWLU program continued to change and develop, and although CWLU continued providing speakers and doing media work throughout existence, these now-established sources of information eclipsed the CWLU as a source of speakers and focus of media attention. Nonetheless, CWLU’s success in defining a policy that succeeded for a major period of time in spreading its radical view of women’s equality and empowerment while at the same time giving its members the chances to develop skills and self-confidence is a testament to its vision, determination, and skills.

WOMANKIND - a detailed description of the program

WOMANKIND: The Outreach Newspaper of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union By Christine R. Riddiough and Margaret Schmid The Chicago Women’s Liberation Union was formed in 1969 and played a leading role in the women’s liberation movement in Chicago during much of the 1970s. Throughout its history the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union advanced a sweeping vision of a new era for women. Not limited to issues of legal equality, the CWLU envisioned a society free of sexism in education, the family, the media, employment, health care, and all areas of social life. CWLU organizing was done with a clear focus on this overarching vision and also with emphasis on continual outreach. WOMANKIND, an early CWLU project, was started in order to communicate the CWLU vision to women who were not already involved in women’s liberation.

The Liberation School for Women

A case study from the second wave women’s liberation movement

By Christine Riddiough and Margaret Schmid


The Chicago Women’s Liberation Union, formed in 1969, played a leading role in the women’s movement in Chicago during much of the 1970s. The CWLU, a citywide organization made up of chapters in multiple locations and work groups running projects, concentrated on organizing women to achieve liberation, with efforts guided by both strategy and theory. In our theory,1 we recognized that the struggle for women’s rights was not isolated from other struggles, and we understood the importance of ensuring that our strategy and actions addressed not only sexism, but also such key factors as race, class, and sexual orientation. Based on that understanding, early on CWLU sought ways to inform and involve increasing numbers of women in its exciting work. The Liberation School was an early and essential part of CWLU outreach strategies. This paper focuses in particular on its first several years.

Why the Liberation School?

One of the very early CWLU outreach and education projects was the CWLU Liberation School for Women, guided by the motto "What we don't know we must learn; what we do know, we should teach each other." Well before the establishment of the first women’s studies programs2 , the purpose was decidedly political, to counter the role of education as an instrument of women’s oppression. In the words of the Liberation School brochure:

What we don’t know, we must learn. What we do know, we should teach each other. In the United States, people are taught only the skills they need to know in order to do their jobs. In other words, education is used simply to create citizens who will be useful to those in power.

People are not taught to understand how the entire society operates, or how society could be changed. For most women, this means that education only fits us for such roles as housewife and mother, follower and listener, secretary and unskilled worker, sex object and emotional comforter. In this country, knowledge is purposely given out to women in a very special way. That is, most women are taught only the skills and information necessary for them to serve men. Women are almost never given the information which would help them control their lives, change society, or become independent. We are almost never taught how a corporation runs, what inflation is, why American is at war, how a car works or how an electric appliance can be repaired. We are rarely taught the history of struggles in the past for women’s rights. This lack of knowledge not only makes women feel inferior but keeps us passive and dependent upon males for guidance. The LIBERATION SCHOOL FOR WOMEN will be a step towards challenging women’s oppression. Through this school we will be able to learn about ourselves, about our histories, our roles in society, our strengths and our intellectual capabilities. 3 The Liberation School was born in response to calls coming into the CWLU office from women wanting to get involved in the nascent women’s liberation movement. Early CWLU activists founded the Liberation School in response to that outpouring of interest, with the first session of classes offered in February 1971. As one of the women central to this important effort recalled, “Our very first orientation meeting attracted 120 women (pretty amazing for a Chicago winter night in a church basement); for our third orientation 220 showed up. It was the only experience in my lifetime as an organizer when we put out a few flyers and consistently underestimated the turnout.”4 Insight into Liberation School work group reasoning can be found in a work group article: Planning for the School began in the fall of 1970 when a group of women from CWLU wanted to develop a program to respond to some of the needs of the women's movement in Chicago. The first was to bring more women in contact with the ideas of women's liberation through a source other than the established media, giving these newly interested women an overview of the movement and their own possible role within it. The second was the need for political education for the members of the Union and women in the women's movement in general: we saw the School as a place to develop our analysis and strategy as well as to do research. Thirdly, the School was intended to provide an opportunity to learn skills, both those which are necessary for

survival but have been considered out of the sphere of the ‘woman's role’ and/or those which are essential to build our movement.5 Rather than being a stand-alone project functioning on its own, the connection with the CWLU was of key significance: The school is not merely an isolated project of a group of women which only serves the women’s movement vaguely. A unique thing about it is that it is attached to an ongoing organization which can use the resources of the school for study and for reaching new women and bringing them into organizational program. The interrelationship of the school and the Union could be seen perhaps in a projection for the future which could possibly be one that made as a condition of membership in the CWLU that members take at least one class a year in the school. This would insure that the membership was dealing with political questions, reading, and being serious about its commitment. In addition, the school can be used for cadre training for perhaps a particular program of the organization. For example, this summer we are having a general course on how to organize and what it means to be an organizer of rap groups and other program. Another idea was to have a class on daycare which would feed directly into and serve the growing day care work group of the Union. The school is not merely an isolated countercultural institution but one that is directly involved in meeting the needs of a growing organization.6 How Were the Classes Organized? The Liberation School work group developed the course offerings, identified course conveners, found locations, managed publicity, kept records of course offerings, materials, and enrollees, and carried out other essential tasks such as managing finances and mailings. Reflecting the overall emphasis on the CWLU of developing skills and self-confidence as women, all this was done in an egalitarian, anti-elitist, participatory work style emphasizing extensive discussions and equal division of the tasks, including rotation over time. Work group members offered classes and served as liaisons with other ongoing classes, making sure that associated tasks such as the mid-term evaluations and devising childcare arrangements were fulfilled. Involvement in building the Liberation School was a heady experience, as described in the Liberation School work group article quoted above: In writing about the Liberation School we want to convey our enthusiasm, our optimism, the growth and sharing we've experienced. The positive vibes are hard to describe, but they're very much present: the strength and solidarity that comes from a group of women learning about our bodies — gaining knowledge that up to now we've been systematically denied; learning to

accept — and even to like -- ourselves even if we don't fit into the Miss America mold. We've struggled together under the hood of a car against the female inferiority complex in the presence of things mechanical. We've studied the American family as an institution and women's role within it, trying to use our own living situations as basic data. And we've turned many women on to our movement, because for the first time they feel that our movement includes them, has something to offer them, and that perhaps they have something to offer us.7 The Liberation School offered three sessions a year, February, June, and October. Originally courses were two hours one night (or Saturday) a week for six weeks; the length was extended to eight weeks, still two hours once a week, as experience showed that the slightly longer length of time was more effective. Classes were lead by one or two women called conveners, a term reflecting the anti-elitist, participatory style of the Liberation School and the CWLU as an organization. As women became conscious of the role of conventional structures in the oppression of women, including the exercise of authority in the classroom, there was a surge of interest in egalitarian, participatory, non-elitist ways of conducting business. The way in which Liberation School classes were conducted reflected that informal, inclusive mode, with “conveners” rather than ‘teachers” in order to get away from the more authoritative, expert-based approach that the title “teacher” implies. Debates over how structured – or unstructured – the classes should be were ongoing, again a reflection of the anti-elitist, egalitarian ethos of the CWLU as it struggled to overcome the oppression of women inherent in so many conventional social structures. What Classes Were Offered? A review of some Liberation School course offerings demonstrates the bold, new ways with which women were approaching a wide range of topics. All were in keeping with the explicit goals of The Liberation School, to be a step toward challenging women’s oppression. Liberation School classes generally fell into three categories: introductory, skills, and study courses. The very first Liberation School session in February, 1971, offered these courses:  READINGS IN WOMENS LIBERATION: Why are sisters uniting? How are they uniting? Introduction to basic ideas of women’s liberation. How we’ve been oppressed at home, at

school, on the job, as sex objects. Find out for yourself instead of from the media in a six week rap and study course.  WOMEN IN THE UNITED STATES IN THE 20TH CENTURY: We will be asking ourselves if things have gotten better or worse for women since we won the vote 50 years ago. Some topics to be examined: the last decade of the women’s suffrage movement; the flapper, was she liberated? World War II, Rosie the Riveter, was she liberated? The feminine mystique, the Women’s Liberation Movement.  WOMEN AND THEIR BODIES: This course will include discussions of topics such as the following: Female anatomy and physiology, some myths about women, venereal disease, birth control, abortion, pregnancy and childbirth, medical institutions.  HIGH SCHOOL WOMENS LIBERATION: High school women experience a twofold oppression as women and as high school students. We will discuss both these oppressions as they affect us personally and politically. Understanding our oppression is the first step towards liberation. Discussion will include the topics of drugs, birth control, alternate education, and women’s liberation.  FIX*IT COURSE: In this course we will work together to overcome our ingrained fears of machines, electricity, and work with tools. This will be done by working on practical projects such as the following: fixing home appliances, toilets, car repairs, and building things which involve work with wood or electricity. Specific projects will be chosen with the help of the class.  THE POLITICS OF HEALTH: The focus for this course will be on answering the following questions: o What are the requirements for good health? o Why are Americans generally so unhealthy? o How is health care tied in with women’s oppression? o How is ill health made into a profit-making business? o How do institutions like the Food and Drug Administration and the American Medical Association contribute to ill health? o What possible models are there for alternative systems of health care?  SCIENCE FOR WOMEN: This source is about science – how science has been used for profit instead of for the people; how science has been controlled by men. Knowledge is power. In this context we will discuss gravity and electromagnetism from Newton through Maxwell to Einstein, and we will discuss brain functions and computer imitations of human intelligence.  STUDY GROUP ON THE FAMILY: A study group on the development of the family throughout history, the role it has played in the oppression of women and the role it plays in present American society. Readings will include Engels, Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State, Firestone, Dialectics of Sex.  SELF DEFENSE CLASSES8

By fall 1974, demonstrating the success and growth of the Liberation School, a much expanded set of courses were offered:  INTRODUCTORY READINGS IN WOMEN’S LIBERATION: This course consists of talking and reading about our feelings, our experiences, and our ideas as women. We will discuss our relationships, our bodies, our work, and our sexuality as they have been defined as well as our questions about these predetermined roles.  OUR BODIES, OURSERVES: The purpose of this course is to enable us, as women, to gain greater control over our lives through understanding our bodies and ourselves. The course will be based on the book Our Bodies, Ourselves and additional material supplied by the conveners.  PREPARED CHILDBIRTH: We will introduce the Lamaze method and practice relaxation, body building and breathing technique. We will discuss the history of childbirth, home and hospital deliveries, progressive advances in maternal care, and general baby care. This class provides women the opportunity to explore their feelings during pregnancy. All women are invit4ed to attend.  WOMEN WORKERS IN MEDIEVAL TIMES: We will learn about the affirmative things women did, rather than about the ways they were oppressed. Women had important knowledge and skills, such as the practice of midwifery and herbal medicine. They also held a variety of jobs in the country and in the town. Women also participated in religious movements (both pagan and Christian), and in revolts and revolutions. We will start with the thirteenth century, because capitalism was beginning at that time, and we will study the economic conditions that are the background for both work and revolt.  EARLY FEMINISTS: The goal of the course is to do research and study on the impact that selected women have had on the course of history. The first two or three weeks of class will deal with the better-known 19th and 20th century feminists, using the book Feminism: The Essential Historical Writings and supplementary articles. During the last six weeks, individuals will do independent research assignments on little known feminists in history. During the research phases of the course the class will probably meet every other week. The data will be compiled and added to the CWLU library.  HOW TO ORGANIZE A RAP GROUP: A one-day workshop on organizing rap groups for women who are new to the ideas of women’s liberation, as well as women who are already involved in the movement and need a political support group. Techniques for forming a group, keeping it going, and giving it direction will be emphasized.  POLITICS OF THE HEALTH CARE DELIVERY SYSTEM: This course is designed as a study group for women who are in health work groups, women who are or have been or will be health workers, or who have a strong interest in organizing around health issues. We want to share information and resources for understanding the health care delivery system and what seem to be issues in the broader health care movement, since it seems important that the women’s health movement take that context into account in planning program and strategy. We also hope to provide a forum for the sharing of information and planning among women’s health groups in the city

CHINA TODAY: This is a course on the People’s Republic of China convened by women who were in China in August, 1973. We will be looking at Chinese history and geography, women in China, peasants and workers, health care, education, and other topics.  WOMEN AS SHORT STORY WRITERS: this course will be a survey of women short story writers in American from the 17th century to the present. We will study the various writers’ techniques, themes and sources of their works. We will be reading selections from Rebecca Harding Davis, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Kate Chopin. We will also study Katherine Mansfield, Dorothy Parker, Flannery O’Connor, Tillie Olsen, Grace Paley, Kay Boyle, Carol Emshwiller, and Alice Walker. We would like to spend two to three weeks reading the works of our closer contemporaries with selections discovered in Aphra and Ms.  WOMEN AND PUBLISHING: The staff of Black Maria, a feminist quarterly published in Chicago, are offering a workshop on feminist publishing. We plan to talk about the skills needed to produce a magazine, the distribution of it, and the staff’s point of view on publishing women’s writing in relation to the women’s liberation movement.  LAYOUT AND DESIGN: This will be a two-session workshop to teach the elements of layout and design. The emphasis will be on layout for photo-offset printing, but there will also be information on other methods of printing, such as mimeograph and silk-screen. We will discuss designing leaflets, posters, pamphlets, and other things, and will spend some time actually designing these things. This workshop should be particularly useful for women who expect to be designing leaflets and other materials for their work in the women’s movement; it should also be useful for women who are interested in getting more involved in the women’s movement.  POLITICAL HISTORY OF THE C.W.L.U.: The purpose of this workshop is to help women just getting active in the CWLU to know the organization and talk about events like the founding Palatine conference and the April, 1971 membership conference and what the implications of these events have been for us. The workshop is intended for women who have some commitment to the CWLU and need a group to find their way around in.  OUTREACH: The Outreach Work group of CWLU will hold a workshop at 2748 N. Lincoln (CWLU office) on October 27 from 1:00 to 4:00 pm. Discussions will consist of the work that has been done in the neighborhood parks to promote more organized activity for women. There will be role-playing by the audience and work group members so that participants will have an opportunity to practice outreach skills. A short history of the group, followed by a brief discussion on women’s liberation will also be in the program.  SPEAKER’S TRAINING: During this speaker’s training session, we will find out how to do public speaking and do role playing to give us experience in it. There will be resource people who have had experience in public speaking on women’s liberation. We will also have available handouts with information on various topics.  SELF-DEFENSE: A basic self-defense course that combines technique of karate, judo, and common sense. Designed for women of all ages – with or without some kind of previous experience – the emphasis is on practical, workable solutions.9

How Was the Liberation School Received? In a piece written after about two years of operation, the Liberation School work group reported that: The response has been fantastic. Since the first six-week session began in February, 1971, we have grown steadily through seven sessions, both in terms of the number of classes offered and in the total number of women involved: we began with eight classes in which 120 women enrolled; we have 20 classes and over 220 women enrolled. The growth has been organic — new classes have evolved from earlier ones; for example, a class on Free Children leads to a study group on education, and one on Women and Their Bodies to a class in nutrition. And in the classes which are repeated each session, such as Introductory Readings, the Family and Women and Their Bodies, we have tried to build on our experiences to improve and sometimes to experiment. An Introductory Readings class offered in the fourth session centered around the four areas of women's oppression as enumerated by Juliet Mitchell in her pamphlet: "Women: The Longest Revolution": production, reproduction, sexuality and the socialization of children. This focus lent structure to the course without detracting from its rap-group nature.10 Who Were the Liberation School Students? As noted, the CWLU made explicit connections between the struggle for women’s rights per se and other types of oppression of women based on race, class, and sexual orientation. Due to that understanding, early on the CWLU sought ways to inform and involve increasing numbers of women beyond its initial core group, largely white, relatively young and educated. Ongoing evaluations were conducted to measure how well that outreach goal was being reached in the Liberation School as well as in other CWLU projects. Several sources of information about the Liberation School are available. In 1972, ongoing CWLU projects were asked to complete a written evaluation including the question “What kind of people to you come in contact with or serve?” The Liberation School work group responded: We reach many different people, though the classes contain predominantly young, unmarried, white women with some college. Over the past few months we have done an analysis of the people who were in Liberation School classes for the Summer 1972 session. A questionnaire asking information such as age, home community, number of children, political activity, and how they hear about Liberation School classes was distributed. A computer program was written to help us analyze the responses. The results of the program told us some useful information about the school. Most people had never taken classes before. The age range was large (13-46) with

most people in the range of 19-30. The largest group of people lived in Rogers Park-Edgewater, with some living in the far northern suburbs and some in the far southern suburbs.11 Additional information was found in the article cited above, with an interesting note on how the work group attempted to address a perennial problem facing CWLU activities, childcare: The women who have taken introductory classes have been largely white, young middle class, many of them mothers with young children. They have been helped to come to the School through a policy of co-operative childcare run by the work-group. At first we began by trying to pay for sitters collectively; now we have a system whereby everyone taking a class is asked to volunteer to sit on the evenings she is free. Women who need sitters are given the master list and can call anyone up to three times. This system has proven inadequate. We are presently reevaluating how to handle childcare.12 Issues of outreach to women across class and race lines continued to occupy CWLU and Liberation School thinking. A 1974 questionnaire from another CWLU work group, the prison project, included an item asking about class and race. In responding, the Liberation School work group described its thencurrent thinking and experience in dealing with the ongoing question how to broaden its student base: Originally our classes attracted mostly white middle class well educated women. Over the years we have tried to change Liberation School’s orientation and constituency by changing the nature and location of classes. At this time our classes are more mixed classwise (there are more working class women in them) but are still almost all white. We want to continue to change the class base of our work and would like to figure out ways to change the race base. We will try to do this by: a) Doing classes in other neighborhoods that include working class and Third World women. It doesn’t seem to be effective for Liberation School to go into a neighborhood cold and do a class, but if other groups have done outreach there, then we can help solidify contacts through our classes. b) Developing the political content of skills classes like the self-defense, mechanics, and GED classes. These classes seem to attract working class and Third World women. c) Doing classes in racially mixed areas. In the process we can develop a constituency among Third World women and hopefully develop non-white women as conveners of classes which would then mean broadening our base. d) Establishing contact with groups like the National Black Feminists and other Third World women’s groups or with mixed Third World groups like the Farmworkers. Through these

contacts we could sponsor forums which would raise CWLU consciousness and expand places where classes can be held. e) Finally we see a need for a major campaign that cuts across racial and class lines.13 Evaluations, Self-Criticism, Constant Efforts to Improve The Liberation School itself conducted ongoing evaluations of the courses it offered each term in order to improve the classes, asking for participant feedback on the class structure, readings, and class discussions, as well asking for suggestions about future course offerings. Work group members took very seriously their self-imposed challenge of effective outreach, as can be seen in the following: We have not been able to find a way, however, to help and encourage women who are not "school oriented" and/or those for whom study or school is a luxury they cannot afford. Many of the women who feel excluded by the women's movement as a while, such as poor and working class women, have so far not been reached by the School. We are trying to deal with this problem by offering neighborhood extension courses outside the central location of the School, which is at a church in a largely young, white, middle-class, student or ex-student section of the city. We have already offered most of the introductory courses as extension classes in various communities, and we are planning to expand the idea as an organizing tool around job oppression. This session there is a course called, "Self-Defense at the Work Place", which will be convened by the DARE [Direct Action for Rights in Employment] work group. Women have been able to work with other women and learn from other women in courses such as the Psychology of Women, Fiction by and about Women, Racism and Women's Politics, "Women's Liberation is a Lesbian Plot", Marxism as a Way of Thinking, College Organizing and Organizing for Direct Action. Even though classes have been increased from six to eight weeks, many women have found that they want to continue meeting to build friendships as well as continue their study. A problem has been that not all students are serious - they seem unwilling to put in the time and reading necessary to make a class really worthwhile. This may be an attitude retained from student days.14 The Liberation School work group also evaluated its own functioning and how it might be improved, and assessed Liberation School work group relationships with the CWLU Steering Committee and other CWLU work groups and chapters. As a part of this, the Liberation School work group held retreats in

1973, 1974, and 1975 to focus on these issues and to do self-criticism, seen throughout the CWLU as an integral part of progress and self-improvement. Good insights into how the Liberation School work group functioned and how it saw its work are found in the “Rough draft of minutes of Liberation School work group Retreat.” 15 Discussion focused on Liberation School functioning and how it could be improved, with attention paid to building more personal relationships among work group members and to the Liberation School’s relationship with the parent CWLU. The always difficult practical issue of providing childcare for participants in Liberation School classes and the even more challenging question of how to do effective outreach to women across age, race, and class lines also occupied work group members at the retreat. These are demonstrated by the following excerpts from the minutes: Friday night: One of the main purposes of the retreat was for us to get to know each other as sisters and not just as women who see one another once a week for 2 hours at a business meeting…. Saturday morning: How the School relates to Union program: We discussed what Union membership means – essentially working in a Union project is self-definition of membership. We tackled the problem of integrating women into the Union after courses are over---always one of our main goals – and why it hasn’t worked too successfully in the past….. Criteria for Courses: A basic topic of discussion was the balance of the whole session….even though the work group is excited about the current session, there are some important gaps --- very few intro courses, especially no families courses. Also there is not as much geographic distribution as there could be…. we don’t see LS courses as having to conform to a specific political line (beyond socialist feminism and adherence to CWLU political principles16), but we don’t feel comfortable having someone we don’t know or have never talked to convene a course….For example, we would want to be certain that a convener would not be insensitive to gay women and the whole issue of lesbianism…. We couldn’t want the convener to rely too heavily upon leftist rhetoric…. “We Need a Vision”: In the past, we have put no emphasis on culture classes. We look upon culture classes as being political, as developing women’s creative processes is political….Culture courses could cover such things as the life of Emma Goldman (“Live like her”), … or on some particular writer or phase of women’s culture. Some Notes on Conveners: …we have to try to get women who can work together …. In intro classes especially, the convener plays an important role in terms of her own life and lifestyle. 

Conveners must have commitment to and belief in the women’s movement, that is a perspective of collective struggle. Outreach: …. all but two of us had begun our involvement through rap groups. The main criticism of rap groups is that they reach a stalemate and women wonder where do we go from here. In Chicago, the Union provides ongoing political activity, but often fails to provide personal support and a political reference group which a rap group can provide. Saturday Afternoon: Constituency: How well are we reaching older women, black and Spanish women, mothers, high school women, working class women? A long discussion followed…It was the sense of the group that trying to reach large numbers of black women would probably not be a high priority because of our limited resources and the explosiveness of racism. Problems of area and type of women we reach cannot be solved by LSWG…..with the High school and Jr. Coll. Org(anizing), [authors note: projects of other CWLU work groups) we might reach more white working class women and we felt that we should do more to reach older women and mothers…. Child Care: We had decided not to do anything half-assed but to try to work out a more satisfactory arrangement for the Summer session….We decided to work out a questionnaire to see if we can pick up on some of the needs and ideas women in the courses may have…. Sunday morning: Criticism of our meetings: People should show up on time! Our discussions drag on a lot of the time, people repeat themselves…. Confronting issues and dealing with conflicts in the group: it should be the responsibility of the co-chairs to clarify the disagreements so that they can be resolved and so that people can understand what is being discussed. Minutes of a second retreat September 28-30, 197317 contained less material on Liberation School functioning and more discussion of political issues, perhaps a reflection of some changes in work group membership, and perhaps also reflecting tensions developing throughout the CWLU between women wanting to focus on implementing and improving projects and women wanting to have more political discussion. Some examples from the minutes, written in a somewhat stream-of-consciousness manner, include: Saturday morning: Sylvia wanted to learn more about people’s politics and to get to know everyone more informally. Sarah felt the retreat was a time for rethinking our politics. Chris felt the retreat was a time for the work group to gain a perspective on the school and the Union…. A discussion of how society views work….developed into a question about what is revolutionary and what is a revolution….Sarah said that the kinds of organizations we build can be models of the kind of society we want…. Sylvia wanted to know if placing an emphasis on reaching white working class women was wrong. Mary Ann. explained that the emphasis of the CWLU is on

economic oppression in issues such as childcare and abortion….We all felt that the morning’s discussion was good in terms of political differences being discussed without tension. Other discussions focused on the perennial topics of childcare and outreach: The Saturday afternoon discussion was about childcare on four fronts: 1) for work group members 2) as L.S. functions, 3) for all CWLU members, 4) as a problem for us all…. We began Sunday with outreach as our topic…..We set up ….criteria for outreach courses….We defined outreach as reaching people who have never been involved before, going to where women we want to reach are and bringing women in to share skills and information. Sunday’s discussion also covered issues related to the Liberation School’s participation in CWLU: the upcoming CWLU conference, relations to other CWLU work groups and projects, proposed criteria for CWLU steering committee co-chairs; and determining which work group members would do what tasks, including attending the CWLU steering committee. The minutes concluded by saying: As we started to get ready to go home, we felt that it had been a very productive retreat. We had good discussion and had learned a great deal about each other, Liberation School and CWLU. We all left feeling very high about our work and ourselves.18 Liberation School as a National Model Another highlight of the early years of the Liberation School was the national conference put on by the work group. As the Liberation School work group focused on improving itself and the School, it had become something of a national model. Word of the School had spread, because of its connection with the CWLU, publicity in the CWLU outreach newspaper WOMANKIND, and through word-of-mouth contact between women around the country. In response to inquiries, the Liberation School work group had developed a packet of information on the School, how it operated, with sample course outlines that could be sent to women asking for information. As inquiries continued, the work group convened a conference 1973 attended by women from Cambridge and other towns in MA; Baltimore, MD; and Bloomington-Normal IL to talk about how the CWLU Liberation School was set up, how it functioned, and how other women might benefit from the CWLU experience.

The agenda included sessions on: starting a Liberation School, including discussion of experiences in places other than Chicago; “Taking Education out of the Vacuum,” getting into the community, making classes relevant, maintaining balance between direct action, service, and education; and keeping women involved; and problem-solving brainstorming about the perennial issue of childcare, publicity, and scheduling flexibility. The conference coincided with Gay Pride Week, and all attending the conference were encouraging to go to Lesbian and Gay Pride events in the evenings. The Liberation School’s Durability and Impact The significance of the contributions the Liberation School made to Chicago women and the Chicago women’s movement can be seen in the fact that the Liberation School remained a mainstay of the CWLU through all the years of CWLU’s existence. By the time the Liberation School ceased operations in 1977, women’s studies programs had sprung up on many campuses, inspired by the Liberation School and its counterparts and by women’s enthusiasm for learning about, for, and with women. As a result, women around the country had increasing opportunities to learn about many of the topics offered through the CWLU Liberation School, albeit not always with the same political approach and awareness. The visionary activists who founded the Liberation School made a lasting contribution to the women’s liberation movement and to the ultimate establishment of women’s studies programs. 

The CWLU: Communicating a Radical Vision Before the Internet and Social Media

By Margaret Schmid and Chris Riddiough


About the Module

Suggested Use

The CWLU: Communicating a Radical Vision before the Internet and Social Media is a three-part teaching module for use with a course on ‘Second Wave’ feminism, the history of feminism, and/or feminist culture. It focuses on the historical period of the second wave in the 1960s and 1970s. The Chicago Women’s Liberation Union (CWLU), formed in 1969, played a leading role in the women’s movement in Chicago during much of the 1970s. The CWLU - a citywide organization made up of chapters meeting in multiple locations and work groups running projects - worked toward a radical vision of a society free of sexism in education, the family, the media, employment, health care, and all areas of social life. As the CWLU and similar organizations developed, the ideas of women’s liberation that they advocated began to receive media attention, virtually always confused and often hostile. Early on CWLU activists realized the need to develop effective means of directly reaching wider audiences of women with the CWLU message of liberation. In this period there was no internet use (except by the military). Communications among members occurred through phone banks and mailings. Women outside the organization often had little idea of what women’s liberation was or how to find a women’s liberation organization. For these women it was often chance that led them to a newspaper article that named NOW or CWLU as women’s liberation groups, a lucky find in a phone book, or even word of mouth. This module explores the three ways in which CWLU worked to reach those women and talk with them about women's liberation.



At the time the CWLU was founded, abortion was illegal. Women were largely relegated to the background in history books. Few women artists could be found in art museums. The ranks of the medical profession, the legal profession, and academia were heavily male. Women reporters were largely absent from newspaper and TV journalism. In general, women were seldom to be found outside of nursing, teaching (especially elementary school), clerical and secretarial positions, and, of course, work as wife and mother in the home. Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963) had raised critical questions about what the role of women was or should be. In reality, however, women were educated – trained and tracked – to avoid science and math, medicine and the law, artistic and literary careers, let alone careers in business beyond secretary or, perhaps, “girl Friday” executive assistants. As news about the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union and “women’s lib” began to circulate, the CWLU office began receiving calls from women wanting to know more. This stream of calls, before women’s studies programs were in existence, led to the creation of the CWLU Liberation School for Women, guided by the motto “What we don’t know we must learn. What we do know, we should teach each other.” The Liberation School for Women was the longest-lasting CWLU program. Started in 1970, it continued until the CWLU’s disbanding in 1977. Courses covered topics related to women’s daily lives, like prepared childbirth, self-defense, and auto mechanics; women’s history and literature; political issues from lesbian liberation to rape to health care; and CWLU’s political perspective. The Liberation School was in many ways the precursor of women’s studies programs today.


Liberation School - a detailed description of the program. Liberation School Proposal Liberation School Schedule for Winter 1971 Sample Class Outlines Liberation School Catalog for 1974



When the CWLU was established, most people received the vast majority of their news through established newspapers or through TV network news - ABC, CBS, and NBC. There were few women reporters on newspapers beyond those assigned to the women’s pages, at the time largely devoted to social events. Beyond “weather girls,” women news reporters on TV were extremely rare. Given that, it is not surprising that newspaper and TV coverage of “women’s lib” was generally inaccurate, and often mocking or hostile. Reports of bra-burning – that may never have happened – are an example of the way in which media reporting trivialized women’s issues. In this setting, and determined to develop an effective way to communicate its vision of women’s liberation to women outside of the immediate CWLU circles, CWLU decided early on to launch its own outreach newspaper, WOMANKIND. In the era before the Internet publication of a newspaper like WOMANKIND required not only writing and editing articles, but also printing them either on a mimeograph or a printing press - there were no programs to easily create a PDF file that could be distributed online - there was in fact no online. It also meant that, in order to get the issues to women outside the movement, the newspaper had to be distributed to bookstores, community centers, and schools by members of the work group. The first reading describes the newspaper, how it was produced, the topics covered, and the strenuous efforts to develop an effective distribution system. It concludes by noting the tensions that ultimately led the CWLU to discontinue its publication. Additional readings include sample issues of the newspaper.

2.2 READING: WOMANKIND - a detailed description of the program. WOMANKIND Volume 1 Number 6 Presentation on WOMANKIND for the Publishing Feminisms Conference, Banff, May 2015



As news of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union spread, and as newspaper and TV grew interested in covering “women’s lib,” the CWLU began to get increasing requests to provide speakers or to make statements to the media (at the time, “media” generally meant major newspapers or network television). Initially CWLU activists preferred to ignore such requests or to respond in an ad hoc manner. Gradually, however, especially as media coverage appeared to be consistently confused and too often hostile, the CWLU decided to develop a way to respond to requests that would be effective in presenting its views while also being consistent with its anti-elitist, democratic principles. The CWLU Speaker’s Bureau was the result, with both policy and practice that evolved over time in an effort to meet those twin goals. As the Speaker's Bureau grew, speakers were chosen first by rotation among work groups and chapters and later based in part on the topic and how it related to CWLU work. Speakers were requested by a wide range of people including high school teachers, community organizations, college professors, men's groups – even the Chicago police academy. They spoke on lesbian and gay liberation, abortion and reproductive justice, job discrimination and equal access to public resources, including women's sports. Speakers' trainings were held by the Liberation School so that speakers felt ready to take on what might be hostile audiences. Members were often unused to speaking in public, as well, and so when possible speakers were sent in pairs to provide mutual support. Such speaking engagements and interviews with the 'mainstream' media were an important way to reach beyond those already involved in the women’s liberation movement.

3.2 READINGS Speaker's Bureau - a detailed description of the program. Speakers Training Speaker's Bureau Report, Policy, and Sample Speech Sample Talk on Health Care