I was born in Detroit Michigan, February 12, 1932. I moved to Gainesville in August of
1975 to join Sallie Ann Harrison, whom I had met at a six-week feminist workshop in
Vermont. Arriving in Gainesville I landed in the middle of a vibrant, active, lesbian-feminist
community. I needed a job and applied to work at the main local feminist workplace, the
Gainesville Women's Health Center. I had previously worked for the Religious Coalition
for Abortion Rights in Washington, D. C., so this job was a perfect fit for me.
I started out working in the front office, part of a team that answered the phones, and
checked women in for gynecological appointments. After a while I trained to become a
counselor, taking medical histories, talking with women about their decision and supporting
whatever that was (sometimes women would change their minds and decide to continue
the pregnancy.) Then I would accompany the women through the abortion procedure.
I came into an ongoing organization, and cannot speak about the process of creating this
non-profit, women-centered place. I believe that the founders, Byllye Avery, Judy Levy,
and Margaret Parrish, took out personal loans to finance the start-up. I know that they
went out on a limb to acquire nice, deep carpeting and beautiful furniture, because there
was such a stigma against abortion, including tales of 'back-alley-abortions in dirty
locations,' that the organizers were committed to providing an aesthetically pleasing place.
When I came onboard, I thought that these women were attempting to create a feminist,
somewhat non-hierarchal, workplace. In addition, a core belief was women-control. The
doctors were residents from Shands Hospital, but the decision-making power lay with the
Director of Nursing and ultimately the Board of Directors, i.e. the doctors worked for us!
I was never a Board Member, but I did become the Public Relations person, who wrote
letters supporting abortion rights and other feminist issues, and went out into the
community to debate the anti-choice people in meetings, on radio and on TV.
One manifestation of women control was the pelvic examination program, where medical
students at Shands came to be instructed by GWHC volunteers in how to do a
comfortable-for-the-woman pelvic exam. The volunteer would lie on the exam table while
instructing the student who conducted the exam. Abby Walters participated in this
teaching program and could probably give more input.
At first we were the only clinic in town. Eventually a profit-making clinic moved in. My
memory of this was that we felt threatened by that, but ultimately we all worked together
to try and keep abortion legal. The biggest problem for all of us was that, after a couple
of years, pickets suddenly appeared -- big groups so loud you could hear them throughout
the building. I particularly remember that, on the first day of this assault, a woman who had
come down from Lake City to have an abortion, came to the front desk and asked for her
money back. She had decided she couldn't go through with the procedure. She had
several children at home already and was on a limited income. I wondered where those
picketers would be when she had to cope financially and otherwise with an additional child.
My perspective is that internal conflicts, and some people's hope for consensus, were more
problematic than dealing with the 'health care system.' One early issue was the pay scale.
We tried to have a system of somewhat equal compensation for work, but nurses were
able to earn more money in other workplaces than counselors and front office staff were.
The nurses eventually pressed for a raise, which was an affront to the egalitarian beliefs
of some. Our differing ideals continually got in the way, and when we ran into reality, hurt
feelings were the result. We also dealt with varying definitions of 'feminist' and 'non-
We had many meetings to try and thrash out these problems, and, part of being feminists
was that we were 'on the clock' for these long, intense get-togethers. Then someone
would rise up and say that this was ridiculous, we had no business adding on to the price
of an abortion the cost of our 'sitting around and talking.' Others viewed that idea as a
way to scuttle the whole discussion, without coming to any helpful conclusion. Sometimes
after these heart-rending meetings, we, with bruised feelings, would bravely change gears
and conduct an abortion clinic, working intimately with people who had seemed like
enemies only minutes before. Despite these stomach-wrenching times, many of us
believed we were pioneers, trying to do something that had never been done before, that
we had to create it, there were no models.
A huge issue concerned a decision by the Board to open a sister clinic in another state.
Some staff felt betrayed, that we should have the choice of whether to have pay raises or
to take on a new huge financial project. Lawyers were involved, Rice Hardware was
employed to change the locks on the doors several times by competing groups. Eventually
the founders left the clinic and received custody of a newly-opened project, The Birth
Center. Those of us left with the clinic were sorry it worked out that way, especially since
it seemed important for us to offer facilities for birth as well as abortion.
I cannot speak to the reasons for the clinic's demise in 1997. In 1983 I received a small
inheritance from my parents and decided to follow my dream of moving to St. Augustine
and living in a lesbian-feminist community on the beach.
My decision was partly a result of being exhausted with the endless challenges of colliding
feminist ideals and with the problem of all of us trying to run a small business. At one point
a bookkeeper we had trusted was charged by the police with extracting money from
patients' checking accounts. Another bookkeeper failed for months to send our health
insurance premiums into the company. We were always 'on the edge' financially. In fact,
at one point, someone calculated that we were losing $5 on each appointment, and that
if we advertised to increase our patient base, we would just end up losing more money!
Ironically, we always made enough extra money six weeks after Homecoming to provide
a cushion during the lean summer months when UF students were out of town.
We thought our services were better because we believed in the agency of women and
tried throughout the abortion process to encourage each woman's empowerment.
The seventies and early eighties were an exciting time of examining absolutely everything,
including subjects previously considered taboo. I was going through menopause and kept
strict records of my moods, daily temperatures, menses length, etc. to use in workshops
where we all discussed our situations and supported each other. At that time there were
absolutely NO books for lay people on the subject. Now that boomers are hot flashing,
everyone seems to be writing about it! In addition, from the beginning we were very
opposed to hormone replacement therapy. It was at first marketed as an anti-wrinkle
treatment, then to minimize hot flashes, later to keep one's brain nimble, and finally to
avoid heart trouble. Back then most doctors scoffed at our position on this issue. It wasn't
until many cases of breast cancer later that the medical community found itself in
agreement with us!
We did a workshop on menstruation for teens. A nationally known sex therapist came to
do a sexuality workshop, for staff members and women from the community. In 1976 we
sponsored a Women's Health Conference with speakers Rita Mae Brown, Phyllis Chessler,
and Kay Gardner, among others. Incest was one of those subjects newly being discussed
openly, and during that time, I started to remember tales from my own family. We feminists
really believed that telling our own stories would encourage such memories and
conversations by others. Thus, "We All Had An Uncle Lawrence," my first published article,
was an attempt to prompt such remembering.
I absolutely still believe in women's liberation. Like other sixties and seventies groups, I
think we were too doctrinaire, believing that everyone should see things the same way and
act the same way. Thus huge local and national struggles over sado-masochism,
separatism, and pornography, among other issues. Someone recently wrote, today's
lesbian feminists want to get married and join the military. In the 70's, many of us believed
that both marriage and the military should be abolished!
Where would we seventies feminists have been without Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan
B. Anthony, and Alice Paul! Today's young women energetically carry on the struggle for
the issues they care passionately about. I feel very privileged to live in such an exciting
time for women.
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