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Finding Aid for the Southern California Women for Understanding (SCWU) collection, 1975-1999
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Collection Overview
 
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Description
The Southern California Women for Understanding Collection contains the operational records of Southern California Women for Understanding (SCWU), one of the earliest lesbian non-profit educational organizations in Los Angeles, California.
Background
Southern California Women for Understanding (SCWU), an educational non-profit organization, formed in 1976 and dedicated itself to "enhancing the quality of life for [the lesbian] community and for lesbians nationwide, creative and positive exchange about homosexuality, [and] changing stereotypical images of lesbians." SCWU emerged in the midst of the civil rights, gay rights, and women's movements when many marginalized social groups organized en masse to demand recognition and rights. SCWU was one of the earliest known lesbian organizations. At its height, SCWU reached membership of 1,100 and in 1982, Lesbian News hailed it as the "largest lesbian support group in the country." SCWU originated as a "support group" of the Whitman-Radclyffe Foundation (WRF), a San Francisco based gay rights organization that strove to educate the public on homosexuality. In 1976, Betty Berzon, one of the few female board members, invited twenty women to form the Southern California Women for Whitman-Radclyffe Foundation. After forming a steering committee and electing officers, the women planned a series of "Special Interest Raps" which would allow lesbian women to come together and informally discuss a variety of topics. Founder Betty Berzon led SCWU's first Special Interest Rap, "Disclosing Your Gayness to Family and Friends." Berzon was a licensed psychotherapist who was one of the first to work with gay and lesbian clients. In 1978, SCWU and WRF mutually severed its ties as WRF decided to exclusively focus their efforts on itself as an alcoholism treatment center for the gay population in San Francisco. SCWU flourished and focused its efforts on educational and social events, fundraising, legislative lobbying, and fostering projects for the lesbian community (i.e. Connexxus/Centro de Mujeres). In addition to its grassroots efforts in building a social space for the lesbian community in Los Angeles, SCWU strove to work with high profile figures. In 1977, SCWU Chair, Myra Riddell, travels to the White House as part of the National Gay Task Force which was invited by Margaret "Midge" Costanza, Presidential Assistant for Public Liaison. Its annual Lesbian Rights Award Dinner would honor a lesbian woman whose work benefited lesbians on a large scale. Honorees include Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon (Daughters of Bilitis founders), Elsa Gidlow (poet), Dianne Abbit and Roberta Bennett (attorneys, founders of first Sexuality and Lesbian Task Forces of the Los Angeles National Organization of Women chapter), Virginia Uribe (Project 10 founders), Adrienne Rich (writer), Gloria Anzaldua (writer), Cherrie Moraga (writer), and Jackie Goldberg (Los Angeles City Councilmember). Being an educational organization, SCWU hosted a variety of educational programs from informal "rap" groups, theater productions (Welcome to Our Lesbian World), and guest speakers. Additionally, SCWU's research committee designed and executed studies on Los Angeles lesbian lifestyles. In 1977, SCWU surveyed its membership via the "Personal Profile Questionnaires" with questions on family, religious, educational, professional, health background as well as experiences with social and employment discrimination. The committee received 1,000 responses; the results were published in the SCWU newsletter. In addition to the projects planned and executed by the central organization, SCWU had numerous area chapters that would plan and execute their own projects and events tailored to its respective constituency. The majority of the area chapters were located in California – Long Beach/Orange County, San Gabriel Valley, Los Angeles/Valley, Inland Empire, Palm Springs and desert areas, San Diego, Santa Monica and nearby beach cities, Ventura, Santa Barbara and Santa Maria. The only out-of-state chapter was located in Wilmington, Delaware. According to the Board of Directors minutes, there was some discussion about contacting lesbian groups in the southwest but there is no indication that area chapters formed in said region. As evidenced by expensive fundraising dinners and other events that often charged a cover fee, it is evident that SCWU catered to a membership that consisted primarily of professional, middle and upper-class women, the majority of whom were white. In response to criticisms of being elitist, the Board of Directors began an internal dialogue on diversity in 1989. Despite its internal conflicts, SCWU existed until ????.
Extent
14 boxes (10.5 linear ft.) , 1 shoe box. 1 oversize box.
Restrictions
Property rights to the physical object belong to the UCLA Library, Department of Special Collections. Literary rights, including copyright, are retained by the creators and their heirs. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine who holds the copyright and pursue the copyright owner or his or her heir for permission to publish where The UC Regents do not hold the copyright.
Availability
COLLECTION STORED OFF-SITE AT SRLF: Open for research. Advance notice required for access. Contact the UCLA Library, Department of Special Collections Reference Desk for paging information.