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Guide to the San Francisco Women's Building/Women's Centers Records, 1966, 1972-2001
96-15  
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Collection Details
 
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Organizational History
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Related Material at the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Historical Society

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: San Francisco Women's Building/Women's Centers Records,
    Date (inclusive): 1966, 1972-2001
    Accession number: 96-15
    Creator: San Francisco Women's Building/Women's Centers
    Extent: 67 boxes 23 linear feet
    Repository: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society.
    San Francisco, California.
    Abstract: This collection represents the history of the San Francisco Women's Building/Women's Centers from 1972 to 2001. It provides a comprehensive look at the second wave of the Feminist Movement in San Francisco at that time-the Women, the Ideals, the Issues, the Struggles.
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information

    Access

    Collection is open for research. However, some files are RESTRICTED. See the Finding Aid for details.

    Publication Rights

    The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society holds copyright to unpublished materials only.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], San Francisco Women's Building/Women's Centers Records, 96-15, The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society.

    Acquisition Information

    Donated to the Historical Society by the San Francisco Women's Building in 2001.

    Organizational History

    San Francisco Women's Centers (SFWC) emerged out of the radical feminist and lesbian/feminist movements of the early 1970s. Its founders and the women who kept it going in those first years were almost entirely lesbian. In 1973 two women started an office in their home with the goal of using the non profit status which had been granted to SFWC to fundraise and to sponsor projects organized around women's issues. In June 1974 SFWC moved into a tiny storefront office at 63 Brady St. along with the SF Women's Switchboard. It hired its first paid staff member that year and that fall became a membership organization and began publishing its newsletter.
    In 1976, the year of the International Tribunal on Crimes against Women, SFWC worked in coalition with six other women's organizations to produce a national conference on Violence Against Women attracting over 1300 women. Andrea Dworkin, a noted feminist writer/activist, gave an impassioned key note address which sent "us out into the streets of San Francisco" for the first Take Back the Night march.
    SFWC took on the project of finding and purchasing a women's building as a direct result of the near impossibility of finding an affordable and acceptable women only space for the Women Against Violence Conference. "It became very clear to the 200 women who organized the conference that space was extremely important; that your politics could be destroyed because you had no place to go," said Roma Guy.
    So began the search and fundraising for a multi-cultural community space for women. It took nearly two years, but in July 1978, SFWC put down a deposit of $10,000 on the purchase of Dovre Hall owned by the Sons of Norway. A price of $535,000 was negotiated with an initial payment of $115,000 due in March of 1979. By March over $150,000 had been raised through benefits, individual donations and grants.
    The San Francisco Women's Building is an historic four story structure in the heart of the Mission district. Purchased on March 31, 1979 it was the first large women owned and women operated building of its kind in the country. The purpose of the building was to provide a centralized headquarters for women's groups, a cultural and performing arts center, self help info and resources for women, a multi-ethnic community center, offer low cost meeting and conference rental space and a space for those working on social change and community organizing projects. Its mission was blatantly and proudly political: "To facilitate and participate in the collective strength of women working together for change to a non oppressive society."
    The building located at 3543 18th Street opened its doors a mere one month after purchase. Teams of female volunteers supervised by professional women carpenters, electricians and plumbers converted the building into a community center. It offered a drop-in lounge, a child care room, performance space, meeting halls, office space for 16 women's organizations including the SF Women's Switchboard, Options for Women Over Forty, the Third World Women's Alliance, San Francisco Women Against Rape, Lilith Theater, and Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.
    The building suffered two major setbacks its first year. In February 1979 there was a major arson fire resulting in $50,000 in damages. And in December 1979 a pipe bomb was set off on the front steps of the building. This collection contains material on both incidents.
    The original organizational structure for The Women's Building included: a 13-member Board of Directors made up of staff and community people meeting twice a year and having overall legal and financial responsibilities; an Executive Committee, made up of paid staff and board members who volunteered a minimum of 10 hours weekly. They coordinated and managed the organization, established and implemented priorities, and had final say on personnel and policy decisions. Subcommittees were established on money management (fundraising, bookings, financial), community organizing (membership, newsletter, arts, education, coalitions), and Building coordination (office administration, legal, personnel, security, renovation, tenants, volunteers etc.); and a Community Advisory Board meeting monthly providing support and direction by making community resources accessible to the building through fundraising, evaluation, long range planning and trouble shooting.
    The Women's Building continues to reflect the concerns of women and children in the community as well as initiate programs to address those issues while adhering to its feminist and politically progressive perspective.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The San Francisco Women's Building Collection offers a significant and provocative look at the second wave of the feminist movement in San Francisco-the women, the ideals, the issues, the struggles. Their dreams were vivid and their conflicts were profound and typify the times as well as remain relevant today. The staff and volunteers of the San Francisco Women's Building worked tirelessly to birth and sustain a feminist community center housed in a large historic four-story building. They were faced with the monumental task of constant fundraising for its survival and growth, while staying true to their mission and their politics. During this time they also dealt with internal issues including race, class, and sexual preference, which divided them and external threats including arson and bombings. The San Francisco Women's Building managed to survive all of this and has entered the Twenty-first Century a thriving organization.
    The collection contains materials which date from 1972 to 2001 and includes voluminous printed material, hand written notes from meetings and correspondence, buttons, art in the form of posters, banners and slides of objects offered to and displayed in the Vida Gallery, research on a myriad of topics, photographs (not all identified), video and audio tapes. There is one medallion in the artifacts collection that is dated 1966. The collection includes materials from the San Francisco Women's Centers which was the predecessor to the Women's Building and records documenting the exploration, purchase, remodeling and opening of the building. There are also extensive materials on the various programs and events sponsored or housed at the Women's Building over the years including extensive records on the Annual Arts and Crafts Fair. The collection also documents a number of controversies and conflicts which faced Building staff and volunteers over the years including the dispute with the Dovre Club and direct attacks on the building.

    Arrangement

    The collection is organized into fifteen series many of which contain subseries:
    1. Foremothers (A. General, B. Bay Area Feminist Federal Credit Union, and C. the Women's Building Project);
    2. Administration (A. General and B. Dovre Club);
    3. Personnel
    4. Controversies
    5. Renters
    6. Communication (A. General, B. Flyers, and C. Newsletters, and D. Correspondence);
    7. Programming
    8. Arts and Crafts Fair
    9. Women's Building and Current Events
    10. Current Events Information Files
    11. Fundraising
    12. Sponsored Projects
    13. Audio/Visual/Artifacts/Banners (A. Videos, B. Audio Tapes, and C. Artifacts);
    14. Photographs and Slides
    15. Posters

    Related Material at the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Historical Society

    Title: Carmen Vasquez Papers,
    Collection Number: 95-05
    Title: Lesbians Against Police Violence Records,
    Collection Number: 89-05
    Title: Lesbian Agenda for Action Records,
    Collection Number: 92-08
    Title: Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin Papers,
    Collection Number: 93-13
    Title: Mothertongue Feminist Theatre Records,
    Collection Number: 99-44
    Title: Old Wives Tales Records,
    Collection Number: 95-24
    Title: Women Against Violence in Pornography and Media Records,
    Collection Number: 96-21
    Title: Women's Press Records,
    Collection Number: 91-23