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Southern California Women for Understanding (SCWU) collection
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  • Restrictions on Access
  • Restrictions on Use and Reproduction
  • Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements
  • Preferred Citation
  • UCLA Catalog Record ID
  • Processing History
  • History
  • Chronology
  • Related Material
  • Online Items Available

  • Contributing Institution: UCLA Library Special Collections
    Title: Southern California Women for Understanding (SCWU) collection
    Creator: Southern California Women for Understanding
    Identifier/Call Number: LSC.1851
    Physical Description: 10.5 linear feet (14 boxes, 1 shoe box, and 1 oversize box)
    Date (inclusive): 1975-1999
    Abstract: 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.
    Physical Location: Stored off-site. All requests to access special collections material must be made in advance using the request button located on this page.
    Language of Material: Materials are in English.

    Restrictions on Access

    Open for research. All requests to access special collections materials must be made in advance using the request button located on this page.

    Restrictions on Use and Reproduction

    Property rights to the objects belong to UCLA Library Special Collections. All other 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.

    Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

    CONTAINS UNPROCESSED DIGITAL MATERIALS: Digital materials are not currently available for access and will require further processing and assessment. If you have questions about this material please email spec-coll@library.ucla.edu.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Southern California Women for Understanding (SCWU) collection (Collection 1851). UCLA Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles.

    UCLA Catalog Record ID

    UCLA Catalog Record ID: 9966506723606533 

    Processing History

    The Southern California Women for Understanding (SCWU) Collection was processed by Tiffany-Kay Sangwand from February to July 2008 under the auspices of UCLA Center for the Study of Women.
    Collections are processed to a variety of levels depending on the work necessary to make them usable, their perceived user interest and research value, availability of staff and resources, and competing priorities. Library Special Collections provides a standard level of preservation and access for all collections and, when time and resources permit, conducts more intensive processing. These materials have been arranged and described according to national and local standards and best practices.
    We are committed to providing ethical, inclusive, and anti-racist description of the materials we steward, and to remediating existing description of our materials that contains language that may be offensive or cause harm. We invite you to submit feedback about how our collections are described, and how they could be described more accurately, by filling out the form located on our website: Report Potentially Offensive Description in Library Special Collections. 


    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 ????.


    Missing Title

    May 15, 1976 Betty Berzon sends a letter to twenty women inviting them to her home to discuss the formation of a steering committee for the Whitman-Radclyffe Foundation.
    June 4, 1976 Berzon and twelve women meet to discuss WRF and a women's group.
    June 14, 1976 Seven women meet again to elect committee officers: Myra Riddell (Chairperson), Terry DeCresenzo (Vic-Chairperson), Sue Philbrick (Secretary), Karen Weiss (Treasurer), Betty Berzon (Ex-Officio, Liaison to the Board). Pat Berlly, Gloria Muetzel, Irene Robertson, Jane Patterson, and Barbara Colby comprised the remaining committee members.
    July 25, 1976 First membership appeal meeting held and attended by fifty women.
    October 8, 1976 SCW-WRF hosts first Special Interest Rap, "Disclosing Your Gayness to Family and Friends." Speaker is Betty Berzon, a licensed psychologist.
    January 30, 1977 Pat Denslow presents new by-laws to SCW-WRF.
    February 25, 1977 SCW-WRF hosts Jean O'Leary, ex-nun, Co-Executive Director of National Gay Task Force, and openly gay delegate to the Democratic National Convention as well as Grace Davis Montanez, Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles.
    March 26, 1977 Myra Riddell travels to the White House as part of the National Gay Task Force invited by Margaret "Midge" Costanza (Presidential Assistant for Public Liaison).
    Fall 1977 SCW/WRF sends out Personal Profile Questionnaires aimed to find out more about lesbians' social conditions in Los Angeles. Report of results published in March/April 1978 newsletter.
    September 10, 1977 SCW/WRF members present a workshop on various lesbian issues at USC. Workshop features keynote speaker Olga Broumas, first openly gay woman to win the Yale Younger Poets Prize.
    July/August 1978 SCW-WRF announces its disassociation from the WRF and become known as SCW.
    August/September 1978 SCW starts hosting Receptions for Understanding in which members could informally meet with potential allies in the non-gay community. The first Reception on August 24 was covered by NBC News.
    September/October 1978 SCW becomes Southern California Women for Understanding (SCWU).
    December 4, 1978 Forty women meet in Long Beach to discuss the formation of a Southern Committee of the SCWU.
    January 6, 1979 Judi Doyle is named Chair of the Southern Committee.
    September 15, 1979 SCWU holds first Lesbian Rights Award Banquet and honors Del Martin and Pyllis Lyon, founders of first lesbian organization, Daughters of Bilitis.
    October 19, 1979 The Ventura Committee hosts its first Special Interest Program, "Women and the Law."
    January 10, 1980 The Advocate features Myra Riddell and SCWU in a two page spread.
    March 7, 1980 The San Gabriel Valley Committee holds its first Special Interest Program, "Orientation Rap" and is attended by sixteen women. Ret informally acts as Chair.
    March 31, 1980 SCWU open its first office on 13719 Ventura Avenue, Suite D in Sherman Oaks.
    August 1980 SCWU Board of Directors announces its re-structuring due to the growth of the organization.
    September 5, 1980 Fifty women meet to discuss the formation of a Los Angeles/Valley committee.
    February 14, 1981 SCWU hosts a Weekend of Lesbian Culture which features the second Lesbian Rights Award Banquet and honors lesbian poet Elsa Gidlow.
    February 26, 1981 SCWU is granted tax-exempt status as a non-profit organization.
    August 22, 1981 SCWU receives the National Organization of Women's Alice Paul Certificate of Feminist Achievement for Advancement of Feminist Goals.
    October 29, 1981 Los Angeles/Valley committee becomes the second official chapter of SCWU.
    January 1982 Judi Doyle begins tenure as the second Chair of SCWU.
    August 1982 SCWU moves into new office with ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Chapter at 633 Shatto Place in Los Angeles.
    May 7, 1983 SCWU holds its third Lesbian Rights Award Banquet and honors attorney activists and couple Dianne Abbit and Roberta Bennett, founders of the first Sexuality and Lesbian Task Force of the Los Angeles chapter of N.O.W.
    June 28, 1984 SCWU announces its endorsement of Connexxus/Centro de Mujeres, a woman's center for Los Angeles.
    December 9, 1984 A group of women in San Diego host a social to attract potential members for a San Diego SCWU chapter.
    February 1985 SCWU moves to its third office on 9054 Santa Monica Boulevard, Suite 103 in West Hollywood.

    The Ventura committee officially gains chapter status.
    April 1985 Beach Cities Committee forms and includes Malibu, Santa Monica, Venice, Culver City, Inglewood, Marina Del Rey, Playa Del Rey, El Segundo, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach, Torrance, Palos Verdes and Rancho Palos Verdes.
    June 1985 Jean Conger is appointed by the Board of Directors for the new position of Executive Director.
    January 1986 Margo Strik begins tenure as the third Chair of SCWU.
    January 18, 1986 SCWU holds its fourth Lesbian Rights Award Banquet and honors first Chair Myra Riddell.
    September 1986 Inland Empire announced as a Formation Group.
    February 1987 Beach Cities Steering Committee decides to disband due to lack of member participation.
    March 7, 1987 SCWU holds its fifth Lesbian Rights Award Banquet and honors musicians Margie Adam, Meg Christian, Holly Near, Linda Tillery and Cris Williamson.
    March 12, 1988 SCWU holds its sixth Lesbian Rights Award Banquet and honors lesbian comedian and activist, Robin Tyler.
    July 24, 1988 Inland group gains chapter status.
    January 1989 Cultural Diversity Task Force formed to facilitate discussion on cultural diversity and SCWU membership.
    March 4, 1989 SCWU holds its seventh Lesbian Rights Award Banquet and honors Virginia Uribe, founder of Project 10.
    August 31, 1989 Jean Conger resigns from Executive Director position.
    March 17, 1990 SCWU holds its eighth Lesbian Rights Award Banquet and honors Karen Thompson, lesbian and human rights activist.
    March 16, 1991 SCWU holds its ninth Lesbian Rights Award Banquet and honors lesbian writers May Sarton, Adrienne Rich, Rita Mae Brown, Charlotte Bunche, Katherine Forrest, Paula Gunn Allen, Gloria Anzaldua, and Cherrie Moraga.
    July 7, 1991 SCWU sponsors the IMRU radio program on KPFK 90.7 with Theresa Erreca and Dr. Woolbridge.
    July 28, 1991 A Wilmington, Delaware group and Desert Women's Association gain chapter status.

    Board decides on the "dba" (doing business as) name of "National Association of Women for Understanding" to reflect the national nature of SCWU.
    August 1991 Santa Barbara group holds preliminary meetings.
    September 1, 1991 Santa Maria group holds first meeting.
    November 3, 1991 Santa Barbara group gains chapter status.
    March 14, 1992 SCWU holds its tenth Lesbian Rights Award Banquet and honors Roberta Achtenberg, Member of the Board of Supervisors for the City and County of San Francisco.
    April 17, 1993 SCWU holds its eleventh Lesbian Rights Award Banquet and honors Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer, Captain Dusty Pruitt, and attorney Mary Newcombe.
    April 23, 1994 SCWU holds its twelfth Lesbian Rights Award Banquet and honors Jackie Goldberg, Los Angeles City Council Member.

    Related Material

    This collection forms part of the The June L. Mazer Archive   at UCLA.
    See Connexxus/Centro de Mujeres Collection  which originated as a project under the non-profit auspices of SCWU.

    Online Items Available

    Portions of this collection have been digitized and are available online: Southern California Women for Understanding (SCWU) collection (915 items) .

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Southern California Women for Understanding