Shulamith Firestone . . . who lit so many sparks of the wonderful 1960s Women's Liberation explosion and beyond.
January 7, 1945 - August 28, 2012
With sad hearts, we announce the death of Shulamith Firestone, who
began Redstockings and coined the group's name with Ellen Willis in early
1969, and a year later, at the age of 25, authored the radical feminist
thunderbolt The Dialectic of Sex: the Case for Feminist Revolution. She
was 67 when she died in August in NYC. She now joins Ellen Willis in the
Valhalla of warriors for women's freedom.
By the time this courageous organizer-activist, strategist and
theoretician founded Redstockings, she had already helped organize the
first two Women's Liberation groups in the U.S.-- Chicago Radical Women
and, a month later, the sister group, Radical Women in New York City.
This was in 1967. Six months into 1968, she was the editor of and contributed
major articles to the movement's first journal Notes From the First Year.
Click here to read the first Notes. She also founded New York Radical
Feminists in late 1969 with Anne Koedt, a longtime close radical feminist
collaborator, with whom she co-edited Notes From the Second Year.
"Shulie"--to her co-workers-- understood and showed better than all
of us--went first--in the understanding of why we need a mixture of
theory, action, organizing, knowledge of history, and, with this,
acknowledged leadership--all at the same time. In 1975, Kathie
Sarachild wrote in Redstockings's Feminist Revolution about her
realization of how far ahead Shulamith had been about all of this.
Click here to read.
In the front lines of radical feminism's first charge, Shulamith
suffered shell shock in the turbulent reaction to the publication of her
book and the subsequent media assault and notoriety. Like many, she
wrestled with the hard economic times of the 1970s. The careerist
direction she felt the feminist movement was taking disappointed her,
with its escapist illusions of individual solutions. She began to feel
there was little hope of radical change in her lifetime and, to the
sadness of many, she severed formal ties to the movement. Her health
deteriorated dramatically in the late 1980s, and she endured bouts with
mental illness, which she recovered from sufficiently to write about,
along with a few stories of the early days of the movement, in a book
published in 1998, Airless Spaces.
From time to time, she would contribute to Redstockings actions that seemed crucial to her, for instance, joining in commemorations of movement beacons who died, like Simone de Beauvoir, author of The Second Sex, and Gainesville (Florida) Women's Liberation founder Judith Benninger Brown. In the years after Redstockings established its Women’s Liberation Archives for Action, she began donating her books and other material, which we received with a great feeling of honor and appreciation, and which we are using for analyzing and passing on to new generations primary source lessons from the rebirth years of the Women’s Liberation Movement, and the decades which have followed.
So long, Shulamuth—sister, comrade—it’s been SO good to know you.
And thank you for all you have done to make the world a better place.
For women’s liberation and nothing less!
--from all in Redstockings, and millions of other women.
THE MEMORIAL AND MORE
Shulamith's family, friends and old radical feminist co-conspirators
gathered for a memorial on Sept. 23, 2012. It was held in Parish Hall,
St. Marks Church in the Bowery near her apartment on New York's
Lower East Side (“East Village”), the neighborhood where Shulamith lived
for decades and where the earliest “women's liberation” meetings of New
York Radical Women were held. Shulamith liked to attend and sometimes
participate in poetry readings at the church. Its Parish Hall is now home
to a bench inscribed with her name, the result of donations collected at
Longtime friends of Shulamith, Carol Giardina and Kathie Sarachild
of Redstockings, served on the memorial's planning committee, called
together by Laya Firestone Seghi, Shulamith's sister who herself was an
early Women's Liberation Movement organizer. For the occasion,
Redstockings created an exhibit of some of the documentary treasures
Firestone had given The Redstockings's Archive over the years.
Kathie Sarachild introduced the part of the program devoted to
remembrances from Women's Liberation Movement co-workers, and
Marisa Figueiredo spoke in this portion, representing a new generation
Redstocking who had worked closely with Shulamith on the book Airless
Because of limited seating, the event was not open to the public nor
widely announced. Nevertheless, leading radical feminist voices of the 60s
managed to get there from far and wide, with Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz and
Laura X coming all the way from California. Early women's liberation organizers
and radical feminists Ti-Grace Atkinson, Roxanne Dunbar, Jo Freeman and
Kate Millett spoke--Patricia Mainardi also reading tributes from Anne Koedt
and Peggy Dobbins.
• For some photos of the gathering, including some of a stunning quilt
made by Shulamith, on display at the Memorial as the backdrop for the
speakers, click here. At the center of the quilt is sewn a small photographic
button of Simone de Beauvoir that Redstockings produced in the 1980s. Just
below the button are sewn letters spelling the word “Simone.” Beauvoir's
1948 book The Second Sex inspired so many of the 1960s radical women
who set in motion the Women's Liberation Movement, still simmering today.
It was to Beauvoir that Shulamith dedicated her 1970 book The Dialectic
of Sex, writing in it “for Simone de Beauvoir who endured.”
• The printed program for the gathering--available by clicking here--
offers more detail, including bios of speakers, and written reminiscences
and comments of family, friends, and co-workers.
• The magazine N+1 helped design and print the program, and then
included much of its contents, and some important additional material
in a special Shulamith Firestone issue, available both in print and on
the journal's website. Click here for the N+1 special issue, Parts I and II.
• Remarks by Redstockings speakers Marisa Figueiredo and Kathie
Sarachild are available by clicking on their names.
• You can listen to a recording of the Women's Liberation section of
the program, which includes singing by Bev Grant and Lori Hiris, the
tributes by Anne Koedt and Peggy Dobbins, and reflections by
Ti-Grace Atkinson, Kate Millet, and Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz in addition to
those included in the issue of N+1. Click here for the audio.
• For a press report on the Memorial and some of its aftermath by
Mary Reinholz, who in the early 1970s wrote about the movement for
the New York Daily News, click here. Some more photos from the
memorial are in the Reinholz account, as well as a link to The New
York Times's obituary.
• Nona Willis Aronowitz on The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for
Feminist Revolution: Eloquent reflections on reading The Dialectic
of Sex from a young feminist, who is also the daughter of Ellen Willis,
Redstockings's other founder and close Shulamith accomplice, were
published on October 19th. For Nona Willis Aronowitz's “The Feminist
Manifesto,” click here.
• For radio interviews on working with Shulamith in the early years
of the movement and reflections by another young activist on
Shulamith's impact on today's movement, hear Fran Luck's WBAI
interview in September 2012 with Redstocking Kathie Sarachild and
Erin Mahoney of National Women's Liberation. The interviews begin
about halfway into the show, which you can access by clicking here.
Erin also read part of National Women's Liberation's tribute to
Shulamith, which you can read in its entirety by clicking here.
MEMORIAL CONFERENCE PLANNED
At the Memorial, Redstockings announced plans for a
conference in the next year with a subject and title that provoked
friendly laughter and attracted a good number of names on the
sign-up sheet: The Shulamith Firestone Women's Liberation Memorial
Conference on What Is To Be Done.
We are strongly leaning toward a September date and looking
for a New York City location. Stay tuned for more details which
will be posted on the Redstockings website and also disseminated
more widely. Knowing as much as possible as early as possible
about who and how many are interested and can help will make
for better planning and a more exciting, productive conference.
So will a sufficient till and seed money ahead of time.
You don't have to wait until more information is posted! Get
in touch if you're interested in helping and/or attending. And please
contribute any amount you can to help make it happen.
Make a donation HERE or make your check out to
Redstockings, Inc. and send it to:
Redstockings of the Women's Liberation Movement, P.O. Box 744,
Stuyvesant Station, New York, NY 10009.
Email us here or write to the above address, if you're interested in
coming and want to help.
The freedom struggle is a learning process!
For the Feminist Revolution that Shulamith and Ellen did so much to
move forward—generation teaching generation!
“THIS TIME WE ARE GOING ALL THE WAY” --
THE REDSTOCKINGS MANIFESTO