Author Lorraine Duvall recently presented a program for the John Thurman Historical Society about “A Woman’s Place,” an intentional community once located in the Town of Thurman. An audience of 30 or so people came together to hear about the community.
On the property once known as Moose Mountain Lodge, a former dude ranch on Drexel Road, five to ten women lived at the site communally at any one time. A group of seven originally invested in starting the community, which lasted about eight years.
The women provided lodging for guests in four cabins and the Lodge. In a barn on the property they held retreats and offered self-help workshops to women, especially those who cam together during the second wave of feminism.
Lorraine Duvall’s research came from newspaper articles and interviews with women who were part of the collective as well as neighbors who lived in Athol during the community’s existence.
The following material was provided by Ms. Duvall:
In the fall of 1974, seven women purchased 23 acres of land, a lodge, four cabins and a barn in the Town of Thurman. They called themselves A Women’s Place to reflect their feminist ideal of providing a respite for women of all ethnic groups, classes, and sexual orientation to come together on common ground. The women left their homes together with their eight children and lived communally year-round while sharing meals and childcare. For the outside community, they provided self-help, retreat workshops.
The management and the responsibility of the day to day operations of A Women’s Place evolved over time. A Board of Directors was formed, consisting mainly of women who did not live on site, but who supported the place financially. They planned workshops and retreats for guests. The Board, in conjunction with women’s groups in New York City, Albany, and Boston, organized fundraising events and spread the work to those who lived in the cities and suburbs about this women’s collective in the rural Adirondacks.
Within three years, only two of the original seven were still living at A Women’s Place. Other women who wanted to live in the collective replaced them. These residents became to be known as caretakers, with three to ten at any one time. They maintained the facility and the gardens, cooked for the guests, and conducted the retreat programs. The caretakers attended classes at a vocational school to acquire skills to maintain the complex of buildings. They looked for jobs locally to help pay for room and board. Seventy-five caretakers were residents over the eight years, until A Women’s Place closed in 1982.
From the very beginning of its existence, finances were a problem. The income from the retreats accounted for a bulk of the revenue, however, as guests were charged on a sliding scale based upon their need, the retreats never paid for themselves. Fundraising events were a source of revenue organized to help pay taxes, the mortgage, and the cost of day-to-day operations and maintenance. Also, selling the arts and crafts to retreat guests made by supporters of the community brought in some revenue.
Problems living together surfaced early. “We all came into this very naïve,” said Marie Deyoe, the principal founder. “None of us had ever lived collectively, and believe me, living collectively isn’t any picnic.”
Even though A Women’s Place closed in 1982, primarily because of financial reasons, this experiment is considered a success, evidenced by the fact that thousands of women lived and visited during its eight-year existence.
Alumni women expressed their times of living communally:
“I’m not collective material. I don’t want to live in a place where everything is a negotiation that begins with what I have to give up. AWP was a shocking wake up.”
“I never had so much fun in my life, spending the winter there. And we know it was a catalyst for growth – knew it when we were there.”
“It makes me happy to talk with you. It’s hard to describe, this feeling of community. It reflected life. I carry a warm spot in my life for the time spent there.”
“We had a year sale at the end. I hardly remember it. We were all so sad.”
Neighbors of AWP provided their observations and opinions:
“I heard that they used to swim naked down at the pond. Cars were lined up and down the road.”
“I did not see them much. They kept to themselves.”
“Those homosexuals did not belong here. We are a tight-knit community. I did not want my children playing with theirs.”
“They were our friends and neighbors.”
At the meeting in Athol, there were alumni, women who had lived at the site, and women who had participated in the workshops and retreats, as well as Marie Deyoe’s daughter. The general feeling was that time spent at A Woman’s Place was time well spent.
From her research, Ms. Duvall plans on writing a book. She is most willing to speak to anyone who participated in the community or any neighbors who remember the women who made a difference in the lives of many.
For more information or to contact Lorraine Duvall, go to her website at: www.lorraineduvall.com.