Dances for “wimmin only” became accepted events in the Valley as Lesbians were increasingly active in the Women’s Liberation Movement and, starting in 1974, began to create space for ourselves. They were very special events when the music was performed live by women’s bands. First the Deadly Nightshade and, then, Lilith provided the sound track for bashes and benefits.
I informally interviewed Lilith founder Beth Caurant for the first time in 1998 at her home in Northampton. She generously provided a written personal remembrance and some photographs of the band. In 2004 she commented on a brief draft by me of the band’s history. In 2015, when I started the blog, I sent her a dusty post draft that prompted her to write more. In the meantime she had been interviewed for JD Doyle’s Queer Music Heritage radio show broadcast in 2007, with many documents as well as music recordings made available online. This brief account of Lilith draws on these multiple sources.
Lilith founder Beth Caurant recollects that in the early 1970s it was unthinkable to play music professionally without having men in the band. “You could be a lead singer or perhaps a folk duo, but it was assumed that only men could play the drums or electric instruments.” One evening when she was having dinner in a restaurant in Amherst, she heard the Deadly Nightshade play for the first time, “Three women playing together without men— and they sounded great!”
Inspired to look for other women who might want to form a rock band with her, she went to the Valley Women’s Center in Northampton to put up a notice. She found one from two other lesbians already posted:”Looking to jam, play some music and drink a little wine.” She called them immediately and they did just that. “We all played guitar and sang, with beautiful harmonics, and one who could sing lead vocals. We decided on ‘Lilith’ as a name, as the woman who defied Adam.”
Their first gig, with a very limited repertoire, was in 1973 at a lesbian party in Wendell. For a year they rented a house together on Perkins Avenue in Northampton, gradually adding other musicians. Because there were so few female rock musicians, they became a band of whatever combination of vocalists/players were interested at the time. A clarinet player was added because she was willing to eventually play the saxophone that the band really wanted, but she wouldn’t join without her girlfriend, so a keyboard was added as well. At one point, when they needed a bass guitar, Beth’s girlfriend Tatty Hodge learned to play one from scratch.
Beth has written that they were also very young and into the drinking, pot-smoking bar scene. By the time they cut their LP in 1978, Lilith had grown from a trio to a seven-member band and gone through thirty personnel changes, with only two of the original members remaining. In spite of internal chaos, Beth recalls that when the band’s playing was tight, it was really exciting.
At the beginning of their career, Lilith played for women’s dances at Smith and Mt. Holyoke Colleges. Valley women were treated to double the dance when both Lilith and the Deadly Nightshade played a benefit dance at UMass in 1974. Lilith played many of the same venues in the Valley as the Deadlies including the Vermont Bernardston Inn, but they also played Springfield’s gay Frontier Lounge and Arbor.
Most of the performance venues available, however, were straight bars and dance clubs. The band played repeatedly at The Rusty Nail in Hadley. Lilith became regulars at two Pleasant Street establishments in Northampton: the Saint Regis, a restaurant with a large dance room; and the Lazy River. At both places, the band drew a large following of local lesbians who mixed in with the other clientele without a problem, according to Beth.
Beth still remembers, however, that this practice of playing for lesbians at straight clubs and playing music by men (for its dance-ability) drew comment from one Northampton Lesbian Separatist, at least in fictional form. In her 1976 collection of poetry and short fiction They Will Know Me By My Teeth, Elana Dykewoman included a short story entitled, “Without Love”, which was the name of a Doobie Brothers song that Lilith covered. In the fictional account, a woman who lives down the street from a bar hears a women’s band play mostly men’s music where a “cluster” of lesbians dance. The women, the story implies, are trying to pretend that the men in the bar aren’t watching them, identifying them as lesbians, and preparing to stalk them when they leave the bar. This fiction reflects the history of increasing violence against lesbians in Northampton starting in 1975 as they became more visible in bars and on the streets and the issues being raised by local Lesbian Separatists.[More on these issues in future posts.]
Safer, more comfortable women-only venues were rare but welcome opportunities for women to gather and dance. Very early in their career, Lilith played at a private party at the Northampton Colonial Hilton thrown by a Smith College residential house. Such resources were most available to campus groups in the Valley. One of the largest women’s dances may have happened when Lilith played at a packed Blue Wall Cafe for the 1975 University Women’s Conference at UMass. The first of these live band wimmin-only dances for Northampton townies may not have occurred, however, until 1977.
With time, the band enlarged their playing circuit outside the Valley to include Boston. At the beginning of 1975, they provided the music for newly elected state representative Elaine Noble’s inaugural ball. She was the first openly gay candidate in the country to win a state office, representing Boston’s Fenway and Back Bay neighborhoods in the Massachusetts Legislature for two terms.
The band also played a Susan Saxe Defense Fund benefit in Boston at the Saints, a lesbian bar where they frequently played. Saxe was arrested in 1975 for alleged participation in a 1970 Weather Underground robberies of a Massachusetts armory and a bank, which involved the shooting death of a bank guard.
After her capture and arrest in Philadelphia, Saxe came out in feminist media as a lesbian and appealed to her “sisters” for support. Feminists and lesbians across the country did support her, including in the Valley, raising funds for her legal defense. After the Saints benefit in Boston, Beth Caurant believes the band came under investigation by the FBI. She says that men were seen taking photographs of her car and house and agents questioned her landlord about the band.
In 1975, Lilith cut a single demo 45rpm record, covers of Van Morrison’s “Moondance” and Jean Knight’s “Mr. Big Stuff”, to begin to promote themselves. Starting in 1976 the band began to get some critical mainstream press as they took their rock, soul, and swing north into Maine and south to Rhode Island and points in between.
A newspaper review of their appearances in Hartford CT described them warming up the crowd with “Reggae Woman” disco-soul sound; moving more people onto the dance floor with “Money,” a pure disco sound, hard and bright; then to their cover of “Mr. Big Stuff.” Dancers rested while Joy Barone did a Janis Joplin–like “Total Blues,” then Marianna on sax surrounded Cathy and Lou’s vocals to send folks back up to the dance floor to bump and hustle. Reviewer Susan Rand Brown concluded in the Hartford Advocate, “Lilith is a whole band of rock musicians really doing it.”
Lilith spent the early six months of 1977 on an experimental southern tour. They embarked without a bassist or drummer, so they had to fill in along the way: Debbie Campbell, bass; Laurel Blanchard, drums. They added a new vocalist as well, Janice Warner. When they returned north, they settled in the Boston area with another new sound. The band that once again played at the Rusty Nail in Hadley was described by a male reviewer as “a middling-fair bar band playing cover versions of Stevie Wonder, bump and boogie of Wild Cherry, Pick Up the Pieces funk and the occasional ballad.” The Springfield Morning Union reviewer did note two original pieces, and wrote that the dance floor was two-thirds occupied by women couples.
In 1978, they released their first LP, “Boston Ride,” under the new Galaxia label. Two–thirds of the album was original music. The album was well received. Reviews made the mainstream as well as alternative press.
Despite high points such as opening for Bonnie Riatt, and good sales of the album, even in Europe, the high energy group couldn’t stay together past 1978. Karen Kane, the “Boston Ride” engineer, commented in a 2009 interview. ”The band (Lilith) dynamics were very hard and Beth and I basically mixed that album and made it happen. And now I listen to it and it’s like, hmmm, not too bad for 1978. You know it helped them, for a while, with their career, but they were having such terrible band dynamics that they didn’t last, unfortunately.”
Beth Caurant has still kept herself in music with women, a little bit, over the years. Most recently she appeared with the Girl Gang at Luthiers in Easthampton. After their show, she remarked to me on the number of old Lilith fans who attended and commented fondly on those old times that women danced together to music by women.
__Caurant, Beth. Interviewed by Kaymarion Raymond, handwritten notes. Jan. 6, 1998.
__Caurant, Beth. Untitled [Lilith remembrance to Kaymarion private file.] Jan. 4, 1998.
__[Raymond,} Kaymarion and Letalien, Jacqueline, editors. The Valley Women’s Movement: A Herstorical Chronology 1968-1978. Ceres Inc. Northampton. 1978. Add linkMORE
__Caurant, Beth. Email correspondence with Kaymarion. May 14-30, 2004 and Nov 21-28, 2015.
__Nachman [Nachmon], Elana. They Will Know Me By My Teeth: stories and poems of lesbian struggle, celebration, and survival. Megaera Press. Northampton MA. 1976.
__Brown, Susan Rand. “Lilith: Rock and Role.” Hartford (CT) Advocate. Feb. 11, 1976.
__Danckert, Peter. “Lilith: Hunting Identity.” Morning Union, Springfield MA. Jul 29, 1977.
__Kane, Karen. Interview Queer Music Heritage.
__To hear some of Lilith’s music, read clippings, listen or read more of their history through an interview of Beth Caurant on Queer Music Heritage by JD Doyle follow these links below;
__Radio interview with Beth Caurant March 2007 by JD Doyle
__ Transcript of Radio interview with Beth Caurant http://www.queermusicheritage.com/mar2007s.html
Two Valley women, Sophia Packard and Harriet Giles, were included in a recent Autostraddle.com post: “16 Lesbian Power Couples From History Who Got Shit Done, Together.”
Sophie Packard and Hattie Giles never called themselves “lesbians,” a term that had yet to be popularized in the late 19th century. They may well have been horrified to have – or be thought to have had – a sexual relationship. I include them as two of our own, as Autostraddle.com has done, because they stepped outside of the strictures of patriarchal marriage to embrace a committed union with each other.
Miss Packard said in an 1888 reunion address to alumni at New Salem Academy that she had found her “life companion” there at the school. She was referring to Miss Giles, with whom she lived and often worked for the thirty-six years from 1855 to 1891.
Both were born and raised in New Salem, Massachusetts, the small hilltown on State Route 202, east of and above what is now Quabbin Reservoir. It was perhaps because of their four year age difference that they had not been close before the Academy. Miss Packard was born in 1824 and Miss Giles in 1828. Sophie Packard began her career as a school teacher at the age of sixteen in Shutesbury, but continued her education at New Salem Academy. At New Salem, she was a preceptor, which was a student role roughly like a teaching assistant. There she met Hattie, who attended the Academy from 1843 through 1848.
The two may have begun living and working together after Hattie’s graduation. Academy alumnae accounts merely note that they were both assistant teachers at the Academy in 1853 and 1854. They taught together in various private and public schools in Fitchburg, Dana, Orange, Greenfield, Petersham, and other places.
Sophie Packard also graduated from Charlestown Female Seminary in 1850 and subsequently became principal of several institutions where Hattie Giles taught as well. After she became an active leader in the Woman’s American Baptist Home Mission Society, Miss Packard sought more fulfilling work. She became a pastor’s assistant in Worcester for eight years, serving young women who came to the city to work in the factories.
In 1881, the two, now in their fifties, took a trip South to see where they might start a school to offer an education to African American women in the first generation after the Civil War. They thought Louisiana might be a likely place, but on their way there, they stopped in Atlanta, Georgia. There, they met Reverend Frank Quarles. Rev. Quarles was the minister of Friendship Baptist Church and, as a leader in the Atlanta Black community, had been seeking ways to build an education system. Rev. Quarles offered Miss Packard and Miss Giles the use of the Church basement as the beginning of a collaboration.
Several weeks later, on April 11, 1881, the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary opened in the “dink-damp” basement of the church. There were eleven girls as students. Miss Packard and Miss Giles were teaching, but had little yet in the way of equipment or materials. Rev. Quarles and the Yankee schoolmarms soon made trips North to secure funding, not only for supplies, but also additional teachers and larger, permanent facilities. Rev. Quarles fell ill on such a trip. He died, but not before seeing his own daughter Frankie begin school in the first class.
Two years later, the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary moved with sixty students to a converted military barracks purchased by the American Baptist Home Mission Society. Sophia Packard was the Seminary’s first president. Over the years, the Seminary added vocational training in nursing and teaching training, as well as a high school diploma program, and later a college curriculum. John D. Rockefeller gave substantial amounts of money to fund the buildings. In 1884, the institution changed its name to Spelman Seminary in order to honor the anti-slavery activist parents of Rockefeller’s wife Laura Spelman Rockefeller.
Miss Sophie Packard died in 1891. Miss Hattie Giles took over the role of Seminary President until her own death in 1910. But that time, Spellman had become the largest Black women’s seminary in the world. Today it is known as Spelman College. Miss Packard and Miss Giles are buried next to each other in the Packard family plot in the Silver Lake Cemetery in Athol, Massachusetts.
__Riese. ”16 Lesbian Power Couples From History Who Got Shit Done, Together.” Autostraddle. March 31, 2017. https://www.autostraddle.com/16-lesbian-power-couples-from-history-who-changed-the-world-together-372223/
__Bullard, Eugene. History of New Salem Academy. New Salem, Massachusetts; 1913.
__Mitchell, Deborah. “Father Quarles and Aunt Ruth: Leaders for Spelman and All of Georgia. Accessed 4/21/17. NOTE this is the source for the photo of the two women used by Autostraddle.com, which apparently got it from Spelman College Archives. The names however are mislabeled, the opposite of what was included in the identical photos printed in the Reunion Banner. http://kcac.kennesaw.edu/thematic_content/educating_for_citizenship/leaders.html
__Reunion Banner. New Salem Academy. New Salem, Massachusetts: 1881, 1888, 1895, 1910. Sophie Packard and Hattie Giles reported their news to their former classmates here over the years, including the photographs of them and Spelman Seminary. Available locally at Amherst MA Jones Library Special Collections.
__Young, Allen. North of Quabbin Revisited. Athol, Massachusetts: Haley’s; 2003. A thank you to Allen who first informed me of the local ladies.
a wonderful piece of preservation work!
I first met Pat Jones and Donna Eddins in 1990 at the Gulf Coast Women’s Music Festival in Mississippi. They were videotaping the event and would I give them permission to record my set? This was before everyone and their sister had phones with video or even home camcorders, so of course I said yes. Over that long weekend I got to know them better and when they offered me a place to stay my next time through their hometown of Memphis, I didn’t hesitate. I loved their warm and direct manner. Neither suffered fools gladly and they worked tirelessly as LGBT activists — my kind of people. They taped festivals and other events with professional grade equipment, produced concerts, and did an LGBT radio show, all in the deep south. Here’s Pat talking about bringing comic Robin Tyler to Memphis in 1980. She also mentions Meristem, the women’s bookstore…
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In 1970, I had just started my sophomore year at UMass when I broke up with my partner Susan and needed a cheap place to live on the bus route to Amherst. Since I was in a non-functioning emotional state, it was only due to the one friend we had made in Northampton, Madeline Littlefield, that I got moved into a rooming house in town.
The old three-story house at 66 Green Street, with its maze of hallways leading out from a central staircase on the top two floors, looked as though it had been designed to be a rooming house. What had probably been a deep, covered front porch with a little yard and an adjacent alley, however, had been converted to cinderblock storefronts built right up to the sidewalk, though the two old apartments still existed behind them. One had to step back from the pink, painted, stucco front to get a glimpse of the original shingled edifice, which had steeply slanted roofs and a turret hiding a whole other world from that of the Smith College campus right across the street.
“Elmhurst Apartments” was painted on the glass transom over the entry door located between the shops. The door led into a small, narrow foyer with flat, black, metal mailboxes affixed to the right hand wall and a carpeted staircase with wooden banister leading upward on the other. Dimly lit, creaking steps, slightly slanted into the void and crowded by a wall with painted over wallpaper, led to the fourteen rooms and two apartments above. There were shared bathrooms and hallway sinks on the second and third floors as well as a kitchen on the third which had originally been room #5.
Mrs. Snowden was the housekeeper, a term new to me. She was a combination manager and maid, sending the bed linens out to a laundry service but washing the towels in the basement machine. A furnished room for single occupant came with a weekly change of linen (one of the sheets, pillowcase and towel) for eight dollars a week. The top floor rooms had slanted ceilings, and those in the corners of the building claustrophobically fit only a single twin-size bed, dresser, and straight backed chair.
A few of the tenants were longtime residents, older single or widowed, retired or employed by nearby Smith College. They set a clean, quiet, mind-your-own tone. The majority, though, were transients, mostly men, who saw the ad in the Gazette, placed there whenever there was a vacancy. I recall people just discharged from the State Hospital up the hill and migrant workers between crops passing through.
Busy with school and multiple activities, I didn’t initially engage much with the other tenants, except for hellos and a worry that they might smell the pot smoke leaking into the hall through the blanket covered door and transom. Or notice increased noise and the occasional presence of a woman lover, as over the next couple years friends from Student Homophile League and then the Gay Women’s Caucus and Valley Women’s Center began increasingly to visit.
Over time, I got to know a bit about the regulars. The housekeeper Ada Snowden was friends with another widow on the third floor named Eva Crovo. The two of them could be heard clattering in the kitchen together every evening before and after they ate in Ada’s room. On the second floor, the retired widower Abner Solon went out somewhere for the day, including, it appeared, all his meals. Living next to Abner at the top of the stairs to the second floor was Sophie Szarek, a retired old maid who was to become somewhat of a legend in those early years at Green Street.
After I had been living there a few months, I noticed that sometimes when I came home, just as I was reaching the top of the stairs to the second floor, I would hear a door slam shut. Sophie, that elusive tenant, would peek out of her room to see who was coming up the stairs and then hide before she was seen in return. When I started taking a psychology class and learned of operant conditioning, I decided to try it on Sophie. Now when I came in, I called hello to her, and gradually was able to engage her in neighborly conversation.
Sophie had come from Poland to the Valley as a twelve year-old. A cousin had found her work as a maid in a “Yankee” household, which she did for her entire working life. Even with her heavily accented English, it was possible to understand her scornful contempt for all things “Yankee,” which seemed to extend to the few other women in the house, who never befriended her. I was able to introduce her to more congenial and increasingly bemused neighbors as friends of mine moved into the house.
I was somewhat surprised when Mrs. Snowden asked me to substitute for her as the housekeeper over a summer. She worked as a cook at one of the Smith houses during the school year, but returned to her home in Nova Scotia when she could during the summer school break. The job at 66 Green Street broadly entailed renting the rooms and collecting the rent, cleaning the common areas and vacant rooms, checking the boiler, handling the laundry, and reporting to the landlord. In exchange, the room was rent-free and a phone paid for by the landlord was installed. Mrs. Snowden was pleased enough with me that when she retired from her cook’s job in the summer of 1972 and wanted to return permanently to Canada, she recommended that I be her replacement.
For the next three years, as Green Street’s housekeeper, I filled every new vacancy that I could by word of mouth, with known or recommended women, most of them lesbian. In the remainder of 1972, eight women, five of them lesbian, filled vacancies. With the addition of another lesbian at the start of 1973, five of us collectively rented a room in the name of Kaethe Kollwitz that served as a common room. We also offered it as emergency housing through the Valley Women’s Center in Northampton and Everywoman’s Center at UMass. Over the two years we maintained the room, it temporarily housed a few famous and infamous women.
By Fall of 1975, I was ready to quit the job. Lesbians now lived in the majority of the rooms and one of the apartments at “Green Street,” as it was increasingly referred to in the women’s community. As the town built elder housing, all but one of the senior tenants had moved to those better accommodations. They took their moderating influence with them. As well as a 100% turnover in tenants, usual for a rooming house, the change brought increased noise, traffic, and mess in the common areas, which increasingly frustrated me as housekeeper. I had to draw a large poster for the bathroom illustrating how to replace a used-up roll of toilet paper. I’ve been reminded by a former tenant of the time I went in the kitchen and threw every unwashed dish, glass, skillet, pot, utensil (piles of them) out the third floor window. I kept living at Green Street even after I was no longer the housekeeper.
Peggy C., old UMass friend and resident down the hall from Sophie and Abner, agreed to take over the job with the landlord’s blessing. However, the ever-increasing cleaning chores and wrangles as the “authority” figure discouraged her, too, and within only a couple weeks she was ready to quit.
Faced with the possibility of losing this now largely women’s, space, the tenants agreed to experimentally form a sub rosa cooperative that would share the work of maintaining the house and making decisions, including who would live there, greatly reducing the responsibilities of the landlord’s hired housekeeper, now the secret tenants’ co-op’s front person as well.
Kate A. became the first housekeeper under this new arrangement toward the end of 1975. A notebook was set up on a dresser in the second floor hall as a house communications log, with the weekly job rosters, house rules, and meeting notices. Over time, messages about happenings in the community as well as individuals’ lives accumulated in the log. [The log has been preserved at the Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College with appropriate use restrictions.]
By the time I left in 1978, to be with my dying mother, at least seventy different women, mostly lesbians, had lived at Green Street over that five year period, some multiple times. A few stayed for only a week or two, others rented for years, with 6-8 months being the average stay. Though many were college educated, initially most lived there because it was the cheapest housing available and near the bus route. Being able to be open with each other and have like-minded neighbors became a desirable bonus.
The drawback was that it was often like living in a soap opera, witnessing fights between lovers or class clashes in the hallways. Because so many of us were to be involved in creating the new Lesbian community, community conflicts carried over into our living space as well. Green Street’s story as a Lesbian cultural institution continues well into the next decade and beyond. That, as well as little tales from the seventies as they are relevant, will be included in future blog posts.