Everywoman, Past Present and Future was performed at the founding conference of the the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union in Oct-Nov 1969. In searching for information about this play, which is scarce, I learned that it was meant to be performed at the “revival” of International Women’s Day in 1970 (or proposed at least in the January 1970 newsletter, which is available scanned, along with others!)
Everywoman drew heavily in equal parts on women’s history and the earliest forms of cultural activism in the WLM, an agit-prop style of theater/happenings, mostly associated with Robin Morgan and the ad hoc group WITCH. In fact, the central characters of the play are witches, costumed “with various implements of oppression tied to them (which they later threw into the cauldron), e.g., falsies, coffee can (symbolizing American Imperialism), etc.” referencing the Miss America Protest Freedom Trashcan, organized by among others Robin Morgan.
After a section of dialogue in which each of witch establishes her ideological position, women’s revolution is important, women’s revolution is trivial, the narrator poses a series of questions that begin the play in earnest.
What is the revolution? When did it begin? It began a long time ago. And as with all revolutions, there were women who were there who we don’t know about. We don’t know how they lived or how they died. The history of women has not been written. The history of women’s resistance has been hidden from us. Women have cried out against oppression and THEIR VOICES WILL NOT BE STILLED LISTEN.
Using the words of revolutionary women themselves, which were distributed to audience members who in reading them became part of the play, Everywoman argued that all prior revolutions failed to free women, so women will have to free themselves through their own revolution.
The play then proceeds to create a chronological narrative that legitimized the need for an autonomous women’s liberation movement. The play traces a path through various Enlightenment inspired revolution, the nineteenth-century American woman movement to the early twentieth century labor movements in which women played leading roles and finally to women in the various twentieth-century Communist movements, to prove the point that women have been a revolutionary force in history.
The Witches then resume discussion of the ways women remain oppressed under these regimes, and the methods of resistance they developed. The play ends with rallying universal sisterhood and a call to action:
I am all women, I am every woman. Wherever women are suffering, I am there. Wherever women are struggling, I am there. Wherever women are fighting for the their liberation, I am there.
I am with all women; I am all women, and our struggle grows.
And where there are women too beaten down to fight, I will be there; and we will take strength together. Everywhere; for we will have a new world, a just world, a world without oppression and degradation!
In speaking to two early founding members of the CWLU, Vivian Rothstein and Amy Kesselman, I learned that the play was meant to do the crucial work of unitings the disparate groups of women attending the conference and was planned in the hopes over-riding the believe among some attendees that women should remain within miexed-sex groups in the New Left rather than forming their own group.
I’m writing about the play in my current book The Politics of Women’s Culture as an example of cultural forms of activism that were present in early days of the women’s liberation movement. I argue that not only did t the play do affective work that a speech or lecture could not perform, but also that activists recognized this strategy as a legitimate one. This duel invocation of a “movement culture” that relied on “culture” has been lost in subsuming labels like women’s culture and cultural feminism that emerged from what I call the women’s culture wars.