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Kayla Davis

May 7, 2017

Sue, Nelly, Dian, Carol, and Billie. Country Lesbians: The Story of the WomanShare

Collective. Grants Pass, Ore.: WomanShare, 1976.

The most extensive primary source about life on Southern Oregon Womens Lands is

Country Lesbians: The Story of the WomanShare Collective, containing poems, conversation

transcripts, photographs, drawings, letters, and journal entries. Country Lesbians gave insights

into the personal thoughts and feelings of the five founders of the WomanShare collective in

addition to their interpersonal lives and group endeavors. The women wrote this

autobiographical account of their experiences with lesbian feminist community life only two

years after founding WomanShare for women who, like themselves, believed in the lesbian

separatist branch of the back to the land movement in the 1970s. The book consisted of six

chapters, outlining topics such as class backgrounds, relationships, money and ownership,

country life, the meaning of collectivity, and sexual power and expression. The women wrote

some sections separately and some together, resulting in both individual and collectively-voiced

perspectives of patriarchy and political lesbianism.

The lesbian separatist movement allowed women to remove themselves from the

patriarchal inevitability of urban life. Before moving to WomanShare, Carolgrew sick of the

countless evidences of the patriarchy that surrounded her in the city. She needed a safe space to

live, to work, to help create the womens culture she dreamed of. 1 The women described

country living as an escape from men and a haven for women. The women lived simply, with

Sue, Nelly, Dian, Carol, and Billie. Country Lesbians: The Story of the WomanShare
Collective (Grants Pass, Ore.: WomanShare, 1976), 62-63.
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little money, yet happily due to their agency and lack of reliance on men. They chopped

firewood, built cabins, cooked meals, and most importantly, owned land one their own. The lack

of men on the land prevented the patriarchal power dynamics common in typical life among the

general public. With no way to entirely prevent interaction with men in the outside world when

purchasing goods or working at outside careers, when male contact was necessary, the women

felt a draining of energy, whereas they gained energy and power when surrounding themselves

exclusively with women. For example, Nelly wrote, As I got more and more involved in the

womens movement it became clear and clearer to me that having close emotional relationships

with men was a drain on my energy. This energy manifested itself in political lesbianism as a

solution for the patriarchal oppression of the outside world.2

Political lesbian was one of the main themes guiding life at WomanShare, allowing for

agency apart from men. Sue shared her outsider perspective on political lesbianism separately

from the other women. She contrasted her own lesbian identity and self-acceptance process, the

result of years of romantic and physical desire, with that of the other women, writing in a journal

entry, Billie, Carol, and Dianhad talkedin a consciousness-raising group and came to the

logical conclusion that women could and should love women physically as well as emotionally.

She did not relate to this intentional type of lesbianism but could comment on it from the outside.

In her view, these women became lesbians as a logical next step in their developing radical

feminist political awareness. Sue did not condemn the other women for their politicized sexual

orientations, but instead wrote with a tone of sadness that she had not consciously chosen to

become one of these new lesbians, showing the expectation of intentional feminist political

Sue, Nelly, Dian, Carol, and Billie, Country Lesbians, 2, 174, 62
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action inherent in the WomanShare Collectives values.3 These new lesbians, along with other

feminists of the time, rejected the idea that men deserved power. The collective furthered this

idea, believing lesbianism was the only way to truly prevent men from using oppressive power

against women.

This work relates to greater research on Southern Oregon Womens Lands because it

offers personal accounts of life within a womens collective and suggests reasons women became

lesbian separatists in the 1970s. The idea of political lesbianism as a chosen identity within the

feminist and womens movements connects these five womens thoughts and ideas to the

movements despite geographical distance from non-separatist women. Country Women shows

how collectives offered women agency despite living in a wider patriarchal society. In a research

project about lesbian womens communities, it is important to reference primary source material

written by the lesbian women involved. Country Lesbians offers personal accounts that go

beyond surface level descriptions to describe the ideology behind the lesbian separatist


Sue, Nelly, Dian, Carol, and Billie, Country Lesbians, 20-21