About the CWLU
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What Was the Chicago Women's Liberation Union? by Becky Kluchin (1999)

The Chicago Women's Liberation Union (CWLU), the first women's liberation union in the country, was formed in 1969 by a group of women interested in expanding the emerging women's movement in Chicago. These women were not alone in their efforts; radical feminist groups sprang up across the country around the same time with a similar mission of establishing a national movement similar to that of civil rights and the anti-war campaigns.

The CWLU identified itself as socialist-feminist. It functioned as an umbrella organization, structured to promote communication and collaboration between feminist groups already in existence, and to provide a forum for additional groups to develop. At its peak, the Union maintained five hundred dues-paying members.

The Women's Union addressed a myriad of issues during its eight-year existence. Some of its most popular initiatives involved groups such as:

  • the Rape Project,
  • the Abortion Task Force,
  • H.E.R.S. (Health Evaluation and Referral Service),
  • the Abortion Counseling Service (also known as "Jane"),
  • D.A.R.E. (Direct Action for Rights and Employment),
  • the Prison Project,
  • a Women's Legal Clinic,
  • the Alice Hamilton Clinic
  • the Emma Goldman Clinic.

The Union also printed a monthly newsletter, published a newspaper, Womankind, and for a brief period printed a lesbian newspaper, Blazing Star. In 1971 it established the Liberation School for Women that offered classes such as, car maintenance, nutrition, women's history, women's liberation literature, and female sexuality. The Women's Graphic Collective, established in 1969, created and distributed posters advocating women's liberation across the country. Not only did the Women's Union establish its own programs for change, many of its members collaborated with other feminist organizations across the city to address issues such as sterilization abuse, abortion, and the struggle to keep the Chicago Maternity Center open.

Former Women's Union members have joined with others to create this website devoted to the history of the CWLU and the women's liberation movement.

In a recent interview, former member Micki Leaner said, "I'm having an opportunity to do what I bemoaned hadn't been done for the feminists of my generations which was to leave us lessons, to dialogue with us, to talk with us about 'okay, so here's what we did and here's what we learned,' so that we could walk away from that saying 'okay so we don't need to re-invent that'."

Former members of the Women's Union established this website for two reasons: to preserve the history of the Union, and to use this history as a means to establish a dialogue with the younger generation of feminists. By preserving the Union's history in this medium, CWLU members hope to engage younger feminists in the type of discussion that Leaner understood to be missing from her experience with feminism.

The site consists of former members' memoirs, interviews former members have done with current researchers, Union documents, posters, pictures, and the most recent scholarship on the Union and its various constituencies. All of these are designed not only to preserve the Union's history, but also to offer it to the next generation of feminists to build upon.

Becky Kluchin is a graduate student in history at Carnegie-Mellon University. She is an active member of the Chicago Women's Liberation Herstory Project and is writing a paper on the history of the women's health movement in Chicago.