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Elaine Wessel Biography by Elaine Wessel(1999)

I was born in Chicago in 1947, a red-diaper baby whose parents had been involved in the Communist Party. My earliest political activity was in the early 1960s, as a high school student, when I was active in the civil rights movement and peace movement (the ban the bomb movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s). Also during my high school years, I became involved in Circle Pines Center, a cooperative camp in southwestern Michigan. Later on, as a student at Roosevelt University (from 1965 on), I was active in the anti-war movement, as well as several related movements for free speech and against political repression. My mother, who was an artist, was involved with Womens International League for Peace and Freedom, as well as with Women for Peace (the Chicago chapter of a group known nationally as Womens Strike for Peace).

Because of my involvement with various New Left movements, I was somewhat aware of the beginnings of Womens Liberation around 1967 or 1968, but I did not know anyone who was active in it, nor did I pursue any contacts with addresses or phone numbers that I saw in the Guardian (a leftish weekly paper) or other places. My first direct contact with the womens liberation movement came in the summer of 1969, when I went to a house in Hyde Park that had been publicized as the South Side Womens Center. I met several interesting women there, and put my name on the mailing list, which in turn got me on the mailing list for the newly-formed Chicago Womens Liberation Union later on that fall.

My actual membership in CWLU began during the school year of 1969-70, when several women formed a Roosevelt University chapter of CWLU. Through my involvement with that chapter, I became active in other aspects of CWLU's work, including the monthly city-wide meetings, representing the Roosevelt chapter on Steering Committee, and doing volunteer work in the office. Over the years, I became involved in a variety of CWLU work groups, including Liberation School for Women, several health groups (primarily pregnancy testing), Womankind, the China Group, and several Lesbian groupings (including Blazing Star).

My work with several publications, such as Womankind and Blazing Star, including both writing and photography. Quite unintentionally, I became the unofficial photographer of CWLU. The photos I took at the time were mostly intended for immediate use in publications or slide shows, but over time they have become historic documents of the people and activities of CWLU in the 1970s.

During the same period of time when I was a CWLU member, I was also involved with a number of other organizations, including several lesbian and gay groups (such as Chicago Lesbian Liberation and Gay Rights Task Force, which later was called Illinois Gay and Lesbian Task Force), as well as the U.S. China Peoples Friendship Association.

After CWLU disbanded, I was one of several members from Blazing Star who joined New American Movement (a socialist-feminist organization with both men and women members), and Blazing Star became a womens chapter of NAM in 1977. Several years later (in the early 1980s), NAM merged with the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee to form Democratic Socialists of America. I was a member of DSA for several years, but eventually left because I felt the organization only gave lip service to feminist process and activities.

Into the 1980s, I continued to be active in the lesbian and gay community. I also became very active in the New Jewish Agenda (both in Chicago and nationally), and I was one of the founders of Havurat Achayot ( a Jewish lesbian congregation in Chicago), as well as several other Jewish feminist and Jewish lesbian groupings after Havurat Achayot disbanded.

In more recent years, I have not been very active in political movements. Most recently, I have been involved in historic preservation, as a volunteer docent for both Chicago Architecture Foundation and for Glessner House Museum.

I attended college on and off for a number of years, eventually getting a BA in History from Roosevelt University in 1984. More recently, I have taken courses toward a Masters degree in Womens Studies at Roosevelt.

For most of my adult life, I have worked as an audio-visual technician, currently working at Roosevelt University. As a college student, almost 30 years ago, I was the first woman hired to do technical work in this department (a direct result of things that I had learned from CWLU friends who were film-makers, such as Jenny Rohrer). Now I train our student aides in a department that, in recent years, has included more women than men. Through my work, I am also a member of Local 391 of Office and Professional Employees International Union.