Few people recall that Gainesville was once a hotspot for the women’s liberation movement during the 1970s, but this college town served a vital role as a grassroots experiment in feminist organizing and activism. Many of the organizations and groups founded in Gainesville during the heyday of the women’s movement have ended their journey due to difficult economic times and political backlash, but some have held strong and expanded their feminist missions.
Gainesville usually brings the University of Florida and Gator football to mind, but for some women’s liberation activists Gainesville holds memories of early feminist discourse and collaboration that paved the way for national involvement in the movement.
Although the contributions of feminist activists in Gainesville seem to have faded into the larger narrative of the national women’s liberation movement, an online archive in UF’s Digital Collections is recovering this college town’s feminist roots through interviews, historical newsletters and photographs. Entitled Radical Women in Gainesville, this online collection and exhibit provides a personal overview of the women’s liberation movement through the voices of those who dedicated their lives to building a feminist foundation in Gainesville.
According to collection curator Leila Adams’ research, Gainesville activists wrote one of the first theoretical frameworks for the movement in 1968, titled ‘Towards a Female Liberation Movement’ and later renamed ‘The Florida Paper,’ which sparked the beginning of the movement in the north Florida college town. Adams also reminds readers that Gainesville activists ‘formed one of the first five Women’s Liberation groups in the country,’ and the town served as a meeting place for many pioneering feminists of the movement in the 1970s.
The hard work and dedication of these activists created foundational feminist institutions in Gainesville such as the Women’s Center, the Sexual and Physical Abuse Resource Center, and the Gainesville Women’s Health Center. The community space of the Women’s Center had to shut down after funding was cut in the late 1970s by the Alachua County Commission. However, other local institutions found ways to survive as support and resources began to decline.
Although it may seem that the women’s liberation movement in Gainesville faded into history too soon after it began, its feminist roots can still be found in vital services and organizations that still work to support Gainesville residents today. The Sexual and Physical Abuse Resource Center has constantly evolved since its foundation, and its contemporary incarnation as Peaceful Paths Domestic Abuse Network has saved lives with its hotline, shelter and prevention programs.
The Gainesville Women’s Health Center was pressured to close its doors in 1997, but the Birth Center that expanded from it in 1978 has ‘continued the legacy of woman-centered healthcare in Gainesville’ alongside the Florida School of Traditional Midwifery and Planned Parenthood.
The impact of the Gainesville women’s liberation movement can still be felt throughout the home of the Gator Nation. While the Radical Women in Gainesville collection has worked to recover the forgotten history of this town’s feminist contributions, current organizations must be recognized for their feminist work so that appreciation and acknowledgement can replace the need for historical recovery.
As a first step to reclaiming the feminist roots of Gainesville, be sure to check in once a month to read profiles of local organizations and groups that have kept the spirit of the women’s movement alive and well in this college town.