Women With a Mission

Women and Children First continues to break down barriers for what I had constituted as the primary function of bookstores—which up until now, I had considered to be to sell books. From the very beginning though, Women and Children First had been breaking down walls for women, and while books are obviously a large part of their business, the events held here are equally as important, and should be talked about just as much­—if not more so—than the books are. They promote an inclusive and welcoming atmosphere in their bookstore. Ultimately, I found the mission of Women and Children First is much greater than just a typical bookstore. The focus they’ve put on women (and children) through their books and their events in the past proves that they are a small station working towards a much bigger political goal, and are tackling many feminist issues to get there.

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Linda Bubon and Ann Christopherson, the co-founders of Women and Children First, met in graduate school at the University of Illinois in 1978 as they were pursuing their masters in literature. They quickly became involved in the feminist movement of this time—fighting for issues involving the workplace, sexuality, domestic violence, reproductive rights, fighting for the Equal Rights Amendment, etc. Bubon and Christopherson decided to contribute to the cause, and to fight back, while still pursuing something they both really loved. They combined literature, and these feminist politics, through their own unique vision of a bookstore. And so, Women and Children First was born in 1979.

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Original Storefront, 1979.

When they first opened the bookstore in Chicago, on Armitage and Halsted Street, they were only a small storefront. They did not have much money to put into the store at the beginning, but were able to create a small inventory. Originally, they wanted to exclusively carry women authors, which proved to be a bit hard in the 1970s. However, luckily their surrounding feminist publishers were booming, as well as the lesbian presses in the area. At this time there were 135 feminist bookstores around the country so many publishers joined in and started to publish feminist books which made materials much more accessible as time progressed. Bubon and Christopherson also continued to remain loyal to the local female writers, and gave them opportunities to present their work in the bookstore, even if it had not been published yet. This made it easy for the store to really grow in size, stock, and popularity, and lead them to their first move to their Lincoln Park location.

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Linda Bubon and Ann Christopherson, 1986.

When they first opened, Christopherson states that, “Their commitment was to bring readers and writers together… [and also] a commitment to local women writers” (Amstutz). They start to bring these readers and writers together through events held at the bookstore. These events have been taking place, and continue to take place, the entire time the bookstore has been open.

Today, the programs and events primarily focus on books and female writers, but this was not the case when the bookstore first opened. When the bookstore first opened, in the forefront of the feminist movement, they had many programs focused on feminist issue discussions rather than books. There would be panels on sexual abuse, or focused on female psychologists, which was their way of fighting the feminist’s battle inside a small, designated space. These events brought people together, and strengthened the resolve for the feminist movement in this area. They created a safe space for feminists to gather and share their thoughts, as well as educated them on certain issues through this programming offered in the bookstore.

Women and Children First has also hosted a variety of big female writers, as well as continuing their loyalty to first time writers. They’ve hosted women such as Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Rita Mae Brown, and Gloria Steinem—to name a few. As Women and Children First continued to grow in popularity, their feminist reputation growing along with it, they eventually moved into the space they are in now
in Andersonville in 1989.

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  Alice Walker.

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 Rita Mae Brown.

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Gloria Steinem.

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            Maya Angelou.

Andersonville is a queer-friendly neighborhood that homes many women-owned businesses. Women and Children First shows a commitment to the values of this neighborhood through their programming. They have an annual Pride open mic night, which allows unpublished female writers to read their work, as well as showcasing a few published writers. They continue to connect to their community by allowing these female writers to have voices in the community.

However, these events didn’t just stop at female writers. Women and Children First often had events revolving around books, and in February of 2003, they had Hilary Clinton in for a book signing of her own. While there were many protestors, over 1,000 people got books signed by Hilary, and interestingly enough, many encouraged her to run for president in the future (maybe it all started here, folks!).

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Hilary Clinton Book Signing.

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Hilary Clinton Book Signing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2005, Women and Children First starts the Women’s Voices Funds. The Women and Children First website states the Women’s Voices Fund will serve to “ensure that events featuring women writers, fostering discussion of feminist issues and culture, and nurturing children’s delight in books will continue to play a vital role in Chicago’s intellectual, literary, and political life” (Women’s Voices Fund). Women and Children first has always tried to stay true to this vision, and succeeded in becoming a huge role in Chicago’s intellectual, literary and political life but did so in a way that allowed women to be the focus of this role. Their events have always shown a commitment to women, and women writers, which allowed Women and Children First to make a presence for themselves in Chicago. Looking at the video below, Linda Bubon describes her personal experience with the bookstore over the past 30 years and their place in Andersonville:

 

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Lynn Mooney and Sarah Hollenback, new owners.

Through all of this time, the original owners Linda Bubon and Ann Christopherson remained the women behind the vision. They finally put Women and Children First up for sale in 2013, but were adamant that they would wait until they found the right people to take over before selling. Their own colleagues, Lynn Mooney and Sarah Hollenback, were these people. They had both worked in Women and Children First, and they bought the building in May of 2014. Women and Children First was soon afterwards awarded an honorary street designation on October 11, 2014. The corner of North Clark Street and Farragut Ave (their current location) was designated Honorary Women and Children First Way. It was meant to commemorate all the contributions they had made to Andersonville in the past 25 years (Emmanuel).

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Honorary Street Designation.

Bubon and Christopherson were confident that Mooney and Hollenback would continue their feminist mission for the bookstore. Pictured all together on the right at the street designation, they put up a united front, all of whom share the same mission. Shortly after they bought the bookstore, in the beginning of 2015, Mooney and Hollenback renovated Women and Children First. They fundraised $36,000 for the renovations, which would include: event spaces, community areas, funding for more kinds of programming (talks to explore gender, TedTalks, kids classes, book-themed summer camps, etc.) and original artwork hanging on the walls. Mooney and Hollenback wanted to take an already amazing bookstore, and push it to the limits by fundraising to create even more programming, and to create an even more welcoming and safe space. Below, you can “walk through” and look around the inside of the bookstore before the renovations, and compare it to the pictures of after the renovations to see how the space has changed.

Above, Women and Children First, Aug 2010. Below, after renovations.

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Women and Children First have fostered an atmosphere unlike any large bookstore chains. Like many other feminist bookstores, they promote a “safe space for women” and are “committed to creating an anti-racist, anti-classist, pro-choice, pro-lesbian [and gay], anti-women-hating-culture” (Mantilla 50). They have proven to follow this vision throughout their time open, through both their 30,000 feminist books carried in stock and their programming time and time again. However, “feminist bookstores are a part of [an] endangered and crumbling infrastructure…many—far too many—have closed their doors” (Mantilla 49-50). Women and Children First have been lucky enough to create a space that women continue to want to come back to, and are now one in a few feminist bookstores left in the United States. For now, they are continuing to thrive on Honorary Women and Children First Way, but feminist bookstores are a dying breed. Reading of all these events has left me with a longing to not only make my own contribution to feminist politics, but to do so by attending one of these events. Hopefully, they will beat the odds, and continue to thrive and carry out their mission—both politically and literarily—for many years to come.

 

Sources

Images

Alice Walker. <https://www.google.com/search?q=maya+angelou&biw=1421&bih=612&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&sqi=2&ved=0ahUKEwjtqN_OyY_LAhVFLSYKHV-GDAwQ_AUIBigB#tbm=isch&q=alice+walker&imgrc=fuWgF4Vgvu_kfM%3A>

Gloria Steinem. <https://www.google.com/search?q=maya+angelou&biw=1421&bih=612&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&sqi=2&ved=0ahUKEwjtqN_OyY_LAhVFLSYKHV-GDAwQ_AUIBigB#tbm=isch&q=gloria+steinem&imgrc=S9FY3JncZ2TstM%3A>

Hilary Clinton at Bookstore. <http://www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Hillary-Clinton-at-Bookstore/3311.html>

Lynn Mooney and Sarah Hollenback. <https://www.google.com/search?q=women+and+children+first&biw=1421&bih=612&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&sqi=2&ved=0ahUKEwi_sNaGxI_LAhXIKCYKHcGPDD0Q_AUIBigB#tbm=isch&q=lynn+mooney+and+sarah+hollenback&imgrc=GPFzVIzwQgSkUM%3A>

Maya Angelou. <https://www.google.com/search?q=maya+angelou&biw=1421&bih=612&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&sqi=2&ved=0ahUKEwjtqN_OyY_LAhVFLSYKHV-GDAwQ_AUIBigB#imgrc=gWjCLlQ6hXiTBM%3A>

Newspaper Shot of Bubon and Christopherson. <http://chicago.gopride.com/entertainment/column/index.cfm/col/2212>

Ordiaz, Elena. “Feminist Bookstore Starts a New Chapter.”  <https://thechicagoactivist.wordpress.com/2015/04/26/feminist-bookstore-starts-a-new-chapter/>

Rita Mae Brown. <https://www.google.com/search?q=maya+angelou&biw=1421&bih=612&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&sqi=2&ved=0ahUKEwjtqN_OyY_LAhVFLSYKHV-GDAwQ_AUIBigB#tbm=isch&q=rita+may+brown&imgrc=NloymkHV-bC9pM%3A>

Storefront. <http://www.womenandchildrenfirst.com/wcf-history-and-purpose>

Street Dedication. <https://www.google.com/search?q=women+and+children+first+street&biw=1421&bih=612&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiV57fJq4_LAhUF6xQKHV8zCW0Q_AUICCgD#imgrc=Rda1yYrDKjFR7M%3A>

Women and Children First, After Renovations. <http://www.windycitymediagroup.com/m/APParticle.php?AID=50620&i=6&s=>

Women and Children First, “Logo.” <http://www.womenandchildrenfirst.com>

Women and Children First, street corner. <https://www.google.com/search?q=women+and+children+first&biw=1421&bih=612&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&sqi=2&ved=0ahUKEwi_sNaGxI_LAhXIKCYKHcGPDD0Q_AUIBigB#tbm=isch&q=women+and+children+first+chicago+location&imgrc=mIg4PpcZk0Gl7M%3A>

Women’s Voices Fund. <http://www.womenandchildrenfirst.com/womens-voices-fund>

Maps

Google Maps: Women and Children First, Inside.

Text

Mantilla, Karla. “Feminist Bookstores: Where Women’s Lives Matter.” Women and Culture. Off Our Backs: Vol 37, No 2. Pgs 48-50. Print.

Video

Women and Children First Bookstore, Chicago. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QNgGNvMsIOM>

Websites

Amstutz, Nicolette. “Women and Children First: A Commitment to Writers and Readers.” <http://www.independentpublisher.com/article.php?page=1551>

Emmanuel, Adeshina. “Women and Children First Bookstore to Get Honorary Street Designation.” <https://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20140909/andersonville/women-children-first-bookstore-get-honorary-street-designation>

Hilary Clinton at Bookstore. <http://www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Hillary-Clinton-at-Bookstore/3311.html>

Interview: Women and Children First. <http://www.hypertextmag.com/2014/01/31/women-children-first/>

Jones, Kelly. “Women and Children First Bookstore Sold, Mission Remains.” <http://www.edgevillebuzz.com/news/women-and-children-first-bookstore-sold-mission-remains>

Ordiaz, Elena. “Feminist Bookstore Starts a New Chapter.”  <https://thechicagoactivist.wordpress.com/2015/04/26/feminist-bookstore-starts-a-new-chapter/>

Out On Top: Linda Bubon and Ann Christopherson. <http://www.gomag.com/article/out_on_top_lesbian_entrep/6>

Programs and Events Calendar. <http://www.womenandchildrenfirst.com/event>

Second-wave Feminism. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second-wave_feminism>

Women&Children&YOUFirst. <https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/women-children-you-first#/>

Women’s Voices Fund. <http://www.womenandchildrenfirst.com/womens-voices-fund>