KEENE – In 1974, seven women bought an abandoned, 23-acre rustic resort in Athol and moved there with their eight children.
"They set up this commune and lived together," Lorraine Duvall, a Keene resident and award-winning author of "Finding A Woman’s Place: The Story of a 1970s Feminist Collective in the Adirondacks," said.
"Other women joined them. They put on retreats for women, mostly from the Hudson Valley and New York City. They existed for eight years, until it dissolved mostly for financial reasons.
"The whole feminist movement had become less of a revolution and it was more accepting, especially of lesbian women. A lot of the women were lesbian. This was the first time they felt they could get together and be themselves."
A WOMAN'S PLACE
Duvall attended a summer retreat with her six-year-old child during feminism's second wave, the women's liberation movement.
At the time, she had just started becoming active in the movement.
Recently divorced, she moved back to upstate New York and was living in Rome at the time.
“I was looking for really women who were more compatible with my views than what I was finding in this small town,” she said.
“So, I went to the retreat in Paradox, which was the beginning of the women's movement. This is where the seven women met in Paradox. I only went through a weekend. I was not part of the forming of A Woman's Place in Athol, but I did visit there twice after that.”
Duvall's research interests in intentional communities, in general, led her to examine what happened to the founders of A Woman's Place.
She discovered that she was actually friends of some of them, and didn't know about their connection with A Woman's Place.
She found women who had been involved from the Lake Placid area, Saranac Lake, Lake Clear and Plattsburgh.
Duvall learned about the Adirondack commune in a letter to the editor penned by founder Marie Deyoe that appeared in Ms. Magazine.
“I read that letter, and I said oh that sounds like something I would like to do because I love the Adirondacks and it gave me an excuse to come to the Adirondacks and meet new women,” she said.
Four years ago, Duvall started doing research for the book and located commune women through social media, Google searches and conversing with one of her friends.
“We had dinner one night, and she asked me what I was doing,” she said.
“I was just starting out with the research, and this was a woman from Wilmington. She said, 'Oh, Jeanne went there.' That was the beginning of finding about Jeanne Ashworth, who has since died.”
Ashworth, a 1960 Olympics speedskating bronze medalist, put Duvall in touch with many women in their 80s.
Finding the original women was harder.
Deyoe, the founder, was located in Florida.
“So I visited her a couple of times, and she put me in touch with some other women down in Florida who had been part of A Woman's Place,” Duvall said.
Initially, she planned to write a magazine article on intentional communities in the Adirondacks.
“Then finding these women with such an interesting history," she said.
"There was even an article in the Sunday New York Times in 1974 about A Woman's Place. I kept reading more and more articles that were in newspapers and meeting the women. It just grew.”
“Finding A Woman’s Place: The Story of a 1970s Feminist Collective in the Adirondacks," released by Bloated Toe Publishing, is her third book.
NO MORE CODES
Duvall retired here in 2000 after spending 50 years or so in the computer field.
“In 1960, I was hired by General Electric in Schenectady as a computer programmer right out of college,” she said.
“Then, I did a number of volunteer work around here, mostly environmental work, and then I started to attend writing workshops and writing retreats (with author/ecologist/photographer Anne LaBastille at Great Camp Sagamore, for example), and I said this is fun.
"I really enjoy being around the writers and talking and I started writing what I call memoir vignettes.”
Her debut self-published book, "And I Know Too Much To Pretend: A Memoir,” chronicles how she became a mid-century computer programmer.
Her sophomore book, “In Praise of Quiet Waters: Finding Solitude and Adventure in the Wild Adirondacks” is her “account of my twenty-five-year search for adventure and spiritual renewal on the waters of the Adirondack Park.”
Duvall has written articles for Adirondack Life, Adirondack Explorer, CANOE Journal and is a regular contributor to the Adirondack Almanack.
Her second book was supposedly her last.
“It's a lot of work,” she said.
“I was going to write a couple of magazine articles or something. I started to do some research, and I did have an article in Adirondack Life (“A Woman’s Place: Athol’s Groundbreaking Feminist Collective.” Adirondack Life Home Issue 2018. pp. 64-69).
"I got really interested in A Woman's Place and doing the research. That's what I really love -- doing the research and coming up with this third book."
Duvall, 82, remains in contact with friends from that time long ago, though the commune ceased in 1982.
“The original women were doing their thing, and they left,” she said.
“New women came in and were different. It's a different world.”
Duvall's long held desire to dwell in the Adirondacks was sparked by a Girl Scout canoe-camping trip on Upper Saranac Lake.
Over the years, she came here every chance she got.
Her advice to other writers or seniors embarking on second acts:” Certainly to follow your instincts.”
“I'm so happy that during this pandemic I had my writing,” she said.
Email Robin Caudell:
WHAT: "Finding A Woman’s Place: The Story of a 1970s Feminist Collective in the Adirondacks" by Lorraine Duvall
Publication Year: 2020
Publisher: Bloated Toe Publishing
Dimensions (WxHxT): 5.3 x 8.3 x 0.7 in
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