Monday, May 2, 2011

Mountain Moving Coffeehouse for Womyn and Children

The Fabulous Dyketones (1987)
Mountain Moving Coffeehouse for Womyn and Children

Location: United Church of Rogers Park, 1545 West Morse Avenue; later at the Summerdale Community Church, 1700 Farragut Street, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Founded: November 1975

Closed: December 10, 2005

When it closed after nearly 31 years, Mountain Moving Coffeehouse (MMCH) was not only Chicago's oldest women-only coffeehouse,  but probably one of the oldest continually operating women-only coffeehouses in the entire nation. The Coffeehouse was run entirely as a non-profit organization by a lesbian collective in the Chicago area.

The Moutain Moving Coffeehouse began in November 1975 as a social alternative to the bars, and to provide "a safe, women-only, chemical and alcohol-free meeting space for all women." The result, it is said, was "a unique women-only performance space showcasing  'women's and lesbian culture' -- music, poetry, literature, and comedy." Between 30 and 50 events a year were produced over the course of the Coffeehouse's history--and those were apparently limited to just one Saturday per month.

The collective that ran the Mountain Moving Coffeehouse actively solicited suggestions and criticisms from the lesbian and women's communities, and their monthly meetings were open to any woman who wished to participate. The events were produced entirely by volunteers.

Some of the women most notably associated with the collective over the years were Toni Armstrong, Jr. and Susan McConnell.

At least into the 1990s, "women-only" was defined as "womyn born womyn" and girl children to 20 years. (In fact, a "local gay male journalist" made a "brouhaha" over this policy in the early 90s, but it doesn't appear that his battle for open admission was successful.) However, the MMCH collective did emphasize that all women--lesbian, bi, straight, whatever -- were welcome, even if they couldn't pay the suggested donation (usually $15). The result was that the shows were usually "packed with women -- gay and straight -- of all ages, and all socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds."

Despite all the controversy, MMCH was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1993.

Among the prominent musicians and performers who performed at MMCH over the years were Ferron, Karen Williams, Tret Fure, the Topp Twins, Dos Fallopia, Kay Gardner, Toshi Reagon, Casselberry-DuPree, and many others.

The following passage describes the last night at Mountain Moving Coffeehouse:

Mountain Moving's final performance event on December 10, 2005 played to a packed house, featuring the charming and profound Deirdre McCalla, with smaller sets by the Artemis Singers and Radical Voices. Kathy Munzer was presented with a sterling pin of the Coffeehouse logo in recognition for her 29 years of service to the collective in keeping the Coffeehouse going. There was also a raffle for several groups of significant feminist books, CDs and women's music memorabilia donated by Toni Armstrong Jr. The evening closed on an energetic high note with a rollicking rendition of Ginny Clemens'"Solid Ground" by Surrendur Dorothy. Many attendees lingered long after, helping with cleanup and conversing, reluctant to let the evening end. The coffeehouse's shuttering is the end of an era, and creates a void in the community. It remains to be seen what will arise to fill that void.


Photo: The Fabulous Dyketones, from a promo photo before their appearance at the Mountain Moving Coffeehouse, 1987.

2 comments:

  1. Discriminatory. What would have happened if a man showed up? A stoning?

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  2. I sincerely doubt it, as there are no accounts of any thing like a stoning ever happening.

    Actually, violence around women spaces is nearly always instigated by men who either rush the door, verbally harrass, or physically assault women patrons or bouncers.

    Interesting too, that stoning is associated historically with traditionally patriarchal cultures--not women-only coffeehouses. Nearly always handed down as a sentence by men, usually carried out by men, and often directed against women. Think modern day Taliban, or Jesus (who protested against the stoning of a woman) in John 8: 1-11.

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