Northampton Worth Fighting For: “Greetings from Lesbianville”

Northampton’s long traditions of caring for the vulnerable and advancing the cause of women continue to this day. Leslea Newman writes here for The Advocate in “Greetings from Lesbianville U.S.A.: grrrls, goddesses, and Gloria Steinem! Northampton, Mass., is the Sapphic center of America, tucked away among New England academia”:

In 1851 the famed diva Jenny Lind, known as the Swedish Nightingale, sang at the Academy of Music opera house in Northampton, Mass. Lind was so taken with the quaint New England town that she called it the Paradise of America. In 1992–141 years after Lind’s visit–The National Enquirer published an article about Northampton, dubbing it “Lesbianville, U.S.A.” Both pronouncements mean pretty much the same thing. While the Enquirer’s claim that “10,000 cuddling, kissing lesbians” call it home sweet home is a slight exaggeration, my adopted hometown of just under 30,000–located in the western part of Massachusetts about three hours north of Manhattan and two hours west of Boston–is indeed chock-full of dykes. Take a walk up Main Street and you’re bound to see two women holding hands or a female couple pushing a baby carriage. Cars parked in the John E. Gare parking garage (a.k.a. the “gay-rage,” the best place to park downtown) are decorated with rainbow decals and bumper stickers that proclaim “My Other Car Is a Broom,” “Hate Is Not a Family Value,” and “Back Off: I’m a Goddess.”Just how lesbian-friendly is this town? My hairdresser, therapist, doctor, dentist, veterinarian, and landlady were ‘all lesbians until this year, when I switched hairdressers and my therapist switched teams.

So how did Northampton become Lesbianville, U.S.A.? No one knows for sure. Perhaps it was fated in 1884, when Thomas M. Shepherd designed the official city seal, which depicts the Goddess of Knowledge holding hands with the Maiden Charity. (And quite a fetching couple they make!) Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the town is home to Smith College, the nation’s largest liberal arts college for women. In addition to being the site of the very first women’s basketball game (in 1892), Smith College claims many pioneering feminists in its roster of alumnae, including Betty Friedan, class of ’42, author of The Feminine Mystique, and Gloria Steinem, class of ’56, founder of Ms. Magazine. Perhaps “Hamp,” as the townies call it, became the lesbian capital of the Eastern Seaboard because so many amazing women have lived here: aviator Amelia Earhart, antislavery and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth, and author of Dykes to Watch Out For Alison Bechdel. Or perhaps the fact that so many lesbians choose to settle here is just a happy coincidence….

To get the inside scoop, visit the local book and gift shop, Pride and Joy, which is located downtown on Crafts Avenue, right across from the side entrance to city hall. The door to the store is always plastered with fliers about upcoming events, and everyone who works at Pride and Joy is extremely helpful, especially owner Mark Carmien–who said when he heard I was writing this article, “Don’t forget to mention the fags.” Would I, a tried-and-true fag hag, forget the boys? Never! Especially the ones like Mark, who proudly marched under a banner that read FAGS FROM LESBIANVILLE during a gay rights march on Washington, D.C. Lesbianville welcomes boys bois, boyz, girls, grrrls, women, wimmin, womyn, and everyone in between….

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