Peggy Haine visited Ithaca Rotary on April 15 and repeated a presentation she made for Women's History month. She focused on the Women's Movement of the 1970s in Ithaca.


She regaled the meeting with tales of the Wild Women of Ithaca. They were community leaders, politicians, entertainers, and business women who made firsts throughout the town and followed the George Bernard Shaw quote, "Life is about creating yourself,"... and they did!

The text of her presentation follows:

Ithaca's Wild Women of the 1970's

Unlike the 1960s, which few of us can remember, the 70s in Ithaca stand out as a time of glorious transitions socially, politically, culinarily, and in many other respects.  Though the laws had changed, women were still fighting to be liberated from the post-war gender restrictions of the 50s, when men had to reclaim their jobs and our mothers were told not to question the judgment of the king of the manor, to speak to him in dulcet, agreeable tones and have a drink waiting for him when he arrived home from work and dinner on the table. No wonder we had a headache.

When I applied for a management job at Cornell, the personnel rep (that was pre-human resources) told me that women didn't get those jobs. It was a struggle, and women's libbers were still harshly criticized by knuckle-dragging troglodytes in letters to the editor.  The Ithaca New Times and the Grapevine represented the liberal end of things, delivering news from whichever of Ithaca's communes survived the sixties.

Civil liberties were in the forefront of consciousness, locally.   The 1969 Willard  Straight Hall takeover brought that to the fore locally, and on the front page of the New York Times. Beverly J. Martin was hired by the school district as Affirmative Action Administrator after ten years as principal of Central School.

Change was upon us, though not entirely welcomed by all.

Our husbands feared and hated the women's groups in which we supported each other as we moved away from our mothers' marriage models, and there was new precedent for sexual experimentation and open marriage.

We had the pill, Planned Parenthood, and liberal access to abortion.

Still, men were earning more than we ever could, and we were pissed at them.  And they, having the rugs pulled out from under their comfortable worlds of control, were having a hard time coping.  The divorce rate soared. The Ithaca Journal reported an increase in cases of syphilis and gonorrhea in Tompkins County.

The Commons was still called the State Street Mall, and only a mayor with the fortitude of an Ed Conley, backed by Thys Van Cort, could have pushed it through. Turback's offered its merciful brunch (all the bloody mary's you could hold), the drinking age was 18, and their lobster and liquor dinner topped out at $6.95, with all the booze you could drink with dinner. In March of 1973,with Nixon in the White House, a nice five-bedroom house was priced at $59,000, and spare ribs at 59 cents a pound; a flight cancellation at the Ithaca airport rated a news item. Fancy that!

Food liberation was on the rise, too.  Suddenly interesting restaurants - Turback's, Moosewood, Cabbagetown CafĂ©, L'Auberge du Cochon Rouge, and the last gasps of the Ithaca Seed Company come to mind - added to the old standbys:  the State Street Diner, the Asiatic, Hal's, the Char Pit, the College Inn.  The University Deli was my refuge from my $35 a month studio in Collegetown - a provolone on rye with coleslaw was my standard. Vegetarianism was all the rage.  And a new food cooperative, forerunner of Greenstar,  was sending a truck out once a week to  bring back bulk foods and fresh produce for its members.

Marrimekko fabrics were fashionable, caftans for comfort (looked OK without a bra), and the clean lines of Scandinavian furniture.

Few of us had college loans to pay off - education was inexpensive then - I think my last year at Cornell cost me $1,000 - maybe less. I was old enough to live off campus and found a macrobiotic household where room and board (as much brown rice, carrots, and indigestible burdock dug from the garden as I could eat) cost $60 a month.

Music and art flourished.
The drinking age was still 18 and the bars were crowded with students. The Ithaca local of the American Federation of Musicians had 500 members. It was a great time to be in music. Dollmakers were in their heyday: Liese Bronfenbrenner, Susan Andrews, Loretta Pompilio, Mary Ann McNeill showed their stuff and it sold. Carolyn Fellman did wonderful things in the schools with children's art and founded the First Street Playhouse theater.  Susan German started Central Casting (and I was in my first play, with six simple lines I could never remember).

We explored spirituality, investigated Buddhism, consulted the I Ching.  The church dropped Latin from the Catholic mass (a grave error), replaced pipe organs with guitars (another grave error), and women wore jeans to worship services.

We traveled.  Travel was cheap with Eurailpass and American Youth Hostels, and it was still pretty safe to stick out your thumb.  Many of us joined the Peace Corps to see the world that way.

Now for the wild women:

I was working as secretary for city planner Thys Van Cort when Janet Braun-Reinitz strode into our office one day with a couple of shopping bags full of velour male genitalia. Janet always strode.  She dressed elegantly from the Salvation Army and Chez Woolworth. The velour penises had been part of an art show at Moosewood, and the staff had asked her to remove the painting of a woman, spread-legged, that hung over Table #13.  The patrons, they said, found it inappropriate.  She took the painting and the velour penises and strode off in a huff.  I'm not sure what she was doing in the planning office at that point, but we became fast friends. She was a great one for political arguments, and kept dinner parties interesting - after everybody left, we'd chew on the bones and chew over the conversation.  She decorated her Falls Street lawn with plastic flamingoes painted to resemble various movie stars, and then spray-painted the entire lawn turquoise to resemble the Caribbean.  She worked with the kids at GIAC painting a mural on the west side of the building, and realized her calling was as a community muralist.  At 47, her kids all graduated from high school, she left Ithaca for the Big Apple where she has been painting community murals ever since.

Vicky Romanoff, when I called her, said - oh too bad you don't want to  know about the60s - you know that woman who had to be pried off a toilet seat recently?  I was like that with my motorcycle.   But that was the 60s. Imagine,someone remembering the 60s.

Vicky and Connie Saltonstall were wild woman fixtures in the Ithaca area then, too.  They spent the 70s working on their 1883 barn in Newfield, which they purchased for under $5,000,  then living and working on the Clinton House along with a slew of other Ithacans, including Sara Adams. They got Glenn Munson to donate his auctioneering services and raised $7,000 from the sale of the building's furnishings to put towards restoration. They got an America the Beautiful Grant to work with Native Americans on restoring Clinton House, and other preservation grants..

With Alice Saltonstall and Mary Shelley, they painted a magnificent trompe l'oeiul interior for Trumansburg's 1st Presbyterian Church.  They built the 1868 Citizens Savings Bank Office on Bank Alley, worked on Eddy Street's Heller House with Cornell preservation students, and consulted with the City and with Commons landlords in restoring their storefronts.

While all of this was going on, they managed to exhibit their art works at the barn, at Telluride Association, at Smedleys (remember Smedleys?)

Sara Adams worked with Margaret Hobbie on a downtown historic architecture survey.

At the barn they had horses, a goat, chickens that froze to the rafters of the barn and had to be cut down, cats, all kinds of mangy dogs, ducks, geese, and all kinds of weird farm equipment - some of it actually ran. She traveled widely - the Caribbean, the British Isles, and went on protest marches - for whatever conjured up peace.  Had a little more optimism in the human race then.

Wild Women in Politics

Interesting times, then.  The county was moving from Republican dominated to Democrat dominated, and Democratic Party chair Jean Angell had a stranglehold on democratic politics.  Elva Holman (responsible for the three-way stoplight at Green and Cayuga), Nancy Myers, and Ethel Nichols served on Common Counsel. Beverly Livesay on the County Board of Reps.  Ann Jones ran for Mayor against Ed Conley.  

Wild Women in Community Service

Nina Miller founded the Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service, a 24-hour a day phone line for people in crisis.  Calls from women in crisis prompted her to also start the Task Force for Battered Women.

Rachel Seigel, having raised her three children, went back to grad school in 1971; often called a  "foremother" in feminst psychotherapy; she co-led the first Task Force for Battered Women support group with a battered woman; she gathered other therapists to focus on women's oppression

Professor Alice Cook retired from Cornell in 1973 and undertook for the Ford Foundation a study of working women around the globe.  She also filed three amicus curae briefs, two in Japan on gender and age discrimination, and one in Canada on gender discrimination. In 1975 she received a German Marshall Fund grant to study women and trade unions around the world and the two-volume report on this exhaustive research, Women and Trade Unions in Eleven Industrialized Countries,made its appearance along with Working Women in Japan: Discrimination, Resistance and Reform, and The Most Difficult Revolution: Women and Trade Unions. The result of a plot hatched naked, in the women's shower room at Teagle,  and further refined at Hal's over corned beef sandwiches, Alice, along with Janet Braun-Reinitz, Bryna Fireside, and 40-or-so  others constituted the Tasteful Ladies for Peace, a group of women who called upon the base commander of the beleaguered Seneca Army Depot (he wasn't in) in their tasteful white gloves and pillbox hats, and left their calling cards in protest of nuclear arms storage at the base. They wrote to Miss Manners asking "Is it permissible to wear white cotton gloves after Labor Day?  Should a Tasteful Lady for Peace present her calling card before or after she engages in an act of civil disobedience, and, finally, what is the proper response of a Tasteful Lady for Peace upon being informed that she is under arrest."Alice was their eloquent spokeswoman, and when approached by a defiant woman in Army fatigues Alice said, "I'm sure there are some things that you and I can agree upon".  They got into a conversation and exchanged flags. We tried to clap but we were all wearing white gloves.  Then went to the diner to have tea.  

Wild Women in the Kitchen

Amy Brill

Amy Brill worked at the forerunner of Moosewood, Trumansburg's Cosmos restaurant, in a building owned by Elaine and John Gill, founders of Crossing Press (later absorbed by Ten Speed Press). Amy: " She was a real wild woman.  She was a force of nature, an earth mother, completely opinionated and either loved or hated you - she hated me. She liked men."

 The mostly vegetarian food was served on long tables, family style, with a sideboard of wooden bowls holding salads (red cabbage cole slaw with cashew nuts was my favorite), breads, curries, soups, macrobiotic apple crisp, carrot spice cake, eggplant in a winter forest, spaghetti a la carbonara, or whatever else the kitchen had in mind.

Amy graduated from Cornell in '72. and got a job with the agency for educational innovation, developed by the Student Congress at Cornell.  Its charge was to work with students to help bring forth new avenues of education at Cornell.  The budget was $10,000 for the first year. I could use $2,000 for any idea that came across. First was Africana Studies - took off.  Radical political studies.  Womens studies.  Native American studies.  Having a conference and inviting the chiefs of the various tribes to come to Cornell to see if they wanted to have native American studies at a school - they decided they didn't - they wanted to have them come back to the reservation to study. Cornell was getting national attention for this.  Stanford and Berkeley wanted me to help them get it set up.  Cornell thought that was a bad idea because I had only an undergraduate degree. They did hire someone with an advanced degree and the rest of the funds disappeared, so they closed it down. But today Cornell has an Africana Studies Center and residence, a program for Women's studies, and a Native American studies program and residence.

She did puppet theater in Binghamton, danced with the Dancemakers, taught dance exercise classes in the basement of theDeWitt Mall (her students included Carolyn Peterson, S.K. List, Ezra Cornell, and Donald, who colors my hair). During a time in Rochester, teaching movement, body language to teachers at the Rochester Technical Institute for the Deaf, she developed a sign-mime troupe which did street theater and performed in schools then ran off and joined the circus -- the Red Unit of the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey circus where she developed clown characters with the clowns in the unit for a year.  Returning to Ithaca, she got into doll soft sculptures, using fleece for their hair.  From there it was a natural progression to hand spinning, then knitting.  For the past couple of decades she's made her living designing and marketing Amy Brill Designs sweaters, and you can find them at Fibers and Fantasies, as well as in 200 other boutiques across the country.

Judy Barringer and Therese Tischler

Judy Barringer fell in love with Ithaca when she came up with a friend who was starting school at IC in 1968.  She came back for a weekend in 1970 and never left. Her friend, Chris Miller, got her a job at ICs riding stables, taking care of the stables and teaching riding and taking trail rides up behind the garden apartments before the towers were built.

"A group of us who had become friends began to talk about deciding to be vegetarians and we're really getting tired of eating at the Home Dairy.  I could get a vegetable plate (with compartments) circle in the middle was mac and cheese, then over-boiled grey vegetables.  All the women who worked there wore hairnets and uniforms and were dour.  She didn't like us coming in because we didn't look so good - like all the kids on the commons now - they're just kids, doing what they do.  So we started talking about staring a restaurant,.  Therese Tischler had been involved with the Ithaca Seed Company and she somehow had charge of a $1200 bank account meant for anybody who was going to start a vegetarian restaurant.  That was our first 1200 dollars.  I had some money, so I put up the rest of the money. Bill Downing had just bought the DeWitt Bldg and was renovating it.  I was walking down the street one day, probably stoned, and I saw the sign in the window - for rent, call.  We met with Bill and he thought we were some kind of exotic species. We negotiated with him and suddenly we had this restaurant. We found it in June and we started building at the end of that month.

Therese was having second thoughts. She used to work at L'Auberge as a waitress and Etienne had had a guy come in who was a restaurant consultant, Eddie Fetterman; Therese made arrangements for Eddie to come up from the city and consult.  Eddie is a trip - arrives in a Rolls Royce (1970)  -- our eyes were like platters!  He has a black cape lined in red satin. He walks into the construction site.  He says it's fabulous darlings; you need to cover the floor with fans, bring in some potted palms and call it Tropical Holiday.  We were 23 - what the fuck did we know.  But he did give us some good advice -He designed the kitchen, sold us the equipment --  we paid him $2000 cash and took him out to eat at L'Auberge. I'd never carried that much money.  The bank didn't want to give me the money - I had hair out to there and I'm clearly an itinerant flower child.  Molly Katzen came in about two weeks before we opened. She had been living in SF, working at a vegetarian restaurant in San Francisco --  Josh called her and said we've gotten this far; we don't know what to do.

We bought the stove from a restaurant supply place or a restaurant that went out of business in Syracuse.  I had this VW van and that was theonly vehicle any of us had that wasn't a car --  so we drove to Syracuse and picked up the stove. Now the tires on those vans were turned in, but when the fork lift dropped the stove in, those tires splayed out. We drove back on 81 going 35 miles an hour with the door opened because the stove wouldn't fit.  We didn't have OSHA.  It was that thing that we all have in our 20s - we're invincible - there isn't going to be an accident.  

I remember listening to Watergate hearings in the kitchen - that was fascinating.  I remember getting an eggplant in a carton that looked just like Richard Nixon - it sat on the cash register until it rotted.

The first cookbook was printed at Glad Day Press - squeezed in between political treatises - and they gave it to us printed, uncollated, undrilled.  We put all the tables together in the restaurant and laid all the pages out - there was some illicit substance taking at that point - we collated the first edition and drilled them - Alex Skutt took them and sold them for us at McBooks.  

It's a wonder we survived.  And it's a wonder that Moosewood survived.  We were just hippies and why the health department or lack of restaurant knowledge didn't do us in.  In that first couple of months people loved to complain.  "My whole family ate dinner there the other night and we came home and we were all sick.  I just thought you'd like to know."  No signature.  

Wild Women About Town

Leslie Carrere studied art and zoology at Cornell, studying abroad in Aix en Provence where she says she learned how French women put themselves together. While at Cornell, she had an apartment on the top floor of the building occupied by Simeon's, which became party central. Worked her way through school at Oldport Harbor with Mary Lee, Karen Jamarusty, and Marta MacBeth (do you remember the store Rio on the Commons?) She trained dolphins in Hawaii, taught high school art in Miami, sailed the Caribbean for a couple of years cooking for wealthy tourists, and traveled to Australia, Bali and Fiji.  She returned to Ithaca where she met Libby Leonard, the lady of the lake, and a certifiable wild woman, who'd have her overfor fresh duck eggs, dilly beans, and stews from her garden.  Libby told her the place next door was for sale and Leslie bought it - a shack whose kitchen had a dirt floor, and whose bathroom was an outhouse.  She painted it pink with black spots inside, and green on the outside, dubbing it "the watermelon."


I returned to school in 1969 and  married in 1972.  Joined a women's group.  Divorced in 1975; the ex and I were celebrating our divorce at Moosewood, and Thys Van Cort was at the next table. I asked if he knew of any jobs, and he said he was looking for a secretary.  I worked for him from 75 to 78.  Played with a bluegrass group called Country Cooking, then with the Going Home Blues Band; I was collecting unemployment and the rest of them shared a job as dishwasher at Johnny's Big Red.  We lived on coffee and I lost 40 lbs that summer.  I worked part-time at Discount Records in Collegetown, soaking up as much jazz as I could.  Played with Dick Lourie in the Built for Comfort Jazz Band in a peculiar club, whose name I forget, in what is now the Crescent Building.  Laurie Conrad played 12-tone clarinet with us --  it was  a riot.  I played solo gigs at the Unicorn - actually, I played a handkerchief-hemmed fire-engine red dress - the music was incidental.  Then Dane Marion and I formed the Lowdown Alligator Jass Band - just tuba and piano. Our first gig was at the Rongovian Embassy,  where I offended Dane's parents by playing "Shave 'em Dry," and not too soon after that we opened for Taj Mahal at the Strand, only he was five hours late, and they had sold tickets for two shows.  The audience was restless, the promoter had 102 fever, and she shoved us out on stage and said, "Just entertain them."  I grabbed a bunch of bananas and lobbed them at the audience. I've always like a good food fight.  I was never much of a musician, so I let the costumes perform, and they did - all those feather boas (I'm allergic to feathers now, cantaloupe bras, Lady Godiva costumes (including a foam rubber horse), lobbing my fake boobs at an audience, hats that lit up in the dark - they were a good show, and we had loads of fun playing at Plum's for nearly ten years.

So many others - so little time.  Connie Cook introduced a bill in the NYS assembly to compensate hsouewives injured on the job.  Jane Marcham received an award for educational investigative reporting. Gunilla Mallory Jones wrote plays and read tea leaves and wore the world's tightest pants, Dixie Merilahti at Samson & Delilah cut everybody's hair.  Jenny Farley started the women's program at Cornell. Jennie (Stundtner). Molly Katzen wrote cookbooks and complained about everybody else's lack of commitment. Margaret Feldman, Betty Cornish, Ingrid Olsen-Tjensvold, Helen Ambur constituted a panel at the Ithaca Women'sClub on the changing roles of women. The Ithaca Journal was staffed by wild-women reporters: Judith Horstman, Caroline Miller (who became editor of New York Mag), Tamar Sherman among them.  Betty Muka took time away from suing everyone to run for the Board of Education.  Barbara Thuesen and Elaine Downing saved the Strand Theater for awhile.

Life isn't about finding yourself.  Life is about creating yourself.
                    - George Bernard Shaw

And we did!