Portland State University. Department of History
Date of Award
Master of Arts (M.A.) in History
1 online resource (vi, 137 pages)
Lesbian community -- Oregon -- History, Lesbian feminism -- Oregon -- History, Communal living -- Oregon -- History, Counterculture -- Oregon -- 20th century -- History
Out of the politically charged atmosphere of the 1960s and 1970s emerged a migration to "the land" and communes, which popularly became known as the back-to-the-land movement. This migration occurred throughout the United States, as well as many other countries, and included clusters of land based communities in southern Oregon. Within these clusters, lesbian feminist women created lesbian separatist lands and communes. These women were well educated, and politically active in movements such as the New Left, Civil Rights, Women's Liberation, and Gay Liberation. These lands or communes functioned together as a community network that developed and commodified lesbian art, which impacted and influenced the development of lesbian art over time.
In Oregon, as of 2011, at least ten known lesbian lands still existed. This cluster belonged to an extended community that stretched down into California and over into New Mexico. Over a two-year period I collected, transcribed, and studied the oral histories of eight of the elders of the women's land movement in southern Oregon. The purpose of this study is to better understand this movement of lesbian feminists the development of lesbian art and culture over time. The lesbian feminist back-to-the-land movement made the conscious choice to disengage from the patriarchal mainstream rather than continue participation in their own oppression. They viewed lesbian feminist separatism and the creation of safe lesbian land as a way to reconstruct their self-identity and influence the continued self-perception of lesbians the world over through art and literature.
Based on these oral histories and archival materials, it became evident that the women within the lesbian land communities developed and maintained land on which they could re-examine who they were, re-educate themselves and each other, learn practical skills, construct new identities, create art, and broadcast their creations out into the world through organized media networks.
One of the key features of this construction of lesbian land culture was the desire to share--share power, share money, share responsibilities, share knowledge, share land, share lovers. On the one hand, ownership was eschewed as elitist and patriarchal, while simultaneously important to the continuity of women's land and its protection from what could be described as patriarchal profit motives. They developed infrastructure, altered language, created a spiritual practice, and made art. The material and artistic culture was created in concert with modes or mediums of transmission, casting it out to a much wider audience. These creative activities influenced and impacted women beyond Oregon, beyond the lesbian land communities, and beyond the 1970s.
By examining the lesbian land movement in southern Oregon, we can better understand the impact on LGBTQ culture, and the continued albeit unintentional impact on the questioning of the gender binary and sexual identity. In other words, the feminist and queer questioning of identity construction and symbolic language began here.
Burmeister, Heather Jo, "Rural Revolution: Documenting the Lesbian Land Communities of Southern Oregon" (2013). Dissertations and Theses. Paper 1080.