Virago

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Virago Feminist Publication, Guelph Women’s Centre 1972-76. 

This publication was an outcome of the Guelph Women’s Centre established in 1971. This group of women initiated an investigation of the attitudes of the candidates running for Guelph civic office in 1973 towards women’s issues. The mayor, then up for re-election, had initially not been supportive of the women’s shelter initiative put forward by the Women’s Centre. So spearheaded by Lizzie Martinez, the Women’s Centre developed a questionnaire adapted from the 1970 publication of the Royal Commission Report on the Status of Women reviewing numerous women’s issues. The questionnaire addressed the most substantive of these issues, including violence against women. The electoral candidates in all civic domains were approached inviting them to participate in the questionnaire interview and their answers were recorded. Their responses were then published in a pamphlet that also included the names of those who refused to be interviewed. This pamphlet was publicly circulated by members of the Women’s Centre. 

As an outcome the Women’s Centre was able to influence the election. As a consequence the Mayor supported our request for a shelter facility for “battered women and their children”. This terminology was first used and later became victims/survivors of domestic violence. At that time the local newspaper (the Guelph Mercury) was not covering women’s issues in a way the Centre perceived to be meaningful, insightful or “politically correct” but rather played into the stereotype of women’s roles in society. 

The 1970 anthology “Sisterhood is Powerful”, edited by the American Feminist Robin Morgan had been published as well. We wanted to create a format for women’s voices and issues. We also wanted to address issues of violence against women and children. 

Emboldened by our political success, the Guelph Women’s Centre group (the ‘group’ would now be more appropriately called a collective as consensus was the primary decision making approach taken) were very motivated to get the paper going. The name Virago, meaning wise woman or crone in old English, put forward by Marilynne Bell, a Women’s Centre founding member, was collectively endorsed ideologically. The reclamation of words and labels that had held negative connotations for women, by making them positive affirmations, was the orientation of the feminist movement at that point historically. 

We negotiated with Dumont press in Kitchener Waterloo to publish Virago. The women initiating this publication were Marilynne Bell , Dorothy Shaw, Barbara Farkas, Lizzie Martinez, Maureen Paxton (writer/artist/poet), Suzanne Hewett (artist/ poet), Betsy Spaulding and Valerie Fainstat. All of these women were contributors to the publication either as writers of articles, poetry or illustration or assisted in production and distribution. We also intro/reproduced ‘sentinel’ articles from other emerging women’s groups across Canada. 

Betsy Spaulding and Val Fainstat produced the last few issues. Each Virago issue lists who was involved with its production. Then, as the core Women’s Centre membership dispersed to other locales the number of women working on Virago dwindled as people relocated to pursue careers. Virago and the Women’s Centre closed in 1976 with Betsy Spaulding moving to Vancouver. 

Marilynne Bell MD CCFP
September 25, 2019

Title Date
Virago – Volume 2, Issue 4 – May 1974 May 1974
Virago – Volume 3, Issue 9 – November 1974 November 1974
Virago – Volume 4, Issue 1 – January 1975 January 1975

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