by Lynn Kaye
In 1972, the Women’s Press published its first book, Women Unite: Up from the Kitchen, Up from the Bedroom, Up from Under. It contributes to the historical record of the struggles that were central to the burgeoning women’s liberation movement in Canada in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This context included the active involvement of Canadians and Americans in the peace movement and civil rights movement, the invocation of the War Measures Act in 1970 in response to events in Québec, and the emerging consciousness of the global environmental crisis influenced by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962).
In the late 1960s, numerous radical women’s groups, especially on university campuses, formed across Canada, actively working on issues such as birth control, daycare, abortion, violence against women, and opposition to the war in Vietnam. However, most of the English-language theoretical writings about the growing international women’s liberation movement were coming from the United States and England. To grapple with the lack of Canadian materials in English on these issues, Discussion Group No. 6 (of the Toronto Women’s Liberation movement) decided to develop a book of essays on the Canadian movement. A widespread call for manuscripts was sent to a diverse range of women’s groups and communities across Canada.
Discussion Group No. 6 approached numerous publishers with their book, but the manuscript was repeatedly rejected. Determined to publish the book, Ruth McEwen, Judy Skinner, and Lynn (Lang) Kaye formed a collective, and then became a women’s publishing company formally incorporated as the Canadian Women’s Educational Press but known as the Women’s Press. They applied for and won a federal government Opportunities for Youth (OFY) grant and called for volunteers to join a working collective to proceed with the commitment to publishing works by, for, and about Canadian women.
Article about the founding of Women’s Press and the publication of Women Unite! from Vol. 4, No. 8 of Pedestal.
Women Unite! was produced at Dumont Press, a collective print shop in Kitchener which provided training and off-hours access to their typesetting system. The actual typesetting and layout was done by Women’s Press collective members (who commuted to Kitchener and worked overnight). This was done on a Compugraphic typesetting system, in which the essays were typed into a punch code machine, which produced long paper tapes. These tapes were then fed into a computer, which produced sheets of photo-based text, which were then trimmed, waxed, and physically laid out, ready for printing.
An undated group photo of the members of Women’s Press. From left to right: Meg Luxton, Peggy McDonough, Brenda Roman, Naomi Wall, Lois Pike, Jane Springer, Daphne Read, Judy Skinner, Margie Wolfe, Connie Guberman, Wendy Donner, Judy (McClard) Blankenship Photo credit: Judy Blankenship
The first edition of Women Unite! was released in July 1972. The chapters in this anthology covered a wide range of topics such as he suffrage movement, lesbian feminism, child care, abortion access, poverty, women in revolutionary movements, sexuality, and women in sports. It also included several poems. It sold out immediately and was reprinted in December 1972. It has been out-of-print since the mid-1970s.
Women Unite! is a unique book that is difficult to categorize. An historic record, may it continue to inform and inspire others to claim their voices and their space.
Lynn Kaye is a social justice, anti-poverty advocate fighting for public healthcare. A lawyer, she served as President of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women from 1988-90. She co-founded several organizations, including the Women’s Press.
For further details on the historical context of the book Women Unite! and the early development of the Canadian women’s movement, please see the Preface, page 7, and the Introduction, page 9, in the digital reproduction.