Alumnae Quarterly, Spring 1987

Lesbian Network Responses

The battle against racism, sexism, religious intolerance, and homophobia seems never won, even at this institution which seeks to foster enlightenment and civility. I was thus especially saddened to read in the winter issue that one of us has been embarrassed to admit her association with Mount Holyoke since the publication (fall '86) of a letter that proposed the formation of a lesbian alumnae network.

We can try to understand what prompts such attitudes, and we can contemplate how frightening it must be to feel such hostility toward the ten percent of women everywhere whose primary relationships are with other women. But it is prejudice itself which we must fear, not the actions or the existence of the targets of our prejudice.

Prejudice hurts everyone. When we limit our experience to the known and familiar, and ostracize those whose color or beliefs may differ, we impoverish our own lives. We also profane the spirit of Mount Holyoke -for ourselves, for our students and other alumnae, and for society at large.

Ellen Pulford Reese '48
Professor, Department of Psychology and Education

I was shocked, angered, and saddened by Lucile Thompson Cruikshank's letter (winter '87) that declared a "network for lesbians condoned and assisted by the Mount Holyoke Alumnae Association" "cheap" and "tripe." There is no intellectual content in her letter, so one can not know the source of her ire. She says she is embarrassed to admit that she is an alumna of Mount Holyoke. I am embarrassed that an alumna would write such a hateful, judgmental, unreasoned letter, and I want to answer her question "Now isn't that something to be proud of?" Yes, I'm proud of the Association for giving help to lesbians. Why shouldn't they have it as much as she? I want lesbians to feel and know that I, and many other heterosexual women, join with lesbians as sisters who like us are seeking fulfillment.

Virginia Anderson Pratt '39
Kingston, Rhode Island

I am appalled by the emphasis on lesbianism in the recent issues of the Quarterly. I have defended Mount Holyoke and the other Seven Sisters against attacks of "Butchism" for years. Now I wonder why I bothered. If you want to be trendy, you are behind the times. The pendulum is swinging, and quite rightly, to the view that homosexuality is wrong and those in its grip should seek mental and physical help. Every religion condemns the practice all over the world. That the Quarterly should have an ad for a lesbian network would distress Mary Lyon beyond measure. You have debased not only the Quarterly, but the alumnae and female education. Like Lucile Cruikshank, I feel what you have done is deplorable. I am only sorry that I have given to my class's 40th reunion gift and delighted I did not give more, though pressed to. If you are looking for ways to lose support for Mount Holyoke, you are doing a great job. Were I planning on going to reunion, I certainly would not now.

Ursula Blanche Gamble Kilner '47
Salisbury, Connecticut

I am writing in response to Lucile Cruickshank's attack on lesbianism. I see in this "topic" a fundamental question facing us as women and as educators of women.

The question I think is one of intent - in education itself. What is our purpose, as a college, in educating women? Is a woman's education to be of primary use to men or to the woman herself? Do we wish to produce the very best companions and servants and nursemaids that a man can find? (This is an ambitious goal and not one without merit.) Or, do we believe that women have some inherent value of their own, apart from their various roles in the lives of men?

If we take the latter to be the case, thought I'm not convinced that we do, we should anticipate that a woman may have other priorities than filling these roles. It should be no conflict of conscience for us to defend a woman's right to such a choice and trust in her ability to make that choice for herself. Further more, if we indeed believe in the dignity, value, and abilities of women, it makes sense that some of us will find women worthy of our emotional and sexual commitments. This is not, as Lucile suggests, something "cheap."

To her I would suggest that the "cheapness" lies in her own imaginations - or lack of it - and her ignorance of what lesbians are. Does she think her love is noble and good and something to celebrate and mine is "cheap" and "tripe" and something that should "embarrass" me? I find this affront to my human dignity all the more savage coming from a woman whose education should preclude this inhumanity. Liberal arts, in my estimation, should at least teach us not to treat each other - or any other - with such indignity. Maybe we're unwilling to seem bolder than comparable schools. But as I see it, when one purports to be a leader, one should be prepared to lead.

Catharine L. Thorndal '83
San Francisco, California

I would like to believe that the Quarterly staff does not represent a minority faction with respect to their stated goal (reprinted in box on these pages). As is evidenced by many of the contributions, others perceive this goal as necessary and important. However, the tone of the letter by Lucile Cruickshank, which struck me as the very antithesis of the Quarterly's goals, prompted me to question just how devoted alumnae are to the search for knowledge, compassionate understanding, and justice.

I was very saddened that Lucile is embarrassed to admit that she is an alumna of Mount Holyoke because lesbians have graduated from the College and now seek support. In addition she feels that printing the word lesbian "cheapens an otherwise excellent publication."

My response is, first, that many women who helped found this College, who have administered, taught, and learned here, were/are lesbians. Some of them did not/do not have the capacity to claim publicly that part of their identity for fear of ostracism, loss of employment, and/or lack of support from colleagues and peers. This is a sad reality. Secondly, it seems to me that if Mount Holyoke does not lend support to lesbian alumnae this College in effect would be undermining the fundamental goal set by its founder - its special commitment to women. Given the fact that lesbianism is most certainly a woman's experience - one that is not rare and certainly not something to be ashamed of - it makes sense that the Quarterly lends support to lesbians who have passed through the gates of the College. It is my hope that we come to a compassionate understanding of all lives, however unlike our own they may be.

Julie F. Holley '87
South Hadley, Massachusetts

In my job I seek remedies for people who are discriminated against during their housing search. As such I witness first hand the personal destructiveness done to those who are treated as a stereotype rather than an individual.

I deeply deplore the remarks of Lucile Cruickshank regarding lesbian alumnae. In my talks with homeseekers and property owners, I find that virtually everyone, not just ethnic or racial minorities, has faced this humiliation at some time in their lives - be it as a student, a woman, a single, a parent, a divorcee, or in a recently filed case, a widow with a private income denied housing because she was not employed.

Prejudice of any kind hurts; at worst, it can erupt into a Howard beach tragedy. By scorning all lesbians, Lucile will miss knowing some wonderful people.

Nancy B. Kenyon '56
San Francisco, California

Lesbians, like all people, have the right to dignity. Those persons who would seek to obscure the existence of people different from themselves, however, forfeit their own dignity. And while bigotry is inherent in all mankind, we must be wary of its symptoms and incarnations, and forbid it from overtaking us. Complicity in allowing bigotry to reign comes also in the form of silence.

In my opinion, the formation of a support group or network for the advancement of any of the alumnae of Mount Holyoke is indeed something to be proud of.

Linda Baker, MHC friend
Washington, DC

I am the woman whose letter sparked Lucile Cruikshank's ire. It was not easy to announce to every single person reading the Quarterly that I am a lesbian. I had many friends during my Mount Holyoke career that did not know. But I did do it, and I'd like to share a few excerpts from letters that dozens of alumnae spanning forty years sent me.

"Bless you! ...the word lesbian in bold type - and for the first time, as far as I know, in my twenty-five years of reading the [Quarterly]."... "What a great idea! I've often wished to do something similar but never got started. Even those of us who loved Mount Holyoke often feel alienated by the weddings, husbands, and babies filling the class notes - especially when we don't have the nerve to report the changes in our own lives." ... "Congratulations for having the courage to do something that needed to be done ages ago. I'd like to help out."

I realized when I wrote the letter to the Quarterly staff that the chances were good that it would not be printed. I am sure there was concern about alienating some alumnae by aiding the formation of the lesbian network. Obviously, at least one was alienated, but relations with many other women were improved. The Quarterly took a great step in faith by helping us. ... Thanks again.

Donna Albino
Cambridge, Massachusetts

In response to Lucile Cruickshank, I considered writing a long letter in support of a free forum for expression, rights to personal choice, and Mount Holyoke's rich, diversified community. I decided, however, that open-minded, tolerant arguments are unlikely to make a dent in the armor of self-righteousness. I am proud to be an alumna, and if any member of our community causes me embarrassment, it is the bigot.

Karen Matthias Wozniuk'82
Easton, Pennsylvania

I think the Quarterly should be proud to have printed "Lesbian Alumnae in Support of Each Other," so an emphatic "YES!" in response to Lucile Cruickshank's sarcastic query. Thanks to the staff for having backbone.

Madeline Cahill '84
Holyoke, Massachusetts

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