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Author and editor Tom Engelhardt operating the Chief 22 printing press at the New England Free Press circa 1970. (Photo: Courtesy of the NEFP)

Feminism, Radical Literature, and Little Old Me

I certainly can take no credit for the fact that we were distributing such now-classic materials back in the 1970s, but I can still take pride in the fact that I was there when it all happened

Tom Engelhardt

 by TomDispatch

Sometimes your past returns in the strangest of ways, as happened to me when today’s article from TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon first crossed my doorstep. As you’ll see, its subject would not be one on which this almost 75-year-old guy would consider himself to have the slightest expertise: women discovering their bodies in complex ways in the 1970s—and mutilating them now.

I almost always write little intros for TomDispatch pieces, but this time, fascinated as I was by Gordon’s account, my heart sank... until, that is, I made my way ever deeper into the piece and discovered something odd and wondrous. I had, however indirectly, been associated with each of the key documents from the late 1960s and early 1970s that she cites as crucial to her growing understanding of herself in those years.

In 1969, in the midst of the turbulent anti-Vietnam War movement, I was swept out of graduate school and found myself -- I don’t quite remember how -- working as a printer at what we then, romantically enough, called an “underground print shop” (though it wasn’t in any way “underground”). It went by the name of the New England Free Press (NEFP) and we spent our time printing up anti-Vietnam War leaflets, strike posters, and all sorts of other subversive creations of that moment.

Just in case you doubt my memory, above is a photo of me (yes, I swear it’s me!), circa 1969, working at that very print shop on an old Chief 22 press. The NEFP became known for its pathbreaking literature program, a remarkable and still-fascinating set of movement writings that we often (but not always) printed up ourselves and sent around widely. Fortunately, some old NEFP staff members have recently begun creating an NEFP website in memory of that long-gone moment and of some of those pamphlets, especially a remarkable catalogue of the women’s liberation materials we then distributed. As it happens, they included the three pieces mentioned by Gordon today as crucial to her own development: the famed Our Bodies, Ourselves (when it was still a pamphlet, not a book), Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English’s Witches, Midwives, and Nurses, and Anne Koedt’s The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm.

I certainly can take no credit for the fact that we were distributing such now-classic materials (though I do recognize one article that I did bring to that long list), but I can still take pride in the fact that I was there when it all happened. (The NEFP even distributed the first piece I ever wrote for publication, “Ambush at Kamikaze Pass,” which would, a quarter of a century later, become the basis for my book The End of Victory Culture.) Anyway, enough about me, as they say. Now, consider the remarkable memories of Rebecca Gordon


© 2021 TomDispatch.com

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