In the 60s and 70s, many young women came to Vermont in search of an alternative way of life. They came here partly as a way to rebel against the Vietnam War, nuclear armament and a materialistic, consumer-driven society. They joined communes and formed what became known as the counterculture.
They were called hippies or back-to-the-landers, and they tended to be creative and socially-minded. Those who stayed on – as many did - often made significant contributions to their communities - and still do.
In Vermont communes, going “back to the land” meant farming with few amenities. Of necessity, traditional gender roles and rules were discarded and new ones cobbled together from scratch. Both men and women planted crops, raised animals, and built homes and other structures. Women took on new leadership roles in creating alternative schools, art collectives, day care centers, free health clinics and food co-ops.
And in the process of changing themselves, women of the counterculture changed Vermont. They forged a path of equality with men. They were willing to split wood or haul stones as men did. In turn, they insisted that men learn to cook, tend gardens, and care for children. At many communes, women also organized solidarity groups to further their own gender-specific goals and projects.
In describing the commune where she lived, poet Verandah Porche has written that “We shared a love of language, curiosity about nature, respect for privacy, (and a) desire for solidarity with each other and the land.”
This year, the Vermont Commission on Women and the Vermont Historical Society observe Women’s History Month by inviting us to consider the “Women of the Counterculture Movement in 1970s Vermont” and how their legacy continues to influence us today - as a new wave of social activism at the local level takes shape.
Women’s rights and the strategy of collective engagement for the sake of political and social “resistance” were at the forefront of the global marches in January and on International Women’s Day this month.
I've been thinking about how many of the posters at those marches contained slogans that bore a striking resemblance to the counterculture sentiments expressed on placards of the past.
I remember one that I think caught the spirit of activism especially well - both old and new - when it emphatically declared that “The personal is political.”