apap292
New York State Modern Political Archive
Collection ID: apap292

Women's Building Collection, 1954-2000, bulk 1973-1998

Collection description

Summary

Creator:
Women's Building (Albany, N.Y.)
Abstract:
The Women’s Building collection records the formation and day-to-day administrative and programming activities of the Women’s Building and its predecessor, the Tri-City Women’s Center. The organization provided a safe space for community groups to meet and organize, and informational and educational programming to support the women of the Capital District. Inspired by a feminist perspective and driven by a commitment to social justice, the Women’s Building provided physical meeting and office space to local organizations and programming and informational services on financial planning, legal issues, parenthood, childbirth, and women’s health. The collection includes administrative records and programming material from the organization’s inception in the early 1970s until 2000.
Extent:
20.3 cubic ft.
Language:
English and English
Preferred citation:
Preferred citation for this material is as follows: and Identification of specific item, series, box, folder, Women's Building Collection, 1954-2000. M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University at Albany, State University of New York.

Access and Use

Conditions Governing Access:

Access to this collection is unrestricted.

Terms Of Use:

The researcher assumes full responsibility for conforming with the laws of copyright. Whenever possible, the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives will provide information about copyright owners and other restrictions, but the legal determination ultimately rests with the researcher. Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be discussed with the Head of Special Collections and Archives.

Background

Scope and Content:

The Women’s Building Collection documents the activities of the Tri-City Women’s Center and the Women’s Building in Albany, New York from the early 1970s until 2000. This includes the organizational or administrative records, including meeting minutes and notes, correspondence, financial statements, fundraising documentation, and formal reports that document both the formulation of the Tri-City Women’s Center and its maintenance as the Women’s Building. The material concerns the administration and programming of a feminist and social justice inspired not-for-profit communal meeting space, information clearinghouse, and referral service. The administrative records document the formation and day-to-day activities of the Women’s Building, including governance, fundraising, purchasing and maintenance of a physical building, and programming. The programming records show the results of community-building, cultural events, outreach efforts, social justice campaigns, counseling initiatives, and support for women in need. The collection also includes a file of educational resources that was used both internally and offered as a service to visitors, and a file of records documenting the activities of other groups with explicit relationships to the Women’s Building. A small, partial run of the organization’s monthly newsletters are also present.

Biographical / Historical:

Inspired in part by the political activism of the late 1960s, a group of Capital District women coalesced in the early 1970s to establish a small community tied together by feminist ideas. The community included a wide variety of political and social perspectives on women that comprised moderate views as well as ideas of communal living and revolutionary Marxism. This diversity led to a variety of related groups with overlapping membership ranging from state agencies and university Women’s Studies programs to the communally-owned women’s retreat, A Women’s Place. The community also regularly included lesbians who saw their advancement within the larger frameworks of feminism and social justice. These women united together to advocate for a physical support center for the women of the Capital District. The establishment of the Tri-City Women’s Center can be seen as part of a wider shift in the feminist and lesbian groups nationwide away from more radical liberation movements and toward organization-building in an attempt to build women’s culture, community, and shared identity.

In 1972 the city of Albany restored its annual National Women’s Day Festival in Washington Park with the proceeds going towards the establishment of a regional women’s center, yet government support remained more hypothetical then tangible. For a brief period, a space for women was established at 184 Washington Avenue, but most meetings were held in private homes. Funding was almost non-existent and activities were sparse. In October of 1974 a group called “Priorities for Women” rented space at 128 Lancaster Street. The meetings there quickly evolved into the Tri-City Women’s Center, a group striving to establish “A Place of Their Own” – a community information resource, counseling, and referral center for the women of the Capital District. The center immediately supported a number of women’s groups in the area including Speakout, Albany Women Against Rape (AWARE), Lesbians for Liberation, the Women’s Counseling Collective, the Albany chapter of the National Organization of Women (NOW), and the Radical Feminist Study Group, among others.

The success of the Tri-City Women’s Center lasted only a few months, as the Center Square Neighborhood Association objected to the establishment of a non-residential facility on Lancaster Street. The neighborhood had been particularly defensive of its residential status since the construction of Empire State Plaza reduced its size. The Association had recently halted the construction of a parking garage on State Street and a McDonalds on South Swan Street and had opposed the special use applications of a number of charitable organizations attempting to move into the area. The Tri-City Women’s Building violated zoning laws by failing to file a special use application with the city planner and for having only one exit. The group was forced to leave by April 1975, despite petitioning for a special use permit with the support of 270 neighborhood residents.

Next, the Tri-City Women’s Center soon settled in the basement of the YWCA at 5 Lodge Street where it offered a large meeting room and a few offices, yet suffered from a lack of public visibility. A governing structure was established with a Steering Committee and eight working committees tasked with staffing and scheduling, legal procedures, financing and fundraising, programming, maintenance, library, and publicity duties. The Center was mainly supported by donations and monthly pledges which prevented it from providing a wealth of programs. However, the center was staffed by volunteers who provided much-needed information for the area’s women and the center began to build a library and a resource file. Perhaps the most successful program of this period was a biweekly women’s coffeehouse which featured feminist musicians and other entertainers. Although the Tri-City Women’s Center hosted a number of politically-oriented groups that often overlapped in leadership with the Center, the Center itself attempted to be apolitical. This enabled the center and its occupants to maintain their political diversity, and practical mission of providing space, support, and information.

In early 1977 the YWCA sold the building at 5 Lodge Street and moved to a smaller facility. The Tri-City Women’s center moved to 132 Central Avenue where it enlarged its library and maintained popular programs such as the coffeehouse. After losing its lease on Central Avenue, the Center resided briefly on Lark Street before moving to share the building at 196 Morton Avenue where it continued to struggle with financial instability.

1982 was a major breakthrough for the Tri-City Women’s Center when a group of local feminists established Holding Our Own, a foundation dedicated to funding feminist and social justice organizations in the Capital District. The Tri-City Women’s Center received a $16,000 grant from Holding Our Own to organize and raise funds to purchase a building to act as owned permanent space for women’s organizations and programs. In 1984 a large meeting established a new organizational structure and a new name. The Tri-City Women’s Center became the Women’s Building Project with a central Executive Committee and a wider Coordinating Council that also included the leadership from the eight major task forces and a handful of representatives elected from the memberships as a whole. The eight standing task forces were Finance, Public Relations, Outreach, Advocacy, Program, Newsletter, and Maintenance, with many featuring the input of new volunteers. The new structure also included a quarterly meeting of all members that reflected part of its new fundraising model, paid memberships. These fees, like the program costs for attendees, were readily flexible based upon a member’s ability to pay in keeping with the organization’s advocacy of wider social justice and service to the underprivileged. The Women’s Building Project moved briefly to the basement of a Society of Friends meetinghouse on Madison Avenue before renting a small storefront at 141 Madison. New members were gathered with a series of large conferences and community brunches.

In February of 1987, Holding Our Own created a formal Feasibility Committee tasked with outlining the path to purchase a building. This committee featured representatives from Holding Our Own and the Women’s Building Project, as well as local women experienced in financial planning and real estate. The relationship between the two groups was fairly natural since a number of important women, such as Winnie DeLoayza and Maud Easter, led both organizations. After reviewing nine locations, Holding Our Own agreed to provide the downpayment for the $149,000 cost of 79 Central Avenue in June, provided that the Women’s Building Project would make the mortgage payments, pay all operating costs, and raise almost $350,000 for the necessary renovations. The Project became just the Women’s Building when it moved into 79 Central Avenue in October 1987 and began a large multi-year Capital Campaign to fund the renovations with the help of consultants experienced in non-for-profit fundraising. The first stage of renovations was completed in 1989, when in February the Women’s Building celebrated its Grand Opening and welcomed in its first tenants.

By 1988 the Women’s Building had hired a full-time Building Coordinator and greatly expanded its educational, recreational, and cultural programming and broadened its information and referral services. Early tenants included The Capital Region Association of Eating Disorders, a teen pregnancy programming, a counseling center, the National Abortion Rights Action League, and the National Conference of Puerto Rican Women. Organizations such as the Albany chapter of the National Women’s Organization, The Capital District Women’s Political Caucus, and the Women’s Bar Association used the building for meetings, mail, and answering machines, and support groups for bisexual women, alcoholic women, and incest and rape victims found a safe space for their meetings in the building.

After the early renovations, the building still lacked an elevator which would provide handicapped access to all floors. In keeping with the organizational mission of promoting social justice, installing an elevator became a priority and the Women’s Building applied for funding from the New York State Legislature. In February of 1988, State Assemblyman Paul Tomko requested that the State provide the Women’s Building with a $40,000 grant. The proposal became publicly controversial and Republican opponent Bob Lansing made the grant a primary campaign issue, opposing the funding of “…a radical feminist and lesbian center…” Tomko was easily re-elected yet funding for the elevator was not awarded and the Women’s Building continued to apply for grants, with an elevator reaching two of the building’s three stories by 1995.

Despite the success of the late 1980s and the considerable funding from memberships and the Capital Campaign, the Women’s Building found itself in a self-described “financial crisis” by 1995. Programing and utility expenses rose sharply into the 1990s, and the $134,000 1994 budget left the Women’s Building over $14,000 in the red. Despite returning its final $50,000 startup loan payment to Holding Our Own in December 1991, the Women’s Building was unable to make a $2,000 loan payment to its sister organization in June of 1995 and failed to meet payroll in July. The building was forced to cut Deanne Grimaldi, its full-time coordinator, in August of that year and substantially reduce its liability insurance coverage, among other measures. A Building Feasibility Committee was established to reexamine the need and viability of the organizations central mission: a permanent, owned space. The committee reaffirmed the viability of owning 79 Central Avenue and restructured the physical building and its programming to better uphold its goals in a more financially sustainable way. Holding Our Own forgave and delayed loan payments and capital from bank loans helped the organization stay afloat into the 2000s.

The Women’s Building has provided a physical space for Capital District women for 40 years. From its 1970s beginnings the organization sought to provide a safe space for lesbians, minority women, and other discriminated women and a foster a sense of community and identity through educational and informational services along with cultural programming. The Women’s Building became a haven for lesbians, victims of rape and domestic abuse, and other women struggling to understand themselves. Perhaps its most important contribution was information: the building held literature and programs on everything from financial planning and legal issues to parenthood, childbirth, and women’s health issues. Despite being formed out of feminist and lesbian rights groups, the Women’s Building aimed to be as apolitical as possible while providing space for a variety of politically-minded groups. Through its history, the organization provide resources—space, information, access—for a diverse variety of social justice and activist groups and individuals in need, while its programming had a more general goal of promoting women’s culture, community, and shared identity.

Acquisition information:

All items in the Women’s Building Collection were acquired by the University Libraries, M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives, between 2000 and 2007.

Processing information:

Processed in 2014 by Gregory Wiedeman.

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Restrictions:
Access to this collection is unrestricted.
Terms of Access:
The researcher assumes full responsibility for conforming with the laws of copyright. Whenever possible, the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives will provide information about copyright owners and other restrictions, but the legal determination ultimately rests with the researcher. Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be discussed with the Head of Special Collections and Archives.
Preferred citation:
Preferred citation for this material is as follows: and Identification of specific item, series, box, folder, Women's Building Collection, 1954-2000. M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University at Albany, State University of New York.