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RC

Rachel Corbman

Rachel Corbman is a doctoral candidate in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Stony Brook University. Her dissertation "Conferencing on the Edge: A Queer History of Feminist Field Formation, 1969-1989" uses conferences to trace the intellectual and infrastructural history of feminist and queer field formation. Her articles on feminist and queer history have appeared in journals such as Feminist Formations, The Journal of Lesbian Studies, Continuum, and the Journal of Contemporary Archival Studies.

"Holly Near on Tour for the National Women’s Studies Association: Women’s Music and the History of Women’s Studies"
In 1981, the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) announced its first major fundraiser: “Feminism 101: Holly Near on Tour for the NWSA.” Founded four years earlier as the first and only professional organization for women’s studies scholars, the NWSA was severely in debt and on the precipice of organizational collapse by the early 1980s. Thus, in 1981, the NWSA planned a ten campus concert series. As their headliner, the NWSA asked Near, a lesbian folksinger and political activist, whose relationship to the NWSA dated back to the 1977 founding convention in San Francisco, where she performed.

This paper offers a brief history of Near’s fundraising tour for the NWSA, drawn from extensive archival research at the University of Maryland, San Francisco State University, and the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn. Specifically, this paper centers women’s music as an underexplored facet of the history of women’s studies in the United States. Closely associated with lesbian feminism and separatism, women’s music emerged in the 1970s as a distinct genre and grassroots industry. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, women’s performers like Cris Williamson, Margie Adams, Alix Dobkin, Meg Christian, Sweet Honey on the Rock, and Near were all fixtures at women’s studies conferences and events. However, scholarly accounts of academic feminism rarely mention—let alone seriously consider—the musical performances scheduled alongside academic papers. In this paper, I ask: How does Holly Near’s tour complicate commonly held assumptions about the history of women’s studies as an academic field of study? And how might a messier account of the history of women’s studies open up new ways of thinking about feminist and queer studies in the current moment?