On International Women’s Day, in March of 1971, a large group of women dramatized the need for dedicated women’s spaces, by occupying an under-utilized, Harvard-owned building on 888 Memorial Drive. After marching from Boston Common to Central Square, they forced the male professor out of the building upon arrival and laid out their demands. The movement called for affordable housing, child care, and education. These women staged a 10-day building takeover that inspired other feminist movements across the country.
Inside the building, women brought sleeping bags and food, and set-up camp, working together to protect the building and offer support to one another. Women led self-defense classes, dance parties and met about strategy. Outside their walls, even more women gathered in support. Police were called to respond to what was perceived as a growing situation, some men organized protests, and news outlets started gathering to cover the ordeal. This sit-in resulted in a $5,000 donation from an individual, Susan Lyman (equivalent to approximately $30,000 today). When arrests were imminent, the women left the building. The organizers then used the $5,000 donation to put a down payment on the house we still operate out of today: 46 Pleasant Street, Cambridge MA.
Thus, the Cambridge Women’s Center was born. Over the past 48+ years we have assisted in the founding of many critical programs that have outgrown our walls, and we ourselves have grown to suit the needs of our broader women’s community.
For more information on the history of the takeover, check out Left on Pearl, a documentary about this historical feminist movement.