PUTTING WOMEN & CHILDREN FIRST
by Jorjet Harper




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Nov. 13, 1986, at Women & Children First Bookstore’s 1967 N. Halsted St. location, from left: Lucy Moynihan, Julie Parsons, Starla Sholl, and co-owners Ann Christophersen and Linda Bubon (with her son Max). Photo: Windy City Times/ Outlines archives.

Feminist bookstores have played an important part in the cultural life of lesbian communities around the country. Women who launched bookstores specifically catering to women were often motivated by feminist ideals as much as business goals, because feminism had changed their lives. This was just as true in Chicago as elsewhere.

In the 1970s, Kathleen Thompson opened Pride & Prejudice on North Halsted Street, and Nancy Nov. 13, 1986, at Women & Children First Bookstore's 1967 N. Halsted St. location, from left: Lucy Moynihan, Julie Parsons, Starla Sholl, and co-owners Ann Christophersen and Linda Bubon ( with her son Max ) . Photo: Windy City Times/Outlines archives.

Finke and Flora Faraci opened the Jane Addams Bookstore in the historic Fine Arts Building on South Michigan Avenue in the Loop. Both bookstores were focal points for the nascent Chicago women's community, but relatively short-lived. The bookstore that took root and became a true home for the lesbian-feminist imagination was Women & Children First.

Inspired by a feminist criticism group at the New-berry Library and prompted by the difficulties they had experienced during the 1970s in finding books by women authors in bookstores, Ann Christophersen and Linda Bubon decided to open their own. From its inception, the owners thought of the bookstore in political terms as a way to join with and support those in Chicago working to further the rights and well-being of women and children, and to contribute to the growing international feminist movement.

“The mission of Women & Children First was to provide books, periodicals, music and programming that reflected the lives, experiences, ideas and art of women in all our diversity and with all our commonality. It was also to nurture a love of reading in children of all ages by providing the best children's books available, with special attention to books with strong girl characters and all kinds of families, races and cultures,” says Christophersen.

“It was like we were creating a library. We even built all the shelves ourselves,” recalls Bubon, “and I guess we didn't think that we would actually make money because we hadn't bought a cashbox, cash drawer or cash register. The night before we opened, it suddenly dawned on us that we didn't have anything to put cash in if anybody actually came in and bought a book.”

Women & Children First opened its doors on West Armitage Avenue in the DePaul neighborhood on Nov. 10, 1979, and quickly built a loyal clientele. At that time, one small shelf contained the store's entire lesbian section, almost all of it from small presses. Today a whole wall in the store is dedicated to LGBTQ books, approximately 80 percent of them published by major presses and university presses. In the early days, appearances by authors such as Mary Daly, Rita Mae Brown, Judy Grahn and Maya Angelou helped create the aura of excitement about the growing body of literature and feminist theory by women.

Five years after its founding, Women & Children First moved to a larger nearby location on North Halsted Street south of Armitage. In 1990 it moved to its present location on North Clark Street in Andersonville, becoming one of the first business anchors for the influx of that area's lesbian and gay residents.

Almost three decades after they started the venture, Christophersen and Bubon still co-own the bookstore. Their political activism through the years has always been a natural extension of their commitment to the community. Bubon and Christophersen were both on the city's first Advisory Council on Gay and Lesbian Issues, appointed by Mayor Harold Washington. Christophersen later became its president. She served for eight years on the board of the Crossroads Fund. She was a vice president of IMPACT, a board member of Gerber/Hart Library, and president of the American Booksellers Association. Bubon has served on the boards of the Independent Booksellers of the Chicago Area, the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce, and the Chicago Women's Health Center.

BOOKSTORES OF NOTE:

Women & Children First, Andersonville

Unabridged Books in Boys Town

CLOSED:

Pride & Prejudice, Chicago, 1970s

Jane Addams Bookstore, Chicago, 1970s—80s

Stonewall Memorial Bookshop, in the

Knight Out bar, 2936 N. Clark St. Chicago, 1970s

People Like Us Books, Chicago

Left Bank Books, Oak Park

Pride Agenda, Oak Park

Platypus Books, Evanston

Prairie Moon Books, Suburban

Copyright 2008 by Jorjet Harper

From Out and Proud in Chicago: An Overview of the City's Gay Community, edited by Tracy Baim, Surrey Books, 2008.

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