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The D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) on Thursday unanimously approved the site of the Furies Collective, a lesbian feminist separatist collective, to become a D.C. historic landmark. The board’s stamp of approval brings the house a step closer to becoming the first lesbian site to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The application to name the two-story rowhouse, located at 219 11th St. SE, as a historic landmark was co-sponsored and presented to the board by Tisha Allen of the D.C. Preservation League, Robert Pohl, the current owner of the house, and Mark Meinke, a local LGBT historian on behalf of the Rainbow Heritage Network.
The house is important to LGBT history in the District because it served as the operational center for the Furies, a 12-woman lesbian second-wave feminist collective that advocated the idea of separatism as a way to end sexism in a larger patriarchal society. The Furies advocated these views and shared stories from their personal experiences through the publication of the lesbian/feminist issue of motive magazine and The Furies newspaper between 1971 and 1973.
“My feeling is that there’s an enormous amount of gay and lesbian history on Capitol Hill, much of which is in danger of being lost,” Pohl says. “So now’s the time to protect that, before it gets erased from history — and it’s not necessarily even with malice. It’s that it’s back 20, 30, 40 years, and it falls out of the collective memory, and then, unless a historian comes back and digs it out later, it’s lost. And in this case, we can actually talk to the people who lived there, and get some insight about what it was like then, right off the bat.”
Once the appropriate paperwork is filed, the HPRB will submit the application for consideration to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. If it is approved, the Furies Collective would become the first lesbian site and only the fifth or sixth LGBT-affiliated site (an application for the Bayard Rustin House in New York is also currently being considered for listing) — out of more than 90,000 — listed on the Register.
“The National Register is actually eager to have LGBTQ sites, and this is one they’re waiting for,” Meinke says of the Furies’ nomination moving forward. “I don’t expect us to have any problems.”
At the HPRB meeting, the Furies Collective’s application was praised for its thoroughness by many of the board members. But some members, including Chair Gretchen Pfaehler and Nancy Metzger, recommended further revising the application as it moves forward, to contextualize the collective’s history and how it related to the larger feminist, women’s liberation and LGBT movements.
“I think that’s the part that may be missing from the nomination, is that part of why we got together is that we were thrown out of everywhere else,” says Joan Biren, one of the original 12 members of the Furies Collective. “We came from the women’s movement, we came from the progressive Left, we came from the Civil Rights movement, and we were really not welcome, or able to be our full selves in those movements.”
Biren says she found the process of applying to be a historic landmark “extremely healing,” as it allowed the 11 women who are currently alive to reconnect and reach a consensus to support the nomination.
“I’m extremely pleased, and I think the other members will be pleased, because the Furies was in fact one of the very earliest active lesbian groups, and we did have a major influence on the development of the [LGBT] movement,” Biren says. “So I think this recognition is deserved, and I am extremely grateful to Mark Meinke, the Preservation Board, and to Robert [Pohl], for making this possible.”
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