Full Moon Rising was an all-lesbian crew of the Hoedads, a Eugene-based tree planting cooperative that began in the 1970s. Hoedads had different crews, and each one had its own theme.
Full Moon Rising’s theme was empowerment for women. It contracted with the Bureau of Land Management and other agencies to replant trees in clearcut harvested areas, and everyone got paid the same — no matter how many trees they planted.
Planting was done in winter, but strenuous labor would cause the crew to become overheated, in which case many of the women did what men sometimes do — they took off their shirts while working. This during a time when just sporting a crew cut was seen as unacceptable behavior for women in mainstream culture.
This is one of many tales told in a new exhibit at the University of Oregon’s Museum of Natural and Cultural History documenting the beginnings of Eugene as a community friendly to lesbians.
Judith Raiskin wasn’t in Eugene in the 1970s. She came in the mid-’90s to work at the University of Oregon, where she is professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies. Linda Long came to Eugene in the mid-’90s for work, too, and is the UO Libraries curator of manuscripts. They were housemates once while they were both at Stanford University, where Raiskin was a graduate student and Long was a librarian, but they moved to Eugene independently of each other. In Eugene they had long spoken to each other about collecting the stories of women who helped create the town’s lesbian community.
It wasn’t until they began to attend funerals of women who’d been part of that group that they realized the time to start recording had come. The oral histories they co-created, along with associated materials, are the inspiration for the exhibit Outliers and Outlaws: Stories from the Eugene Lesbian History Project, which runs through the end of the year at the museum.
Working with an aging population, they began interviewing women in 2018, often two in one day. The Eugene Lesbian Oral History Project is housed in Special Collections at University Libraries, and can be accessed online through OregonDigital.org.
When Raiskin and Long initially put the call out for the oral history project, 40 years after the time period in which hundreds of women moved to Eugene, they heard from almost 200 people who were still living in town. They’ve interviewed 83 women so far, all of whom moved to Eugene around the years 1968 to 1992. They haven’t tried reaching out to those who left town yet, Raiskin says.
Meeting with her and Long, I ask if they interviewed each other. No, Raiskin smiles, because their arrival in Eugene was just after the cut-off date.
Long says the lesbian migration to town in the 1960s through the ’80s was part of a larger counterculture movement that came here, the same one that produced current institutions like Eugene Saturday Market or the Oregon Country Fair. Idealistic young people championing a “back to the land” ideology were attracted to the natural surroundings around town. Real estate was relatively inexpensive then, too. And, Long says, the county building codes were permissive.
Mother Kali’s Bookstore was the hub of the lesbian community in Eugene. A feminist bookstore with two meeting rooms, it was a place to hear a reading, check the bulletin board for news, meet friends after a hard day at work or to discuss trying to live freely in an overall society that didn’t yet accept who you were. A social hangout as much as a business, Mother Kali’s was in operation for more than 30 years, in three locations, and it’s partially recreated for the museum exhibit.
“Every book tells you how to think,” Raiskin says.
Raiskin teaches an honors course on using primary sources; she tells her students that first-hand narratives haven’t yet been framed by anyone else’s thoughts. She and Long were highly motivated to collect these oral histories as well as to make them accessible because they believe, as primary materials, they can be valuable for students and future scholars.
Sally Sheklow (1950-2022), one of the narrators in the oral history project, found different avenues throughout the years — both creative and through social services — to be an advocate for equal rights. She was a member of WYMPROV!, an improv group that was formed to confront anti-gay politics, and she worked with the Willamette AIDS Council and the Feminist Women’s Health Center. She also wrote a column called “Living Out” for Eugene Weekly (1999-2017), in which she often humorously discussed her life as an aging, Jewish, activist lesbian.
Originally from Southern California, Sheklow was a UO graduate who worked with Starflower Natural Foods and Botanicals after graduation. Starflower was a distribution collective, at the forefront of the natural foods trend, that employed mostly lesbian labor, including truckers and warehouse staff.
Collectives and cooperative businesses were part of the counterculture movement. They enabled those with dreams of an egalitarian existence to put their philosophies into action. And lesbian-owned cooperatives were often not typically associated with women’s work then — or even now.
“People were just inventing themselves,” Linda McIntosh says. “It was like you can be whatever you want. And so it was just this incredibly vibrant, empowering time in this town.”
McIntosh, another narrator from the oral history project, worked with Crescent Construction, the first all-women construction company licensed in Oregon.
Oral historians once commonly referred to their subjects as interviewees, but Raiskin and Long call the women they’ve interviewed “narrators.” The distinction may seem subtle, but it reflects the fact that these oral histories were not restricted by a preconceived set of questions or a hypothesis of any kind.
They let women speak for as long as they liked, Raiskin says, to “tell their stories how they wanted.”
Outliers and Outlaws: Stories from the Eugene Lesbian History Project runs through the end of 2023 at the University of Oregon’s Museum of Natural and Cultural History. More info at MNCH.UOregon.edu.