Date of Award

2010

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

History

Advisor

Michael Lang

Second Committee Member

Mazie Hough

Third Committee Member

Howard Segal

Abstract

In 1972 a group of women gathered in Bangor, Maine to discuss domestic violence in a consciousness-raising group. Out of that group grew the Spruce Run Association, a social change organization committed to providing services to women in domestic abuse situations and to changing the societal problems that they saw as creating domestic abuse. This thesis examines Spruce Run's development as an organization from 1972 to 1992 and its philosophical connections to U.S. radical feminism. It argues that Spruce Run attempted to enact radical feminist theories developed by thinkers in the women's liberation movement within the organization. They found that some of these theories needed to be modified and adapted to work for the conditions under which Spruce Run operated. Specifically, Spruce Run utilized the radical feminist method of consciousness-raising to evaluate their experiences and create theory. Consequently, Spruce Run developed alternate theories about power relationships and social change than other radical feminists because they struggled with a specific problem: domestic violence in rural Maine. They emphasized the danger in the imbalance of power, rather than the danger in power itself, and developed a reformative method of social change, rather than a transformative method of social change. This approach enabled Spruce Run to survive, with its values and theories intact, for over thirty-five years. Essentially, this research attempts to investigate the relationship between theory and action, and specifically, how ideas develop and influence action, by examining the philosophical foundation and structure of an organization. Using both an intellectual history approach and a women's history approach this research demonstrates that ideas do not always translate easily into action. This work is significant because it connects women's history and intellectual history by considering how women constructed an organization out of radical feminist theory. It also acts as a foil to the narrative of radical feminist organizations, most of which either disintegrated within a few years of their founding or became more social service oriented and less radically feminist. Spruce Run provides a window through which to view a different version of radical feminism; one that was able to adapt and survive over time and which is still operating today. This research will create a more nuanced understanding of radical feminism as not simply a movement that failed or whose ideas were altered to the point of erasure, but as a movement that created theory and methods that women found significant and adapted for use in the construction of their daily lives.

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