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ON THE SCENE: ‘Finding a Woman’s Place’ with Lorraine Duvall

Lorraine Duvall is the second from the left, at a “Woman’s Place” in 1980. (Photo provided)

Writers often start with either an outright autobiography or book closely aligned with their lived experiences. Like so many others, Lorraine Duvall’s first, “And I Know Too Much,” was a memoir, a volume of stories, shared experiences, that reveal her awaking to her feminism, falling in love with the Adirondacks and her finding her center. I think women will read it and, at times, feel, “Yes! I experienced that!” And men, “Ohhh, I did badly; I can do better and must.”

Her second is the award-winning “In Praise of Quiet Waters: Finding Solitude and Adventure in the Wild Adirondacks.” Have you ever woken to the call of a loon on Weller Pond, Lake Lila or some other? The waters flat as glass with a low mist rising; what a joy that is to behold. This book takes us through a journey that will deepen our understanding of how precious our waterways are, how they are being threatened, and reveal a multitude of places to go — and not just protect but advocate that some, too, become places where no motorized craft can venture.

Just released is Duvall’s third, “Finding a Woman’s Place: The Story of a 1970’s Feminist Collective in the Adirondacks.” It tells the story of a commune founded by seven women in 1974 that, over the years, vitalized and strengthened the lives of hundreds more.

“I had retired up here in the Adirondacks,” said Duvall. “I had always written, but that was technical work. I started by writing what I call memoir vignettes, little vignettes about experiences that happened in my life, stories about my family, growing up and like that. I decided to attend a writer’s workshop in Old Forge in September of 2012. I didn’t know anybody there. I just saw a poster and that looked like fun. I started sharing some of my writings with the group. The man that was leading the workshop said, “You’ve got a book there.” I thought, “Ah-ha, that’s interesting; I’d never considered that.”

One of the stories Duvall shared at the time was about being nearly the only woman working in the technological world and how discouraged she often became. Duvall wasn’t out burning her bra and marching at the time; what she was doing was demonstrating that women could do very technical work. She saw herself as a bit of a closet feminist. Younger women in the workshop challenged Duvall, saying that carving a career in a male-dominated industry wasn’t doing enough. Duvall thought that the younger women didn’t know or appreciate the struggles that women just two to four decades older than her went through to get meaningful work, and so, the seed for “A Woman’s Place” was planted.

Lorraine Duvall (Photo provided)

A harbinger for her most recent book can be found in “I know Too Much to Pretend,” the story “Girls & Women,” the first of several about her recent move from Chicago to Rome, New York in 1974. At the time, Duvall desired to find other women with shared life experiences and concerns, which were not in abundance. Casting about, Duvall saw an ad in Ms. Magazine for a summer retreat held in Paradox, New York. She thought, “Oh, that’s fun. I could be with feminists and go to the Adirondacks. I’ve always loved being in the Adirondacks.” And away she went.

Fast forward to three years ago, Duvall was in a yoga class at Keene Fitness with Naomi Tannen. They started talking, and Tannen revealed that she lived in Paradox, where she and her husband ran a school for troubled teenagers. In the summer, when the youth were gone, the facility was the place where the women’s retreats were held, the very place where Duval stayed so many years earlier.

Duvall visited Tannen’s home. They talked about what happened at that time, which led seven participants in the 1974 retreat to establish a women’s commune in Athol (town of Thurman), New York in Warren County. These seven uprooted their lives, pooled their resources and bought a house in a small hamlet a few miles west of Warrensburg. In time, Duvall connected with many of the women who had established commune-like Marie Deyoe, the principal founder, that she had first met back in 1974. Duvall dove in writing about who she met, what she learned and shared her progress with a writing group back in Elizabethtown. Slowly the book evolved.

“My takeaway is that it’s so important for women to support each other,” said Duvall. “At that time when the seven women left their homes, husbands and communities to purchase this 23-acre property in Athol and support one another, their eight children that came with them, as well as the many who visited over the next eight years, it’s just wild. And they still do support each other.”

“I recall the challenges newly minted adult women faced in the late ’60s and early ’70s finding their roles in society, especially the working world and relationship lifestyles,” said Nancy McArthur, who attended a recent reading at the Lake Placid Public Library. “Returning to the memory of that time with another woman who lived the experience was fascinating.”