Emergency Exit
October 15, 2019

First domestic violence shelters in the nation still needed 45 years later

October 15, 2019 – Forty-five years ago, six different groups of activists in St. Paul, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Phoenix, Cambridge, and Pasadena played a key role in the women’s safety movement of the 1970’s.  Trailblazing by consciousness raising groups and alongside legal advocates focused on making the personal political, the issue of violence against women moved outside of the home and into the public forum. Grassroots collectives of women did this work in spite of public admonishment, threats, and demeaning rhetoric.


This October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  Four of the first domestic violence shelters in the U.S., including Women’s Advocates in St. Paul, MN, Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, PA, La Casa de las Madres in San Francisco, CA, and Transition House of Cambridge, MA are recognizing the work of their founders this month by sharing their histories as a call to action for people concerned about violence against women. While a public response to domestic violence was initiated 45 years ago due to the hard work of these organizations, sadly, violence against women persists today.  Each of these shelters operates at full capacity and the crisis lines continually help callers navigate systems to protect themselves.  Meanwhile, the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), reauthorized by the U.S. House earlier this year, has yet to receive the attention of the Senate.  The collective call to action today is to keep the movement to end domestic violence churning ahead so that 1 in 3 women, 1 in 7 men, and 1 in 2 transgender people does not experience rape, stalking or physical violence by an intimate partner (CDC and NCTE).


Women’s Advocates’ history and call to action: October 11, 2019, is the 45th anniversary of the first formal night of domestic violence shelter provided at Women’s Advocates.  This October, Twin Cities PBS will release a series of short documentary videos that reflect on a time when a team of activists invaded the St. Paul mayor’s office to protest police apathy about domestic violence, hid fleeing  families in their homes, and eventually converted a dilapidated building into a shelter, calling it the “Women’s House”.  This house is now on the National Register of Historic Places, and by continuing to offer emergency shelter, connect survivors to affordable housing, and share safety resources across the community through trainings and outreach, Women’s Advocates’ role in the women’s safety movement lives on. Visit wadvocates.org/about/documentary to watch the documentary shorts and learn about today’s efforts to address the insidiousness of violence against women.  Today Women’s Advocates walks with victim/survivors and our community to break the cycle of domestic violence. Using the tools of radical hospitality, advocacy and collective action, we work toward a community free from violence, where all are safe and can live productive and healthy lives.


La Casa de las Madres’ history and call to action: In 1974 a brave group of women came together in San Francisco to explore the possibility of creating a shelter for women in violent situations at home. A larger group was formed in November of 1975, calling themselves the La Casa Coalition. Leveraging their own resources, they secured the first few months of rent, purchased furnishings and developed a plan to help individuals access the shelter. La Casa de las Madres was born. La Casa is still driven by the goals of our founders. As an organization La Casa strives to create space for survivors that feels safe like the arms of a mother, sparks hope for a better future, and provides tools and resources to heal from trauma and build violence-free lives. Today La Casa reaches thousands of survivors and their children with this critical work, and shelters hundreds of individuals with nowhere safe to turn. This October, La Casa is celebrating its work in the community, and raising critical funds for another year of services by hosting a gathering on October 3rd in San Francisco. Learn more at www.lacasa.org.


Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh’s history and call to action:  WC&S began simply as a place for women to gather, but 45 years ago—with the civil rights and women’s movements as a backdrop—the WC&S founding mothers quickly realized many of their friends actually needed safety from their partners.  Founders Ellen Berliner and Anne Steytler—who were both social workers—never planned to help ignite a movement, but when faced with the staggering truth about the number of women suffering from domestic violence, they knew that they had to do more.  Thus, in 1974, WC&S’ mission to create a safe and healing environment for women came alive, using a small storefront to provide services for women in the Pittsburgh area. Since those humble beginnings, WC&S has grown into a comprehensive program serving more than 8,000 adult and child survivors each year with a full range of services and outreach efforts. WC&S also works to end violence through running battering intervention groups and strategic prevention efforts including STANDING FIRM, which works with employers to address workplace violence. Visit WCSCanHelp.org for more information or download the RUSafe app for access to life-saving resources.


Transition House and a call to action: Transition House is an innovative community-based nonprofit organization founded in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1976 by feminist activists who had experienced abuse themselves. The shelter began as mattresses on the floor of the foundresses apartments, and quickly became a vital community resource. The New Yorker recently profiled our founding story here: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/08/19/the-radical-transformations-of-a-battered-womens-shelter  Today, Transition House provides holistic support and housing options for individuals and families surviving domestic and intimate partner violence. We facilitate opportunities for people of all backgrounds to pave a path away from abuse, toward stability and wellbeing. We educate community members of all ages. We build deep partnerships to change policies and practices and sustain a safer, healthier community. Racial equity is a cornerstone of our commitment to all communities in our region, and we know that marginalized communities are disproportionately impacted by violence. We join with survivors to address the widespread impact of domestic violence and advocate for systemic change.  Forty-five years later, we continue to envision a community where anyone affected by – or at risk of – domestic violence or intimate partner violence can live in safety and access housing, education, employment, and the holistic support they need to thrive. We proudly offer our services to all who might need them, including people of all any gender identities, ages, sexual orientations, and other backgrounds. We challenge the causes and impacts of domestic violence and believe breaking the cycle must be an ongoing community priority.

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