Socialist Feminist Caucus at the 40th Anniversary of Sojourner House, class of 1970s

Socialist Feminist Caucus at the 40th Anniversary of Sojourner House, class of 1970s

In 1975, a group of Brown undergraduate and graduate women students regularly gathered to study gender, race, and class at the Sarah Doyle Women's Center. This group became the "Socialist Feminist Caucus" and took action to help women who were filing restraining orders against their husbands and boyfriends. Through research, legal aid, and fundraising, they founded Sojourner House in 1976. Sojourner House is now a self-described “comprehensive domestic violence agency” that serves victims of relationship violence by providing shelter, advocacy, referrals, and other resources.

This interview with Brown University alumnae Tracy E. Fitzpatrick (1976), Catherine J. Lewis (1976), Linda M. Kramer (1977), and Christina Crosby (Ph.D., 1982), chronicles their experiences in the Socialist Feminist Caucus and the founding of Sojourner House, a domestic violence agency based in Providence, at its 40th anniversary celebration.

The interviewees begin by sharing their majors and graduation years, as well as their current employment, and move on to explain the origins of the Socialist Feminist Caucus, a group of Brown undergraduate and graduate women students who began gathering at the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center to discuss gender, race, and class.

Fitzpatrick recalls that she was working at Rhode Island Legal Services where she often tallied restraining orders and began to ask paralegals about their case load of women who were abused at home. This became a major topic of discussion among the Socialist Feminist Caucus that resolved to establish a hotline for women to call any time they felt they were in danger. The interviewees remember the help of pro bono lawyers, fundraisers, and grants, which enabled the group to grow their service and rent a house at a private address in Providence, named Sojourner House, to serve as a shelter for women and children who were victims of intimate partner violence.

The interviewees discuss the visions they had for their work; the community outreach and education that they say was vital to their success; and the societal and bureaucratic issues they ran into funding and running the organization as inexperienced students. Issues include ideological disputes between Sojourner House workers and workers at another local women’s shelter, and the use of federal grant funds.  

The interview concludes with a conversation about the meanings and differences among “battered women,” “violence against women,” “domestic violence,” and “intimate partner violence,” ultimately favoring “intimate partner violence” as a more accurate description of the various types of relationship-based violence. The interviewees share how they believe Sojourner House impacted the fight against violence in the 1970s and 1980s and how it will affect the future.        


Recorded on Apr 6, 2016

Pembroke Hall, Brown University

Interviewed by Elizabeth Weed