For Dolores …
By Jill Ward
Dolores Alexander 2005
Dying is hard work. That is my take-away from Dolores Alexander’s death. The struggle to breathe, to move your body from one room to another, feed yourself, bathe, cope with the pain, the chores of daily living that become insurmountable when you are dying or physically impaired … As many of you are aware, I have learned this firsthand with the recent death of Dolores, my onetime lover, former business partner, and lifelong friend (lifelong, because somehow we luckily managed to surmount the animosity that can devolve from a romantic relationship that has reached its end.)
Dolores did not want a memorial service. We spoke at great length about this on three occasions this year, the most recent being one week before she died. Dolores was adamant. She didn’t want a memorial service or “gathering” of any kind, because she felt abandoned by the lesbian community on the North Fork in the last few months before her death. This is not meant to be an indictment of NFWFWF or Dolores’ many friends in the community. She recognized why people pull away from those who are dying or severely ill. Dying makes you self-absorbed; dying makes you beyond cranky; dying makes you make inordinate demands on others just so you can keep struggling against that specter; dying scares other people.
I have been approached by many in the community who have expressed a need for closure around Dolores’ death, people wanting to recognize her contributions to the lesbian/feminist movement in the
1970s and 1980s, and in more recent decades to NFWFWF. But that is not what Dolores wanted. She believed that life is for the living– that the here and now is the time to celebrate a life, to rejoice in community, the sisterhood. So how do we reconcile the need for closure within the community and Dolores’ expressed wishes?
I have struggled with this question for two months. Today, sitting on her deck, with a solitary swan swimming past her dock, I finally decided that I would not be organizing a memorial service for Dolores. I will not go against her wishes. But in tribute to Dolores, I exhort NFWFWF to use her testamentary bequest to explore more fully the needs of our aging community. I fear many others may find themselves in Dolores’ position. How as a caring community can we best deal with this? When a beloved member of our community, in her struggle against the inevitable, seemingly pushes us away, how best can we embrace her? Perhaps an exploration of this issue could be Dolores’ final legacy.
As per the NFWFWF Newsletter, Fall 2008
Dolores Alexander: Feminist and Friend 1931 to 2008
By Lisa Scott
Sometimes we meet someone whose mark on the world is so notable that it is hard to believe they are gone. Dolores Alexander is one of those people. Was one of those people. Which verb tense is correct? I think both. Like all great movers and shakers, she is with us wherever the struggle continues. And yet she is gone.
Many women have a Dolores story. Just ask them. Ask someone who dined at Mother Courage, the restaurant she founded with Jill Ward, built around a craving for spaghetti and meatballs that grew to be a feminist hub of activity. I won’t namedrop. The famous, the infamous and the struggling wayfarer all had the same access to good food and conversation.
Ask someone who marched with her to protest The New York Times policy of separating jobs in the help wanted ads, by gender: Jobs for Men, Jobs for Women. The senior NY Times staff believed they couldn’t possibly integrate classified ads for jobs. The women of NOW cajoled and threatened. The Equal Employment Act was invoked to challenge this policy of segregation. Their persistence paid off, and the impossible became possible as the ads were listed without discrimination.
In 1969, Dolores became the first Executive Director of NOW. Her participation is legendary. She, along with Susan Brownmiller and Dorchen Leidholdt, founded Women Against Pornography in 1978. She was a member of New York Radical Feminists. She served on the Board of Directors of The North Fork Women for Women Fund. The list of her achievements as an activist for feminism and for lesbian rights is long and impressive. Committees, boards, meetings, and marches. Wherever she was, it’s likely Dolores had a comment, suggestion, or summation that would be met with nods, murmurs, or cheers. If she was in the room, you knew it.
Her strong personality was with her to the end. Even as her health failed, she took charge of one last task. She might not be able to control her declining health, but she would control where she spent her last days. With characteristic tenacity, and the help of her devoted friend Jill Ward and others, Dolores made a final trip to the west coast of Florida. It was a difficult one, but once again, she made the impossible possible. Just ask the women who were part of her final journey.
Keep sharing stories of Dolores Alexander, feminist and friend.
As per the NFWFWF Newsletter, Fall 2008
Mother Courage and Dolores Alexander
by Joyce Vinson
On May 13th, 2008 Dolores Alexander, one of the leaders of the Feminist Movement in New York during the 60’s & 70’s died after a a painful illness. For the past many years, she lived on the North Fork among her friends. Joyce Vinsor writes writes…
I have been asked to write a memory piece, a moment in my life (as well as in the lives of many women) when Dolores Alexander was a part of my experience, my heart and life. Dolores was one of the three women that created Mother Courage Restaurant, the FIRST feminist restaurant in the United States. I have often felt that Mother Courage never got its due … never got, in the history of the Women’s Movement or herstory, the proper acknowledgement for its wonderful and important place in that time of our lives; Let me take you back, for a moment…
It was a heady time for the Women’s Movement. .. the early Seventies: “Redstockings” New York Radical Feminists, Lesbian Liberation Front. Pat Mainard’s “The Politics of Housework”, Shulamith Firestone’s “Dialectics of Sex”, Kate Millett’s “Sexual Politics”, Robin Morgan’s “Sisterhood is Powerful”, Audre Lord’s poetry, Sydney Abbott’s and Barbara Love’s “Sappho Was a Right-On Woman”, Myrna Lamb’s plays, and on and on.
In 1972 Mother Courage opened at 342 West 11th Street in Greenwich Village and became became THE place for women to gather, feeling safe and secure; a place that was THEIRS. But more than that, it became a Feminist landmark , not just In New York or the Tri-state area, but worldwide. In many ways the restaurant be a crossroads of the Woman s Movement, of women s lives, .of our ideas. And it would have never happened if not for the blood, sweat and many tears of Dolores Alexander, Jill Ward and, later on, me. I was involved with them from almost the beginning, helping them take old “Bennies Luncheonette” and create a warm and inviting Mother Courage Restaurant. From the beginning until it closed in 1978, the restaurant was our ‘baby’. Dolores was a “silent partner” so that her job at Time Magazine could continue. She was important to me personally and to the smooth running of the business, management and staff, None of us had ever run a restaurant before, let alone cooked for so many people. An example of our “know how” was taking Dolores’ mother’s meatball recipe for 8 and multiplying it by 300 to get a recipe for meatballs and spaghetti we could serve to our customers.
This was a time that allowed us to grow as women and friends and develop our politics and our creative souls. I loved running Mother Courage with Jill and Dolores. The restaurant became our living room with all the best women visiting us every night! Jill Johnston, Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, Blanche Cook, Bea Kreloff, Jane Chambers, Beth Allen, Ginny Appuzzo, Betty Powell, Susan Brownmiller, and on and on. God, what could be better than that!
Dolores’ warmth and wit was an important factor for women coming there – and important to me was the opportunity to do something in my life I had never done before. I had been a 30-year old “Jacqueline of all trades”, working in public relations, social work, and advertising. But here at Mother Courage I found myself. Dolores and Jill had offered me an opportunity that enriched my life forever. I took pride and delight when walking around in the Village hearing people call out to me. “Hey, Mother Courage!” It was a wonderful acknowledgement. Mother Courage became for me, and all of us, a home.
Dolores and I remained in touch throughout the years – with Mother Courage always connecting us. I will miss you, Dolores. I will always be grateful that I knew you, loved you, an had the opportunity to work with you. I hate that you have left us but I feel relieved that you are no longer suffering. I feel so much a better person because of you. Thank you.
With Love, Joyce
Joyce Vinson is a member of EEGO. Her present ‘Jacqueline of All Trades’ is – and has been for the past 30 years – a Gestalt Feminist Therapist. She cooks now only for herself and her friends.
As per the EEGO Newsletter, Fall 2008