From One Place to Another: Emma Goldman Clinic Stories

From LeAnn Erickson: "From One Place to Another: Emma Goldman Clinic Stories (c.1996) is an 80 minute film portrait of The Emma Goldman Clinic for Women, located in Iowa City, IA. This clinic formed as a Marxist collective in 1973, right after the Roe v Wade decision. This film speaks to the radical feminist politics happening during the 1970s and into the Reagan 80s."

0:00Copy video clip URL Inside the Emma Goldman clinic in Iowa City, Iowa, Gayle Sand, one of the clinic’s directors, provides a tour of the clinic while talking about the feminist style of healthcare that the clinic promotes. 

1:35Copy video clip URL Title card plays, interspersed with footage from the clinic. 

2:23Copy video clip URL Kimela Nelson, who introduces herself as the program coordinator for the National Organization for Women in the Cedar Rapids chapter explains how she learned about the clinic. She tells the humorous story of how, after attending a program by the clinic on self-health examination, she conducted her own self-exam.

5:02Copy video clip URL Part 1 of the documentary, focusing on the early years of the clinic and its founders, begins. Different founders share memories of the process of founding the clinic as photographs from the clinic’s early years pass across the screen.

8:16Copy video clip URL The next clip, titled “seed of the idea,” begins. “I was raised in a Methodist little tiny farming community. The idea of a cervix and looking at it– whoa! But also the idea of letting a man look at that or a stranger and me not having seen it made me even angrier,” says one woman involved in the clinic.” The narrator reads aloud an excerpt from the Boston Women’s Health Course Collective, next reading aloud a meditation on the female body. In the background, another woman talks about how the clinic sought to provide feminist healthcare. 

11:31Copy video clip URL “Getting our politics together,” the next segment of the documentary, goes over the initial difficulties in setting up the clinic, specifically in terms of figuring out how the clinic’s politics would operate. The narrator reads aloud excerpts from the minutes of Women’s Clinic meetings held on January twenty-ninth, February twelfth, February nineteenth, and April twelfth of nineteen seventy-three. Deborah Nye recalls the early meetings and the initial stagnancies in the meetings while trying to get the group’s politics together. Gayle Sand and Barb Yates also comment on the nature of the founders’ first meetings. Rochelle Tullis provides an illustrative example of how educational and class differences appeared in meetings.

16:34Copy video clip URL Tullis and Nye explain how certain members the group put aside their differences for the sake of moving forward with the clinic and providing actual care. Patti Pressley and Tullis recall looking at houses that could serve as potential clinic spaces, explaining what type of space they were looking for throughout the process. Nye explains the different things they did at the time to bring money in. The group eventually settles on setting up the clinic at “715 N. Dodge,” to slight blowback from others as the politics of the group weren’t fully settled, recalls Nye. Yates provides perspective on the tough spot that the group was put into due to several members’ decision to go ahead with buying a location for the clinic.

21:52Copy video clip URL Minutes from a June Fourth, nineteen seventy-three meeting illuminates difficulties in getting bank loans and the process of building up the house. Nye, Yates, and Gina Kaefring talk about getting the house ready.

24:01Copy video clip URL Minutes from the meetings bring up the issue of attendance at the meetings. Nye mentions how the first large rule change enforced regular meeting attendance. 

24:28Copy video clip URL Gayle Sand foreshadows the controversial nature of the clinic’s next abortion-centric steps. Rochelle Tullis praises the amount of work the group did in the first seven months. Patti Pressley brings up the political nature of the clinic’s name. “There were many radical, ornery, stubborn women in any of the history dealing with the issue of medicine,” says Tullis. “There have been many brilliant women that have fought and suffered and struggled and gone to jail. But Emma– that was her focus and her primary focus. She dealt not just with birth control but the whole issue of women’s rights. So it was pretty easy to settle with her.” Diane Green recalls how the group decided on the name.

26:46Copy video clip URL As “Part II” begins, Kimela Nelson shares her story of receiving an illegal abortion in Los Angeles when she was seventeen. “I can remember walking into this boarded-up building being terrified, and getting in, going up the stairs and through a door and it was just like any other doctor’s office you’ve ever seen. The doctor’s office was fine. It was clean. It was well-equipped, but the area in Los Angeles and the building from outside was terrible. He didn’t use any anesthetic. He didn’t use anything. It was just like, the abortion was over. Off the table. Out the door. I almost collapsed on the way down to the car, I remember.”

27:52Copy video clip URL The next part of the documentary, titled “revolution around the corner,” begins with Nye explaining the initial layout of the clinic. Pressley recounts taking the first appointment for the clinic and how important the first appointment felt. Yates talks about doing the clinic doing a “dry run” with her mother. “Afterwards, she took me aside. She said, ‘I wanted to tell you something. I had an abortion when I was eighteen years old.’ She said, ‘I never was able to tell you. It would have been nice to have you here when I was eighteen.”

29:20Copy video clip URL Tullis mentions how no one in the clinic wanted to have a title regarding their position in the clinic. “Whoever answered the phone was the director or was the secretary or was the treasurer or, you know, the financial person. Initially. We had great fun with it.” Gina Kaefring expands upon the unconventional nature of the clinic, particularly how they interacted with their patients and their decisions. Tullis explains how the clinic, which was mostly made up of ley people, got the necessary training to accomplish the needed tasks. Pressley, Yates, Lauri Rey, and Gina Kaefring recall aspects of the collective and the clinic that distinguished it from more conventional medical spaces. Yates mentions their weekly meetings and their decision to pay themselves for the meetings. Tullis talks about the ways opposition to the clinic manifested through procedures like inspections of the clinic.

33:41Copy video clip URL As the documentary moves onto the clinic during the year nineteen seventy-four, Sharon Hamilton, Michele Womontree, Barbara Curtin, Beth Brooks, and Margaret McElroy-Fraser explain how they became involved with the clinic. Womontree in particular explains how she first encountered the clinic as a patient. “It was a really affirming experience for me. Of course, it wasn’t enjoyable from a medical standpoint or an easy thing to do. But it was really great. I thought what was happening, what these people were putting together was really admirable.” Curtin and Womontree talk about how the clinic functioned as a collective opposed to internal hierarchy. Alicia Starr talks about the experience of becoming involved with the collective.

38:04Copy video clip URL A newspaper article lays out the statistics of the business the clinic had in 1974 as well as the services it provided. Blurred footage and excerpts from sources intersperse. Members of the clinic talk about abortions at the clinic.

41:10Copy video clip URL Sharon Hamilton, Kimela Nelson, and Barb Yates weigh in on the debate of cooperative organization versus hierarchy.

43:13Copy video clip URL The documentary begins to cover conflict that appeared within the clinic. Says Tullis, “Once the clinic was up and running, then you started dealing with power. Then you started dealing with, not power, but dealing with titles and positions and the power perceived by the outside world. Then there’s the other issue of personal power and how we abuse it against each other.” Nye, Tullis, Womontree, Hamilton, and Green weigh in on the topic of criticism within groups, both in terms of its challenge and the room it opened up for growth. The meeting notes take the time to muse about power and responsibility within the group. Lauri Rey shares her thoughts on power dynamics that persisted within the group, despite efforts to the contrary.

49:31Copy video clip URL From the meeting notes, the narrator reads aloud “item number six: re-evaluating our structure.” Nye explains the initial attitude toward abortion payment. “Because of the class issue and because we were so sympathetic with women who might not have the money that they needed right then and there to have their abortions was that the standard wrap on the phone was to let them know abortion costs, whatever it was at that time. But, hey, if you don’t have the money, don’t worry about it. You just bring what you can. That was the standard wrap on the phone.” Green and Nye touch on the decision to begin charging full fee for abortions to keep the clinic open.

51:22Copy video clip URL The next segment of the documentary covers another past issue the clinic had to deal with: a pay proposal, which Nye and Green touch on. The narrator talks about another issue from the minutes: “personnel advice with regard to restructuring.”

53:28Copy video clip URL “Part III” begins. Kimela Nelson talks about an event where Rosetta Reeves, author of a book on menopause, conducted a workshop for the National Organization for Women in the Cedar Rapids chapter. Nelson explains how generational differences affected the workshop. Joan Harris explains how she taught herself to do a cervical self-exam and how she began instructing other women to do the same. “I realized then that by having the power of knowledge about our bodies, we would have a lot more power to control our reproductive lives and the rest of our lives,” says Harris, before talking about the work offer she received from the Emma Goldman clinic. Ann Rhomberg remembers talking about different types of prejudice. Flora Cassiliano talks about the benefits of collective decision-making. The narrator explains how the clinic slowly began reshaping and restructuring itself due to concerns about unproductivity. Nye argues that the clinic, at that point, became much more productive. Nelson lists different things the clinic did, while Beth Brooks talks about the self-education she did at the time.

59:27Copy video clip URL The narrator describes the changes that happened with the institution of the central committee, such as the differential pay structure, but how the clinic eventually went back to the equal pay structure after people dissented to it. Hamilton and Nye discuss potential dreams they used to have for the clinic’s future, particularly an “Emma Goldman Hospital.” Nelson talks about the different responses women had to the clinic, a topic Ann Rhomberg also covers. Joan Harris brings up her idea to set up a second site with a more traditionally professional look.

1:02:41Copy video clip URL The narrator reads aloud a note from the minutes of a meeting on February first, nineteen eighty-five, after getting a second building, at 227 N. Dubuque Street, as well as an argument for changing the name of the clinic. Different lay out the clinic’s situation during the Malpractice Insurance Crisis, which threatened to keep the clinic from giving abortions at the start of the next year and onward, and the struggle to get abortion care up and running again at the clinic. The journal also touches on the issue of layoffs. Minutes from the Central Committee meeting on February twenty-sixth, nineteen eighty-six and a letter to Bob Kretchmar lay out how dire the clinic’s situation was at the time and how the clinic was approaching closure. Entries from September explain how the clinic survived by appointing Bob Kretchmar as the clinic’s medical advisor.

1:08:10Copy video clip URL Footage from the clinic plays. In the operating room, one woman talks another through the process of doing a speculum exam. Francine Thompson talks about being hired as an associate director for the clinic. Lorna Campbell explains being hired as a member of the collective in nineteen eighty-seven, and Diane Finnerty explains being hired in nineteen eighty-nine, when there were eight members of the “collective,” with a full time support staff. Finnerty explains how the clinic at the time stood between a collective and a hierarchy. Gwenne Hayes explains how she was brought on as a professional to help with fundraising. Finnerty explains how, though she wishes the clinic could be a collective, the clinic simply does not have time to be a true collective due to external issues. Thompson and Hayes lay out how the clinic was structured at the time of filming. Finnerty explains how the expectations of what the clinic is differs from the actual layout of the clinic.

1:14:35Copy video clip URL Gayle Sand continues the tour of the clinic in the recovery room, talking about the process of abortion care at the clinic. Sand talks about the clinic as it stands in the nineties.”When I see us in the nineties and the compromises we’ve made and the survivals that we’ve enjoyed, it’s payback time. And by that, I mean that we have a successful clinic. We own a piece of real estate in downtown Iowa City. We have issues that have not been addressed. I think of that as lesbian healthcare, I think of adoption, I think of single mothers. I think of all of the issues that are still part of the larger feminist agenda of improving women’s lives. I think that we have positioned ourselves, by whatever compromise or negotiation, to be an institution. I never thought we’d say that we’re an institution but other people do. Other people perceive that, and you have to realize that that’s what’s happening. We can use that to promote the ideals of feminism that we still hold.”

1:16:20Copy video clip URL Credits. Different women from the clinic share lighthearted memories of their time at the clinic. A newspaper clipping is shown containing a description of the clinic.



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