Memories of Stonehenge, 1984: Conference of Women Family Therapists By Monica McGoldrick, LSCW on 10/11/10 - 10:06 AM

In the summer of 1981 I was traveling around Ireland with Lynn Hoffman who was at that time- and for a great many years- a tremendous supporter of the work of a numerous others in family therapy. She was at that time especially supportive of therapy teams in many different places in the world and was telling me a good deal about all the creative women she had run into in her travels. I began to think about the need of women mentors in our field and what a good mentor she was to so many others herself, including two Irish women to whom I became very close: Nollaig Byrne and Imelda McCarthy. By the end of our trip I had hatched a plan to bring together women family therapists for a conference. I approached my friend Betty Carter, who agreed it was a great idea and asked if we could present it to her group: The Women’s Project (in which her compatriots were Marianne Walters, Olga Silverstein and Peggy Papp). I agreed and soon met with them to discuss the idea. They were, much to my surprise, not enthusiastic and decided against the idea. For some reason, they could not see the value of a meeting of women in the field. They were not the only ones. Virginia Satir, Mara Selvini, and Cloe Madanes were all negative about the concept when invited, and Lynn herself said she could not see the value of it and did not in the end participate.

In any case, I went to my handy-dandy sisters, Froma Walsh and Carol Anderson, who I knew would support the concept and we decided to do the conference together. I knew of a wonderful hotel in Ridgefield Connecticut called Stonehenge and we decided that would be our venue. It had space for a meeting of about 40 people so that was the number we decided on. We then began the planning through networking. We contacted women we knew or whose work we knew of and asked them to recommend others they knew and through that method of networking we eventually had a wonderful group of very impressive women family therapists who agreed to come to Stonehenge to share work, personal experiences and ideas for 3 days in September of 1984. It was a most impressive group of women- the outline of presentations and discussion emerged pretty organically as I remember from different ideas presented by various women. One that stood out particularly for me was Ellen Berman’s presentation of the “Glory-Work Ratio,” a presentation in which she proposed that we as women often under-sold ourselves when invited to do a presentation and would agree to meager terms, happy to be included and not realizing how much work, time, and energy were entailed in such presentations. She recommended that we always sleep on any invitation and not agree to it for at least 24 hours, by which time we might have had a chance to decide how much effort should be expended for what return. We all laughed, recognizing how many times we had found ourselves traveling to faraway places for micro-fees, while the men in the field commanded much larger honoraria, even when they did not prepare for the presentation.

Another highlight for me was a comment by, I think Kitty LaPerriere, still one of the unsung heroes of our field, who said at dinner on Saturday night how amazing it was that for so much of our lives we women always wanted a “date” on Saturday night–which meant with a man—and here we were and we all seemed to want to be where we were at that time and in that place and were so fine with it! We had amazing experiences hearing new voices from the field and also from experienced senior voices. the Women’s Project had decided to participate and even sponsored the welcoming cocktail party on the opening night of the conference and all of them shared many of their experiences as women breaking the glass ceiling of our field.

There were also difficult issues and discussions about why our group was almost all white and how could we do it differently—how could we change our thinking so we could become a more diverse group of women. For me the struggles with how to deal with the intersection of race and gender took many more years—many years to appreciate that we could not discuss gender without taking race into account at the same time. And the intersections of race and gender , along with class and sexual orientation—which have become such important parts of our conversation in the decades since that time—were just in their infancy and not well understood or dealt with. In the years since I have learned a lot about the naiveté and inaccuracy of trying to consider gender by itself rather than within the larger cultural contexts of race, ethnicity, religion, class, and sexual orientation.

At the same time that we made many mistakes in our efforts, there was something amazing that happened for many of us at that meeting, I think. From that point on when we saw each other at other meetings there was a sense of solidarity and of collaboration and support:we had acknowledged to each other at that meeting how isolated we often felt, competing with each other for the attention of the men in the field, and how much of our sisterhood we lost in that competition process. And we came to stand by each other better, to help each other out informally with writing and presenting and thinking about the research and clinical practice of the field. I think wee listened better to each other after that—I know I did, realizing how often I had not really appreciated the other women in our field.

In the years after that we held one other Stonehenge networking meeting (1986) and then an international networking meeting of about 100 amazing women in Denmark a few years later, where, once again, we relied on networking as the organizing principle, learning from each other about other voices in the field. And at that international meeting with women from as far as Israel, Japan and Africa, I remember being totally in awe of the amazing women presenters, one after the other, who taught us about ourselves and each other and how to think more creatively about families and about their experiences trying to be family therapists in different contexts. I think these meetings helped many of us develop our voices in the field and I am grateful to all the women who participated and shared their stories and their work in those earlier days of our field.

File under: Family Therapy