Queer History Project Supporter Sheryl Ackerman wrote up this article (and provided the attached photos) on Common Woman Books. Please click here to download in PDF Form: Common Woman Books Submission Revised.
Common Woman Books acted as a gateway for me, and probably for many others, to feminist and lesbian events, resources, books, records and culture. In its early days, it was the first bookstore in Edmonton that used the word “Lesbian” for its section on lesbian resources and fiction. It also included a section for gay men. I volunteered there in the 1980s.
A little bit of history follows. Common Woman Books was created in 1978 by Mair Smith, Halyna Freeland and Julie-Anne Le Gras, to make feminist literature available to Alberta Women. It was “a whole shelf of feminist books” in Halayna’s basement in Norwood. For a while, it became a “travelling bookstore” until it moved to a real bookstore location on 109 Street above Windsor Bowl. It was now the first women’s bookstore in Alberta, and was run as a non-profit collective. About 15 women were part of that collective.
September 12, 1981 was the big STOREFRONT opening on 104 Street in Old Strathcona, where it really grew, and became a boisterous centre that included books, records, events, a bulletin board always full of fabulous and interesting information, author readings and signings, concerts (such as Holly Near), guest speakers (e.g. Kate Millet, Barbara Ehrenreich), film festivals and so on. It was a hub of activity, centered on the desire for social change.
In 1987, the store moved to much larger premises on 109 Street in the Garneau Theatre Building. Andrea (Harbour) Ansbacher and Halyna Freeland were key in keeping the store running, Andrea as full time, and Halyna as part time staff. There were still volunteers and an 11-member board. The store added to its name, and became Common Woman Books/ the Radical Bookseller. According to Andrea, “Although we branched out into selling socialist and gay men’s books, it was still the feminist theory, lesbian and women’s fiction which paid the rent.”
Andrea also recalls, “Common Woman Books had one more move, back to Old Strathcona on Whyte Ave and 106th Street. But by now, many stores carried feminist books, and even lesbian books could be bought in more ‘regular’ bookstores. I believe Common Woman Books and other ‘feminist bookstores’ led the way for this to happen.”