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A Feminist Takeover Remembered

A Feminist Takeover Remembered

Most days when the weather permits my morning constitutional is a two mile walking loop around the Charles River. From my house I walk south toward Memorial Drive via Western Avenue. At the intersection of Western Avenue and Memorial Drive I turn right in the direction toward Harvard Square. Exactly one block from the intersection is Hingham Street and approximately fifteen feet from its curb stands one of the many blue and white Cambridge Historical Commission plagues you see throughout the city.

This one reads the following: "888 Memorial Drive. Site of a Harvard building occupied by feminists who demanded affordable housing, child care and education, and founded the Cambridge Women’s Center, March 6-15, 1971.” For years I’ve seen the sign, read it and wondered how the protest took place. This past International Women’s Day at a special sneak preview screening celebrating the completion of the documentary “Left on Pearl,” and the 45th anniversary commemorating the takeover of 888 Memorial Drive I learned the story behind the plaque.

“Left on Pearl: Women Take Over 888 Memorial Drive” helps us celebrate, remember and cheer one of our most vilified heroes of the last century—the women’s movement. The film vibrantly brings––through a multiplicity of women voices and across a spectrum of race, class, sexual orientation and gender expressions. These archival images of the social and political context of the 60’s and 70’s, reveal the confluence of political struggles of the time—Vietnam War, Black Civil Rights, Black Power, and LGBT rights movements, which both informed and ignited the women’s movement known as Second Wave Feminism.

Zooming in on the ten-day occupation of 888 Memorial Drive “Left on Pearl,” a fifty-five minute documentary, narrates three interrelates stories: the need for a women’s space, the denunciation of the gentrification of the predominantly African American Riverside community, and Harvard University’s land grab into working class Cambridge communities.

888 Memorial Drive, a former knitting factory, was the Architectural Technology Workshop, a Harvard-owned building used by the design school. The building was slated for demolition to construct new graduate school housing and it was chosen for its proximity to Riverside. Today graduate housing stands there and the address is 10 Akron Street, a side street of formerly 888 Memorial Drive, and a good distance from the commemorative plaque.

“Left on Pearl” captures the high spirit, youthful exuberance, revolutionary furor of the time. It documents the hilarity, excitement and outright boldness (along with the scandalous