I met Peggy Luhrs in the early 1970s. With the exception of her son Justin and her former husband, I had known her the longest of her Vermont friends. With all the controversies she tangled up in, Peggy was a huge voice in Burlington, Vermont, and, by the end of her life, the world.
I first met Peggy when we were young mothers. We were married to decent, supportive husbands, and we all watched in amazement as the civil rights and anti-war movements shake our consciences and, along with musician Marvin Gaye, make us ask “What’s Going On?”
Peggy was then, and has remained throughout her life, ready to ask the hard questions and seek real answers, no matter how uncomfortable. I remember her as a rebellious intellectual – the tough girl who was, in the parlance of the time, a “beatnik”. She was a poet like the Beats, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg were, and she read books. She also read newspapers, even the then right-wing Burlington Free Press.
As the world exploded in rebellions and protests, Peggy and many women and men of this era sought to understand our history, our consciousness, our bodies, ourselves, our purpose.
In the early 1970s, Peggy and some of us formed a group of women seeking to develop, from our own experiences as girls and women, a political understanding of what was happening to women and why Institutions of male supremacy – church, family, state – had, from the dawn of history to the present day, oppressed and controlled the lives of girls and women everywhere. Feminism and the women’s liberation movement burst into history.
This awareness group has changed us. And Peggy was a key consciousness lifter. Together we read journals like Notes From the First, Second and Third Year; More fun and games; The woman identified by the woman; and Ms. Magazine. We read Our Bodies, Ourselves, and we attended women’s talks and dances; we also read and discussed Karl Marx, Thomas Paine, Emma Goldman, Simone de Beauvoir and lesbian Greek poets like Sappho. We explored the condition of women and girls of all races around the world, not only in the West but also in Africa, Asia and Latin America. We learned about sexual pleasure, soul music, jazz, literature and poetry. We learned to think critically and came to feminist understandings. We learned to argue and engaged in fierce debates: Should a feminist sleep with men in a woman-centric world? We had fun together and had rowdy parties. Because, as Emma Goldman said, “What’s a revolution if you can’t dance?”
Peggy helped found feminist institutions: Vermont Women’s Health Center, Women Against Rape, Women Helping Battered Women, Burlington Women’s Council, Gay Pride Day. During these years, Peggy became a lesbian and devoted herself to the love of women – a love from which she never wavered.
Until the end of her life, Peggy fought in Vermont for the key feminist truth: to create and sustain a world of peace, equality, truth and beauty. Women – our mothers, sisters, grandmothers, colleagues and friends – must be respected and trusted to take their rightful place as equals with men in shaping a brave new world. . This message is as powerful and true today as it was when Peggy was with us.
PS Seven Days said that I consider Peggy a “compatriot”. I would never associate Peggy with that word, which comes from patriarchy. To many of us, I said she was a “comrade”.