Herstory

In the 1970s San Francisco State University was a hotbed of radical thinking and experimental ideas in teaching, feminism, political activism and sexuality. Women who were teachers, academics, students and community members contributed their ideas and energy to all sorts of new undertakings. In this exciting milieu Mothertongue was born.

Many different women contributed to the birth of Mothertongue. Notable among these was Lani Silver, a teacher at San Francisco State University (SFSU) and a human rights activist. Lani had organized a Women and Violence conference and, as an outcome of this event, she created the Speaker’s Network on Violence. The women who volunteered soon realized that it was easier to read our stories than to speak about them and decided to form a writing and performing collective: a readers theater. At the same time Batya Podos had a passion for theater.  She adapted Monique Wittig’s groundbreaking feminist book, Les Guerilleres for performance as her master’s thesis at SFSU.  Many of the women who performed in that production went on to become part of the new writing collective.

More and more women joined, contributing as writers, performers, “third eye” observers and organizers. Among these early members were Batya Podos, Corky Wick, Jess Miller, Robin Song, Gwen De Jong, Wendy Moser, Tsiporah Salamon, Mickey Spenser, Jean Marlow, Nancy Graham, Elizabeth Wright, Elyse Eisenberg, Sue Zemel, Susan Samson, Dana Vinicoff, Liz Dunn, and Nancy Snow.  A more comprehensive, but not necessarily complete, list of Mothertongue members is available at What is Mothertongue/Past Members.

Our focus widened from violence to a variety of feminist issues. Our first scripts included Breasts and Roses, Mothers and Daughters, Sex Roles, Women and Work, Women and Anger, Women and Rape. Performances

Click on the images to view them full size.

Of course the new group needed a name and we struggled collectively to find the right one. While working on the script, Breasts and Roses, we wrote a piece about possible names. Then Wendy Moser read a poem she had written on the topic of mothers and daughters. It ended with the words “this script slips into mothertongue, mothertongue, mothertongue”.

Immediately we all knew what our name was: we would be known as Mothertongue Readers Theater.

Later, to proclaim pride in the feminist collective process that has been an organizing principle from the beginning to the present, we changed our name to Mothertongue Feminist Theater Collective.

Early in our history we became a sponsored project of the non-profit Women’s Centers of the San Francisco Bay Area, making the Women’s Building our home base. The collective was chosen as a member of the former People’s Theater Collective and was a member of Theater Bay Area. We have allied with dozens of women’s, lesbian and progressive political groups and have performed in small and large venues at many benefits, conferences, music festivals, community and political events. Benefits and Events

Click on the images to view them full size.

In 1993, in response to the many times we had been asked, “Can you show us how to do Mothertongue?” we decided to create a formal document, a handbook. The handbook covers the why and how of feminist readers theater, including collective and creative process, visions and much more. It includes some of the materials we have developed over the years, some of our imagination, and a lot of hard work by the many members involved. It is available to view and download here:

Download Handbook

It’s been more than forty years since we burst on the scene. Our membership is small now and we have aged of course, yet we are still writing, still performing, still an open collective (new members welcome!) and still full of the juice we had in 1976 when we first knew we had lots to say and that readers theater was the way to say it.

The Mothertongue archives, including past scripts, are housed in the GLBT Historical Society Archives, open by appointment, at 989 Market Street, San Francisco CA 94103

(415) 777-5456
glbthistory.org