Photography by Jeff Hunt
This episode is all about the Women's Building, a structure on 18th Street in the Mission that has served so many purposes for more than 50 years.
In Part 1, we talk with two members of the Women's Building staff: Maria Arteaga, Women's Building content specialist/social media manager, and Kristen Acosta, their community engagement coordinator. Maria starts us off by sharing her life story. She was raised in Puebla, Mexico, and was there until she was 28. That's when she went for PhD in Barcelona for four years, followed by a stint in Zurich, Switzerland.
After Maria's partner moved to San Francisco for work, she visited and loved it here. She arrived in March 2019, soon discovered the Women's Building, and the rest is history.
Then we hear from Kristen. She's from El Paso, Texas, originally. She went to college in San Antonio, worked there a little after graduating, then made her way out west with her partner. Kristen volunteered at Glide and St. Anthony's before her arrival at the Women's Building. She first volunteered, became the receptionist after that, and then moved into her current role.
Both guests share the history of the Women's Building, which goes back more than 50 years, when a group of activists formed the San Francisco Women's Centers. Soon in need of their own venue to hold events and generally be able to do more, they found their current home on 18th Street. Fun fact—back in the day, Valencia Street's Dovre Club lived in the corner of the building.
We go through some of the intentions and accomplishments of the building. From the outset, the aim was to be collective and inclusive. Maria says that the founders were the "original intersectional feminists." The first Black lesbian conference in the US was held there in the 1980s. Over the years, there have been many programs at the Women's Building for the LGBTQ and Latinx community, in addition to poetry readings and other art events.
In Part 2, Maria speaks about the many types of events that have taken place at the Women's Building over the years. This includes: poetry readings, quinceañeras, baptisms, weddings, even a Green Day show and other punk shows in the '90s. It's also served as a safe space.
Many non-profit community groups have come out of the Women's Building. La Casa de las Madres and the Women's Foundation California are two examples.
Then Kristen talks about what's happening at the Women's Building these days. Rooted in leftist/Marxist philosophy since Day 1, they respond to community needs and meet people where they are. This includes so many people, such as women just arriving in the US or San Francisco. Staff at TWB help these folks learn the landscape of The City and give them tools they might need for themselves and their families.
There is an array of resource clinics offered at TWB, from help with legal and tax issues to a food program. They help undocumented women, who are the most vulnerable and susceptible to workplace abuse. They offer housing resources and also do advocacy on affordable housing issues.
The conversation shifts to TWB's work since the election of 2016 ... this includes their immigration clinic and family reunification program. Last summer, after the US Supreme Court overturned 50 years of precedent and Roe v. Wade, the Women's Building joined the California Coalition for Reproductive Freedom. They've been working on legislation, including 2022's Prop 1, which codified abortion access in the state. On issues around menstrual health, they co-sponsored SB 260 ($20 for menstrual health products), which is in committee now. Kristen and Maria speak to the need to think of issues around reproductive health holistically, whether it's birth control, menstrual health, menopause, abortion, or other topics.
We end the podcast with a shout out to Women's Building volunteers as well as a call for more volunteers. Please follow and engage with the Women's Building online and over social media.
We recorded this podcast at The Women's Building in April 2023.