Kansas City PBS is releasing a brand-new documentary highlighting a little-known piece of Kansas City history. Womontown: Welcome to the Sisterhood, will premiere Thursday, March 17, at 7:30pm, on Channel 19.1 or streaming on the PBS app.
In the late 1980s, women regularly found themselves on the outside looking in. Between the gender pay gap, a distinct lack of representation in government and federal leadership, and the inability to secure a home loan without the signature of a husband or parent, obstacles were abundant. For women - and specifically queer women - this obstruction to homeownership was one more setback to achieving independence in a male-dominated society.
In Kansas City, Drea Nedelsky and her girlfriend, Maryann Hopper, had a vision. They imagined a neighborhood where they could be themselves without fear, a place where women could walk hand-in-hand down the street without the judgments and criticisms normally encountered in the “straight world.” The pair recognized the need to subvert the system and create a safe and inclusive space for female homeowners - a community for women, by women. In the heart of midtown, stretched across 14 city blocks in the Longfellow neighborhood from 30th to 27th, Harrison to Charlotte, arose Womontown.
To build the foundation of this planned lesbian utopia, Drea and Maryann launched a nationalized, grassroots recruiting campaign. They reached out to and welcomed queer women from all across the country to Kansas City, providing them a place to stay, invitations to potluck dinners and tours of the city in order to sell them on making the move and buying into the dream of Womontown. Spelled in such a way to entirely remove the mention of “man”, and free themselves from the patriarchy in every conceivable way.
The sales pitch worked. Within five years, 75 women purchased 28 homes and 14 apartment buildings in a 7x7 block area in midtown with their life savings or loans from family members, renovating the properties and creating a home. They mobilized, electing Womontown residents to the neighborhood association and ousting the current president, guaranteeing certain protections for the women. Rather than selling and ultimately gentrifying the neighborhood, they put down roots and hoped for something larger. Womontown’s women weren’t after profit, they were after a community.
Womontown, a new half-hour documentary from Kansas City PBS and Sandy Woodson, explores the story of how a few women in the 1980s used the system to beat the system — in the pursuit of creating a revolutionary community by and for women. Though Womontown’s reign was brief, formally disintegrating in 1997, the results of the women’s efforts ripple throughout
Kansas City and those 14 blocks in midtown.