(c) Connecticut Explored Inc. Summer 2020
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You’ll never just pass by Bloodroot. But you should make a point to travel there.
Tucked away in a residential neighborhood that sits along Brewster Cove in the Black Rock neighborhood of Bridgeport, Bloodroot is a feminist bookstore and restaurant that transports visitors to the height of mid-1970s, second-wave feminism while rooting them in an atmosphere that feels completely of today.
Walk through the door of the converted machine shop at 85 Ferris Street and walls covered with anti-war, pro-choice, pro-vegetarian, pro-women bumper stickers greet you. Turn to the left, to the bookstore area, and you’ll find shelves with pamphlets and books about such diverse topics as lesbian critical thinking, homeopathy, and reports from the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. Posters honoring female deities such as Ishtar, Lillith, and Kali Ma rise above the shelves to touch the ceiling.
You might be greeted by Maggie Dunford, as my wife and I were, when we visited. When she saw us admiring the dining room wall full of vintage photographs of women, she told us that some of the photos were of female ancestors of the women who have worked at Bloodroot, while others were thrift-store finds. But her favorite photo, she said as she led us to the far corner of the dining room, is a black-and-white portrait of suffragist Alice Paul holding an ERA button in 1977, a few months before she died. Bloodroot envelops you with a sense of history, of connection with the women who changed the landscape of history, and of the women of today who continue to work for equality, justice, and feminism.
Bloodroot celebrated its 43rd anniversary in March, due in no small part to the perseverance and dedication of two women, Selma Miriam and Noel Furie. Bloodroot is Miriam’s dream made real. She writes in the introduction to the 2018 The Bloodroot Calendar Cookbook: New Vegan Recipes (Anomaly Press),
Once upon a time, a very long time ago—actually over 40 years ago—I had a dream, an idea of opening a woman’s center, a bookstore and restaurant combination. It was not common at that time. …We wanted a community with shared values (not all, but most), and we wanted to think and put into practice what feminism was for us.
Furie and Miriam first met in the early 1970s through National Organization for Women meetings. Miriam hosted a women’s cooperative exchange out of her Westport home. The exchange evolved into The Bloodroot Collective, a feminist-lesbian work group founded in 1977. The original members were Betsey Beaven, Pat Shea, Samm Stockwell, and Miriam. Furie joined the collective soon after. Bloodroot, the bookstore and restaurant, is the outcome of that particular mix of women who combined their world view with their culinary tastes.
According to Dr. Alexandra Ketchum’s thesis, Serving Up Revolution: Feminist Restaurants, Cafés, and Coffeehouses from 1972 – 1989 in the United States and Canada (McGill University, 2018), at the height of the feminist bookstore/cafe explosion of the late 1970s and 1980s more than 250 of these gathering places existed across the country. Hartford was home to Reader’s Feast Feminist Cafe and Bookstore. New Haven and other towns had short-lived feminist coffee shops.
Bloodroot is one of the last remaining vestiges of that time. Feminism pervades every aspect of the business: you won’t find a server, no one who works in the kitchen is called chef, and cash is preferred over credit cards. Every business decision must face one question: what is the feminist thing to do? As Miriam and Furie wrote in their first cookbook, The Political Palate: A Feminist Vegetarian Cookbook (Sanguinaria, 1980), “Feminism is not a part-time attitude for us; it is how we live all day, everyday. Our choices in furniture, pictures, the music we play, the books we sell, and the food we cook all reflect and express our feminism.”
While feminism grounds everything that Bloodroot does, what has kept this place open is the scrumptious seasonal vegetarian/vegan menu inspired by the traditional, ethnic foodways of the staff. When I asked Miriam why have they lasted, she quickly replied, “The food!”
The food, the restaurant, and the now legendary iconic feminist lesbians at the center of this enterprise have been featured in The New York Times, CTPost, and Atlas Obscura. A new documentary, aptly named Bloodroot, premiered last year at the San Francisco Film Festival. And, it’s not every restaurant that has its history preserved at a university archive, much less one as prestigious as Yale University’s. The Bloodroot Collective collection consists of business materials such as financial records, event flyers, and a selection of personal archives including correspondence Miriam and Furie had with various feminist thinkers and artists such as Audre Lord, Rita Mae Brown, and Mary Daly.
Yet, with all the media and historical attention, Bloodroot still relies on diners to show up for Sunday brunch or weeknight dinners. So, make the trip, enjoy the food, and if you see Bella the cat, be careful how you pet her.
Ilene Frank is chief curator at the Connecticut Historical Society.
Connecticut Explored received support for this publication from the State Historic Preservation Office of the Department of Economic and Community Development with funds from the Community Investment Act of the State of Connecticut.
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