Smedleys Book Shop, 307 West State Street

Ithaca LGBTQ History Walking Tour

Smedleys Book Shop, 307 West State Street

Ithaca, New York 14850, United States

Created By: Center for LGBT Education, Outreach & Services, Ithaca College


Smedley’s Bookstore was named after journalist and feminist Agnes Smedley, one of the most prolific women spies of the twentieth century. Smedley acted as a triple agent for the Indian nationalists, the Chinese Communists and for Russia.

Smedlye’s Bookstore began as a Marxist feminist bookshop in 1976, collectively owned and operated by Harriet Alpert, Kate Dunn and Camille Tischler. Alpert also edited "We Are Everywhere," an anthology of writings about lesbian motherhood published in 1988.

The store was originally on East Buffalo Street across from Dewitt Park. Zee Zahava bought the store from them in 1981 and transformed it into a “feminist bookstore, no longer really Marxist, said Zahava”. It stayed in that location - 119 East Buffalo for a few years, then in 1984 moved to this address, on 307 West State Street. The store remained there until it closed in August 1994.

Smedley’s hosted readings by Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, Cheryl Clarke, Olga Broumas and many more. Zahava recalls that these already famous writers would be invited to speak at Cornell, “and then they would come down to Smedley’s and not expect to be paid, or maybe we’d pass the hat. I was very honored and proud to be at the bookstore...the bookstore plunged me into the heart of the community and it was quite lovely.”

Roey Thorpe lived in Ithaca and worked at Smedley's. She says "I remember Smedley's as a hub for Ithaca's feminist community, that brought together people from off campus and on campus. I worked there in the mid-1990s, and saw it grow from a bookstore to a home for a community of writers who attended workshops that Irene Zahava developed and led. It was a lovely, warm environment for people who loved books, wanted to support feminist writing, and were looking for community." Thorpe became the first out elected official in Tompkins County, and went on to a career in strategic support and leadership for social justice advocacy organizations and funders, holding positions in organizations including the Empire State Pride Agenda, Basic Rights Oregon, and the Equality Federation.

Zahava commented, "Working at Smedley’s Bookshop was like living in the very heart of Ithaca's women’s community. I was in contact with so many, many people and I got to hear their ideas and learn about their passions. I put books (and cassette tapes, and later CDs) directly into people’s hands, knowing that they would be pleased with what they were about to read or to listen to. It was an exciting time — the 1980s and early ‘90s."

Zahava shared a photo of the interior of the store, "This is my mother, Eve, wearing a "So Many Books, So Little Time" T-shirt, standing in front of the Lesbian Books bookcase." She estimates the photo is from sometime before 1994, taken at the West State Street location.

This point of interest is part of the tour: Ithaca LGBTQ History Walking Tour


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