Mary Farmer

Mary Farmer Pioneers Portrait

Mary Farmer arrived in Washington in 1971.
Photograph © Patsy Lynch

“I knew [working at  Lammas] was one of those few chances you get in your life.  I took it … That was the work of my heart – all the parts of it.”

“Lammas intentionally existed as a place to gather and a nexus for organizing ... That was my work as well.”

“My work in distribution helped to show a different reality for lesbians than that portrayed in the mass media.”

For most in Washington, DC's gay community, Mary Farmer is associated with her nearly 20 years at Lammas books.  She is also one of the few women to have been widely involved in distributing lesbian women's work in the three media of books, music, and film. Following her sale of Lammas, she took leadership roles at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) and the DC Rape Crisis Center, where she is currently the Deputy Director.

Shortly after settling in Washington in June 1971, Farmer connected with the lesbian community through a women's basketball team that included members of the Furies collective.  Farmer characterizes the Furies as a “group of women who had the most profound affect on my political development.”  In 1973, through her association with the Furies, Farmer met Reeves and Winsett, the owners of Lammas, a 7th St SE, Eastern Market, women's craft and jewelry shop which soon added books supplied by Susan Sojourner's First Things First.  A year later Farmer began managing Lammas.  At the same time, Lammas was becoming more focused on books rather than women's crafts.

In 1976, Farmer bought Lammas.  Over the next 17 years, Farmer's ownership and leadership of Lammas was as much about providing a public space for women, women's organizing, new ideas and issues affecting women and lesbians, as it was about selling books.  Some of the women who read and spoke at Lammas included; May Sarton, Cheryl Clarke, Adrienne Rich, Alice Walker, Sara Paretsky, J. California Cooper, Dorothy Allison, and others.  These events and the intimate but public conversations that happened at the events were among the things that Farmer was most passionate about in her work at Lammas.  Lammas opened a second store on 21st St. NW in 1986.

In the 70's Farmer also worked hard at organizing distribution networks which she saw as another important means of getting women's ideas, music and films out in the world.  With Joan Biren she organized the first National Women's Film Festival.  After the Festival, Farmer and Biren collaborated in creating Moonforce Media to distribute packages of women's films for film festivals across the country.

Farmer distributed Olivia Records product line and other women's music to mainstream and alternative record and book stores during the same years she was running Lammas.  Farmer proved adept at organizing other distributors beginning with WILD, an organization of independent women distributors.  In 1981 Farmer and Deb Morris who worked with her at Lammas, conceived of and organized the second Women in Print Conference which was attended by over 100 women writers, publishers, distributors and bookstore owners from all over the country.

By 1993, the retail book business had become increasingly dominated by corporate chain stores.  This change affected publishing, distribution and many other aspects of the book business and made survival increasingly tough for independent book businesses.  This change led Farmer to sell Lammas.  She says that as a result of the sale of Lammas, which had really been her life, she began a new life in 1993.  From 1994 to 2001, Farmer was part of NGLTF's leadership as Director of Finance and Deputy Director.  2001 marked the start of another major change in Farmer's life when she and her partner, Laura Flegel, became parents of a daughter, Naomi. Farmer now serves as the Deputy Director of the DC Rape Crisis Center.

In 1997, Mary Farmer received the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Stonewall Award