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CORA was the creation of Judith Quinlan, Boo Watson and Ellen Woodsworth, three young women from Toronto who began planning the feminist bookmobile in 1973. They raised funds, promoted their plan, and bought and outfitted an old school bus, transforming it into a mobile library to promote information about women. A government grant provided the funding which got the wheels turning for the bus to begin its travels through rural Ontario in 1974.
Four other women joined them for the summer. “Women’s Liberation Bookmobile” was painted in large letters on CORA’s side. Inside the bus, racks held books (for sale, loan and to give away) by, for and about women, their history and the growing women’s liberation movement.
CORA was named for E. Cora Hind, a pioneer suffragist, grain grower and writer. The motivation for the travelling bookmobile was to make women’s books, periodicals and newspapers more readily available to women in small towns. Judith and Ellen wanted to help women in isolated situations find each other, facilitate communication and demystify women’s liberation, encourage schools, libraries and community centres to be aware of women’s resources and materials, and encourage women to write about their own experiences.
The women who operated CORA worked collectively, with a flexible attitude always open to new ideas. They would arrive in town, displaying their, “Women Working” sign, choose a conspicuous parking spot and then haggle with town officials for permission to park. Then they would set up, using an outdoor display rack (until it was run over in Huntsville!), distributing flyers about CORA, contacting local media, directly leafleting on the town streets.
Many women, young and old, from all backgrounds, visited CORA. Women’s groups were beginning to form in some locations, and CORA’s staff participated in meetings. The bookmobile carried information from women’s centres across Ontario and gave away literature. Women were delighted to see CORA the feminist bookmobile in their town.
The adventures of CORA were recounted in a Toronto feminist newspaper, The Other Woman, in 1975. In one town, Boo and Ellen got thrown out of the pool hall because, “there was no women’s washroom.” Camp counselors came and talked. One said, “This night might change my whole life.” The presence of CORA, the Feminist Bookmobile, in that summer of 1974, turned heads and raised consciousness.
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