Ms Solanas’ mother married Red Moran. Ms Solanas was reported to be a rebellious, independent spirit who clashed with her stepfather and mother. She was sent to live with her grandparents, but this was not a happy home as her grandfather was an alcoholic and physically abusive. As a result of her refusal to attend a Catholic school she was whipped by her grandfather.
Ms Solanas left home at 15 to live with a family called Blackwell. She became pregnant, reportedly by a US sailor, and the baby boy born on 31st March 1953 was named David and brought up by the Blackwells as their own child. Ms Solanas was never to have a relationship with her son, who was her only child.
Ms Solanas returned to High School, and upon graduating took up a place at the University of Maryland, College Park. During her time she publicly identified as lesbian and began to identify as a radical feminist. She gained a Psychology Degree and began a Masters at the University of Minnesota. She dropped out of this course, believing it held no relevance to her or any woman.
On relocating to Berkeley, California, Ms Solanas started to write what would became her most famous piece, the SCUM Manifesto, intended as a satirical and hard-hitting criticism of patriarchy, and which advocates the genocide of the male gender and self-propagation of women by test tube, thus stamping out patriarchal heirarchy and ending collusion with the system by passive women.
In the 1960 Ms Solanas moved to New York, where she supported herself through street sex work, writing and begging. She met Andy Warhol, in early 1967, who she hoped would promote her writing and who had intimated he may be interested in doing so. The play she gave him, “Up Your Ass”, was never produced. Warhol has since said he found it too profane and dirty, and that he suspected Ms Solanas might have been a police officer intent on entrapment. He cast Ms Solanas in his film “I’m A Man” for a fee of $25, and despite her attempts to regain the script, claimed he either lost or misplaced it.
Ms Solanas was happy with her acting performance, but Mr Warhol proved to be a cruel person persuading his friend Viva to homophobically abuse her in public. When Ms Solanas told of her abusive childhood, she was abused because of this also.
In late 1967 Ms Solanas began self-publishing the completed SCUM Manifesto. She has also stated she wrote erotic novels and continued in sex work to support herself. Her friend Maurice Goriadis, whom she had taken to the viewing of “I’m A Man”, was a publisher and offered to publish her work. Ms Solanas was becoming paranoid and convinced herself that Goriadis and Warhol were conspiring to steal her work. In spring 1968 she purchased a gun, and on 3rd June 1968 after finding Goriadis was away for the weekend, she went to the Factory where Warhol
worked and shot at him three times, wounding him with one bullet. She also fired at art critic Mario Amaya and tried to shoot his manager Fred Hughes at point blank range, but the gunned jammed.
Ms Solanas escaped but handed herself in to the police later that evening. Her Defence Team, led by Florence Kennedy, a radical feminist lawyer, fought the incarceration in Bellevue Hospital to which Ms Solanas was initially subjected but the argument failed and MS Solanas was recommitted. Ms Solanas received support from many feminists and organisations across the country as her writing had gained her a large underground reputation; Ti-Grace Atkinson, President of the New York Chapter of N.O.W. was one who attended her trial to give support. Ms Solanas pleaded guilty to a charge of ‘reckless assault with intent to harm’ and was sentenced to 3 years imprisonment, served in various institutions both psychiatric and penal. Warhol’s refusal to testify against her helped in the handing down of such a light sentence.
Ms Solanas was subsequently diagnosed as suffering with paranoid schizophrenia, and committed over the next few years to a variety of psychiatric institutions. Her mental health was up and down; she would be productive as a writer and campaigner for some time then be institutionalised.
Throughout the reminder of Ms Solanas’ life she would promote her SCUM Manifesto She and her supporters would claim constant press misrepresentation and demonisation, with some justification. The acronym the publication became famous for “Society for Cutting Up Men” does not appear in the publication and was first promoted by the publisher of her book, who was Goriadis. Friends assert she never intended this acronym, but she herself was ambiguous on the subject. It is undeniable she did express violent thoughts and actions towards males. She would sporadically support herself through sex work, moving around the country to promote her feminist work.
Ms Solanas moved in the late 1970s to the Tenderloin district of San Francisco, California, residing in a welfare hotel. She dropped out of public view until 1987, and died on 25th April 1988 of complications due to pneumonia, during a depressive period when she was living in poverty. She was interred in Virginia, taken home to be near her mother Dorothy.
Blog by Tina Price-Johnson