The Women Behind the Building for Women
Northland Uncovered: The Building for Women
DULUTH, Minn.- March is Women’s History Month, and where better to hear stories by women than in the Building for Women? The building faced an incredible journey leading to it being the only one left of its kind today.
“We’ve put up quite a battle,” Building for Women founder Tina Welsh said.
The Building for Women hols significance as a center of stories in the Northland, both good and bad.
“Challenges were raising money to purchase the building and then also there was a lot of community backlash,” current executive director Laurie Casey said.
The history of the building started long before its owners moved into their current space. The Women’s Health Center of Duluth was started in 1981 by Tina Welsh and fellow women. Welsh saw a lack of women’s medical services in the Northland and wanted to change that.
“First they thought it was just going to be a women’s center,” Welsh said.
The organization provided everything from STD testing to reproductive services and pregnancy termination.
“We just are here to support people in whatever choice they want to,” Casey said.
WHC moved into the Medical Arts Center, but harassment followed quickly once the community found out they provided abortion services.
“We would have to have people meet our physicians as they flew in because there would be picketers at the airport,” Welsh said.
Their lease was eventually pulled and they moved into a second building.
“When we lost our first lease, we were kind of devastated,” Welsh said.
But harassment didn’t stop there. Vandals went after the new building, using things like Butyric Acid on the sides. Out of options for a new space to rent, the health center decided they wanted to build their own place with the money in their pockets.
“It was really exciting that we would finally have a home,” Casey said.
WHC reached out to other organizations to help, but few would budge, knowing the battle they were getting themselves into. Until PAVSA and the YWCA agreed to get on board.
The three groups still didn’t have enough money. The pressure protestors brought on caused many groups to pull their funding grants at the last minute. The women had to get creative with their fundraising.
“We thought people would be civil, we thought people would follow the law, we thought this, we thought that, and we were wrong… on all of it,” Welsh said.
When the money was finally raised, Building for Women was purchased in 1993. After months of renovations, its first tenants, WHC, moved in, followed by PAVSA and YWCA.
“I never lost a staff during this whole time. That was incredible to me,” Welsh said.
At the time, the Duluth Building for Women was one of three in the country.
“We’re still fighting that battle and it seems to be getting harder every year,” Casey said.
The other Building’s for Women have since closed. The Northland location remains strong.
“I think people need to remember that the Building for Women fought to be here so we could serve everybody. And we have served everybody. We haven’t turned anybody down,” Welsh said.
If you would like to know more about the services Building for Women provides, click here.