Born in Queens, New York, Judy Dlugacz watched her mother lead Long Island’s first ever teachers’ strike in 1966, instilling in Judy a lifelong passion for activism and advocacy. In 1972, she received a degree in psychology from the University of Michigan and moved to Washington, DC , where she became one of the city’s first woman electrical construction workers. After eight months under a hard hat, she switched to cab driving, then to teaching, and was headed for law school when she and four lesbian feminist friends, Meg Christian, Ginny Berson, Jennifer Woodul and Kate Winter, decided to create a business.
The adventure began in a DC living room where during a radio interview, singer/songwriter Cris Williamson suggested to the friends that they start a record company specializing in female artists. The very next day, using a name chosen from a book Meg was reading, the Olivia Collective was formed. Olivia Records was then created and the journey begun. Determined to “give women a chance to develop their own skills as engineers and producers, recording artists and record distributors” the group survived more on spunk than savvy. “We had no money and no skills in the industry,” Dlugacz admits. “If someone had spoken of a “track,” we wouldn’t have known what they were talking about.”
With $4,000 donated by fellow feminists and the help of a woman engineer, the collective cut its first 45 in 1974. Featuring Meg Christian and Cris Williamson, a pair of folk-oriented singer-songwriters, the record sold 5,000 copies and gave the group a shot of much needed momentum. A solo album by Meg Christian followed six months later. Made for a scant $11,000, the album was again produced, performed and packaged solely by women. At concerts, Dlugacz remembers, “We’d go to the audience and say, ‘Okay, we need a distributor in Chicago. If anyone is interested, please see us after the show.’”
The next album, Cris Williamson’s iconic The Changer and the Changed, became the financial cornerstone of the company and the soundtrack of a movement. Judy and Olivia went on to produce 40 albums, and sold more than one million records by artists including Cris Williamson, Meg Christian, Teresa Trull, June Millington and Linda Tillery. Olivia Records became one of the industry’s leading independent labels and the music became its own genre of music, “Women”s Music.”
Judy’s vision and evolution continued when, in 1990, she combined two of her passions – music and travel – by hosting a “concert on a cruise.” She invited women to enjoy the performances of Olivia Records artists and scheduled activities on a completely chartered ship. The response was so overwhelming that she founded a company offering vacations exclusively created for women, Olivia Travel, This year, Olivia marks its 45th anniversary and Olivia Travel is now the world’s largest company serving the lesbian community, with cruises and resorts, including riverboat trips,
Her production credits include the PBS documentary The Changer: A Record of the Times; and an HBO comedy special with comedian Suzanne Westenhoefer.
Now the collective’s sole survivor, Judy and her partner Clare Lucas reside in Washington, DC with their daughter, where Judy and Clare remain politically active in these extreme times. When not in DC, Judy is likely to be found in Olivia’s San Francisco headquarters or on an Olivia Vacation. The years and the rigors of the business haven’t dimmed her enthusiasm. Her goal now? “I want to continue to provide the very best in travel and entertainment for the lesbian community and their friends, family and allies,” says Dlugacz. For her next big project, Judy is completing her work on a book that showcases the last 45 years of lesbian culture through the lens of her life experiences.
About Judy Dlugacz – the short version:
Judy Dlugacz has been an entrepreneur in the women’s community for over forty years, first founding a record company and then moving on to co-founding a successful lesbian-focused travel business.