The Philadelphia Women's Peace Encampment began as a project funded by the SANE Education Fund to support the Women's Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice, which gathered women for eight weeks in the summer of 1983 on a farm adjacent to the Seneca Army Depot (near Romulus, New York). The purpose of the gathering was for women to learn about and protest the escalation of militarism and weapons build-up. Members of the Philadelphia Women's Peace Encampment, inspired by this event and others nationally and internationally, initially deemed itself a local chapter of a global community of women who clearly saw the madness of nuclear weapons and were not afraid to speak against it.
The focus of the Philadelphia Women's Peace Encampment quickly grew from just militarism to embrace a whole range of issues, particularly those prejudices and injustices that create a violent society. They worked against paternalism, right-wing repression, anti-Semitism, U.S. intervention in Central America, and racism in the Philadelphia area and in South Africa. The group developed a membership that was largely lesbian and bi-sexual, so that fighting homophobia was a strong concern as well. They were strongly pro-choice, acting as escorts for women wanting an abortion, to help them through the sometimes violent anti-abortion crowds at the clinics. In fact, they embraced a number of "women's" issues. They began to call themselves a radical feminist direct-action group. Alternate names to Philadelphia Women's Peace Encampment that were proposed and which received the most votes: Adventure in Radical Feminism, Direct Action Feminists Together, and Feminists Interrupting Sexist Traditions.
There was some dissension in the group concerning its focus. At times members protested that they were being too violent and anti-male, and that the issues were becoming too diverse. But in many ways, this diversity of outlook reflected both the peace movement of the 1980s as it began to test the inter-relationships of peace and justice, as well as the feminist movement as it evolved. One member stated that her vision for the Philadelphia Women's Peace Encampment was to "Recognize a model of life which embraces harmony, ecology, balance and reconciliation. . . . [To] try to find creative and nonviolent ways to address [the powers] without resort to oppressive confrontation or abusive competition between artificial 'sides.'" To achieve this they worked on specific projects in coalition with such groups as the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Feminists in Solidarity with the Central American and Caribbean People, and the Brandywine Peace Community.
Because of its orientation toward welding education and action, the Philadelphia Women's Peace Encampment not only produced a newsletter (for a short time) and wrote and distributed leaflets, but did presentations on local radio, sold t-shirts with an original logo, performed street theater, and committed civil disobedience. Some women were even arrested and spent time in jail for their actions. In some circles they became so well known that one correspondent thought they were a national organization. Instead, the group rarely grew to above a dozen women, and they concentrated their activities in Philadelphia, agreeing that they would never schedule anything that could not be reached by public transportation. Their bi-weekly, and sometimes weekly, get-togethers alternated between general meetings and discussion/action groups.
The Philadelphia Women's Peace Encampment is an example of a small group that expended its energies for five years on trying to make a difference in its own locale. The group disbanded in 1988.