John Williamson

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illustration: Michael Tunk.

illustration: Michael Tunk.

What Happened To ‘The Most Liberated Woman in America’?

Barbara Williamson Co-Founded One Of the Most Famous Radical Sex Experiments of the 1970s.

Then She Got Wild

Barbara Williamson, was “the most liberated woman in America.” As cofounder with her husband John, “the messiah of sex,” of the highly successful and controversial Sandstone Retreat in Malibu, California, in the late 1960s and early ’70s, the couple started what became known as the hub of the sexual revolution.

The clothing-optional, alternate-lifestyle Sandstone Retreat was outrageously popular, with a membership reaching 500 and nearly 8,000 visitors. Long before today’s reality television inundated the airwaves with its media “personalities,” Barbara and John Williamson were the darlings of the media, with newspapers, magazines, books, movies, and television shows clamoring for interviews.

Sandstone Retreat quickly became outrageously popular with membership reaching over five hundred, and numerous newspapers, magazines, books, movies, and television shows clamoring for interviews.

It became known as the hub of the sexual revolution. John was branded as “The Messiah of Sex” and Barbara as the most liberated woman in America. Based on mutual trust and friendship, the bond between John and her grew so strong that they were inseparable for forty-seven years until his death.

University professors nationwide rushed to visit this new kind of unstructured free love community to view and study members joyously living an alternate lifestyle. The dress code was optional but most everyone preferred nudity.

 John and Barbara Williamson always insisted that Sandstone Retreat was about more than sex. By all means, help yourselves to each other, they would say. But the goal was larger than spouse-swapping or fulfilling forbidden lust.

They said that their 15 unconventionally inhabited acres in the Topanga Canyon area near Los Angeles, formally known as the Sandstone Foundation for Community Systems Research, was about understanding society — and setting it free.

“We believe in the sexual self as being at the core of organized social behavior,” Mr. Williamson told The Los Angeles Times in 1972, three years after Sandstone was formed. “When sexuality is distorted, it leads to a distortion of the basic self.”

Mr. Williamson, whose death in March, 2013, in Reno, Nev., was not widely reported, had spent most of the last two decades running a non-profit sanctuary for tigers and other big cats rescued from neglect or abandonment. Mr. Williamson was 80, more than four decades removed from his bold moment at the forefront of the sexual revolution.

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