• Justine McLellan

Valerie Solanas, the Radical Feminist Old Pro who Shot Andy Warhol

“Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of society being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and destroy the male sex.”- Valerie Solanas, S.C.U.M. Manifesto

The radical feminist lesbian writer and self described “social propagandist”, Valerie Solanas engaged in survival sex work at various stages of her life. She was also known for shooting Andy Warhol.

Born in New Jersey in 1936 Solanas had a difficult youth; she was sexually assaulted by her father, and beaten by her grandfather. She left home at age 15, and became homeless. Despite these hardships, Solanas graduated high school and obtained a degree in psychology from the University of Maryland.

She then moved to New York in the mid-sixties, where she earned money by panhandling and street-based sex work. During this period, Solanas wrote a short story, A Young Girl's Primer on How to Attain the Leisure Class, which details the witty ways she subtracted money from the pockets of male passerbys. She also wrote a play, Up your Ass, which she dedicated to herself, “a continuous source of strength and guidance, and without whose unflinching loyalty, devotion and faith this play would never have been written.” Solanas presented a typed copy of her play to Andy Warhol, who then claimed to have lost it. Enraged by the loss of her manuscript, Solanas decided to take revenge on the powerful man who she felt had scored her.

On the day she shot Warhol, Solanas rode up and down the elevator of the Factory until the pop artist walked in. They entered the studio together, and Solanas fired at him three times while he was on the phone. Warhol was severely hurt, but did not die of his injuries.

Solanas claimed that Warhol "had too much control in (her) life.”, and that she was worried that he had “a legal claim on (her) works”, and that  "it's not often that (she) shoot(s) somebody. (She) didn't do it for nothing. Warhol had tied (her) up, lock, stock, and barrel. He was going to do something to (her) which would have ruined (her)”. During her trial, in which she represented herself, Solanas was utterly unrepentant; she argued that her crime had been “a moral act”, and that she considered it “immoral that (she) missed. (She) should have gone to target practice”. Solanas was declared mentally unstable, and send to a psychiatric institution for evaluation, where she was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. She was then sentenced to three years in prison. 

Solanas died of pneumonia in 1988 at 52 in the hotel located in San Francisco’s tenderloin district, where she lived. The superintendent of the hotel is said to have once entered her room and seen her typing at her typewriter, surrounded by written pages. Her mother burned all of her daughter’s belongings after her death, so a large portion of Solanas’s works have been lost. 


Scum Manifesto Valerie Solanas

On Liking Women Andrea Long Chu

Layers of SCUM: Uncovering Valerie Solanas Hannah Ghorashi

Valerie Solanas: The Defiant Life of the Woman Who Wrote SCUM (And Shot Andy Warhol) Breanne Fahs

©2019 by Kaytlin Bailey and Justine McLellan.