Cris Williamson's Montana roots include her mother's pioneer stock, so the idea of ground-breaking is part of her upbringing and nature. And ground-breaking is what the singer-songwriter has been doing over the last decade as women's music has developed a strong character and circuit outside traditional music boundaries.

A good dela of the movement's energy originated in Washington in the early '60s with the first women's concerts by Williamson and Meg Christian; perhaps more important, the movement's major vehicle of communication came out of a late-night conversation between Williamson, Christian and several other Washington women.

"They were all political and organized creatures, talking about starting a restaurant or a bookstore," Williamson recalls fondly."I said, 'Why don't you guys start a record company?' I left the next day and they gegan to work on it."

The result was the feminist Olivia Records, for whom Williamson still records although she is not strictly a feminist. Her first album for the label, "The Changer and the Changed," sold over 100,000 copies, one of the highest figures ever for an independent label. Last year's "Strange Paradise" is closing in on the 50,000 mark and Williamson, who will appear with her logtime bassist, Jackie Robbins, at the University of Maryland's Tawes Theater tomorrow night, spends half the year touring the country.

"People still give us cold stares when we walk into hotels. They're not used to seeing women musicians out there alone, carrying their own equipment, doing our own work. It's just part of the breaking of images and icons. We need money, we need to go to work . . . and we do. It's nothing new for me or any of my people."