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Frances Crowe, peace activist for the ages, dies at 100

Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff/File 2020

Frances Crowe once recalled that her activism began in the late 1920s, as a fifth-grader in Carthage, Mo., when she and her classmates in a peace friendship club sent letters to people around the world.

“We took ourselves very seriously,” she told the Globe in 1984, “all these little kids going to make peace.”

For nine more decades, Ms. Crowe never let up, notching more civil disobedience arrests at protests than she could count, and adding other causes to her original efforts.

She was 100 when she died Tuesday in her Northampton home, her family announced.

“Frances was a strong believer that one sets an example through the way one lives one’s life,” her family members said in an obituary they placed in the Daily Hampshire Gazette.


In an activism resume that could go on for pages, she participated in sit-ins at the construction site when the nuclear power plant was being built in Seabrook, N.H., and prayed for peace on the White House lawn.

She threw a vial of her own blood at a nuclear sub launch (“for my grandson’s future,” she noted) and spent a month in prison after breaking into a Rhode Island base to spray paint “Thou shalt not kill” on submarine tubes that would hold missiles.

Testifying on behalf of a fellow Seabrook protester in 1977, she told a jury that she, too, had demonstrated at the site because “my conscience told me I must put my body where my words have been.”

Two years ago, at 98, she was among several people who were arrested in Western Massachusetts while protesting the extension of a natural gas pipeline through a state forest. At the time, she parked her wheelchair in a restricted area.

“She has this very clear morality about what is right and wrong,” Jeff Napolitano, executive director of the Resistance Center for Peace and Justice in Northampton, told the Daily Hampshire Gazette this past spring when the newspaper named her person of the year.


“When has she been on the wrong side of history? She has a record,” Napolitano added. “If Frances is on your side, then you know that you probably are on the moral high ground.”

Though Ms. Crowe started down the road to activism as a young girl, the events of 1945 brought her politics into sharp focus.

“I was a 26-year-old American married to an aspiring radiologist,” she wrote in a recollection published in the Valley Advocate last month. “I listened to the radio as I ironed our clothes and learned that my country, the United States, had destroyed Hiroshima, Japan, by dropping an atomic bomb on it.”

Mrs. Crowe lost count of the times she was arrested, this one in Seneca Falls, N.Y., in a rally against nuclear weapons.Courtesy of Frances Crowe

Ms. Crowe would go on to counsel young men to become conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War and protest often at nuclear power plants, including Vermont Yankee in Vernon.

In her early 60s, she was still scaling fences, including at the Seneca Army Depot in upstate New York, where she demonstrated against missile deployment. Her physical feat drew cheers.

“Someone said, ‘Even the old lady is coming over,’ ” she recalled with a smile in the 1984 Globe interview. “One gets a lot of mileage out of white hair.”

By 2011, in her early 90s, she was deciding whether or not to bring a cane to a protest at Vermont Yankee and opted to travel light.


“I just need to take my ID for when we’re arrested,” she said in a conversation recorded for Robbie Leppzer’s documentary “Power Struggle.”

Born in Carthage, Mo., on March 15, 1919, Frances Hyde was a daughter of William Chauncey Hyde, who ran a plumbing and heating business.

“My mother, Anna Heidlage Hyde, made our clothes,” Ms. Crowe wrote in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, just before turning 100 in March.

Catholics in Carthage, such as her family, were targeted by the Ku Klux Klan, Ms. Crowe told the Globe in 1984, recalling that she had been struck with stones on the way to school in second grade.

In 1939, she graduated from Stephens College, a women’s college in Missouri. She also graduated two years later from Syracuse University, where she met Thomas J. Crowe, who became a physician. They married in 1945.

She told the Globe that during World War II, she had worked on an assembly line as part of the effort to help defeat the Nazis in Europe.

In the years following the war, Ms. Crowe and her husband had three children. Because one son was born deaf, the Crowes moved to Massachusetts so he could attend what was then Clarke School for the Deaf, in Northampton.

Once there, Ms. Crowe became a mainstay of activist groups, helping found a chapter of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. In her basement she set up a peace center office that was filled with literature and posters. Along with her draft counseling work, she was active with the American Friends Service Committee.


She often said her proudest moment was when she installed a large antenna behind her home to broadcast the radio program “Democracy Now!” when she was initially unable to persuade local public radio stations and college stations to do so.

From the early 1970s onward, arrests at civil disobedience protests became a regular part of her life.

“There comes a time when to put your body there is more powerful than all the organizing you can do,” she said in 1984.

In later years, she had a ready answer for reporters who always asked how many times she had been arrested: “Not enough.”

Ms. Crowe, whose husband died in 1997, leaves a daughter, Caltha Crowe; two sons, Jarlath Crowe and Dr. Thomas H. Crowe; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Plans for a memorial service were not immediately available.

In Western Massachusetts, Ms. Crowe was such a well-known activist that the mere mention of her name drew applause, as was the case at Hampshire College’s graduation in 1987, when a crowd cheered a speaker who praised her, Nelson Mandela, and Marian Wright Edelman.

Smith College, which houses Ms. Crowe’s papers in the Sophia Smith Collection, awarded her an honorary degree.

Her wishes, however, were for something more lasting.

“I hope that the United States and its citizens find the moral insight and courage to stop war of all kinds, end the exploitation of other countries and our own citizens, begin to stop climate disruption by eating local and driving less, end the use of nuclear weapons and nuclear power and foster fair and equitable employment for all workers,” she wrote for the Daily Hampshire Gazette just before turning 100. “What a happy birthday it would be if all my wishes came true.”


To pursue such goals, she always encouraged everyone to join her and raise their voices in protest.

“People my age have been lulled into the idea that they shouldn’t take risks, that they should stay comfortable and take the easy way,” she told the Globe in 2010. “But we’ve lived our lives, and we have nothing to lose — no kids or jobs to worry about. I say to them, ‘Have some fun. Get out there and join the community of people acting on their beliefs!’ ”

Bryan Marquard can be reached at