Smith College archive bears witness to Frances Crowe’s life and work

  • A box of folders with some of Frances Crowe’s papers, including newsletters “Indochina Issues,” “Defense Monitor” and “Peacework.” For the Gazette/Jackie Richardson

  • The December 1973 issue of “Peacework,” a pacifist newsletter Frances Crowe subscribed to from the early 1970s to the 1990s. For the Gazette/Jackie Richardson

  • A pamphlet about a fast and other events being held to commemorate the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and to protest nuclear war. For the Gazette/Jackie Richardson

  • A list of volunteers and their events, which served to remember the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and to protest nuclear war. For the Gazette/Jackie Richardson

  • One folder in the collection contains mostly unsigned notes people wrote to Crowe after a trip to Nicaragua. For the Gazette/Jackie Richardson

  • Issue 52 of “Indochina Newsletter,” which discussed the catastrophic effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam. Crowe subscribed to “Indochina Newsletter” from the late 1970s to the early 1990s. For the Gazette/Jackie Richardson—

For the Gazette
Published: 8/31/2019 5:52:47 PM

It’s been said that people are known by the company they keep, and Frances Crowe — who worked across the decades with scores of fellow antiwar and justice activists — was no exception.

It’s also true that a person can be known by the papers they keep — and thanks to the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College, Crowe’s papers provide revealing insights into the renowned Northampton activist and her work.

“Years ago, people from the Sophia Smith Collection met with Frances Crowe and asked how we could best bear witness to her work,” says Maureen Callahan, the archivist of the collection. “From that conversation, we decided to keep her papers. We got the first papers in 1984, and we’ve been getting them ever since.”

Since then, the Sophia Smith Collection has filled 61 boxes with brochures, letters, ripped-out legal pad pages, newspaper clippings, posters and newsletters the activist, who died Tuesday, accumulated throughout her life. Although they haven’t been completely organized yet, many of the papers, filed away neatly in manila folders, still feel new, including brochures as crisp as the day they were first handed out.

Callahan says the archives can offer glimpses into Crowe’s passions and causes, and document how she carried out her work.

“What’s fascinating about the archives is that so much has been written about Crowe, but the archives really give you a behind-the-scenes look at how she worked,” Callahan says. “The archives are for everyone, too — you don’t need to be affiliated with an institution at all. Anyone can come in and see the archives.”

In one folder with papers about a weekend of protest against nuclear weapons in 1987, one can see the everyday work involved in organizing her trademark protests. Crowe sent out forms for people to volunteer, which people filled out and sent back. She had a rough schedule of the weekend’s events written on the back of two posters, taped together, for another protest called “Reaching for Peace in Central America.” On a clean, printed version of the schedule, someone had written in red ink: “Frances — please proofread.”

Crowe’s papers not only show how much she had to work to protest a single injustice, but how few injustices — if any at all — escaped her attention. Decades of newsletters about the Department of Defense, Indochina and antiwar efforts fill the boxes. Newspaper clippings from national publications and local newspapers, including the Daily Hampshire Gazette, and college newspapers including The Sophian, the Daily Collegian, the Amherst Student and Mount Holyoke News, detailing sexism and anti-black racism fill her folders.

Crowe also kept memos and notes from multiple organizations, including the social justice group the Rainbow Coalition, the Valley Women’s Center and the American Friends Service Committee, which she ran out of her home. A folder, labeled in Sharpie “PRESIDENTIAL PETITIONS,” contains original copies of petitions for creating Martin Luther King Jr. Day, for freezing the arms race, and for organizing against McCarthyist political repression.

Her papers weren’t all work, though. In a folder called “Nicaragua,” which seems to detail a witness trip she took to the Central American country, a sheet of loose leaf paper, when unfolded, reveals a small pile of mostly unsigned notes people left Crowe.

“Frances,” one person wrote, “best things come in small packages.”

“No nonsense, but always coming down on the positive,” says another. “A wonderful model for the world for how to resist with a quiet confidence and lots of good energy that gives us all hope.”

And another missive resonates today in the wake of her passing, noting that “the struggle continues”: “Frances — praise God for your courage and conviction,” someone wrote. “Keep the faith —  ‘la lucha sigue!’”




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