Lifetime achiever: Frances Crowe is the Gazette’s Person of the Year

  • Frances Crowe at her home in Northampton, 2019. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Frances Crowe takes part in an anti-war rally in Northampton in April 2017.

Staff Writer
Published: 5/8/2019 8:38:08 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Frances Crowe has inspired countless people over the course of her life and career. She even inspired a book series about an elderly cyber-detective and activist who protects the public good. But when asked who most inspires her, the 100-year-old activist pointed to youth, including Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg, students in the Pioneer Valley, and her own grandchildren. She has five.

“The future belongs to them,” Crowe said.

Crowe is legendary around these parts and beyond for promoting peace that includes anti-war and anti-nuclear work. But when asked about her record of achievement, she gave much of the credit to her longevity.

“It isn’t that I’m different from anybody else,” said Crowe. “I’ve just been at it longer.”

These days, Crowe said she looks forward to getting through each week “without too many mishaps.” As for other hopes for the near future, Crowe said she’d like to see Northampton solarized, with solar panels on all the flat roofs downtown, and more people “living simply so we can simply live.”

Crowe, a Quaker, is a longtime practitioner of this philosophy. She does not fly and is a vegetarian who tries to eat local food as much as possible. She air-dries her clothing and even when she drove often elected to walk.

Originally from Carthage, Missouri, Crowe has lived in Northampton since 1951.

Among other things, she appreciates that “we have a very good newspaper that listens to the people,” she said. “And we have a very good library that listens to the people.” She helps organize the Resistance Film Series at Forbes Library.

Crowe also praised the local hospital, the presence of the five colleges and the “good soil” of the area.

“I feel very fortunate to live here,” said Crowe, who raised three children in the area with her husband, Thomas Crowe, who died in 1997. “We chose it carefully.”

Crowe’s presence has helped shape the culture of the Valley, year in and year out. We asked a few of her fellow activists and friends for their thoughts on living in a community with Crowe. Their responses have been edited for concision and clarity.

Carolyn Oppenheim, who co-coordinates the Resistance Film Series

“This weekend, she went to the panel on Palestine at UMass. She sat through the whole thing. Here she is, 100 years old, and she is getting around. She is deeply engaged in everything. No one’s gonna break her stride. I love being in a community where there’s a person who’s a lightning rod for these issues and combines it with her lifestyle of simplicity. She reminds me of the Quaker leaders I knew growing up who took political positions, but it came out of this deep conscience.”

Cherilyn Strader, Northampton High School student and activist

“I always think of her as someone everyone who’s an activist knows about. I think of her as someone who’s just up there with all of the activist icons. Everyone I know who’s helped me amplify my activism has been helped by Frances. Jeff Napolitano (executive director of The Resistance Center for Peace and Justice, the successor to the western Massachusetts branch of the American Friends Service Committee that Crowe founded), Jo Comerford (who represents Northampton in the Massachusetts state Senate), they were all in a way built by Frances Crowe. It’s just sort of a trickle-down in this area. If you go into her house, her walls are covered in protest signs. Within the activist community, everyone’s been touched by her. There’s no way around the impact that she’s had.”

Jeff Napolitano, executive director of The Resistance Center for Peace and Justice

“She absolutely never gives up on something that she’s dedicated to. When she works on something, she works on something until it’s done. If you do this work in western Massachusetts, you know Frances because you have run into her in the past 50 years. She has this very clear morality about what is right and wrong. When has she been on the wrong side of history? She has a record. If Frances is on your side, then you know that you probably are on the moral high ground.”

Dusty Miller, author of the Alice Ott mystery book series inspired by Crowe

“I’ve known her since I was a kid, since I grew up here in Northampton. She made a big impression on me, even when I was 10, 11. I was a little tomboy. I saw these ladies with purses and dresses and kept thinking, ‘I really don’t want to have to dress like that when I get to be a grown-up.’ I would see Frances, and she would just be marching around town — and she would have a backpack instead of a purse. I thought that was very cool.”

Please join the United Way of Hampshire County and the Daily Hampshire Gazette as they honor outstanding community members for their work in Hampshire County. Tickets for the event, at the Look Park Garden House on Thursday, May 30, from 5 to 7 p.m., are $25 per person and are available at, or contact Jenna Farrell at to complete your registration. Proceeds from the event will benefit the United Way.

Bera Dunau can be reached at

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