Stories that linger: The long and meaningful life of Frances Crowe

  • Frances Crowe at her home in Northampton, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018. FILE PHOTO

Features and Hampshire Life Editor
Published: 12/30/2019 3:18:05 PM
Modified: 12/30/2019 3:17:49 PM

In this selection of essays, Gazette editors reflect on stories from our pages this year that hold lasting significance for them. This is not a “top stories” compendium. Rather, editors chose to highlight the so-called first rough drafts of history that helped define 2019. What are the stories that have stayed with you? Write to us at

Few Pioneer Valley activists — if any — were held in higher regard than Frances Crowe, who died at 100 years old on August 27.

A Northampton resident since 1951, Crowe became a central figure in many activist campaigns over the decades, taking on antiwar, antinuclear, pro-environment, and pro-humanitarian causes. This past spring, the Gazette selected Crowe as its Person of the Year.

Her accomplishments are remarkable in and of themselves. Among other causes, she worked toward the closure of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vermont, less than an hour away from Northampton, and establishing the daily broadcast of Democracy Now! on University of Massachusetts Amherst student radio station WMUA.

But truly astonishing is that she was organizing and writing in support of her progressive causes right up until the end of her long life. Just weeks before she died, she submitted what became her final monthly column for Hampshire Life, pleading to have the United States dispose of its nearly 4,000 nuclear weapons.

She wrote about how in the 1980s she carried a baby bottle full of her own blood to dump onto a newly commissioned nuclear submarine — a mockery of the popular practice of smashing a champagne bottle on the prow of a new ship. And she succeeded in her demonstration. The injuries she received from the crowd, including having her hair pulled and her face and arms scratched, were worth it, she said — she was doing her part to protest the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Getting arrested was part of life for Crowe, and she said she couldn’t count the number of times it happened. But here’s how she characterized the amount to the Daily Hampshire Gazette: “not enough.” 

While serving as an inspiration to so many, Crowe said that she was inspired by members of the youth activism community, including Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg, students in the Pioneer Valley and her own grandchildren. An elder stateswoman of progressive causes, she had long seen that the movements she was involved with didn’t start or end with any one person.

It would be a mistake to think of Crowe’s work as having come to an end. She will continue to inspire and move people to action for years to come.

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