Frances Crowe Awtt Portrait

Frances Crowe

Peace Activist : b. 1919

“Once people believed in human sacrifice — not any more. Once people believed in slavery — not any more. Once people believed that women should not vote — not any more. In your lifetime I hope your children can say: Once people believed in war as the answer — not any more.”


A collection of Crowe´s papers is kept at the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College.

In 2007, Crowe received the Courage of Conscience Award from the Peace Abbey in Sherborn, Massachusetts.

In 2009, she received the Joe E. Callaway Award for Civic Courage from The Shafeek Nader Trust for the Community Interest.

On August 30, 2011, six women chained themselves to the front gate of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, which provides that state with thirty percent of its electricity. For the 93 year-old leader of the Vermont Yankee Shut It Down Affinity Group, a diminutive, but relentless activist against nuclear power and for nonviolence and social justice, this was at least her 22nd action against the reactor. In November of the following year, as she and her collaborators prepared for trial, Frances Crowe told the Associated Press, “They´re finally taking us seriously and they are taking us to trial…But I know I haven´t achieved what I am trying to achieve.”

When she was a teenager in her hometown of Carthage, Missouri, Crowe blurted to her father that she was against killing and war. This revelation — she herself is not sure how she´d formed the idea — was prompted by the public hanging of a black prisoner at the local jail.

Her lifelong commitment to the antiwar movement,however, began a few years later in 1945 — after college, graduate school at Syracuse and Columbia, and a spell working in a laboratory that supported the war effort — as she was ironing a placemat in the New Orleans apartment where she lived with her husband. “I heard on the radio that they dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. And I knew, with the description of what it was that it was really bad…So then I literally unplugged the iron and went out looking for a Peace Center in New Orleans. And I didn’t find one. But I ended up in a used bookstore trying to find something to read on nonviolence, and the man who owned the store suggested I start with Tolstoy so I started reading a collection of Tolstoy’s essays on war and violence, and you know that kind of set my direction.”

Following her “direction”, Crowe has been in and out of jail numerous times, found herself in collaborating with and founding many peace organizations, and inspired generations of antiwar activists.

As Crowe continued to study non-violence, she and her husband Tom became connected with the Quakers. As a family, they attended American Friends Service Committee summer workshops on nonviolence, peace and justice. Crowe then worked with  the AFSC directly doing outreach and organizing. In 1968, as her teenage sons approached draft age, Crowe attended a training course given by the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors. She returned home and started the Northampton Draft Information Center. From the basement of her house, she counseled thousands of young men in how to avoid fighting in Vietnam by taking a moral stand against war.

One International Women´s Day, Crowe and a Women Against the War group went to the Westover Air Force Base in Chicopee, Massachusetts dressed as Vietnamese women. They knelt to block the base´s main gate, reading Vietnamese poetry aloud. An armed bomber pilot home on R&R was sent to keep eye on them. What he saw shook him; he had never thought about the people he was killing on his bombing runs. By the time he was sent back to Vietnam, he had decided he couldn´t return to active duty. After Captain Donald Dawson was court martialed, Crowe reached out to him, offering the young man counsel. He became the first American pilot during the Vietnam War to get a conscientious objector discharge.

The way that Crowe brought the radio news program, Democracy Now!, to the Northampton area typifies her approach to direct action. When the local public radio station declined to carry Amy Goodman´s show, Crowe bought a transmitter, had a friend download the programs from the internet, and broadcast them herself — illegally — to area listeners. To put pressure on the local stations, Crowe started a fundraising drive in parallel to the public radio´s own effort. By the time she had raised $40,000 dollars, the local stations agreed to talk. The University of Massachusetts Amherst radio station, WMUA, became the first college radio station in the country to broadcast Democracy Now!

“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,” Crowe told The Boston Globe. “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!’”

Just a few years ago, Crowe decided she could no longer contribute to any of America´s war efforts. She placed her house and other property in a trust, gave her car to her son, and stopped paying her federal taxes. The government docks 15% of her social security check each month. Of the money that Crowe would have paid in taxes, she gives one third to international peacekeeping, one third to American peace organizations, and one third to the Northampton public schools.

Even the chief of the Northampton Massachusetts police holds Crowe in high regard. He told the Globe reporter, “She’s the ultimate liberal – a real icon of our community and a wonderful woman. The fact that she’s still putting herself out there says something about her and her beliefs.”

Crowe explains what keeps her going: “I have a vision of a better world where people can live cooperatively, without violence, and that we would be able to feed the hungry, house the homeless, and provide shelter for people if we weren’t spending so much money on war. “


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