Finding My Radical Soul: A Memoir
Reviewed by Ruah Swennerfelt
Frances Crowe’s life is a shining light for all Friends. Her journey through her 90-some-odd years is not only inspiring but is also a personal history of the twentieth-century women’s movement. When reading this book, one feels like Frances is sitting in the room sharing her story. It’s simply and directly written, and there are wonderful photos scattered throughout that help bring to life the times and experiences of Frances.
She was born in 1919, just a year before women got the right to vote and just after the end of World War I. She writes that, “The atmosphere surrounding my childhood fostered a strong antiwar feeling.” She grew up Catholic in a loving home where she learned the importance of social awareness. As we read of her life from early childhood through college, we see emerge a thoughtful young woman who, after living through World War II, “harbored no doubt that war, weapons, and the nuclear bomb have no use.”
When she married in the ’40s, women were expected to stay at home to raise the children. We learn how she still found a way to stay involved in the issues of the day. Her husband, Tom, was supportive of her antiwar activities and emerging feminism. As a radiologist, Tom was very aware of the dangers of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy, so they had a common ground of concern. They settled in Northampton, Mass., where Frances still lives today.
Life as a mother of three (one with a serious hearing deficit) was very consuming; her descriptions of life as mother, wife, and activist are amazing. Frances found allies, and we are privileged to see how she dived into the decades of changing issues, hoping to make a difference. She was active in the antiwar efforts during the Vietnam War and again later during the invasion of Iraq. She demonstrated regularly against nuclear weapons and nuclear energy. During the ’80s she became involved in the concerns over the U.S. government’s interference in Central America. She explained, “The more I learned, the more I became convinced that not only would I have to act in opposition but I would also have to withhold my tax dollars.”
Frances was impressed with the work of American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and was eventually hired by them; she converted her basement into an AFSC office for the Pioneer Valley area. She became active with Mount Toby (Mass.) Meeting, where she found some support for her activities. Their support was helpful when she risked arrest and was sometimes jailed as a result of the many demonstrations she attended. I loved the 1988 photo of her climbing the fence at the Seneca Falls Army Depot. What an incredible woman!
The book’s foreword is written by Amy Goodman, host and executive producer of the news program Democracy Now! Frances had an opportunity to see Goodman’s program and wanted it aired on the local public television network. When they refused, she explored all possible avenues and eventually, with the help of an expert, installed an antenna at her house that captured the show and made it available to local folks. Goodman was so appreciative that she and Frances became friends. This is an example of the creativity, commitment, and courage of Frances Crowe.
I’ve had the privilege of meeting Frances and continue to be amazed by her radical soul. She carries her beliefs into actions, regardless of the obstacles she faces, and sets a powerful example. She is a bright light who goes about her life with good humor, a huge smile, and lots of love. This book is a must-read for Friends. The best gift for Frances would be if we all found our radical souls and acted to make a difference in the world.