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Activist Frances Crowe looks back on her 70 years of anti-nuclear protest

November 3, 2014

Los Angeles, London - With over seven decades of civil disobedience under her belt, legendary activist Frances Crowe was most recently arrested this year for trespassing at Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station, two months shy of her 95th birthday. On the publication of her book, Finding My Radical Soul, Crowe speaks out about her Midwest upbringing during an era of Progressive politics, her evolution as a protestor, and the source of her remarkable drive in an exclusive interview with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, published by SAGE.

Born in 1919 in the small town of Carthage, Missouri, Crowe became a Quaker when she moved to New York to attend college. Informed by her husband, a radiologist and physician, she was all too aware of the effects of radiation poisoning. The couple began organizing movements against nuclear weapons and energy in 1945, and campaigning against atomic weapons tests. Describing how it all began, she says:

“When I heard on the radio that we had bombed Hiroshima with this deadly new force, I literally unplugged the iron and went looking for a peace centre in New Orleans.”

Crowe cites Thoreau and Gandhi, and more recently Helen Caldicott, as individuals who have inspired her. One of her most notorious acts of civil disobedience saw Crowe spray-painting missile tubes at a nuclear submarine base. This led not only to a month in federal prison, but also to her photo in the pages of Time magazine. Crowe recalls how some nuns in Holyoke, Massachusetts, from the Sisters of Saint Joseph, organized the incident - on the docks at Quonset Point:

“We were going to cut our way through the fence at three o’clock in the morning, walk out on the dock, and paint our message on the casings. We had a stencil, ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill,’ that we took with us. So, we went out on the dock and we painted. And then we gathered and prayed and sang.”

Often described as an “activist’s activist,” Crowe is extremely energetic, determined, and creative when it comes to new ways of getting her message across. These include running a draft counselling centre, disrupting Trident submarine launches by throwing bottles of her own blood, and putting up a radio tower in her own backyard to broadcast her favourite anti-war radio program. In between, she raised three children, one of whom needed a lot of care, as he was profoundly deaf.

To this day, Crowe hosts an anti-nuclear film series, holds vigils outside the courthouse every Saturday morning, and stages protests, petitions, and sit-ins. She says that the elderly are in a good position to do this work, with career and raising a family behind them: “The issues are still there, but now we have the time and the freedom to pursue them.”

Crowe says that despite the long and slow nature of culture change, we have come along way. Leafing through her scrapbooks reveals flyers from the Civil Rights March on Washington in 1963. “Who would have thought then that we would have a black president in the White House? Or that apartheid would be gone? Nuclear will be the next domino to fall,” she says.

Looking back, Crowe says that a lot of people have been a part of the anti-nuclear protest movement, and that it has been a privilege to participate.

“Nuclear weapons could easily wipe out life on this planet, either by war or by causing a nuclear winter. What could be more important?”

 “My hope is that people will wake up and say ‘no’ to this madness.”


Further interview material with Frances Crowe as part of the Women’s Activism and Oral History Project at Smith College can be found at:

“Frances Crowe, 95-year-old antinuclear activist,” an interview with Frances Crowe, is published in the latest issue of Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. It can be accessed for free for a limited time here.


The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists informs the public about threats to the survival and development of humanity from nuclear weapons, climate change, and emerging technologies in the life sciences. Scientists, engineers, and other experts who had created the atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project established the Bulletin in 1945.

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