I had the most delightful telephone conversation about a week ago with Frances Crowe.
In Quaker House’s last newsletter (Winter 2017/2018), I asked people to share stories about their experiences with conscientious objection, from any war, any moral basis (any denomination or secular moral reasons), and by any method (formal conscientious objection application to draft avoiders). I want to preserve the stories, find common themes, learn how we can better support conscientious objectors throughout the years, and possibly uncover any other lessons that might exist for us. Frances Crowe read our newsletter and gave me a call.
Maybe you know about her, already. She has lived out her leadings to assist in peace efforts and environmental protection throughout her life. If you do not know her story well, I would like to share some of the things she shared with me yesterday.
Beginning in August 1968, Frances began working with young men facing the draft for the Vietnam War. She found that working with them in groups in her home worked particularly well, partly because they were able to work out their thoughts and convictions as they talked with each other. She would ask them, “What is it you are objecting, too?” and found that this question was particularly helpful in helping them to formulate their discomfort and concerns into the words and narratives that were required for the conscientious objector applications and, indeed, their own understanding of their convictions. Not only did these young men provide support for each other as they worked on their applications, but they often would return to support and assist the men who were just beginning their own process.
She told me that she never had less than 8 people in a group at her home and no more than 79. When I gave a little exclamation at the idea of having 79 people in her home to work with, she laughed and said, “They took over the whole house that day. We had groups working in every room and out on the lawn.”
Because each successful conscientious objector applicant fulfilled one of the slots in the local quota, and because Frances’ work was so effective, the draft board took notice of the significant variance in the draft statistics and asked what was going on in Boston to cause this anomaly. The answer came back, “It’s a little old lady who’s a Quaker.” Now, I was born while my father was serving one of two tours in Vietnam, so I have an instant timeframe reference for how long ago the Vietnam War was, and Frances had just referred to a description of herself as a “little old lady.” She must have heard my eyebrows raise through the phone line because she told me, “I was 60 then. I am 98 years old now.” By her count, she counseled and assisted 1,169 young men as they worked through their beliefs on the sacredness of life and its relationship to conscientious objection. What an incredible legacy. She likely had a pivotal impact on their lives from that point on. Having seen some of the effects that war can have on the wholeness of soldiers’ identities, I cannot fully grasp the magnitude of what she did for those she served.
As we were closing our conversation and I was thinking about how much I respected her, I asked if she had saved her experiences in writing. Thankfully, she has. Finding My Radical Soul is her memoir, and I cannot wait to read it.
Are you one of the young men that worked on your conscientious objection application in the home of Frances Crowe? I would love to hear from you. If you are willing to share your story (just with me and with Frances or with permission to share publicly), please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (910) 323-3912.
~ Kindra Bradley, Quaker House Executive Director