Women’s Rights Trailblazer Anne T. Barron Turns 100

Anne T. Barron, a trailblazer for women’s rights in the 1970s following the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, as well as an original resident of One Longfellow Place, spent her 100th birthday on Saturday, Oct. 30, surrounded by 14 relatives who traveled from New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, California, Florida, and North Carolina to fete her at a dinner party at Anne’s West End home.

Born on Oct. 30, 1921, Anne was the daughter of Hermann, Frankfort, an accountant, and Sara Nunez Vaz, a homemaker who was born and educated in Great Britain.

“My mother was brilliant,” said. Anne last Thursday, two days before her birthday. “If she had lived today [and if she had been born in the U.S.], she would’ve been President – anyone will tell you this.” 

Anne describes Brooklyn of her childhood as a “very pleasant place” that felt “like a suburb of Manhattan.”

She said, “When I was growing up, my sister and beg our parents to move to Manhattan, where the action was.”

After graduating from public high school in Brooklyn, Anne was awarded a scholarship to attend the erstwhile Traphagen School of Fashion in action-filled Manhattan, which, she said, “drove [her] parents crazy.”

By the time she graduated from the Traphagen School, the U.S. was about to enter into World War II, and Anne was unable to find a job in her industry. Her parents were happy to have her living at the home, however, where room and board was free.

While living at her parents’ Brooklyn home, Anne put what she learned in art and design school to use and turned her attention to creating artwork.

Anne was also then taking courses at Brooklyn College, which brought her to the bookstore next store, where she immediately caught the fancy of a salesclerk.

The clerk kept trying to make a date with Anne, but she resisted, she said, since she “didn’t think it was a very good idea.”

Anne returned to the bookstore a short while later to purchase a record album for her mother, and again, the same clerk waited on and attempted to woo her.

The owner of the store, Edward Barron, who Anne hadn’t met yet, was also instantly enamored by her and had the clerk pass Anne a note that read: “If you can go out with the boss, why bother with the clerk?”

Persuaded by the note, the future Mrs. Barron, who was around 21 at the time, accepted the boss’s invitation, and the two were soon inseparable.

“I was very quiet and never said a word, because I didn’t have to,” Anne said of Edward, with whom she enjoyed more than seven decades of marriage, before he died at the age of 100 on Oct. 21, 2018. “I learned how to speak up and speak out because he did it,” she said.

Rick Gold, a relative visiting from New Jersey for Anne’s birthday, said a sign that hangs in her home emblazoned with the maxim, “I’m the Captain, but my wife is the Admiral” perhaps best captures the dynamic between Anne and her late husband.

After Anne and Edward were married, they settled at Clemson (S.C.) College, where Edward was stationed in the Army.

Following World War II, the Barrons decided they would “prefer to live in a smaller town,” said Anne, and after exploring various opportunities, Edward eventually bought a piece of a business based in Gloversville, N.Y. located in the Adirondacks, about 60 miles northwest of Albany, that manufactured leather goods, such as gloves and bags.

Since Edward had personally designed a style of boots, the company also started manufacturing and selling his leather boots.

The company eventually moved its boot operations to Malone, N.Y., a town located about 12 miles south of the Canadian Border, which Anne described as “freezing cold” and “horrible.”

She said, “The snow would get so high, you couldn’t see the cars when you were walking down the street, and it didn’t melt until July.”

A man, who was also in the boot business, had read about Edwards’ success in the industry and asked to him to interview for a job with a boot manufacturing company in Providence, R.I.

At Anne’s insistence, Edward accepted the position after he received an offer from the company, and the Barrons relocated in the early 1950s to Providence, where he continued to design boots, both for military personnel, as well as for civilians.

Edward later received a job offer to work at the Natick Army Labs, a military research-and-development workshop in Natick, Mass., from the director of development, who, Anne said, “practically demanded that he work for the government, which was a big decision.”

After Edward accepted this position, the couple relocated to Framingham, where they would live for the next 20 years.

In 1955, Anne found work at the U.S. Army’s office on State Street. She worked there for about six to eight months before  she was transferred to the Natick Army Labs, where Edward also worked and where she had wanted to work from the start.

“I had a lovely job there and worked for the commanding officer who would give briefings in different places,” said Anne, who eventually reached the position of program analyst at Natick Army Labs.

Anne was even able to put her artistic background to work on the job when the commanding officer tasked her with making charts to use as visual aids during his briefings in the days before PowerPoint.

“He would give me the data and his story, and I would sketch out the basics for his approval,” Anne recalled. “It was how I directed my artistic ability, which made me happy.”

At Natick Army Labs, Anne also helped establish the Federal Women’s Program, becoming its manager in 1974.

“I began to become very interested in the fact that women who worked there [with advanced degrees] were paid considerably less than the men,” she said.

Anne joined the Business and Professional Women’s Foundation, and in 1972, when the Equal Rights Amendment was passed by the U.S. Senate and sent to the states for ratification in 1972, Anne was at the forefront of the women’s rights movement.

In 1977, Anne was elected chair of the Massachusetts Coordinating Committee for the National Observance of International Women’s Year, and in this role, she traveled from one end of the state to the other to speak educate women on the ERA, alongside then-Massachusetts U.S. Rep. Margaret Heckler. Together, as Barron recalls, they visited “itty-bitty towns where women were subjugated.”

Barron described this as a “very difficult experience,” and said first, she and others had to educate women on the ERA before attempting to get them to serve on the state committee.

“The whole thing was to make people aware of the situation,” she said, “because you could go into any large company at that time, and you would find men making big salaries and the women – forget about it.”

That same year, Anne attended the Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y. as well as  the National Women’s Conference in Houston, Texas, now considered a watershed moment for second-wave feminism.

Anne was also named the Woman of the Year by the Framingham B.P.W. Club in 1975 and received the Most Outstanding Achievement in Providing Equal Opportunity in the Department of the Army in 1975 during a ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

Due to the efforts of Anne and other like-minded activists, women were assigned to the board of directors of some major corporations, she said, while major strides were also made regarding childcare.

Anne and others also advocated for women to be hired as police and firefighters, which at the time seemed like a farfetched idea. “If that’s what they wanted to do, let them do it,” she said.

After two decades at Natick Army Labs, Anne left to take a position with the National Park Service as the EEO coordinator overseeing all the national park in New England. “Now, I was in a position to do something in government,” said Anne.

Anne personally visited all the national parks in her territory, where she successfully lobbied to get the NPS to hire more women.

“We made progress, but I wouldn’t say that’s changed anything for most women” said Anne, who eventually retired in 1985 after three decades working for the federal government. “Most [women] still think wrong, or not at all, and allow themselves to be used.” she added.

On the eve of her retirement on Sept. 27, 1985. Anne received the National Park Service’s outstanding achievement in the area of equal opportunity.

The Barrons moved to Longfellow Place in 1976 and took the last unit available on the 32nd story, which, back then, offered panoramic, unobstructed views of the USS Constitution and Constitution Marina in the Charlestown Navy Yard, among other city locales.

“It was magnificent,” said Anne, recalling their view at the time. “You could practically see to England,” she added in jest.

The Barrons always loved to travel, and after they both retired, they took a six-week trip to China as part of a group under the auspices of the Museum of Science, among other memorable trips.

And as a retiree, Anne also kept busy volunteering for myriad nonprofits and other organizations.

“I think it’s very important to be busy,” she said, “and to keep your mind active.”

At the Museum of African American History, which later gave her a lifetime achievement award, Anne served as a docent and would sometimes lend a hand in writing lectures for them.

Anne was also one of the founding board members of the Friends of the West End Branch Library and helped them organize used-book sales, as well as lectures and music programs.

“It has made such a difference over the years, with the money the West End Branch Library has received,” said Helen Bender, head librarian of the West End Branch Library, of the Friends group. “It helps supplement the programs for children and adults beyond what the [BPL] supplies.”

For many years, Anne also served on the board of the City-wide Friends of the Boston Public Library, a volunteer, community-based group that supports all of the city’s branch libraries.

And at the Otis House Museum, Anne worked on a project to locate surviving members of the Otis family and was able to add her artistic flair by creating a chart for the endeavor.

Anne also volunteered for a program that sent birthday cards to every Senior Health patient at Mass General Hospital. She helped send cards to around 2,000 patients each year, each of which had to  be signed by their individual doctors, until the program was suspended about 10 years later due to a lack of funding.

Additionally, Anne volunteered doing what she describes as “busy work” for the National Park Service in the Charlestown Navy Yard.

Anne is also a lifetime member of the Government Center Childcare Corporation, a state-licensed childcare services provider that offers day care programs for young children.

But above all else in her life, Anne most cherishes the time she has spent with her family and friends.

“What stands out the most in my life is my family,” she said. “My family wanted to know what I was doing and whether they could help me out, and they always wanted to be present [for me].

“If you’re lucky enough to have family like I do, they’re the best in the whole world and rise to the occasion, if necessary, as several friends I have would do, too,” Anne added.

Mona Gold, Anne’s niece who was up from New Jersey for her birthday, said, “She has a wonderful group of friends who embrace her like family, and check up on her and visit her. She’s loved by all her friends – there’s no question about that.”

Since Anne has always had a special affinity towards giraffes, which she describes as “quiet, majestic, beautiful animals,” two of her relatives from Florida, Leah and Glenn Bergoffen, adopted a giraffe that lives at the Tampa Zoo and named it “Lilleeanne” in Anne’s honor.

“I think it was a very caring thing to have done,” said Anne.

City Councilor Kenzie Bok also offered Anne an official resolution on behalf of the Boston City Council in recognition of Anne’s service to the National Parks and the West End community on Oct. 30, 2021, Anne’s 100th birthday.

But despite all the attention lavished upon her, as well as her numerous achievements, Anne remains self-effacing.

“Everybody tells me I should write a book, but I wouldn’t want to do that to the public,” said Anne.

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