Women’s Rights Trailblazer, Anne T. Barron, Dies at 100

Anne T. Barron, a trailblazer for women’s rights in the 1970s following the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, died on Friday, Jan. 21, at her Longfellow Place home. She was 100.

Born on Oct. 30, 1921, to  Hermann Frankfort, an accountant, and Sara Nunez Vaz, a homemaker born and educated in Great Britain, Anne grew up in Brooklyn. She was awarded a scholarship to attend the erstwhile Traphagen School of Fashion in Manhattan after high school. By the time she graduated from the prestigious program, the U.S. had entered into World War II, however, and Anne was unable to find work in the fashion industry and returned to live with her parents.

Anne T. Barron is seen last October celebrating her 100th birthday.

Anne put what she had learned in art and design school to use during this time and turned her attention to creating artwork. She was also taking courses at Brooklyn College when she met her future husband, Edward Barron, who owned the bookstore next to the school. 

After they were married, Anne and Edward settled at Clemson (S.C.) College, where Edward was stationed in the Army. The couple then decided to move to a small town after World War II, and 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 started manufacturing and selling his patented leather boots.

The company eventually moved its boot operations to Malone, N.Y., a gloomy, perpetually cold town located about 12 miles south of the Canadian Border. At Anne’s insistence, the couple relocated to Providence, R.I., in the early 1950s, when Edward got a job for a company there designing 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, and 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 be from the start. At Natick Army Labs, Anne also helped establish the Federal Women’s Program, becoming its manager in 1974.

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, she was at the forefront of the women’s rights movement. (On Jan. 27 of this year, the ERA was also ratified as the 28th amendment to the Constitution.)

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 alongside then-Massachusetts U.S. Rep. Margaret Heckler to educate women on the ERA,

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. She also 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 then seemed like a farfetched idea.

“The whole thing was to make people aware of the situation 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,” Anne told this reporter in October on the eve of her 100th birthday. “We made progress, but I wouldn’t say that’s changed anything for most women. Most [women] still think wrong, or not at all, and allow themselves to be used.”

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,” recalled Anne.

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

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.

In retirement, Anne kept busy volunteering for myriad nonprofits and other organizations.

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.

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 annually, each of which had to  be signed by their individual doctors, until the program was suspended after about 10 years due to a lack of funding.

Additionally, Anne volunteered for the National Park Service in the Charlestown Navy Yard, and she is a lifetime member of the Government Center Childcare Corporation, a state-licensed childcare services provider that offers day care programs for young children.

But despite her myriad accomplishments and accolades, Anne told this reporter in October that, above everything else, she most cherished the time she spent with family.

“What stands out the most in my life is my family,” said Anne. “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 and Edward shared more than seven decades of marriage, before he died at the age of 100 on Oct. 21, 2018, and while they didn’t have any children, they were very close with their extended family. 

Anne spent her 100th birthday last October 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 home at Longfellow Place, where she had lived as an original tenant since 1976.

President Joe Biden even sent Anne a personally signed letter for her 100th.

“Your strength and perseverance helped shape this Nation into what it is today and defines what it means to be a member of the Greatest Generation,” the letter reads in part. “This milestone serves as an inspiration to your fellow Americans.”

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.

Since Anne always had a special affinity towards giraffes, which she described 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 as a birthday present to her.

Every Friday, Anne joined family members for a Zoom call, and while inevitably at least one regular participant wouldn’t be on any given call due to scheduling conflicts, they were all on hand for the last call, which took place shortly before Anne died on Jan. 21.

“It almost seemed like she waiting to say goodbye to us all,” said Rick Gold, one of Anne’s relatives from New Jersey who was also on hand for her 100th birthday celebration.

The timing of Anne’s passing also seemed apt, said Gold, since it was the same day that the first woman to command the USS Constitution, Cmdr. Billie J. Farrell,  took charge of the warship.

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