Dorothy Stowe 1920 - 2010: Greenpeace cofounder, social justice advocate

Dorothy Stowe (Rabinowitz) passed away at 03:00, July 23, 2010 at UBC Hospital, Vancouver, B.C., Canada, at the age of 89. Mrs. Stowe was a life-long advocate for social justice, organized the first social workers union in Rhode Island in the U.S., immigrated to Canada in 1966, and co-founded Greenpeace with her husband Irving Stowe. Dorothy Stowe was one of Vancouver's most revered citizens for 44 years, inspiring generations of social justice and peace advocates.


Dorothy Anne Rabinowitz was born in Providence, Rhode Island on December 22, 1920 to Jewish parents from Galicia. Dorothy described her father, Jacob, a jeweler, as “idealistic and political. He cared about others and about justice not only for Jewish people, but for everyone.” Dorothy's mother, Rebecca Miller taught Hebrew and inspired Dorothy to pursue an education and career. “There were always important international visitors at our dinner table,” Dorothy recalled later. “Chaim Weitzmann came for dinner one night, the future president of Israel.”


Dorothy Rabinowitz attended Pembroke College in Providence, where she majored in English and philosophy. During World War II, she served as a purchasing officer for the Navy, and later a psychiatric social worker. She served as the first president of her local chapter of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. When she threated a strike during the McCarthy era, the Rhode Island governor called her a “communist,” but she stood her ground and won a 33 percent pay raise for her union.


In 1951 Dorothy met Irving Strasmich, a lawyer, who had served in the U.S. Civil Air Patrol during the war. They married in 1953 in a simple ceremony with a Rabbi presiding and British jazz pianist George Shearing as best man. For their wedding dinner they attended a banquet for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the organization that launched the U.S. civil rights movement, one of Irving's pro-bono clients.


They later changed their family name to Stowe in honour of Harriet Beecher Stowe – women's rights advocate, abolitionist, and author of Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), credited with helping end slavery in the U.S. The Stowes had two children, Robert, born in 1955 and Barbara in 1956. Robert is now a physician and Barbara a writer, both living in Vancouver.


A life of social action


Irving and Dorothy Stowe began campaigning against nuclear weapons in the 1950s, as they learned about radioactive contamination in mothers' milk. They adopted the Quaker notion of “bearing witness” to wrong-doing and “speaking truth to power.” These were not idol slogans for the Stowes, but rather life-long vows of social action. The Quaker boats, the Golden Rule and the Phoenix, that sailed into nuclear test zones, influenced the Stowes decision twelve years later to sail a boat to Amchitka Island nuclear test zone in Alaska, the first Greenpeace campaign.


In 1958, Irving and Dorothy Stowe picketed US president Dwight Eisenhower at Fort Adams, over nuclear testing. In the spring of 1960, Irving and Dorothy hosted peace activists protesting U.S. Polaris nuclear attack submarines. The protesters paddled boats in front of launching submarines and swam out to board the vessels. The Polaris campaign signaled a new era of media-savvy activism jazzed up with street theatre, music, and humor, qualities that would later emerge in Greenpeace.


In 1961, as the Vietnam War heated up, Irving and Dorothy flew to New Zealand, never again to live in the United States. Dorothy worked in the Auckland Hospital psychiatric ward. They joined a Quaker group, led demonstrations at the U.S. embassy, and protested French nuclear weapons tests in Polynesia. However, when New Zealand sent troops to Vietnam in 1965, the Stowes moved their family to Canada.


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