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At the time of our interview on July 18th, 2012 Nancy Smith had just returned home from the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee to her blue-shingled farmhouse in the farm fields of Claverack, New York, about four miles outside of Hudson. In the Smokey Mountains, at a Buddhist retreat, Nancy had celebrated her eightieth birthday with family (two granddaughters) and friends, many of them ‘new’ friends from her many walks for peace around the country.
Nancy’s life history narrative began with her description of her upbringing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In this context she spoke mostly of her father. He worked at the management level in a steel-related business and traveled extensively. Nancy was the first-born of three; her younger siblings were boys. She discusses her parents dynamics and family gender dynamics.
Nancy first left the Philadelphia area to attend a boarding school. She graduated at the age of sixteen and enrolled in Pennsylvania State. Nancy left for Paris in her Junior year to study at the Sorbonne. She was determined to learn French. She studied and worked in Paris for two years and lived in very borderline housing on the fifth floor, with a small sink in her living space and a shared toilet in the hallway. Such living arrangements would be mirrored in Nancy’s early adult life several times as she travelled, studied, and worked. She goes on to disucuss her subsequent life in the states with her son, her husband, and her career oppotunities that brought her back to France.
She first came to Hudson to work as a social worker at the now defunct girl’s training school in Hudson in repayment of her federal loan obligation. She went on to teach at the fledgling community college - in Athens and, then, in Hudson --for over twenty years. She has owned her home for around forty years. She has travelled extensively, particularly in areas of strife and poverty as a consequence of her work in development for American Friends Service Committee, Oxfam, and Save the Children. After her retirement from her professorship at the college and the sudden loss of her second major love of her life to a massive heart attack, Nancy has successfully worked to find undertakings and space that are meaningful and fulfilling. After recently finishing a ten-year position running a Quaker rustic retreat on the top of a modest mountain in Western Massachusetts, she decided to come home and see if living here was the right thing for her. She has since developed committed relationships to religious groups and practices/observes with The Friends, Buddhist Monks, and the local Episcopal Church.
She has recently served a jail sentence in the Atlanta, Georgia area for her protest at the School of the Americas (a military training school infamous for teaching torture to Latin American military leaders) when she purposefully ‘crossed the line’ and she goes on many long marches for peace, highlighting one that went from the Smokey Mountains to Washington, DC.
For the last fifteen years I have worked with the United States Courts as a staff attorney working principally on cases filed by individuals who are not represented by an attorney. My subject-matter specialization is civil rights (constitutional and statutory) and habeas corpus. I am midway through a Masters of International Human Rights at Oxford University; I have a dissertation to complete and next summer will spend five weeks studying and exam-taking at Oxford. (This will be my second residential experience.) My dissertation will focus on the United States’ historical leadership in establishing the international rights instruments and its failure to realize these rights at home, a shortcoming often justified by the notion of American Exceptionalism. In particular I am focusing on labor rights standards and child labor. Needless to say, oral history will enrich my approach to my work in this area by providing narratives to underpin my legal analysis. I am also working with a local group in my community in Maine that is using oral histories/stage performances/workshops to explore issues of dignity in these times of economic hardship and social/political division.
This interview is hereby made available for research purposes only. For additional uses (radio and other media, music, internet), please click here to inquire about permissions.
Oral history is an iterative process. In keeping with oral history values of anti-fixity, interviewees will have an opportunity to add, annotate and reflect upon their lives and interviews in perpetuity. Talking back to the archive is a form of “shared authority.”