“A lot of people are waiting for Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi to come back, but they are gone. We are it.”
— Marian Wright Edelman

Although men got most of the headlines in the early Greenpeace campaigns, many strong and visionary women helped bring Greenpeace to life. The family of Greenpeace co-founder Dorothy Stowe – who passed away on 23 July 2010 – hosted a memorial for her at the Unitarian Church in Vancouver, Canada in early August. The programme included the quote above. Several of the other women who helped found Greenpeace – Dorothy Metcalfe, Zoe Hunter and others – attended the service.

Dorothy Stowe

Dorothy Stowe was the first president of her local civic employees union in Rhode Island, where she faced repressive McCarthy era attacks. She spent her wedding night at a civil rights dinner, campaigned against nuclear weapons, and immigrated to Canada with her husband Irving in protest against the US-Vietnam war. She helped launch the first Greenpeace campaign, and hosted early Greenpeace meetings in her home. Dorothy always served food at these meetings, sometimes tea and cookies, and infused the radical politics with a calming sense of family and community.

Marie Bohlen

Marie Bohlen (Nonnast) was a nature illustrator, a Sierra Club member and a pacifist. Upon the birth of her son, Paul, she vowed that he would never go to war. She met Jim Bohlen at a Quaker peace march in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1958. They married and she introduced him to the Quaker Society of Friends and the Sierra Club. When Paul became eligible for the US military in 1967, they immigrated to Vancouver, Canada, where they met the Stowes and co-founded the Don’t Make A Wave Committee, which would later become Greenpeace.

Dorothy Stowe and Marie Bohlen. © Greenpeace
Dorothy Stowe and Marie Bohlen.
© Greenpeace

In February 1970, while discussing how to stop US nuclear bomb tests in Alaska, Marie proposed the idea of sailing a boat up to the test site and confronting the bomb. This, of course, became the first Greenpeace campaign. Since the voyage had been her idea, Marie intended to represent the Quakers on the boat. In the end, she decided to remain in Vancouver and work with Dorothy Stowe and the others. Thus, the Phyllis Cormack – the first Greenpeace boat – carried only men. Bob Hunter later commented in a newspaper interview that this had been a mistake and that the half of the crew should have been women.

The BC Voice of Women, led by Deeno Birmingham, played a key role in that first campaign, raising funds and petitioning the Canadian government to support the protest. Deeno drafted her husband, Dave Birmingham, to serve as engineer on the Phyllis Cormack. Lille d’Easum, a director of the Voice of Women, wrote the first Greenpeace technical report, a study of radiation effects.

Dorothy Metcalfe

Dorothy Metcalfe (Harris) had been a reporter at the Winnipeg Tribune when she met journalist Ben Metcalfe. They married and travelled to Europe in the 1950s, filing stories for the North America Newspaper Alliance. During the first Greenpeace campaign she converted her home into a radio room, relaying radio reports from Ben – who was on the Phyllis Cormack –  to the world’s media. When the US delayed the test, and the crew contemplated safe harbour in Kodiak, Alaska, Dorothy encouraged them to push on toward the Aleutian Islands. “The momentum is building,” she advised. Dorothy lobbied Canadian Members of Parliament, which resulted in three motions urging the US to cancel the test. She called Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s office, insisting he travel to Washington to confront the Americans. Through the media she sent a message “from the wives and families of the men on board the Greenpeace. Our men are risking their lives… for the benefit of all mankind.” When she accused Trudeau of being cowardly, some supporters thought she had gone too far. “This is a democracy,” Dorothy Metcalfe insisted. “People have a responsibility to speak their minds.”

During the French nuclear campaign, Dorothy Metcalfe once again provided the media centre. She also attended the first UN environmental meeting in Stockholm, and arranged an audience with the Pope at the Vatican to bless the Greenpeace flag.

“One must think like a hero to behave like a merely decent human being.”
— May Sarton

Zoe Hunter

Zoe Hunter (Rahim), a member of the UK Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, met Bob Hunter in London in 1962. She introduced him to the pacifist work of Bertrand Russell and took him on the 1963 peace march to the Aldermaston nuclear facility, Hunter’s first political protest. They married and had two children, Conan and Justine. Zoe worked with Dorothy Stowe and Dorothy Metcalfe to provision the first two Greenpeace ships. Today, she works with Amnesty International in Canada.

Ann-Marie Horne and Mary Lornie

The first two women to sail on a Greenpeace campaign were Ann-Marie Horne and Mary Lornie from New Zealand, on board the Vega, which sailed into the French nuclear test site at Moruroa Atoll in 1973. When French sailors boarded the Vega and assaulted David McTaggart and Nigel Ingram, Ann-Marie snapped photographs and Mary Lornie took video footage. The French confiscated the video camera, but Ann-Marie was able to successfully smuggle her film past French security. France claimed, “Our men boarded his vessel unarmed and without striking a single blow” and suggested that McTaggart suffered his wounds by falling on a cleat while “attempting to throw our sailors back into the sea.” Ann-Marie’s photographs, however – which showed the beatings of McTaggart and Ingram – appeared around the world and proved that the French government had lied about the attack.

Linda Spong

Artist and musician Linda Spong helped launch the Greenpeace whale campaign with her husband Paul. In 1974, they travelled to Japan with their son Yasha, and interpreters Maya Koizumi and Michiko Sakata, to build a pro-whale movement among Japanese scientists and supporters. In 1977, she served on the Greenpeace boat, Meander, which blockaded a vessel carrying representatives from 15 oil companies promoting an oil tanker port in northern British Columbia. To this day, Linda is active in the campaign to ban oil tankers from the Canadian coast.

Taeko Miwa and Carlie Trueman

Taeko Miwa and Carlie Trueman sailed on the first Greenpeace whale campaign. Trueman, an avid diver, was the first Greenpeace Zodiac specialist, and trained the crews in the operation and maintenance of the inflatable boats that would become a Greenpeace icon. Miwa was a student and environmentalist from Japan who had witnessed the devastating mercury poisoning in Minamata Bay. She ran campaigns against air pollution in Japan and served as Greenpeace’s Japanese translator.

“If I dreamed natural dreams of being a natural
woman doing what a woman does when she’s natural,
I would have a revolution.”
— Nikki Giovanni

Bobbi Hunter and Marilyn Kaga

Bobbi Hunter (Innes) helped launch the first whale campaign, managed the first public Greenpeace office in Vancouver, and raised much of the money for the first whale and seal campaigns. As project manager for a cable company, she had tracked the workflow of hundreds of technicians, and she applied these skills to Greenpeace; Bobbi became a key figure in organising a disjointed Greenpeace group that was running three campaigns with modest income. In 1976, Bobbi and Marilyn Kaga were the first women to blockade a whaling ship, the Russian Vlasny harpoon boat.

By the time of the whale and seal campaigns in the 1970s, women were regularly serving on the front line of Greenpeace actions. Eileen Chivers, Henrietta Nielson, Bonnie MacLeod, Bree Drummond, Mary-Lee Brassard, Susi Leger and other women served on the whale and seal campaigns during that era.

Susi Newborn and Denise Bell

Meanwhile, in London, Susi Newborn and Denise Bell acquired and outfitted the first ship that Greenpeace ever owned, the Rainbow Warrior. Newborn and Bell, who wanted to confront Icelandic whalers in the North Pacific, found the 134-foot trawler Sir William Hardy, raised the money to purchase it, and drafted Newborn’s childhood friend Athel von Koettlitz to help them restore the ship to life. In the spring of 1978, the ship set sail with an international crew representing the Netherlands, France, the UK, South Africa, Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia, the US and Canada. They confronted Icelandic and Spanish whalers and exposed the UK ship Gem, illegally dumping nuclear waste into the ocean. Newborn wrote a personal account of the Rainbow Warrior story, A Bonfire in My Mouth.

The Rainbow Warrior name came from a small book, Warriors of the Rainbow, by Aleut elder William Willoya and Vinson Brown. In the story ‘Return of the Indian Spirit’ a 12-year-old boy asks his Great Grandmother, Eyes of the Fire, “Why have such bad things happened to our people?” The Grandmother tells the boy of a prophecy that someday people from all the races of the world will join together to save the Earth from destruction and that these people will be known as Warriors of the Rainbow. This story inspired the Rainbow Warrior tradition in Greenpeace and to this day, the Grandmother continues to shed her powerful light and vision over Greenpeace.