By Ellie Bluestein
Our history starts in 1915, when 1,200 women from many cultures came together during the First World War to study, make known and eliminate the causes of war. They created our organization: the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, WILPF for short. The purpose in founding WILPF was to have an organization through which women could work for peace and freedom by claiming women’s right and responsibility to participate in decision making on all aspects of peace and security.
WILPF envisions a transformed world at peace, where there is racial, social, and economic justice for all people everywhere—a world in which
- The needs of all people are met in a fair and equitable manner.
- All people equally participate in making the decisions that affect them.
- The interconnected web of life is acknowledged and celebrated in diverse ways and communities.
- Human societies are designed and organized for sustainable existence.
When I moved to Fresno in 1964, the Vietnam war was heating up and national WILPF had committed to organizing new branches all over the country. I had been a member for about 10 years, in Minnesota and Michigan, so when they called to ask if I would start a branch in Fresno I said I would try, although I had just been here a short while and wasn’t sure I knew enough people to get started. I asked around to see if there was already a peace group and was told to check with Mike and June Loring, who told me that there had been a small peace group of sorts but the woman who had kept it going had moved to Canada.
So I sent out 45 handwritten notes, including information about WILPF and inviting people to meet at my house; 12 people came and eight joined at once, so we became an official group. Joan Poss, Franny Levine and I are the only originals left. Valerie Kruger became our Catalyst editor, June Loring was our treasurer and we immediately started actions to protest the war. Within two years we had 50 members. My husband, Gene, had accepted a Fulbright appointment to the University of Helsinki, a wonderfully exciting opportunity for us all. But I was almost reluctant to leave because I was so involved with organizing WILPF and there was such need to stop the war, and I was afraid it would all come apart without me here to take leadership.
That’s when I learned one of the most important lessons of my life. I was not indispensible! Betty Dutton took over as president, and when I returned there were 100 members and Dutton had initiated many creative ideas, including a holiday craft sale at her home. The sale featured work that members had produced as a fund-raiser for WILPF and a venue for the creative efforts of our members. Everyone had such a good time taking part, and it was so well supported that it became an annual event.
This year, we are celebrating its 47th iteration, actually only 46th because we skipped one year when people were too busy with political action and couldn’t take time to organize the Faire. People in the community were disappointed and angry, and that was the last time we even contemplated copping out on the Faire.
By then, we had moved to more public venues. One year, we held the Faire in the basement of the First Christian Church, downtown on M Street. Blanche Nosworthy and Jennifer Williamson were in charge. They set everything up the night before, but it was a high crime area so they ended up sleeping there overnight as a precaution against theft or vandalism.
Years later, I asked them what they had planned to do if someone had actually broken in. They told me they had armed themselves with baseball bats. They were both fierce warriors; Nosworthy ran a peaceful nursery school where no toy weapons were allowed, or fighting.
That was also the year when food became part of the agenda. Ernestine baked a ham, I roasted a turkey and we offered sandwiches and drinks. It was hugely successful, so we continued and expanded that part of the concept.
We had a short tenure at the First Armenian Presbyterian Church in Southeast Fresno and then moved on to the Fireside Room of the Wesley Methodist Church where we had several welcoming members. But that venue was doomed before it started because we had so many vendors wanting space by then that shoppers had to wait outside until previous customers left in order to gain entrance.
And so began our special relationship with the Big Red Church with which we have had the most generous and cooperative and supportive relationship, When we needed more space they opened up rooms for us and allow us to use every table and chair that they have, plus pots and dishes and silverware, and they have kept the fee manageable for us as best they can. All of this made it possible to expand the whole concept and scope of the Faire from that pioneer venture at Dutton’s house.
The food service has been completely transformed. Our members and friends fix endless pots of “signature soups” with customers lining up for favorites, and people have been known to go back for seconds and thirds, plus bread, dessert and beverage, for a still reasonable price. It has become a huge undertaking, and Julie Andrews does it with incredible efficiency, skill and equanimity every year. When she was unable to be there one year, Ingrid Carmean took over for her and everyone pitched in and it was done deliciously. And when Carmean joined the Peace Corps and left for Chile, Nancy Waidtlow valiantly took over.
Some of the vendors have been with us almost since the beginning. Penelope Critchlow has her corner for displaying the popular woven scarves and hats and other clothing in original colors and combinations, and some people come back year after year to pick up an ever new style or design. Margaret Hudson also attracts people to her wonderful clay animals and pots year after year. Be sure to come by this year to visit with her and shop with her. She is now in a care facility, but we’re sure she’ll be there to greet old friends and fortify herself with the healthy soup that she enjoys.
Bette Peterson will no doubt he there up front near the entrance with at least one newly published book often with the author and/or illustrator on hand—children’s books, cookbooks, stories of and by different ethnic peoples who have settled in Fresno. Rosemary Morrison and Pearline Figueroa returned each year with their cloth dolls in various sizes and styles along with other fabric creations. Some years they made out better than others, but they always came to the Faire because they loved being part of the group. They came to WILPF when we were active in supporting the farmworkers’ organizing efforts with Jessie de la Cruz, who was a good friend. Now Morrison and de la Cruz have died, but Figueroa remains part of our sisterhood.
Along with the expansion of crafts and food has come the growth of information vendors—Peace Fresno, KFCF, Fresno Center for Nonviolence, the Community Alliance newspaper, some with money-raising products, all with information to promote the peace and justice agendas that they and WILPF advocate.
Our WILPF table just inside the entrance contains information about all our committees and priorities and current campaigns including our international connections, and how to join up with us. Our current areas of activity are represented by our committees: Building Beloved Community, including homeless issues and Dakota EcoGarden; Women in Black; Middle East; Cuba Solidarity; Earth Democracy; Corporations vs. Democracy; Raging Grannies; Disarm and End the War; and Advancing Human Rights.
Treasurer Nora DeWitt will be collecting annual dues renewals and signing up new members and distributing the membership directory. And, of course, at the corner of our display table we have the beautiful tree of peace cranes that Gerry Bill sets up for us each year with colorful strings of cranes.
Be sure to get some raffle tickets from Pat Wolk, who conducts the raffle each year for items donated by our vendors. Also check out the choice silent auction items right across the middle of the hall, and if you have some interesting items to donate you can bring them along and give them to Gioia Frank. Ann Carruthers has fresh fruits and flowers and seeds from members’ gardens outside the front entrance. And Lynn Ross sells the most delicious and eclectic jams at the Folklore Society table.
Speaking of folklore, there is music, music, music all day long. Linda Dryden invites some of Fresno’s best musicians to perform. Mike Reilly and Bill Lehr do a good job with the sound. But be prepared to sit up close in the dining area if you really want to hear well. Yes, there is joy and hugging and kissing and greeting, especially if you haven’t been to the Faire for a while. All the wonderful people come.
So bring the kids! We always have a creative play area, and this year a special storyteller, Godfrey Coppinger.
Two special surprises this year, but I’ll let you in on them:
- Hand-decorated beautiful Raging Granny Bears to raise money for Granny travels to the International Granny Uncon in Montreal next summer. They’re cuddly and cute but full of righteous rage. You’ll want one for everyone you know and love.
- 20 Fresno Women Committed to Change is back in print after 20 years. The stories and photographs of 20 radical Fresno women sold out two printings at the time of the exhibit and there have been many requests for it, so here it is again with photos redone from the originals using better technology.
The most important part of our title, “The Great Fresno Peace Community Craft Faire,” is the community part. It takes an enormous amount of work to put this together each year, but the comradeship and commitment and talent and appreciation for each other’s contributions make it a rare beautiful experience for each and every one of us—the ones who plan, the ones who put up and take down, the ones who create, the ones who sell, the ones who buy, the ones who come to be together and enjoy. Thank you all.
Ellie Bluestein has been a member of WILPF for 62 years. For information on WILPF, contact her at 559-229-9807.