Michelle Crone Papers, 1927-2000, bulk 1982-1995
- Crone, Michelle
- The Michelle Crone Papers document her experience as a feminist and lesbian activist from the early 1980s until the mid-1990s. The collection includes material from here position as National Civil Disobedience Coordinator for the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, and as a member of the Executive Committee for the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation. Also present are records from Michelle Crone’s management of a number of women’s festivals from 1982 to 1996—most notably Rhythm Fest and the Cultural Festival at Gay Games IV—and records from her Capital District production company, Elword Productions. The collection also includes the records from her experience with the Seneca Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and the National Lesbian Conference. Also included are her personal correspondence, records of her undergraduate studies with the theater and women’s studies programs at the University at Albany, SUNY, and political literature from a number of progressive causes at the national and local levels.
- 44.4 cubic ft.
- English and English French Spanish
- Preferred citation:
- Preferred citation for this material is as follows: and Identification of specific item, series, box, folder, Michelle Crone Papers, 1927-2000, Undated. M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University at Albany, State University of New York.
Access and Use
- Conditions Governing Access:
Access to this collection is unrestricted.
The researcher assumes full responsibility for conforming with the laws of copyright. Whenever possible, the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives will provide information about copyright owners and other restrictions, but the legal determination ultimately rests with the researcher. Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be discussed with the Head of Special Collections and Archives.
- Scope and Content:
The Michelle Crone Papers primarily contain the materials generated and collected during Crone’s organization of various women’s and gay ? lesbian events and political actions. There are organizational records from her work on the Cultural Festival at Gay Games IV, both the 1987 and 1993 National Marches on Washington, the 1991 National Lesbian Conference, the Seneca Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice, the National Gay ? Lesbian Creating Change Conference, and various women’s festivals such as the West Coast ? Southern Women’s Music ? Comedy Festival, the Michigan Womyn’s Festival, Full Circle Festival: Equinox ’89, and her own Rhythm Fest. Additionally, there is biographical information in the form of personal correspondence as well as educational materials from her undergraduate studies at the State University of New York at Albany.
The collection features notes and working papers generated by the various events Michelle Crone was involved with, particularly Rhythm Fest, the Seneca Peace Encampment and the 1987 and 1993 Marches on Washington, The Elword Production series and the Gay Game IV series feature promotional materials for the various musical acts, performers, and playwrights who submitted entries. Promotional material and some administrative records are also present for the Michigan Womyn’s Festival, the Lesbian and Gay Film and Video Festival, and Full Circle Festival: Equinox ’89. The collection also includes a large amount of personal correspondence.
- Biographical / Historical:
Born in Albany as Michelle DeMarco, Michelle Crone was a notable driving force in the lesbian and women’s movements both at the local and national level for almost 30 years. Her long career as a grassroots activist and organizer focused primarily on internal cooperation and rumor control within the various activism movements she was involved in. An interest in theater and film led her to producing performances within the women’s festivals of the 1980s and the establishment of her own Albany-based production company, Elword Productions. Crone became a national leader in the lesbian political activist movement, serving important roles with both the 1987 and 1993 national marches, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, an as a central leader of the National Lesbian Conference of 1991.
Michelle DeMarco graduated from Albany’s Vincentian School in 1968 and immediately volunteered for the anti-poverty VISTA program. She served as a welfare rights worker in the Blue Ridge Mountains and helped to establish a crisis intervention network and other social programs in the Virgin Islands. She attended the College of the Virgin Islands for a period where she studied anthropology and sociology.
During much of the 1970s, DeMarco was spending half her years in St. Thomas and half in the Albany area. In 1972 she joined the Capital District group Lesbians for Liberation, a radical feminist organization that heavily influenced the local women’s movement. By the mid-1970s, DeMarco was a member of a variety of separatist feminist collectives in the Adirondacks and Vermont, such as A Women’s Place in Athol, New York, Crone Hill in Hoag’s Corners, New York, and Redbird near Burlington, Vermont. In 1976 she began to go by Michelle Crone and helped start Gypsy Silver, a collectively-owned and operated business that provided vegetarian catering, taxi, and general handyman (or handywomen) services.
Crone became involved with large women’s festivals beginning with the Michigan Womyn’s Festival in 1979. She would directly contribute to the organization of over 25 festivals throughout her career. She became interested in solving internal conflict and in the development of effective communalist approaches to organization and the decision-making processes. Throughout the 1980s Crone continued her involvement with the Michigan festival and also served as coordinator for Robin Tyler’s Southern Women’s Music ? Comedy Festival and West Coast Music ? Comedy Festival, and helped lead the Full Circle Festival: Equinox ’89 at the end of the decade.
Crone was admitted into the State University of New York at Albany through the Educational Opportunities Program (EOP) in the fall of 1981. She majored first in theatre, yet also fulfilled interests in film, women’s studies, and anthropology. She graduated with honors 1986 with a degree in film history and anthropology and later became a mentor in the Women’s Studies Internship Program, helping dozens of young women gain experience in activist movements.
In 1983, Crone became a central organizer of the Seneca Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice, again helping to define the group’s communal structure and organizational process. The encampment aimed to build a representative and diverse community with a non-hierarchical decision-making process and provide a safe, legal space for civil disobedience actions. They demanded a halt to the deployment of nuclear missiles abroad and camped outside the Seneca Army Depot near Romulus, New York, which was the rumored nuclear storage site and staging-ground for the export of nuclear weaponry to Europe. Crone was the first staff member and received $200 a week to coordinate logistics, manage donations and permits, assist with office and media work, and manage orientation for new women. The encampment was active from 1983 until at least 1987, performing a variety of civil disobedience actions that included symbolic candlelight vigils and “peace puzzles” outside the depot’s main gate to chaining themselves to the fence, sneaking inside the fence to plant trees, and even camping on the depot’s runway. One planned action proposed to place a symbolic condom (a bed sheet) on a model missile just inside the base. Members of the encampment were arrested by military police multiple times, and the group often conflicted with the local populace and police.
With her contacts developed during her time a numerous festivals, Crone started Elword Productions in 1986, and for the next decade the company brought nationally known feminist, lesbian, and gay performers to the Capital District. Acts included comedian and lesbian activist Robin Tyler—who worked with Crone at a number of festivals—and JEB (Joan E. Biron), a photojournalist and documentarian filmmaker who attended the Seneca Women’s Encampment. Elword also produced future lesbian activist and Grammy award winner Mellissa Etheridge in the late 1980s when Etheridge charged $200 a show to play in Albany.
By 1986, gay men and lesbians felt they were under political threat across the nation. The AIDS crisis was growing disproportionally within gay communities and the discomfort with homosexuality in popular political discourse led to the marginalization of the crisis and strong accusations that Ronald Reagan’s administration was ignoring and underfunding health organizations and research into the disease. Gay men and lesbians began to witness calls for forced testing and concentration camp-like quarantines for gay men in popular discourse. Moreover, in 1986 the Supreme Court ruled in Bowers v. Hardwick that a Georgia sodomy law was constitutional. The case was particularly offensive to gay men and lesbians because it featured police impropriety and the act in question was consensual and took place in the defendant’s bedroom. In the ruling, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger cited ancient prohibitions to homosexuality – effectively arguing that gay sex was illegal in any context.
This feeling of external threat and the deaths of many gay men due to AIDS, radicalized the gay and lesbian activist movements. In early 1987 the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) was started in New York City and Michelle Crone joined the movement’s Albany chapter. Plans began to circulate for a national march on Washington and Crone’s experience with grassroots activism, logistics and organizational structure, and civil disobedience made her a candidate for a leadership role. Furthermore, her advocacy for a variety of leftist causes meshed well with the movement’s attempt at progressive coalition-building. The theme of the March was “For Love and For Life, We’re Not Going Back!” and the movement demanded legal representation of homosexual relationships, repeal of sodomy laws, the banning of discrimination by sexual orientation, a gay civil rights bill, money for AIDS research and health centers, and progressive pro-choice and anti-apartheid causes.
Crone became involved during the March’s early stages, serving on the planning committees for hiring, legal, and logistics. She became a member of the New York Regional Committee and was then elected as the region’s representative to the National Steering Committee. Here she helped manage merchandise sales, budget, health, media, on-site logistics, and the organization of PWA (People with AIDS) groups. Most notably, Crone was selected at the National Civil Disobedience Coordinator for the March and managed the action at the Supreme Court to protest the Bowers ruling. The structure of the C.D. action was akin to that of Crone’s earlier groups, with activists divided up into “affinity groups” each with a heath monitor and spokesperson that represented the group’s interests to the larger spokescouncil that make decisions. With the theme “Out and Outraged: Love, Life, Liberation,” between 650 and 850 activists were arrested on October 13th, 1987 on the steps of the Supreme Court, making the demonstration the second-largest act of Civil Disobedience in the nation’s history. The action established nonviolent civil disobedience as a viable protest tactic for the gay and lesbian activist movement.
In 1986, Michelle Crone attended an international conference of lesbians in Geneva, Switzerland where she became disappointed at the coordination of American lesbians at the national level and she began advocating for a national conference. In 1989 she organized a National Planning Meeting in Durham, North Carolina to coordinate a conference that would discuss and implement a national lesbian agenda and foster a unified national lesbian movement with a common vision. Crone chaired the Entertainment Committee and the Structure/Process Committee and again implemented a collectivist organization that was driven by consensus and prioritized minority representation. For two years the Interim National Office was essentially Crone’s kitchen in Albany. In 1991 the National Lesbian Conference was held in Atlanta, Georgia, where lesbians of color made up 50% of representatives and lesbians with disabilities constituted 20%.
By the late 1980s, Crone grew dissatisfied with the organization of women’s festivals. Together with Kathleen Mahoney, Susan Fuchs, Barbara Savage, and Mandy Carter began Rhythm Fest: Women’s Music Art ? Politics, an annual humanist/progressive women’s festival that ran from 1990 until 1996. The festivals were women-only affairs with some men tolerated only for maintenance work. Again Crone was process-focused and made efforts to manage internal dissent and cooperation. She instituted “rumor control” as a process and often solicited feedback and evaluations from workers and attendees. Rhythm Fest also focused on the recognition of minority groups and featured special camping areas for women over 40, disabled women, women with children, “chem-free,” “chem-tolerant,” clean ? sober, S?, biker girls, quiet women, and rowdy women. Like similar festivals, Rhythm Fest sometimes had issues with public nudity, with an incident forcing the festival to move from Georgia to North Carolina.
Crone became involved with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, a lobby group, during the late 1980s. She served on the host committee for the 1991 Creating Change Conference and served as the NGLTF’s grassroots organizer for the upcoming 1993 National March on Washington. Crone was also involved in organizing the 1993 march during its early stages, serving as a member of the Interim Coordinating Committee. For this march she was elected to both the large National Steering Committee and to the 12-member Executive Committee, and served on the Outreach and Communication/Media Subcommittees. Her title with the NGLTF was updated to March on Washington Coordinator where she managed outreach and merchandizing for the lobby group, as well as directed their marketing plan, ran a canvassing campaign, and produced NGLTF march events and activities. Locally, Crone managed the transportation of the New York AIDS Memorial Quilt to Albany and the addition of names from the Capital District.
In 1994, Crone was selected as Events Coordinator for the Cultural Festival at Gay Games IV in New York City which was held on the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. Gay Games is an athletic and cultural festival that began in 1982 features LGBT athletes, artists, and entertainers. Gay Games IV boasted over 10,000 athletes, more than those that competed in either 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona or the 1996 Games in Atlanta. The athletes competed in a number of locations around the city, from college pools and city recreation centers to Central Park. Michelle Crone directed the Cultural Festival which included performances by LGBT entertainers such as Ian McKellen and Robin Tyler.
Crone continued her activist efforts into the mid-1990s. She spoke at various pride parades and rallies and joined the Gay ? Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). Locally, she had been a member of the New York State Lesbian ? Gay Lobby, where she was charged with local community organizing, since the late 1980s. When that group evolved into the Empire State Pride Agenda in 1994 she was appointed to its Board of Directors.
- Acquisition information:
Michelle Crone donated all items in this manuscript group to the University Libraries, M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives, from 2001 to 2004.
- Processing information:
Processed in 2014 by Gregory Wiedeman.
Social Activists and Public Advocates
Human Sexuality and Gender Identity
Albany, New York
Lesbian activists--United States
Lesbian feminism--United States
National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights
Women in community organization--New York (State)
Women--United States--Social conditions
Fliers (printed matter)
- Crone, Michelle