Tribute to Joan Ecklein

WILPF Boston at Islamic Cultural Center of Boston, August 19, 2017 for anti-fascist march. L to R: Barbara Stahler-Sholk, one of the imams of the mosque, Joan Ecklein, and David Rothauser. Photo courtesy Barbara Stahler-Sholk
WILPF Boston at Islamic Cultural Center of Boston, August 19, 2017 for anti-fascist march. L to R: Barbara Stahler-Sholk, one of the imams of the mosque, Joan Ecklein, and David Rothauser. Photo courtesy Barbara Stahler-Sholk

by Val Moghadam, WILPF Member and MAPA Board Member

April 2022

Joan’s passing came as a shock because she and I had talked on the phone in late February, and we had planned to meet for lunch in April when the weather improved. Between spring break and the Persian New Year, March had gone by in a flash, and before I could call Joan to schedule our luncheon, I received the terrible news.

Joan was a lifelong and tireless peace activist, an academic, and a font of knowledge. On the recommendation of our mutual friend Subrata Ghoshroy, I sought out Joan after joining Massachusetts Peace Action (MAPA) and then the WILPF Boston chapter in 2016, and quickly we became friends. Apart from the monthly Saturday morning WILPF meetings that I attended for a while, Joan and I would meet for coffee, lunch, and chats, discussing politics in the U.S. and the world, and her experiences as an academic, which included periods of research in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Joan gave me published articles of hers on the sexual division of labor and the generous social policies that had enabled GDR women to combine careers and family life. She also gave me one of her books, Reminiscences of Lenin by Nadezhda K. Krupskaya (his wife and comrade), after I described a trip to the Lenin Museum in Moscow back in 1991, when I had been impressed by a room devoted to Krupskaya that did not mention her relationship to Lenin but rather focused on her record as educator, organizer, and revolutionary leader.

There are so many memories of interactions and shared experiences, such as the January 2018 Women’s Rally, and the many other activist meetings and rallies where I knew Joan would show up, including those organized by MAPA. The year 2017 was especially busy. It included the 33rd Triennial Congress of WILPF-US in Chicago in July (where of course we paid homage to Jane Addams), and the wonderful WILPF-Boston retreat in December 2017. An unforgettable event was the drive to Robin Lloyd’s farm in Vermont, an annual gathering place for WILPF members. I was able to make the Wing Farm trip just the one time in early September 2017, but Joan loved the annual retreat and went as often as she could. The year I attended, Eileen Kurkoski kindly drove us there and back, and the three of us talked, laughed, and sang songs. I may even have recited some Persian poetry.

In September 2017 I sent a photo of Joan in her activist mode to the WILPF-US Peace & Freedom magazine editor. In the photo (courtesy of Eileen Kurkoski), Joan stands behind a large WILPF banner and next to a Muslim imam, and she is waving.  Joan’s explication:

“We were are at the Islamic Center Mosque in Roxbury just across from the Regis Lewis Center where thousands were gathered to make the walk to Boston Common where they were going to confront the white supremacists who came to Boston to demonstrate.  Few white supremacists showed up so there was no confrontation. We in WILPF decided to stand at the mosque in solidarity with the people at the mosque and with those who would be marching to Boston Common.”

Joan was not only a tireless activist for peace, solidarity, and diplomacy, she also was a generous soul, offering her home for potlucks and fundraisers, such as one that hosted three women from Palestine’s West Bank who brought their beautiful craft work for us to admire and purchase.  She understood racism in America very well and once gave me a cogent lecture on the subject. In turn, I shared with her my grievances over US military interventions in the Middle East and especially the US-and UK-sponsored 1953 coup d’état against Iran’s Premier Mossadegh, which had affected so many families, including my own. Of course, she understood this perfectly well, having been a leftist and peace activist nearly her entire life. Indeed, her mother had been active in Women Strike for Peace, she once told me.

Joan and I met often until COVID struck, and even so, we would have monthly phone conversations. In addition to our planned luncheon in April, I was supposed to visit her home and peruse her vast collection of books and journals before my travels to London and Europe. I so regret not having had the chance to see and talk with her one last time. She was a treasured friend and comrade and I know that she will be sorely missed by her many friends and fellow activists in WILPF, MAPA, and beyond.