Frances Naftalin – Reader, Leader, Feminist and Friend

A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.

 These words of Rosalynn Carter well reflect many of the women who have shaped our state’s social, political and cultural environment. The stories of some of these women stand out as subtle threads woven into the fabric of Minnesota’s political history.   Women such as Joan Mondale, Nancy Latimer, Arvonne Fraser and Muriel Humphrey were wives of powerful political leaders; each in her own life embodies Carter’s truth that leadership should be judged by the movement of the minds and hearts of people to “where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.”

One such leader, Frances Healey Naftalin, died recently died at age 95 in her Minneapolis home. She was memorialized on Valentine’s Day by loving friends and family. Arvonne Fraser, who shared with Naftalin the experience of being typecast as the dutiful wife of an elected official, spoke for many:

She didn’t parade her magnificent intelligence; it simply demonstrated itself in conversations. She read widely, deeply and intensely, and discussed what she was reading about, or had read, with respect and admiration for the author or the subject when it was relevant to discussion. Without condescending to all of us lesser minds, she educated us as she talked, never really realizing that was what she was doing.

Fraser described early politicking for women candidates with Naftalin, recalling how “people listened when Fran talked whether it was about children, politics, the fine arts, her mother…whatever. She neither wasted nor minced words.”

Many of us knew Frances Naftalin best as a peerless advocate for libraries. She served with distinction as President of the Board of the Minneapolis Public Library and was appointed by President Carter to serve on the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science. As a member of NCLIS she served with distinction during a turbulent era marked by political challenges to the appointment of some of the Commissioners, including Naftalin – all survived the tempest in the NCLIS teapot, though it did involve Fran’s having to defend her appointment before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor.

It was in her role as a member of NCLIS that Fran quietly maneuvered one of her most subtle strategies to “move people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” In 1982, when the information age was more a gleam in the eye than a reality, NCLIS sponsored a national study on Public Sector Private Sector Interaction in the Delivery of Information Services. The fledgling information industry managed to skew the final report to the benefit of corporate interests that effectively squelched the public’s right to know and the role of public agencies, including libraries. (http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED500878.pdf)

Commissioner Naftalin entered a minority response and grudgingly supported the report on the explicit condition that NCLIS follow up with discussions of the volatile issue of “public sector/private sector interaction.” Naftalin chaired the opening session of the first response, held in Minnesota, sponsored by Metronet and funded by the Minnesota Humanities Commission. At that session she introduced Harlan Cleveland, Dean of the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, who chose the occasion to elaborate on his prescient theory of the unique characteristics of “Information as a Resource.” (https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2011/07/27/harlan-clevelands-characterization-of-information-as-a-resource/) Cleveland’s formulation reshaped the premise of the report and the offered a new lens through which to view and assess the properties of information as a resource.

Aware that the information and communications environment was poised for massive change, Naftalin had once again proved herself “a great leader (who) takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.”

Reflecting on her early days of politicking with Fran, Arvonne Fraser wrote these words which were read at the memorial service for her friend: “Activists we were…In many ways, we were feminists – the suffragists had preceded us; we were just a bit ahead of the mid-20th century women’s movement.”

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One response to “Frances Naftalin – Reader, Leader, Feminist and Friend

  1. Suzanne Mahmoodi

    Nice, Mary.

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