Local woman welcomes back ‘grey-haired’ crusaders

Madison resident Jeanne Dufort got her first taste of activism while living on tiny Van Schaick Island in Cohoes, New York as a child.

Left to right, Eileen McGrath, Donna McBain, Sharon Galarneau and Jeanne Dufort march in the 1970 Centennial parade of Dufort’s birthplace, Cohoes, N.Y, wearing hand-sewn costumes.


Shellie Smitley


Women's History Month traces its beginnings back to the first International Women's Day in 1911. The 2018 National Women’s History theme presents the opportunity to honor women who have shaped America’s history and its future through their tireless commitment to ending discrimination against women and girls. The month-long observance is a time for Morgan County to celebrate the efforts of its female crusaders.

Madisonian Jeanne Dufort credits her parents with teaching her that if she saw something wrong she should not be afraid to stand up.

When she was just seven years old, she got her first taste of activism while living on Van Schaick Island in Cohoes, New York. The Spindle City had a machine democratic mayor until the upstart Citizens Party ran her family’s doctor against him. Dufort’s parents got involved and the family marched in a parade in support of the physician.

“People can stand up for the right thing, challenge somebody who is an advantage-taker and kick him out,” Duford said of the lessons she was taught. Her part in the physician’s victory was the beginning of a life filled with strong political and humanitarian convictions coupled with the courage to voice her stance. Years later, she worked in journalism while attending the University of Chicago where she majored in political science and English. A feminist newspaper handed her press credentials and a free bus ticket to attend a march in Washington D.C. in support of the Equal Rights Amendment. A young Gloria Steinem participated in the 1978 event with an estimated attendance of 100,000.


“To see that many women in person coming together from across the country,” Dufort said with awe. “It was a really cool thing in a really big moment.”


Dufort went back to Chicago and worked in the fight to get first African-American mayor Harold Washington elected. She also contributed to the victory of Carol Moseley Braun, first African-American woman in the U.S. Senate. She admitted she once had political aspirations of her own.

“For a long time, I believed I would be the first woman supreme justice,” she said laughing. “Sandra Day O’Conner beat me to it.”

  1. Dufort’s business dealings took her around the world where she was impressed by the impact women had globally.

“Fundamentally, the whole world has beaten us to having women in the top place,” she said. “Pakistan had Benazir Bhutto decades ago and India had Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi a long time ago.”

Dufort eventually settled down in Morgan County, drawn to the lake that reminds her of the 1981 film, “On Golden Pond.” She continues to engage in political activism.

“I am a progressive by nature, I believe, not surprisingly, that government should work for the people,” she said. “We have lost our way ethically from fairness as an important value, not a law, but a value. “

She helped organize a peace vigil in Madison after a rally turned violent in Charlottesville, Va.

“We are not here to bash anybody, but hate is not our America,” she said of the mindset of those who participated. She connects with like-minded locals who share a vision of restoring kindness to the country regardless of political affiliation.

Like many women, Dufort felt personally affected by President Donald Trump’s win, not-so-much because of his Republican affiliation, but by what many perceived as crude rhetoric toward women and minorities. She attended the history-making Washington D.C. Women’s March on Trump’s first day in office. The enormity of the event surprised her. More than 1 million people rallied at marches in the nation’s capital and other cities around the world. It was the largest single-day protest in U.S. history.

“It started so organically, it was amazing. It started with a few women passing the word to a few other women,” she said.

Dufort is encouraged by the outpouring, events and efforts of “Grey-haired” progressive women, rallying for women’s rights outside the structure of the Democratic Party since Trump came into office.

“We are back,” she said of female crusaders over the age of 60 years old.


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