March is Women’s History Month, a time to acknowledge the significant contributions women make to their families, their businesses, their communities, and social progress. This month, we remember Elsie Frank, a woman whose name we recognize on our Office of Elder Affairs conference room and whose life was dedicated to those kinds of contributions across the Commonwealth. Her life long passion even influenced her children, former Congressman Barney Frank and Democratic strategist Ann Lewis, to follow in her footsteps.
Incredibly, Elsie Frank’s career as an advocate did not begin until the age of 70. At the time, Elsie Frank may have looked like everyone’s grandmother: short white hair, friendly face, sensible shoes. But, she certainly didn’t act like it. In her son’s 1982 Congressional campaign, Elsie starred in campaign ads and Fourth Congressional District political events. Elsie could be found regularly advocating for the need for affordable housing and assisted living residences for seniors. She spoke at forums on single payer healthcare and was an early mover working to promote the goals of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). Elsie’s political voice could be heard in from Washington to Boston; and in fact, both Governor Weld and President Clinton sought her personal advice on political issues.
Perhaps most significantly, Elsie was an active member and later President of the Massachusetts Association of Older Americans (MAOA). It was there that she lobbied for a law establishing assisted living facilities in Massachusetts, and the development of regional Aging Service Access Points (ASAPs). Elsie firmly believed that any older person could and should be engaged and involved in issues they cared about
The depth of Elsie’s impact on others can be measured by the number of agencies and organizations that use her name. Elsie was a founder of HEARTH and, today, the Elsie Frank House is home to nine homeless older women. The Elsie Frank Walk raises money for Kit Clark Senior Services, PFLAG offers the Elsie Frank Scholarship for the high school seniors who promote understanding about gay and lesbian students, and MAOA named its annual award, the Elsie Frank Elder Advocacy Award, in her honor.
At the Executive Office of Elder Affairs we are proud of our Elsie Frank conference room, which reminds us of her determination and her belief that age was no barrier to improving her own and other lives.
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