Battered Women’s Support Services honours one of our founding members
Frances Jane Wasserlein, was an extraordinary and prominent Vancouver women’s and LGBTQ rights activist and arts administrator, who passed to the spirit world recently at her home at the Sunshine Coast’s Halfmoon Bay. She was 69.
Frances was born in San Francisco and moved to Vancouver with her family as a child, completing her grade school education at Little Flower Academy.
She made a name for herself in social activism, beginning with her work helping organize the 1970 Abortion Caravan from Vancouver to Ottawa.
During the summer of 1979 Frances worked as a researcher for the Women’s Office at UBC on a project related to the early contributions of women to the establishment of UBC and the role women played in student activism at the university.
In 1979, Frances was one of the small group of women who founded Battered Women’s Support Services to provide self-help groups for women who were seeking an end to the violence and to deliver support group facilitation training and conscious raising groups for women. She went on to co-found Women Against Violence Against Women (WAVAW/Rape Relief) in 1982.
After receiving her BA from UBC, Wasserlein worked for the YWCA as a co-manager of Munro House for eighteen months. Following that, she worked as a researcher and writer with the Women’s Research Centre, working on studies related to the institutionalization of women’s services.
In 1983, when community was organizing toward a province-wide general strike, Frances was an organizer with Women Against the Budget. It was part of the larger Operation Solidarity movement opposed to the legislation tabled by the provincial government, a movement which saw 60,000 people take the streets to march through the Vancouver.
Later, Frances was also involved in the initiative that saw the creation of Vancouver’s Montreal Massacre Memorial.
Three women who worked with Frances offer words in memoriam
As the former Executive Director of Chrysalis Society when I think of Frances Wasserlein the words of Audre Lorde come to me.
“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”
Frances was the Chair Women of the board of directors for Chrysalis Society for a number of years during their major transformation from clean and sober housing for women to a provincially licensed facility with full programs. The licensing was important in order to receive provincial health funding to operate. Our vision was for a program that embraced women’s empowerment and the ability to heal through self-discovery. We believed that if women could be nurtured in a space safe to address their individual health concerns, trauma from their past, loss, and lives filled with violence, oppression and exploitation the result would be women empowered to live lives free from substance misuse and violence. This was indeed an innovative and unique approach to not only health and addiction but also against male violence against women. We were a group of women with a new approach and were challenged and put through the toughest of criteria from the “powers that be,” municipal and provincial levels of government. It was so tough and challenging and at times outright attacking that as the ED I wanted to give up many times. At those times there was Frances, strong and firm, always at my back reminding me by questioning my purpose, my commitment and my hearts desire that this was not about me and not about the “powers that be” but about the women that we stood up for now that we had connected with our power as women. She taught me that we, that I, have a responsibility to lead and model the way to be free as a woman with power, to hold up other women until they are standing in their power too. So my fear was not important, I had to transform that fear into passion, into power to rise above and keep walking forward with my focus on the vision. While at Frances’s memorial I learned that she shared this same teaching with many others in her time in this life, she was a warrior, a mentor, a leader, a defender she stood for freedom and love and shared it generously. With Frances we secured the licensing for Chrysalis who now has three homes and the programs are funded. The many women who have gone through the homes and now live empowered lives do not know Frances personally, the new board of directors and executive director do not know of her connection. The energy of her love has touched them all and continues as each woman becomes empowered to seek healing and freedom. Frances lives on in the energy of her love that she has left for all to share. We need only reach out and connect with the incredible initiatives she has spearheaded or championed.
All my relations,
Sheila A. Nyman MSW RSW
A few decades ago when I first got involved in the women’s movement in Vancouver, Frances was one of my heroes and the opportunity to join the struggle alongside Frances was inspiring and incredibly energizing. Then a few years ago, I got the opportunity to reconnect with Frances who came onboard to write the history of Central City Foundation and once again I got to experience her wisdom, insight and compassionate self. I will miss her dearly.
Jennifer Johnstone, Central City Foundation President & CEO
Frances quenched my thirst to learn. She listened deeply and often. She gave me space to grow. She shored me up when I doubted. My world is a better place because I knew her and I hope I am a better woman.
Janice Abbott, CEO Atira Women’s Resource Society