Jean Pauline, feminist anarchist activist extraordinaire, died at age 95 on November 23, 2016. She was a woman with a voluminous life who never stopped being a political activist, as activism was at her core. She was a friend to LAGAI-Queer Insurrection and QUIT!( Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism!), always following what we did and supporting us.
Jean was born Regina Kuchinsky with an identical twin Sylvia, in Newark, New Jersey to Russian and Polish Jewish immigrants. She spent most of her childhood in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Her father worked in the garment sweatshops and was active in the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. Jean graduated from to City College of New York in business administration. She then went on to teach in the New York public schools for a short period, joining the teachers’ union. These early life experiences led her to become a passionate labor activist, and at one of her early jobs at the Jewish Welfare Board, she forming a union shop with the International Longshore Workers Union. Later she helped form Union WAGE, a group in San Francisco that organized women office workers and was instrumental in getting temp agencies to pay vacation pay. Jean also worked at the Labor Archives, a San Francisco State University repository for union historical documents categorizing labor photographs from the Daily World. She was also an integral member of Bay Area Labor History Workshop.
Jean moved to the West Coast with her husband, Abe Swerdlow, settling in San Diego, though she preferred San Francisco. In San Diego, she raised her two daughters, Susan and Emily, and expanded her activism. She became part of CORE and was involved in the civil rights movement. She helped found one of the first chapters of the Peace and Freedom Party with people from San Diego Peace Information Center, and demonstrated against the bay of pigs invasion by the u.s. in Cuba. During that time, with abortion illegal, she worked on a network helping women obtain safe abortions.
In the mid-sixties Jean began exploring Women’s Liberation and Anarchism. She moved back to San Francisco, and in 1971 began volunteering at the Modern Times Bookstore, a leftist bookstore. In 1973 she joined the Modern Times Collective and worked there for 25 years. There she met Anarchists for the first time and said she realized that she had always been an Anarchist, fighting against hierarchy and cementing her interest in working cooperatively. Even while working at Modern Times, she volunteered at Bound Together Bookstore, an Anarchist collectively run bookstore in the Haight, and when she retired from Modern Times, she became more involved with Bound Together. She was one of the founders and key organizers of the Anarchist Book Fair and Labor Fest. During the early seventies Jean led feminist consciousness raising groups at Modern Times and the Women’s Building. By that time she had gotten divorced from her husband, wanting to lead a more independent life.
Modern Times and Jean Pauline early on supported gay liberation . Tede Mathews ( one of the first members of LAGAI) was part of the bookstore collective and later died of AIDS. Jean Pauline joined the AIDS activist movement and became involved with some of the health care circles for men with AIDS. Later Jean worked on the campaign to gain Single Payer Health care in Neighbor to Neighbor.
Jean Pauline was an active member of Jewish Alliance Against Zionism (JAAZ) also known as Jews Against Zionism. For at least the last fifteen years Jean Pauline was a stalwart of Bay Area Women in Black, who stood vigil weekly in front of the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland, protest the israeli occupation of Palestine, the us support of the occupation and against war and militarism everywhere.
In 1998 Jean moved to Oakland to live with Tom Brown, also a political activist with whom she lived until he died in 2014. Jean also sang in the Jewish Folk Chorus and the Rockin’ Solidarity Labor Chorus.
This obituary doesn’t even begin to do justice to the breadth of Jean’s life. When I moved to San Francisco in the early seventies, I found Jean at Modern Times bookstore in a women’s liberation consciousness raising group. I remember her vividly because at the time, through my 24 year old eyes Jean Pauline, then in her fifties, seemed so very old. Because of the age difference she remained one of the oldest people I knew throughout my own now quite long activist life, always paving the way for me. She along with other aging activists like the radical lesbian Louise Merrill, Marge Nelson and Polly Taylor both from Old Lesbians Organizing For Change (OLOC), and Hilda Roberts from Berkeley Women In Black became role models, gave me a sense about aging, providing inspiration about what it means to be an aging revolutionary. Now those of us reaching our seventies, who remain committed and vigorous anarcha-feminist, anti capitalist, anti patriarchal revolutionaries, are in turn making aging activism real to younger queer anarchist revolutionaries.–Tory
I met Jean when I first arrived here from Burlington, VT in the late 1970s. She was living on Treat St, in SF’s Mission neighborhood, in a collective household with some really amazing people. I was so impressed with this diverse, activist household. Knowing Jean all these years, singing progressive Yiddish songs with her in the Jewish Folk Chorus, doing jigsaw puzzles, and sharing stories has enriched my life. Jean cared about so many causes and gave her time, energy and money to make this world a better place. She was a people-person and really valued the many, many friends she’d made over the years both locally and around the country. Jean Pauline will be remembered and missed by so many. –Renee Enteen
I loved Jean for her sarcasm, and occasionally cynicism, about movements for which she was also enthusiastic and optimistic. I looked forward to running into her, whether at the bookstores, an event or a demonstration. I will miss her. – Deeg
In 2009, I interviewed Jean for KPFA radio Women’s Magazine’s Labor Day show. It was a delightful interview about feminism, anarchism and the labor movement, filled with Jean-esque tidbits like “The Communist Party of course was never interested in women’s issues.” She always spoke her truth. At the memorial for Tede Mathews at Modern Times. Jean talked about how much fun Tede could be. “He didn’t get burned out on the hard, tedious work of the movement, the way many of us do,” she said. She took a breath, looked down for a second, and added, “He didn’t usually do it.” –Kate
I met Jean Pauline when she and I were volunteering at Modern Times in the early 70’s. Jean’s intellect, curiosity, and compassion were always present in every conversation and she was always interested in my teaching experiences. I was in the SF Labor Chorus with Tom Brown so it was another connection when Jean got involved with him; they both seemed very joyful together. Jean’s 90th birthday celebration at Modern Times was wonderful, I was looking forward to more. –Deni