Frieda Berryhill

She has angry and funny bumper stickers all over her old white Cutlass Ciera.

"Stop the War/ Stop the Lies," The Emperor Has No Brains," "I Support The Separation of Church and Hate!" "These Colors Don't Run ... The World."

Inside her cozy home hangs a large painting of 18th-century Enlightenment figures, including the Frenchman Voltaire, grinning like a Cheshire cat at how reasonable the world can be if only people were, well, reasonable.

Nearby, her shelves are lined with the thick tomes of Will and Ariel Durant's History of Civilization and the Harvard Classics.

"I read all those while bringing up my children," says Frieda Berryhill, 84, who in one person fuses communal compassion and impatient electricity.

She knows her history. And not just through books.

Berryhill grew up in Austria and entered puberty when Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany. When Hitler's Third Reich took over her country, she was 16, and was assigned to a labor camp to work on a farm because all the men had gone off to war. Later, she tracked Allied bombers over the skies of northern Germany.

When she returned to Austria after the war, the devastation took her breath away.

She immigrated to the United States after marrying William Berryhill, an American soldier, who came to Delaware to work for DuPont as an electrical engineer.

She became a citizen in 1949. It was the happiest day of her life.

"I studied the Constitution," she says. "I was enthralled by the history of the Revolution and the Civil War. The marvelous concept of the separation of the branches of government."

While she became a stay-at-home wife during the 1950s and 1960s, she read as much as she could and made her first dissenting move when she heard the minister of her church call Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, a "chicken thief." She left that particular church.

Her first great cause, however, was a late 1970s Delmarva-proposed nuclear power plant slated for Delaware. "It would have been the biggest reactor in the country," Berryhill says. "And it wasn't safe. I couldn't just do nothing."

She studied another high-temperature, gas-cooled nuclear power reactor then active in Colorado, lobbied legislators, wrote letters and gathered anti-nuclear power supporters. She started to collect money to go to court to stop it before Delmarva canceled the project.

"See what one woman can do?"

She helped craft an ethics policy for the National Utility Regulators in 1977. And she is continuing to push the Delaware legislature to work on a regionwide evacuation plan if there is an accident at the Salem Nuclear Power Plant in New Jersey, which she says is built on a mud pile.

Her energy also has been recently channeled into anti-Iraq War sentiment, sparked especially by the passage of the Patriot Act in 2002.

"You couldn't dissent then," Berryhill says of her days in Austria and Germany. "People asked me for 50 years how the Nazis could have happened in Germany. I could never answer that question until now. You lose your rights so incrementally, unnoticeably, that before you realize what's happening it's too late. That's what the Patriot Act did to me."

She read and saw similarities between the Patriot Act and Hitler's 1933 "German Enabling Act," which gave rights-crippling powers to the central government.

"I became frightened, and wrote an anti-Patriot Act resolution, introduced it in Wilmington Council, and it passed 9 to 1," she says proudly.

It also passed in Newark, Arden and Odessa.

She says she won't stop for her four grandchildren' s sake, and for the ideals for which the United States has stood for more than two centuries.

"This country still works," she says. "I'm filled with enthusiasm."