has angry and funny bumper stickers all over her old white Cutlass Ciera.
the War/ Stop the Lies," The Emperor Has No Brains," "I Support
The Separation of Church and Hate!" "These Colors Don't Run ... The
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.
her shelves are lined with the thick tomes of Will and Ariel Durant's History of
Civilization and the Harvard Classics.
read all those while bringing up my children," says Frieda Berryhill, 84,
who in one person fuses communal compassion and impatient electricity.
knows her history. And not just through books.
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.
she returned to Austria after the war, the devastation took her breath away.
immigrated to the United States after marrying William Berryhill, an American
soldier, who came to Delaware to work for DuPont as an electrical engineer.
became a citizen in 1949. It was the happiest day of her life.
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."
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.
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
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.
what one woman can do?"
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.
energy also has been recently channeled into anti-Iraq War sentiment, sparked
especially by the passage of the Patriot Act in 2002.
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."
read and saw similarities between the Patriot Act and Hitler's 1933 "German
Enabling Act," which gave rights-crippling powers to the central
became frightened, and wrote an anti-Patriot Act resolution, introduced it in
Wilmington Council, and it passed 9 to 1," she says proudly.
also passed in Newark, Arden and Odessa.
says she won't stop for her four grandchildren'
"This country still works," she says. "I'm filled with enthusiasm."