Skip to main content

Marjorie Swann and Robert Swann Papers

Identifier: SCPC-DG-264

Scope and Contents

This collection relates almost entirely to Marj Swann's involvements and public witness against nuclear weapons testing in the 1950s and 1960s. Included are some things by /about her husband of the time, Robert Swann, who was also active in the same issues.


  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1949-1972


Language of Materials

The materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access


Conditions Governing Use



Marj (Marjorie) Schaffer [Schaefer?] Swann Edwin was born on February 15, 1921 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She was a Quaker peace activist for seven decades. Marj Swann was an early leader of the nonviolent peace movement. She was first arrested at the British Embassy in Washington (D.C.) during a protest against the imprisonment of Gandhi. She married Robert Swann in circa 1946. In 1958, she was arrested for trespassing at a nuclear missile site in Omaha (Nebraska), as part of a civil disobedience campaign named Omaha Action. She was sentenced to prison at Alderson (West Virginia), where she was incarcerated for six months. Marj was the Executive Director of the American Friends Service Committee (New England only?), from the office in Cambridge (Massachusetts) in 1977-1980. Marj, and her husband of the time, Robert, founded the New England Committee for Nonviolent Action (NECNVA) in 1960. Early on they focused on direct action campaigns against nuclear weapons at the Polaris nuclear submarine base in Groton (Connecticut). Based on a farm in Voluntown (Connecticut), they traveled throughout New England organizing vigils, walks, fasts, and caravans regarding draft and military counseling, war tax resistance, civil rights, gay rights, military base conversion, and other issues. They helped to organize the Omaha Action against nuclear missiles, the Quebec-Guantanamo Walk, Polaris Action, and the San Francisco - Moscow Walk. In 1972, Marj underwent a 22-month-long liquid-only fast to protest the Vietnam War, along with Dick Gregory. A charter member of the Congress of Racial Equality (C.O.R.E.), she was also active with the NAACP, the War Resisters League, the National Committee for Conscientious Objectors, and the Cambridge (Massachusetts) Friends Meeting,

Marj and Robert separated in 1978 and later divorced. They had four children together, and Marj later gained a stepdaughter through her marriage to John F. Edwin. Marj moved to Berkeley (California) in 1996. She died surrounded by her family at age 93, on March 14, 2014, in her home in Santa Cruz (California).

Robert S. Swann was born on March 26, 1918 in Cleveland Heights (Ohio). He was inducted by the draft on November 14, 1941. His local draft board was unsympathetic to his intention to be a conscientious objector to war, and assigned him I-A status (available and fit for military service). He was arrested on September 22, 1942 for failure to report for the physical examination, though this had happened through a misunderstanding, and was tried on October 16, 1942 for evading the draft. For a time he was held in the Columbus (Ohio) city prison, and then sent to the Ashland FCI prison (Kentucky). He was given a prison parole for farm work (?) in March 1944, and a "public service parole" by July 20, 1945.

After their marriage, Robert and Marj were a team in their efforts to shut down missile sites through nonviolent direct action, supporting each other and their children when one or the other was involved in a protest or was in prison (Robert was sentenced in 1962 to three months in prison for protesting the launching of the submarine Ethan Allen). They bought a 40-acre farm for $17,000 in Voluntown (Connecticut), which became the base for most protest actions (by the 1970s they had moved to Massachusetts). In 1967, he signed a public statement declaring his intention to refuse to pay income taxes in protest the U.S. war in Vietnam. Robert had a long interest in community land trusts, and in 1969 was a co-founder of New Communities Inc., a 5000 acre land trust in Lee County (Georgia). This was set up to provide community land ownership for landless African-Americans in the South. In the late 1960s, Robert, along with Ralph Borsodi, established the International Independence Institute, which became the Institute for Community Ecomonics in the 1970s. In 1980, Robert founded the E.F. Schumacher Society in Great Barrington (Massachusetts), named for the economist who write Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered in 1973; the society grew to some 2500 active members and supporters. Robert and Susan Witt, a staff member at ICE and Swann's partner after his divorce, were asked in the 1980s to establish a regional land trust in the Berkshires. They loved the area so much that they decided to live there. Robert died of cancer on January 13, 2003 in South Agremont (Maine).


2.5 linear ft. (30 linear inches.)


The Swanns were Quaker peace activitists who were particularly well known for their part in nonviolent direct action against nuclear weapons testing and deployment in the 1950s-1960s.


A box of general material and correspondence is followed by five boxes of action files and reference material. It is expected that more material will be donated by the Swann's daughter at some time in the future.

Custodial History

The Swarthmore College Peace Collection is the official repository for these papers.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Carol Swann (daughter), November 2015 [acc.2015-070].

Related Materials

  1. Ernest Bromley and Marion Bromley Papers (DG 214)
  2. Committee for Nonviolent Action Records [CNVA] (DG 017)
  3. Omaha Action Committee Collected Records (CDG-A)
  4. Peacemakers Collected Records (CDG-A)
  5. Juanita Morrow Nelson and Wallace F. Nelson Papers (DG 262)
  6. Gene Keyes Collected Papers (CDG-A) [for 50th anniversary of CNVA]

Related Materials

For related materials, search the library's online catalog

Separated Materials

Photographs (4"x5 " / 5"x7" and 8"x10")

Legal Status

Copyright may have been transferred to the Swarthmore College Peace Collection or may have been retained by the creators/authors (or their descendants), in this collection, as stipulated by United States copyright law. Please contact the SCPC Curator for further information.

Processing Information

Processed, and checklist created, by Anne Yoder, Archivist, November 2015.

Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Find It at the Library

Most of the materials in this catalog are not digitized and can only be accessed in person. Please see our website for more information about visiting or requesting repoductions from Swarthmore College Peace Collection Library

500 College Avenue
Swarthmore 19081-1399 USA US
610-328-8544 (Fax)