Frances Goldin created quite a legacy over her long life. Thanks to her, generations of New Yorkers have lived in affordable housing. She also provided unconditional maternal support for countless people, no matter who they are or who they love.
And in 2014, with her 90th birthday approaching, she achieved her personal goal of publishing a book on socialism, coming out with Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA.
In the winter of 2019, Frances’ health began to fail. Shortness of breath from worsening congestive heart failure (CHF) landed her in the emergency room. Never one to shy away from advocating for herself, Frances, who had some mild dementia, made her wishes clear. “I never want to go to the hospital again,” she told her family.
Referred by a Clinical Liaison for VNSNY Hospice and Palliative Care, the family enrolled Frances in VNSNY’s Cardiac Hospice Program. In this specialized program, designed to prevent hospital readmissions, a visiting team monitors and treats CHF symptoms and also teaches family caregivers how to manage symptoms at home. Before Frances’ death on May 16, 2020, her hospice nurse, Jasmine T., visited every week to check her vitals, breathing, and pain levels, and note any changes in health or well-being.
Her hospice team—which also included Hospice Team Manager Claudia P., Social Worker Ellen L., and Spiritual Care Counselor Kei O.—found that her revolutionary spirit was visible everywhere. Ellen says that she understood about Frances’ life as an activist the minute she walked into her apartment, which was chock full of books and newspaper clippings.
Frances was committed to wearing purple from head to toe, which extended to dying her hair purple with a temporary gel. Although she spent much of her time sleeping, when she was awake, she treated her care team to stories of a vibrant life, including chatting with Frank Sinatra during a concert when she was a teenager. On a visit last year, Frances signed a copy of her book for Jasmine—urging her, “Fight for change. You may not see the change today, but the next generation will see it.” “How inspirational!” adds Jasmine.
The hospice team supplemented the rest of Frances’ robust support system, including legions of close friends and fellow activists; two home health aides whom she adored; and her two daughters, Reeni, who lives in New Paltz, New York, and spoke to her mother every day, and Sally, who lives in San Francisco but keeps in close contact.
Add to that the innumerable people Frances touched over the years with her unwavering advocacy. “She had a huge, huge support system,” says Sally. “If we put out a call saying she needed anything, there’d be a line around the block on Second Avenue. She worked so hard for other people all her life. We were weaned on this idea of, ‘You do for other people.’ And for the last years of her life, we did for her.”
Frances spent her adult life fighting for equal rights, beginning with the battle at Cooper Square for affordable housing on New York’s Lower East Side. In 2018, an affordable senior housing and community service building on Delancey Street was named in her honor. The complex, Frances Goldin Senior Apartments, is part of Essex Crossing, a 1.9-million-square-foot renewal project.
She also was passionately involved in the fight for civil rights, women’s rights, and LGBTQ+ rights. She became locally famous for a sign she brought to the Pride March and other marches every year for decades, which read: “I adore my lesbian daughters. Keep them safe.” The unconditional love beaming out of that sign extended beyond Reeni and Sally, who are both lesbians, to touch countless LGBTQ+ people, old and young, who would come up to Frances and say some version of, “My mother won’t talk to me. Can you please call her and explain?” Frances always made the call, speaking mother to mother.
Her legacy of activism also includes the literary agency she founded more than 40 years ago, the Frances Goldin Literary Agency, which represents books that make a difference in the world and add to the cultural conversation.
Sally describes herself and her sister as classic “Red Diaper babies.” Frances and her husband, Morris, were active in the American Labor Party (he was blacklisted in the 1950s), and Goldin family values always revolved around social justice and advocacy. Sally remembers a family trip to Los Angeles to visit her grandparents when she was about eight. She and her sister fell in love with California, and when it came time to leave they staged a protest. “I told Reeni, who was all of five, ‘We have to have a picket line,’” Sally remembers. “We paraded around our grandparents’ house, chanting, ‘Let’s stay in LA. Let’s stay in LA.’ We were raised to think that’s what you do. You don’t always win, but you always put up a good fight.”
Reflecting on her mother’s legacy, Sally adds, “She had a boundless humanity—it’s just who she is. Once she realized there was a community out there that was involved in a movement to make change, she had found her home.”
Photos courtesy of the Goldin family.