Still a Raider

Mason alumna pursues her politics with a passion

By Colleen Kearney Rich, MFA ‘95

Political activist Flora Crater, BA Government and Politics ’81, has been involved in politics for more than half her life. At the age of 91, she still publishes a newsletter called “The Woman Activist” and actively campaigns for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).

Crater traces the beginning of her interest in politics to 1952 when her children—sons Hap and Walter and daughter Vivian—began attending school in Falls Church where the family lived at the time.

“At that point, things were beginning to change [in Northern Virginia], and I realized that if we wanted good schools, then people needed to get involved,” she says. From her work with the school board, Crater could observe “the political field” and became intrigued. Soon, she was a regular at Fairfax County Democratic Committee meetings.

She didn’t become involved with women’s rights until 1970 when her daughter in-law Fran asked for some help. “She wanted me to go with her to talk to legislators,” Crater says. She became interested in the issue and realized that to get the ERA, they were going to have to work politically. “And we’ve been working steadily since 1970,” she says.

Crater started “The Woman Activist” to “get sponsors on the first go round. There were a good number of us from Falls Church who used to go around weekly [on Capitol Hill] and collect signatures.” Soon Crater and her group became known to those on the Hill, leading a Washington Star reporter to dub them “Crater’s Raiders.”

In 1973, Crater made a bold move and ran for lieutenant governor. “I knew I couldn’t get the nomination through the party, so I ran as an independent. To be on the ticket, you still needed thousands of signatures,” she says. “I was able to talk about the issues I was interested in and that was a good thing.” She also sought the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in 1978.

Throughout her career, she has been a champion for school integration, minority rights, and the advancement of women. In 1999, she received a Human Rights Award from the Fairfax County Human Rights Commission. She was also the first president of the Northern Virginia Chapter of the National Organization for Women and the first coordinator of the Virginia Women’s Political Caucus.

To this day, she is working for the passage of the ERA. “We still need three more states,” Crater says. “We have an active campaign going on right now in Florida.”

In 1977, Crater began publishing The Almanac of Virginia Politics, an annual directory that provides a summary of each state legislator’s agenda, key votes for the General Assembly session, and a listing of campaign contributions and economic disclosures, out of her home. Larry Sabato, an expert on Virginia politics from the University of Virginia, has called Crater’s almanac “an enormously useful volume for any election watcher in the Old Dominion.”

Recently, she turned the almanac over to Mason and Toni-Michelle Travis, associate professor of government and politics. Travis co-edited the 2005 edition with Crater.

“It’s wonderful that she came along,” says Crater of Travis. “I’m very grateful. It was getting to be too much to handle.”

At press time, Travis, with the help of a graduate assistant, was getting ready to send the latest almanac off to the printers. “We are excited to have the almanac here at Mason,” says Travis. “It fits well with a number of current projects we have in the Department of Public and International Affairs.” For future directories, Travis hopes to add essays to supplement the data presented.

“By always standing up for what she believes in, Flora has inspired a lot of people to become involved in politics,” says Travis.