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Albert Bigelow

Albert Smith Bigelow (1 May 1906 - 6 October 1993) was a pacifist and former United States Navy Commander, who came to prominence in the 1950s as the skipper of the Golden Rule, the first vessel to attempt disruption of a nuclear test in protest against nuclear weapons.[1]


  • Family 1
  • Peace Movement 2
  • Sailing The Golden Rule 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


Albert Smith Bigelow (1906-1993) was the son of Albert Francis Bigelow (1880-1958), and Gladys Williams. He married his first wife, Josephine Rotch, the daughter of Arthur and Helen (née Ludington) Rotch, on the 21st of June 1929. She, however, had resumed her affair with Harry Crosby within two months of their marriage, and then, on the 10th of December that year she and Crosby were found dead in an apparent murder suicide. Two years later, Albert married Sylvia Weld, daughter of Rudolph and Sylvia Caroline (née Parsons) Weld, on the 10th of September 1931 and they had three daughters, Lisa, Kate, and Mary, their youngest, who died when she was seven months old. Albert's father was a partner in the Boston law firm Warren, Hogue & Bigelow from 1908-1914. [2]

Peace Movement

Prior to his involvement in the peace movement, Bigelow served in the United States Navy during World War II, first as commander of a submarine chaser patrolling the Solomon Islands, and later as captain of the destroyer escort Dale W. Peterson. On August 6, 1945, Bigelow was on the bridge of the Peterson as it sailed into Pearl Harbor, when he heard news of the explosion of the atomic bomb over Hiroshima. He resigned from the US Naval Reserve a month before becoming eligible for his pension.[1][3]

In 1948, Bigelow's wife, Sylvia, joined the Religious Society of Friends. Bigelow joined in 1955. It was through the Society of Friends that Albert and Sylvia came to house two of the Hiroshima Maidens: young Japanese women, severely disfigured by the effects of the atomic bomb, who were brought to the United States to undergo plastic surgery in 1955. Bigelow was humbled by the experience, in particular by his realization that the two young women "harbored no resentment against us or other Americans".

Bigelow became involved with the American Friends Service Committee in the mid-1950s, attempting to deliver a 17,411 signature petition, opposing atmospheric nuclear tests, to the White House via Maxwell M. Rabb, Cabinet Secretary. Repeated attempts to gain an appointment with Rabb were unsuccessful, leading Bigelow to conclude that other measures must be taken.

On August 6, 1957, on the 12th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, Bigelow and twelve other members of the newly formed Committee for Non-Violent Action were arrested when they attempted to enter the Camp Mercury nuclear test site in Nevada, as part of a nonviolent vigil against the testing.[3] The following day, they returned and sat with their backs towards the site as the nuclear test took place.[1]

Sailing The Golden Rule

In February, 1958, Bigelow set sail for the William R. Huntington, and Orion Sherwood. The voyage had been deliberately and widely publicized, and while the Golden Rule was en route to Hawaii, the Atomic Energy Commission hastily issued a regulation banning US citizens from sailing into the Proving Grounds.[1][3]

When they arrived in Hawaii, the crew of the Golden Rule were issued a court summons, resulting in a temporary injunction against any attempt to sail to the test site. Bigelow chose to break the injunction on May 1, but the Golden Rule was intercepted by the US Coast Guard only 5 nautical miles (9 km) from Honolulu. A second attempt on June 4 was also unsuccessful - the crew were arrested, charged with contempt of court and sentenced to sixty days in jail.[1][3]

But while the Golden Rule was docked in Honolulu, Bigelow and crew had met Earle and Barbara Reynolds. Earle L. Reynolds was an anthropologist who had visited Hiroshima to study the effects of the atomic bomb on Japanese society. Hearing of the plight of the Golden Rule, Earle and Barbara were inspired to take their own nonviolent action, and later that year their yacht, the Phoenix of Hiroshima became the first vessel to enter a nuclear test zone in protest when they sailed sixty-five nautical miles into the test area at Bikini Atoll.[1] Earle was arrested and sentenced to six months in jail.[3]

In 1959, Bigelow published a book, Voyage of the Golden Rule[1] which documented his journey. Bigelow's story would go on to inspire fellow Quaker Marie Bohlen to suggest the use of a similar tactic to members of the Vancouver-based Don't Make a Wave Committee (later to become Greenpeace) in 1970.

Bigelow continued to take part in non-violent protests during the late 1950s and early 1960s, and was a participant in the Congress on Racial Equality in 1961.[4]

In his later years (1971–1975), he was a trustee to The Meeting School, a Quaker school in Rindge, New Hampshire.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Lawrence S Wittner. The Struggle Against the Bomb: Volume Two, Resisting the Bomb: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement. Stanford University Press. p. 55. Retrieved 24 July 09. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c d e Scott H. Bennett. Radical Pacifism. Syracuse University Press. 
  4. ^ Seth Cagin; Philip Dray. We are not afraid. Nation Books. p. 106. 

External links

  • Papers of Albert Bigelow, Swarthmore College Peace Collection
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