Who ROARed?

Major Characters:

Louise Day Hicks

           "Every little breeze seems to whisper Louise" [1]

To those who supported her, Louise served as a champion of working-class Americans. To those who hated her, Louise was a symbol of an unwilling divide between the races in Boston. Whether someone supported her or not, Louise Day Hicks became the symbol of anti-busing in the Boston Busing Movement because of her numerous roles during this critical time and her dedication to her cause.

Louise Day Hicks began her political career in 1961 with her successful election as the chairperson of the Boston School Committee as “the only mother on the ballot.”[2] When the NAACP demanded a recognition of the de facto segregation of Boston schools in 1963, Hicks and the Boston School Committee refused to acknowledge anything. In 1965, Hicks served as the political media head of the issue when she nationally opposed the Racial Imbalance Act and any move to desegregate schools by busing students. In doing this, Louise Day Hicks became the symbol of all things anti-busing from this point forward.

Louise Day Hick’s political climb continued in 1967 when she bid for Boston’s mayoral office. Although Hicks lost to Kevin White, she did not give up on her ambition to remain in politics. In 1969, Louise Day Hicks won the election to the City Council and, only a year later, she won the race for a seat in the House of Representatives. She served in the House from 1971 until 1973. Throughout her political career at this time, Louise Day Hicks described herself as serving the interests of the people of Boston. 

Louise Day Hicks

She stuck to her political slogan “You know where I stand” throughout her campaigns.[3] This slogan would come into play once again with Louise Day Hick’s major role in the heat of the Boston Busing movement: her leadership in ROAR.

With the issue of desegregation of Boston Public Schools looming over the heads of its citizens, people began to grow irritable at what was going on in the city. With the ruling by Judge Garrity in 1974, organizations formed based on either support for, or anger against, the court ruling. Hicks chose to form her own group to protest the Racial Imbalance Act. In February of 1974, Louise Day Hicks organized and served as the unofficial leader of the “Save Boston Committee” to restore “the custodial rights of parents over their children.”[4] By summer, the popularity of the group among angry Bostonians and the desire to represent themselves more radically caused Hicks to change the organization’s name to ROAR.

Although there were numerous major members of ROAR, Louise Day Hicks served as the public face of the organization: when ROAR gained media coverage, Hicks was the center of it all. Louise Day Hicks’s office served as the unofficial Boston headquarters for ROAR, and Hicks received and responded to the letters addressed to ROAR, personally responding to numerous letters. In 1975, Louise Day Hicks served as the public face for the first National ROAR Conference, showing that nation that she, and “her” Boston, would not tolerate the erosion of the rights of parents. By this point, arguably the best year for ROAR, Louise Day Hicks was essentially ROAR itself, serving as the “Mother Superior”  and "Joan of Arc" of anti-busing.[5]

By 1976, the iron grip that Louise Day Hicks had on anti-busing protesting and ROAR began to falter. By this time, the organization splintered into factions, each group having their own political agendas and level of radical conservatism, which resulted in fighting within the organization. The most prominent fight within ROAR was the political battle of leadership between Louise Day Hicks and “Pixie” Palladino. In March of 1976, a rumor spread that Hicks promised to “downplay” ROAR during secret meetings with Mayor White in order to gain political favors. [6] With Hicks’s newly-acquired presidency of the Boston City Council that same year, members of ROAR felt that Hicks could no longer be trusted; so, they began turning away from the “Mother Superior.” Palladino took the charge in dethroning Louise Day Hicks by forming her own group “United ROAR” in “order to represent the ordinary people.” [7]

This confrontation and faction of the leadership of ROAR, plus a growing disinterest after years of failing to stop busing, caused the collapse of the organization that dared to unite against busing in Boston.

After ROAR, Louise Day Hicks began to remove herself from public politics in Boston. Between 1979 and 1981, Hicks lost the reelection to the Boston City Council, served as a filler for the vacant seat on the Register of Probate of Suffolk County, then ultimately retired from politics.

"Pixie" Palladino

A “street-savvy daughter of an Italian shoemaker,” Elvira “Pixie” Palladino was an East Boston mother and one of the major characters in the founding and formation of the ROAR organization in 1974. Where Louise Day Hicks acted as the politically savvy and most publicized leader of ROAR, “Pixie” served as the more “down-to-earth” and debatably more radical leader of ROAR. “Pixie” almost always was adorned with the blue and gold tam-o’-shanters of ROAR while protesting busing and protecting parental rights and the children of Boston. According to her own children, she prioritized and valued her role as protector of parents’ rights most. [8]

During the height of ROAR at the end of 1974 and into early 1975, “Pixie” began to adopt a more “down-to-earth” approach when protesting anti-busing by organizing and/or participating in more radical protests against busing. Palladino relished in adding more fuel to an already out of control flame. For example, after a stabbing incident at South Boston High School on December 11, 1974, mobs crowded the high school entrance; Hicks attempted to calm the crowds while “Pixie” applauded the action and instigated the crowd. [9]

Palladino never acted with malice in her protests; rather, she acted on her fiery passion for protecting children. This caused some heated situations where the question of what ROAR stood for came into concern. In January of 1975, “Pixie” led almost a hundred female ROAR members to crash the Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women. Led by Palladino, the ROAR protesters insisted that pro-ERA citizens need to address the “busing crisis” as a women’s issue.[10] In doing so, Palladino both created another political arena for anti-busing and quite possibly burned bridges with feminists who did not agree with ROAR.

Eventually a rift grew between “Pixie” and Louise Day Hicks, resulting in “Pixie” forming her own organization called “United ROAR” on March 10, 1976 with the goal of separating herself and those who agreed with her from the “corruptive” Louise Day Hicks.[11] The separation of the group and the rift between these two women eventually led to the fractioning and then complete disbandment of ROAR in the same year.

Fran Johnnene

As the leader of Hyde Park’s community of concerned parents, Francesca (Fran) Johnnene, was a woman with a mission: to protect the rights of Boston’s parents to safeguard their children. Although she did not stand out as much as Louise Day Hicks or “Pixie” Palladino, Johnnene served as an important character in the struggle against busing in Boston because she represented the struggle many parents of Boston experienced in feeling helpless as the federal government ordered their children to be bused to another, often distant, city school.

Fran JohnneneDuring the implementation of Phase II, Johnnene recalled,

“My children were to be separated and sent to three different schools in three different geo-codes, one over eight miles away in Dorchester…I did not own a car. What if my kids got sick or hurt, missed a bus, or simply forgot their lunch? Three different schools, three different areas of Boston, and me with no car, no choice, no exception, and no appeal!” [12]

As a mother affected by the “evils of forced busing,” Johnnene acted as one of the major leaders of ROAR while also serving as a founder of a less radical anti-busing group, the “Massachusetts Citizens Against Forced Busing” in February of 1974. [13] Through her participation in these anti-busing groups, Johnnene became an advocate and a public voice for worried parents across Boston.

In late 1975, Johnnene left ROAR due to their increasing militant tactics; however, despite her departure from ROAR, Johnnene never lost her spirit for fighting for aiding Boston parents in protecting their children.

"Militant Mothers"

Although ROAR had recruited some male members, ROAR’s membership consisted of predominantly women and the vast majority were white mothers with young children. These women saw “forced busing” as a woman’s issue--of particular interest to mother’s. They reasoned that since, as caregivers of the children being bused, mothers had an obligation to solve the problem of forced busing to protest their children. These “militant mothers” as they came to be known, used various tactics, borrowed from anti-war campaigns, to protest busing in Boston and anything that went against their “maternal” views. Most of these mothers had never before participated in political protesting or held any political positions. By participating in ROAR, these women left their homes and voiced what they believed in: protecting their rights to send their children to neighborhood schools and to return to their “normal” lives.

By 1975, these “militant mothers” began protesting more than the “forced busing” issue. 1975 was a pivotal year for Boston, in addition to preparing for the upcoming Bicentennial, women prepared for “International Women’s Year,” and for the potential passing of the Equal Rights Amendment. At public venues celebrating either event, ROAR women rallied to protest. These “militant mothers” protested the Equal Rights Amendment; they favored traditional gender roles and a return to the “normal” status quo. They took radical lengths to protest feminism. For example, on April 9, 1975, a group of ROAR women led by “Pixie” Palladino interrupted an ERA rally at Faneuil Hall and claimed that pro-ERA forces refused to acknowledge the issue of busing and the role women played. [14] While wearing their trademark blue and gold tam o’shanters and ROAR buttons, these ROAR women held signs with “Feminists Do Not Represent [The] American Majority” and “Busing Stinks” written on them while shouting “Stop ERA!” whenever someone attempted to speak about the issues, causing disgruntlement from both sides. [15]

Although their efforts against busing in Boston ended fruitlessly, these “militant mothers” gained something from participating in ROAR. ROAR allowed these women, many who had never participated actively in political issues, to gain the courage to stand up for what they believed in and to take a stand against an issue that affected their families. These women also gained numerous skills they may have not had before, such as political leadership skills and confrontation skills (even if these skills were aggressive).



[1] Quote about Louise Day Hicks attributed to Jim Botticelli, April 19, 2016, in a conversation at Boston City Archives. Botticelli is author of Dirty Old Boston: Four Decades of a City in Transition (Union Park Press), 2014. Image courtesy of Library of Congress.

[2] Luksa, J. Anthony. Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families. (New York: Vintage Books, 1986), 116-118.

[3] Zezima, Katie. “Louise Day Hicks Dies at 87; Led Fight on Busing in Boston.” The New York Times. (October 23, 2003. Accessed April 2016.) http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/23/us/louise-day-hicks-dies-at-87-led-fight-on-busing-in-boston.html.

[4] Nutter, Kathleen Banks. “’Militant Mothers’: Boston, Busing, and the Bicentennial of 1976.” Historical Journal of Massachusetts 38, no.2 (Fall 2010) 52-75. Accessed March 2016, 58.

[5] Ibid., 66.

[6] Ronald O. Formisano, Boston Against Busing. (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1991), 160.

[7] Jim Vrabel, A People’s History of the New Boston. (Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2014), 185.

[8] David Abel and Emma Stickgold. "Elvira 'Pixie' Palladino, 74, Fierce Foe of Imposed Busing."Boston.com. (September 12, 2006. Accessed April 2016).  http://archive.boston.com/news/globe/obituaries/articles/2006/09/12/elvira_pixie_palladino_74_fierce_foe_of_imposed_busing/.

[9] Banks, “’Militant Mothers’: Boston, Busing, and the Bicentennial of 1976,” 52-75. Accessed March 2016, 62.

[10] Abel, et al., "Elvira 'Pixie' Palladino, 74, Fierce Foe of Imposed Busing."Boston.com. (September 12, 2006. Accessed April 2016).  http://archive.boston.com/news/globe/obituaries/articles/2006/09/12/elvira_pixie_palladino_74_fierce_foe_of_imposed_busing/.

[11] Formisano, Boston Against Busing, 161.

[12] Vrabel, A People’s History of the New Boston, 173.

[13] Ibid., 173.

[14] Nutter, “’Militant Mothers’: Boston, Busing, and the Bicentennial of 1976,” 52-75. Accessed March 2016, 62.

[15] Ibid., 67.


Who ROARed?