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A Tribute to Ellen Grusse

It is both ironic and fitting that I am writing this piece about my friend and colleague, Ellen Grusse. One of my first tasks as an intern was to write a CWEALF newsletter article about Ellen – her contributions both to CWEALF and to feminist activism. She had been THERE at the intersection of feminism and anti-war political action in New Haven, a hotbed of activity and protest.  She was bigger than life.

 Former CWEALF Executive Director Alice Pritchard, Ellen Grusse and Lucy Brakoniecki 

Ellen’s life reflects the tone and tenor of the times. In Feminists Who Changed America, edited by Barbara Love, Ellen’s dedication to civil rights was highlighted. As a student at UCONN in the early 70’s, Ellen joined a community of women in Hartford and marched for equal rights, abortion rights, equal pay and equal credit. These are issues still central to CWEALF’s mission. She refused to disclose the whereabouts of two women anti-war activists, and when subpoenaed, refused to testify. This landed her in prison in Niantic for seven months. Ellen later took her beliefs and experiences on the road, speaking about the erosion of privacy rights and infiltration by government and the FBI into social justice activities and organizations. Ellen served as a member of the Board of the New Haven Women’s Liberation Center for many years and was a founding member of the Feminist Union in New Haven.


Ellen is, and probably will always be, CWEALF’s longest standing employee. For forty years, she was a jill-of-all trades. Ellen juggled all of the budgets – project and organization. She knew all of the many, many contracts and deadlines; she made sure we all got paid, handled revenue and expenses, and managed administrative staff. And you knew it was audit time when Ellen burned the midnight oil. Well, it might have been 7:30 pm, or less frequently, 7:30 am, but still. CWEALF could not run without her financial acumen and experience. Ellen provided the Executive Directors with guidance to keep the lights on, and make the myriad moves, and decide to hire new staff (and figure out how to fund them).  As a Director, she provided history and grounded CWEALF in the realities of non-profit finance.


In the words of Anne Stanback, CWEALF Executive Director (1995-2000) “As the women’s movement evolved and changed over the years, so did CWEALF. And Ellen had a front row seat to witness and be a part of those changes during her decades at the organization. From feminist law firm to research and policy shop; from Title IX to STEM; CWEALF has made a difference in the lives of women and girls. And Ellen as played a pivotal role in ensuring that CWEALF's work was as effective as possible.  Ellen was a true partner with me during my years at the Executive Director. It’s hard to think about CWEALF without her, but there is no question that her legacy with the organization will live on long after her retirement.”

Former Executive Directors Joann Onacki, Leslie Gabel-Brett, Alice Pritchard and
current Executive Director Kate Farrar all celebrated Ellen Grusse's 40 year career! 

Alice Pritchard, CWEALF Executive Director (2000-2016) also shared her thoughts about Ellen. “I spent my entire 24 year career at CWEALF with Ellen.  She was my rock in so many ways particularly as I became Executive Director and had to manage the challenging fiscal environment of today’s nonprofits.  But I could always count on her for a big laugh when I needed to let off steam! But I have to say my favorite days at CWEALF were the annual telling of Ellen’s story of activism.  Never knew when it would come, but there would be one day each year when our new batch of interns and volunteers would be sitting at Ellen’s knee hearing her tales of early activism in Connecticut.  It was great to see their surprise when she said she had been in jail and watch their respect for Ellen grow as they heard of her deep commitment to justice.”

 Korky Vann, Ellen Grusse and Kate Farrar 

Kate Farrar, CWEALF’s current Executive Director is grateful to have the opportunity to work with Ellen throughout 2016. “Ellen coached me throughout my first months at CWEALF. She shared personal stories, answered every detailed financial question, and illuminated each stage in the history of the organization. 

Plus, with her impending retirement, Ellen helped CWEALF undertake a financial assessment and transition our financial management for the organization to thrive in the years ahead. Ellen’s faith in me as a leader of CWEALF means so much to me. ”

 Shawn Lang, Daniel Livingston and Leslie Gabel-Brett celebrated their friend Ellen's career. 

Well, time has gone by, and while I still see Ellen in those ways, I also see her in others. She is a loving partner to Korky, is devoted to her family near and far, is a family history/genealogy buff and is a fun-loving mom and grandparent. She loves golf, pickle ball, and going to the JCC gym. Ellen enjoys exploring America; she has a hike down into the Grand Canyon planned for the spring. Ellen just returned from a nerd cruise to Mexico where she wore a fez (among other hats) and rubbed shoulders with pop culture icons and artists. She is vibrant, insightful, fun and an amazing friend to many.  And I am even still awed by her energy and commitment, and am now proud to call her my dear friend.

By Lucy Brakoniecki, CWEALF Volunteer at 20 Apr 2017, 13:51 PM



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