NYC Chapter Team — Margaret Crane

Margaret “Peggy” Crane
Co-Founder, Director, and Working Group Member

Working closely with its co-founder, Grace (“Jinx”) Roosevelt, Peggy Crane is “chief cook and bottle washer” for the New York City chapter of the Living New Deal. With the help of Crane’s leadership, organizing, and strategic outreach efforts, the chapter has grown significantly in terms of its programmatic offerings, donations, and membership.

Crane was born and raised in Washington, D.C. Her father came to the city in 1945 to work at the Office of Price Stabilization (imagine an office of price stabilization today!) and decided to settle there permanently after the agency closed its doors.

During her teens, Crane was tangentially involved with the civil rights and fledgling antiwar movements—political passions that would only grow as the 1960s continued to unfold.

In high school, her home-away-from-home was a coffee house in a church basement called “Through the Gate,” where she sang regularly on weekends. “Pastures of Plenty,” a Woody Guthrie song about farm workers displaced by the Dust Bowl, and “I Ain’t a-Marchin’ Anymore,” Phil Ochs’ great antiwar protest song, were staples in her repertoire. Later, she would study singing in earnest and move to New York City to pursue a professional career as a classical singer.

In addition to dozens of recitals at small venues, Crane (singing as Margaret Willig at the time) was soon giving solo performances in New York at Alice Tully Hall, Merkin Hall, and Symphony Space; in Montreal at Concordia University; and in Washington, D.C. at the Corcoran Gallery and the National Gallery of Art. She specialized in art songs in many languages, as well as 20th-century vocal chamber music works by such eminent composers as Miriam Gideon, Joel Mandelbaum, Ronald Roseman, Tania Leon, and Roberto Sierra—several of whom composed works for her.

In the late 1980s, Crane decided to end her musical career and move along to the next phase of her life. She rediscovered her deep interest in social change and took a series of morally laudable, low-paid jobs at Riverside Church’s Disarmament Program, the Campaign for Peace and Democracy, and New Initiatives for Full Employment—the earlier iteration of the National Jobs for All Network. That was her first encounter with New Deal-style policy approaches and FDR’s Economic Bill of Rights, leading her, along with economist and law professor Philip Harvey, to start a nonprofit called the Economic and Social Human Rights Advocacy Network (ESHRAN). That effort was short-lived but influential, spawning a series of symposia at Columbia University in partnership with the university’s Center for the Study of Human Rights. It also allowed Crane to participate in the Social Summit’s NGO Forum in Copenhagen in 1995, where she was interviewed by several reporters about economic hardship in the Global North.

Crane’s attraction to the New Deal as a middle ground between capitalism and social democracy was given a boost by a family connection: Her uncle Richard Gilbert, a young economics professor at Harvard and an early Keynesian, was plucked from academia and brought to Washington to join the president’s “brain trust” in 1938. A consummate planner and strategist, he was a friend and colleague of John Kenneth Galbraith, Harry Magdoff, and dozens of other New Deal economists. He was also known for his autocratic streak. His principal contribution was as planner extraordinaire of the wartime production effort that ultimately tipped the scales in favor of the Allied victory in 1945.

By the late 1990s, Crane had found her way to the work that sustains her to this day. For more than 20 years, she has used the written word to promote the goals and agendas of diverse organizations, including disease research and advocacy foundations, hospitals, science-based organizations, and nonprofits serving the public good. Her clients and employers have included the New York Academy of Sciences, the National Eczema Association, Cornell’s ILR School, the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans, Goodwill Industries of New York, the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, the National Psoriasis Foundation, and NYU Langone Medical Center. Today, she writes regularly for Weill Cornell Medicine’s Patient Care blog.

Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Scientist, and on numerous health and education blogs and websites.

With a certificate in teaching English to adult speakers of other languages (TESOL), she is multilingual and multicultural in outlook. She has been praised as a gifted interviewer, able to connect with a wide variety of people and tease out their stories with sensitivity to their histories and cultural backgrounds. She’s proficient in French, an intermediate German speaker, and a hopeful beginner in Spanish. Crane earned her B.A. in liberal studies at the New School for Social Research, with a year of graduate study in global health at the University of Copenhagen. She’s a member of the National Association of Science Writers, the Association of Health Care Journalists, and Science Writers in New York (aka SWINY).

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