In 1966 Marion Moses was studying for a second master’s degree at Berkeley when she saw a notice on a bulletin board seeking medical volunteers to assist the United Farm Workers Union. Already equipped with a master’s degree in nursing, Moses decided to give it a try. What she planned as a weekend turned into five years and changed her life forever.
Working for the union in Delano meant accepting union wages: $5 a week plus room and board. But from the poor she learned invaluable lessons: “that the struggle for health care is inseparable from the struggle for human dignity.” Moses in time became a trusted confidant of the union leader, Cesar Chavez, tending to him during his long water-fasts. In 1967 he urged her to go to the East Coast to organize the consumer boycott of table grapes and raise support for the union.
In 1970, the successful boycott helped the UFW Union win contracts that included banning the pesticide DDT in the fields. Chavez then encouraged her to return to school to become a doctor. While serving as a medical resident in New York, she came to serve as Dorothy Day’s personal physician, speaking to her almost every day and treating her congestive heart failure for the last years of her life.
In 1983 she returned to work for the union for three years, now an expert on pesticides. In 1986 she cofounded the Pesticide Action Network, serving as director until her retirement in 2016. She died on August 28, 2020.
“Cesar was a living example that if you never forget the people, if you don’t get distracted, and can keep your sense of social justice intact, you won’t get lost along the way.”
—Dr. Marion Moses