Edith Fein, a tourist from Connecticut, would not let an indignity die, even when her lawyers in Hartford told her two years ago not to bother fighting the federal government.
She had tried to comfort an injured woman at the Lincoln Memorial and found herself arrested for disorderly conduct by a park policeman. On top of that, she had to pay a $10 fine to avoid a night in jail.
The whole episode made her so furious that she called the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued the U.S. Park Police and won her a $1,500 settlement, had her record expunged and got a written apology from the Park Police.
Fein paid her expenses and gave the rest, about $700, to the Washington area ACLU chapter. Then she wrote a letter of thanks--a letter the organization is using, quite successfully ACLU officials say, in this year's fund-raising appeal to some 7,000 area members and contributors.
"Members have been sending in contributions with notes attached saying, 'Dear Edith, here is my contribution,' " ACLU chapter Executive Director Leslie A. Harris said in an interview.
Harris said the organization in the past had sent out fund-raising letters signed by well-known backers, but "this one has struck a different chord with people. They find they can't distance themselves from her; she's like them." The response, in terms of dollars, has been as good as ever, Harris said, which, "given the economy, is very good."
In a telephone interview at her home in West Hartford, Fein, 55 and director of research for a private social service agency, said she and her husband were touring the Lincoln Memorial at 9 p.m. on Nov. 20, 1980, when they saw a young woman lying outside on the steps.
"She was in pain, had trouble breathing and said she couldn't feel anything in her arms and legs," Fein said. While Fein's husband went to summon help, Fein said, she placed her wool cape over the woman, who was wearing only a light raincoat on that chilly evening.
After the ambulance attendants and a U.S. Park Service policeman arrived, Fein said, she retrieved her coat and watched. The attendants went back to get other equipment, so, Fein said, she tried to put her coat back on the woman.
Then the officer "grabbed me and pushed me away; I pushed back and said, 'Get your hands off me,' " Fein said. She reported the officer then said, " 'You're under arrest,' " handcuffed her and radioed for help.
Fein said she was told at the police station that she could pay a $10 fine or spend the night in jail. She said she considered spending the night but her husband argued strongly against it, so she paid the fine and went back to West Hartford, where she decided to seek redress.
She wrote the Park Police but was told there was nothing they could do. She wrote her congressman; that, too, proved fruitless. "I didn't know where else to go," she said, adding that her lawyer had advised her that it would be difficult to sue because there would be little money to be gained.
But Fein would not let the issue drop. She contacted the ACLU, and the organization, using volunteer lawyers Craig Blakely and Richard Reback from the prominent Washington firm of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, filed the suit for her, claiming unconstitutional arrest.
As part of the settlement they won last year, she received a letter from Larry Finks, acting chief of the Park Police, which asks her to "understand" that the officer's actions "were motivated by his misunderstanding of your intentions with respect to the injured woman.
"The Park Police now realize that your motives in attempting to aid the injured woman . . . were of the highest order and we commend your efforts and your concern for a fellow citizen."
An Interior Department spokesman said it was not known what happened to the injured woman and that no formal disciplinary action was taken against the officer, who remains on duty.