SMALL TOWN, BIG OIL: The Untold Story of the Women Who Took on the Richest Man in the World – and Won

In the fall of 1973, the Greek oil shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, husband of President John F. Kennedy’s widow, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and arguably the richest man in the world, proposed to build an oil refinery on the narrow New Hampshire coast, in the town of Durham, home to the University of New Hampshire. At the time, it would cost $600 million to build ($3.2 billion in today’s currency) and would pump 400,000 barrels of oil a day, making it the largest oil refinery in the world. The project was vigorously supported by the governor, Meldrim Thomson, and by William Loeb, the notorious publisher of the only statewide newspaper, the Manchester Union Leader.

But three women vehemently opposed the project– Nancy Sandberg, the town leader who founded and headed Save Our Shores; Dudley Dudley, the freshman state rep who took the fight to the state legislature; and Phyllis Bennett, the publisher of a local newspaper that alerted the public to the secret acquisition of land. Small Town, Big Oil is the story how the residents of Durham, led by these three women – who were demeaned by the Union Leader  as “little ladies” vainly “beating their small breasts” – out-organized, out-witted, and out-maneuvered the governor, the publisher of the statewide newspaper, and the Onassis men to hand the powerful Greek billionaire the most humiliating defeat of his business career, and spare the New Hampshire seacoast from becoming an industrial wasteland.


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  • "Activists and organizers will find lots of ideas and inspirations in this book's detailed account of an epic battle. It's a very timely reminder that when we fight we often win."

    Bill McKibben, author Radio Free Vermont
  • “I loved the story – a real page-turner, and eloquently written. Here in this book, unsung heroes – three determined young women – lead the environmental fight to protect their small town against a political-industrial Goliath. And they win! Their story gives us hope that in future battles we can save not only our small towns, but the planet itself.”

    Bernd Heinrich, author of Winter World and Mind of the Raven