University of Washington sees Red and fires three faculty members on January 22, 1949.

  • By Greg Lange
  • Posted 7/10/1999
  • Essay 1482
On January 22, 1949, Dr. Raymond B. Allen, University of Washington President, dismisses three University of Washington professors for suspected associations with Communists.

A Red Scare

In March 1947, the Washington State Legislature created the Joint Legislative Fact-finding Committee on Un-American Activities in the State of Washington. The committee was charged with investigating groups and individuals that were suspected of being Communists or members of other subversive groups. The University of Washington was one of the organizations investigated.

The investigation took place in context of a national post-World War II "Red Scare" in which, for the second time since the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, Communists were thought to have infiltrated and endangered American institutions. (The first took place in 1919.) The United States House Un-American Activities Committee, inactive during the war, began its investigations, paving the way for the Hollywood blacklist. A similar process in the U.S. Senate unfolded under the leadership of Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

The First Amendment

"McCarthy Era" investigations have been looked back upon as hysterical "witch hunts" that disregarded the right of United States citizens to the freedom of speech provided by the First Amendment of the Constitution. The First Amendment reads: "Congress must not interfere with freedom of religion, speech or press, assembly, and petition. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

"150 Faculty Communists"

Sen. Thomas H. Bienz, a Spokane Democrat on the state Committee on Un-American Activities, stated, "There are probably not less than 150 on the faculty who are Communists or sympathizers with the Communist party" (Spokesman-Review).

The committee, also called the Canwell Committee after its chairman, Albert Canwell, considered having 40 University of Washington faculty members subpoenaed for questioning. The Canwell Committee called "only" 11 professors to answer charges about their Communist Party connections. Five days of hearings took place during July 1948 at the Seattle Field Artillery Armory (in 1999 the Center House of the Seattle Center, north of downtown Seattle).

Many Are Called, Few Give Information

Following is a list of faculty members who testified before the Canwell Committee. Also given is their specialty and a brief statement of what each tenured professor said to the Committee.

  • Professor Maude Beal (English) admitted to formerly being a member of the Communist Party, but refused to name other members.

  • Professor Joe Butterworth (Old English), a member of the faculty since 1929, refused to answer any questions and was cited by the Committee for contempt.

  • Professor Joseph Cohen (Sociology) denied ever being a member of the Communist Party.

  • Professor Harold Eby stated that he was formerly a member of the Communist Party, but refused to divulge the names of any other members.

  • Professor Garland Ethel admitted his former membership in the Communist Party, but refused to divulge the names of other members.

  • Professor Ralph Gundlach (1902-1978) (Social psychologist) refused to answer any questions with the statement: "No legislative committee has the right to ask about one's personal beliefs and associations" (Seeing Red, 18). The Committee cited him for contempt.

  • Professor Melville Jacobs (Anthropology) stated he was once a member of the Communist Party, but did not give out any other names.

  • Professor Angelo Pelligrini admitted that he was once a member of the Communist Party, but refused to name other members.

  • Professor Herbert Phillips (Philosophy), who had taught at the UW since 1920, refused to answer any questions and was cited by the Canwell Committee for contempt.

  • Professor Melvin Rader (Philosophy) denied membership in the Communist Party.

  • Professor Sophus Winther (English) admitted to being a member of the Communist Party for one year and named other colleagues who were also members of the Communist Party.

Whom to Dismiss?

The report of the Un-American Activities Committee was sent to the University of Washington and the 11-member Tenure Committee of the Faculty Senate convened to decide what action to take. After six weeks of closed hearings, the Tenure Committee, in a 7 to 4 vote, recommended to President Allen the dismissal of Professor Ralph Gundlach. The committee decided that Dr. Gundlach should be terminated because of a statement he made which they considered a lie. Professor Gundlach said to President Allen, "No one can prove I'm a Communist, and I cannot prove that I am not" (Seeing Red). The Tenure Committee recommended not to fire the other 10 faculty members.

On January 22, 1949, the University of Washington President accepted the committee's decision on Professor Gundlach but overruled the Tenure Committee and fired two other faculty members. President Allen stated that Professors Phillips and Butterworth should be dismissed for two main reasons: they refused to answer questions before the Canwell Committee and there was sufficient evidence that they were Communists. In addition, President Allen retained Professors Eby, Ethel, and Jacobs on the condition that they sign a loyalty affidavit that stated that they were not members of the Communist Party.

Guilt By Association

Some University of Washington faculty members immediately objected. One hundred and three professors signed an open letter to the University of Washington Board of Regents that stated the firings were based on guilt by association. The letter also declared that faculty morale and the University's reputation was damaged. The remaining faculty members, numbering 600, remained silent. The UW Board of Trustees approved the firings.

The Fallout

The three dismissed faculty members never taught again. Ralph Gundlach worked as a clinical psychologist until he retired and moved to London. Herbert Phillips, 56 years old at the time of the hearings, found jobs as a laborer. Joe Butterworth, unable to find a job, went on welfare and died destitute in 1970.

The University of Washington was one of the first colleges in the United States to fire suspected Communist faculty members. The firings set a national precedent and many faculty members thought to be Communists and other "political undesirables" lost their college positions.

Sources: "Bienz Sees Reds Strong at U.W." The Spokesman-Review, (Spokane) March 25, 1948, Sec. 1, p. 1; Nancy Wick "Seeing Red," Columns: The University of Washington Alumni Magazine, Vol. 17, No 4 (December 1997), p. 16-21.

Related Topics:   Education | Government & Politics

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