Group Health Cooperative, succumbing to Red Scare fears, rejects the membership application of William Pennock on September 19, 1950.

  • By HistoryLink Staff
  • Posted 8/13/2005
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7420
On September 19, 1950, Group Health Cooperative, succumbing to Red Scare fears, rejects the membership application of William Pennock. Pennock is a well-known member of the Communist Party. Some board members question the ethics of rejecting a potential member because of political convictions, but they are in the minority.

Pennock, who was elected to the Washington State Legislature as a Democrat in 1938, and who led the state pension union, asked for reconsideration. Later, after considerable controversy and debate, the board executive committee, the full board, and the membership confirmed rejection of his membership application. Soon after, he was prosecuted under the Smith Act. During the trial, the years of harassment and exclusion proved too much to bear, and he took a fatal overdose of drugs.

Group Health's rejection of Pennock occurred with many misgivings and without celebration. It is an example of how, as Walt Crowley points out in his history of Group Health, liberal Democrats and not Republicans were the first to identify and ostracize suspected members of the Communist Party during the Cold War era that became known as the McCarthy era, so named for Senator Joseph McCarthy's personal witch hunt against suspected communists.

This was the first and last time an application for Group Health membership was rejected for reasons of political convictions.


Sources: Walt Crowley, To Serve the Greatest Number: A History of Group Health Cooperative of Seattle (Seattle: GHC/University of Washington Press, 1995), 71-72.

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