University of Washington is said on March 24, 1948, to have more than 150 Communists or sympathizers.

  • By Greg Lange
  • Posted 7/10/1999
  • Essay 1483

On March 24, 1948, in a Spokane speech, State Senator Thomas H. Bienz, a Democrat, declares that at least 150 of the approximately 700 University of Washington faculty members are Communists. Senator Bienz is a member of the recently created Joint Legislative Fact-finding Committee on Un-American Activities in the State of Washington. The committee, chaired by Albert Canwell and often called the Canwell Committee, investigated Communist infiltration in various state organizations.

Senator Bienz was quoted as saying, "[T]he investigations of the Canwell committee will show that there are Communist professors in the University of Washington. We will show there are probably not less than 150 on the faculty who are Communists or sympathizers with the Communist party."

He held up a portfolio bulging with Communist publications issued in the United States and stated there were 5,000,000 Communists or people who follow the Communist line in the United States. He said, "That is a lot more than there were in Russia when they took over that country.  Stalin intends to conquer the world and the United States.  Are we going to heed this warning in time?" (Spokesman-Review)

The Canwell Committee decided to investigate 11 of the 150 University of Washington "Communist professors." The 11 faculty members were sent subpoenas and required to attend the Un-American Activities Committee hearings for questioning. The hearings were held July 1948 at the Seattle Field Artillery Armory (in 1999 the Seattle Center House on the Seattle Center grounds).

A Red Scare

The hearings took place in the context of a national post-World War II "Red Scare" in which, for the second time since the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, Communists were thought to have infiltrated and endangered American institutions. A similar process soon unfolded nationally under the direction of Senator Joseph McCarthy. "McCarthy Era" investigations typically have been looked back upon as hysterical "witch hunts" that disregarded the right of United States citizens to the freedoms of expression and speech provided by the First Amendment of the Constitution.

After the Canwell Committee reported their findings, the University of Washington investigated further and held closed hearings. On January 22, 1949 Dr. Raymond B. Allen, University President, dismissed three professors: Herbert Phillips (Philosophy), Joe Butterworth (Old English Literature), and Ralph Gundlach (Social psychologist) and required others to take loyalty oaths.


"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.

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