“Clearly and logically organized, each chapter moves with a sort of free-association style, with one subtopic overlapping and blending into the next, which makes page-turning reading.”
–Carl Abbott, author of Portland in Three Centuries
“When the slam-bang tactics of Senator McCarthy and his Red hunt came around, Reed was a sitting duck for anyone who wanted to make charges of that kind.”
—Ernest Boyd “E.B.” MacNaughton, former president
“In Portland they were making jokes that they wanted to put Reed on a barge and send it down to San Francisco. I wouldn’t have noticed if they had. I was totally immersed in my studies. We were, we felt, very protected and safe, in a self-contained bubble.”
—Mertie Hansen Muller ’56
In the early ’50s, Cold War tensions fueled fears in America of widespread Communist subversion, spawning a second “Red Scare.” Joseph McCarthy, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, became the public face of a Congressional effort to ferret out alleged Communist spies and sympathizers in the government and elsewhere.
In 1953, Senator McCarthy turned his sights on academia, denouncing Harvard University as “the Kremlin on the Charles” for its decision to retain three professors who had supported the Communist cause in the 1930s. That same year, the University of Washington fired three tenured academics, and the regents of the University of California at Berkeley discharged two dozen professors who refused to sign a loyalty oath. At the University of Chicago, President Robert Hutchins defiantly resisted a state board’s investigation of Communist sympathizers in the university. His was largely a minority position among college presidents.
One of the three professors under investigation at Harvard invoked the Fifth Amendment in refusing to answer questions at a congressional investigation about his alleged ties to the Communist Party. The question of whether resorting to the Fifth Amendment constituted grounds of significant misconduct sufficient for termination became a hotly debate topic within academic institutions. Rutgers University and the University of Kansas both ejected faculty members who invoked their Fifth Amendment rights rather than discuss their involvement with Communism. At Harvard, it was decided that no one would be retained who was presently a member of the Communist Party, but no one would be fired for past association with it; use of the Fifth Amendment was determined to be misconduct subject to disciplinary action, but not a matter of “grave misconduct” that would result in termination.
The witch hunt known as “McCarthyism” reached its high-water mark in the spring of 1954 when, during the Army-McCarthy hearings in Washington, D.C., the military was forced to defend itself in televised sessions against charges of being soft on Communism.
In the summer of that year, McCarthyism came to Reed College.
Michael Munk ’56: The FBI first came to Reed in 1953 to interview the faculty and administrators. The main person that they wanted to speak with was the admission director, Bob Canon, who had just been appointed dean of students by President Ballantine in the fall of 1953. They made Canon tell them which other people at Reed were Reds. Canon later told friends and relatives that testifying was the worst thing he had ever done. They believed that he cooperated only because the FBI threatened to expose his homosexuality.
Katherine Kolesoff Averill ’50: Many Reedites took jobs with the government after graduation, and the FBI was sent out to investigate them. If you came to the registrar’s office wanting information, you got it. A lot of what the FBI was doing was simply checking transcripts to make sure the person was indeed a graduate. But the registrar, Maggie Scott ’19, would just hand them the person’s entire folder, in which she kept everything about every student that ever passed through her hands, including articles from the Quest newspaper. I was appalled, but there weren’t any privacy laws at the time. I imagine people didn’t even think about it until the Velde Committee came through Portland and started subpoenaing people who had been in college with us.
Richard Jones, history professor 1941–1982, 1985–1986: Harold Velde was chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee, or HUAC. The so-called “Velde Committee” came to Portland in the summer of 1954. President Ballantine explained to us on the Faculty Council that it was necessary for us to cooperate because the committee was going to cause us trouble. In fact, it soon became clear that their whole Portland mission had nothing to do with Communism in Oregon, it had simply to do with Reed College. Reed came under attack on the grounds of tolerating Communists, or having Communists who were influential in the faculty, the student body, and the administration.
Herb Gladstone, music professor 1946-1980: The issue, so far as we were concerned, was that the government could refuse any financial aid that had been given, even indirectly, to the college. What they meant by that was that Reed, which was filled with students on the G.I. Bill, would find that the government would no longer pay their tuition if the faculty did not sign the loyalty oath. That was the threat.
Abraham Bergman ’54: There was this pervasive fear about the country in the spring of 1954. Just listening on the radio to the Army-McCarthy hearings investigating Communist infiltration of the military created a fearful atmosphere. The actual Velde Committee hearings in Portland took place during the summer of 1954, when students were not in school. Purposefully, I think.
Ruth Cederstrom Wolfe ’50: The Velde Committee characterized a certain party at a Reed student’s house as having been a Communist recruiting meeting. My husband and I had gone to that party. It was an Easter party. They had Easter decorations and a big jar where they were collecting money to free some liberal person back East who had been jailed. Nobody asked us to become Communists. Nobody said a word about that. I didn’t remember it as a subversive occurrence. When I heard the party described at the hearing, I couldn’t even recognize it as the party I had attended.
Robert Fernea ’54: The question was whether Reed professors had to testify before the committee or not. I was president of my senior class, and rallied the class to sign a letter supporting a professor’s right to continue teaching at Reed without testifying. There was a lot of commotion over that. My mother, who lived across the river in Vancouver, Washington, had garbage thrown in her yard and nasty telephone calls. It was a challenging experience that brought politics down to a local level. It also brought our class together for the first time. Only one person refused to sign the letter.
Harry Jacob ’54: As commencement speaker in 1954, students chose to invite the father of Linda Pauling ’54, chemist Linus Pauling. At that time Pauling had been awarded the Humphry Davy Medal from the Royal Society of London, but was denied a visa by the U.S. government because of his political activism opposing nuclear proliferation. His passport was restored not long after he came to Reed, so that he was able to travel to Stockholm to receive the first of his two Nobel Prizes.
Ladis Kristof ’55: I was born in a part of Austria that became part of the Soviet Union, and in 1939 I was inducted into the Soviet military, in which I served during the whole war from 1939 to 1945. I came to the United States in 1952 and, thanks to a woman I met in Paris, got a job in an Oregon logging camp. I enrolled at Reed in 1953, directly from the logging camp. Having just escaped from the Communist world, I was on the one hand obviously considered one of the enemy, and on the other hand I was someone who knew something about living under a Communist regime.
On campus there was an unpleasant, ongoing public discussion between Frank Munk and Maure Goldschmidt ’30, both of whom taught political science, as to whether a Communist should be allowed to teach at the college. Munk took the position no, on the basis that such a person is really directed by the Communist Party. Goldschmidt took the opposing position, that just because somebody may be a Communist Party member, it does not necessarily mean that he was a tool of the party.
Michael Munk ’56: Homer Owen ’50 told HUAC that he was recruited into the Communist Party in 1947 by Reed administrator Bob Canon and a fellow student. He became chair of the Communist Party’s John Reed Club, which he said was composed almost entirely of Reed students and their spouses, and later became a member of the central committee of the Oregon Communist Party. After graduating from Reed, he went on to Cornell University for his master’s degree. He testified that he left the Communist Party shortly thereafter.
Along with admission director Bob Canon, Owen was the lead witness in HUAC’s Portland hearings. He named twenty-two Reedies and faculty and seventeen other Oregonians as members of the Communist Party. He also named several of his fellow Cornell graduate students as Communists, including Leonard Marsak, who by the time of Owen’s 1954 testimony was a history and humanities instructor at Reed.
Owen’s wife, Marjorie Emery Owen '49, was a secretary to Bob Canon while she was a student at Reed. According to HUAC, she testified before a closed HUAC hearing in Washington, D.C., that she collected Communist Party dues from Canon and his wife, and two Reed professors—Lloyd Reynolds, who taught calligraphy and art history and his wife Virginia, and Stanley Moore, who taught philosophy.
Rex Arragon, history professor 1923–1962, 1970–1974: A special trustee-faculty committee was created in the spring of 1954 in anticipation of the approaching Velde Committee hearings, to take up cases arising from faculty taking the Fifth Amendment. The committee drew up a resolution that required substantial evidence of misconduct or concern for the good name of the college before the conduct of any faculty member was examined. While the resolution gave the trustees sole authority to define what was meant by “misconduct” and “the good name of the college,” it also specified that the procedure in such cases was to include assistance and advice of the faculty. When President Ballantine read the resolution at the full faculty meeting, there was a motion by history professor Dick Jones to confirm that by “substantial evidence” the joint committee did not mean gossip, hearsay, or unsupported accusations. Ballantine agreed to this motion, and it was initially recorded in the minutes of the meeting. But later he asked that his concurrence be deleted from those minutes.
The Board of Trustees voted in favor of the resolution on June 4, two days after Reed professor Stanley Moore, who was on sabbatical that year, appeared before the Velde Committee in Washington, D.C. There he used both the First and Fifth Amendments in his refusal to answer their questions.
On June 19, televised hearings of the Velde Committee took place in Portland. Reed dean Robert Canon testified that he knew of Moore’s membership in the Communist Party in 1948. The next day Moore sent an open letter to the Reed community asking that his conduct be investigated by the college in a public meeting. He also proposed that taking the Fifth Amendment was not evidence of professional misconduct. Ballantine informed Moore that the trustees were undertaking an investigation of the case on the basis of their June 4 resolution, and requested that he return to Portland to discuss the matter. Also on June 19, the Velde Committee in Portland called forward Reed professors Lloyd Reynolds and Leonard Marsak.