“RED SCARE IN THE GREEN MOUNTAINS: VERMONT IN THE MCCARTHY ERA 1946-1960”
PREFACE: REFLECTIONS OF A RED-DIAPER BABY
The origins of this book date back to a conference held in Montpelier in 1988, “Vermont in the McCarthy Era.” I was one of three organizers of the event, along with Michael Sherman, then director of the Vermont Historical Society, and the late Richard Hathaway, professor of history at Vermont College. Looking back over the list of panelists, I see that the conference happened just in time; William Hinton, Robert Mitchell, Martha Kennedy, Rabbi Max Wall, and Arnold Schein are among those who have died since then.
As stimulating as the conference proved to be, I never lost the sense that we only scratched the surface. The intention of this book has been to both explore some subjects that were not covered at the conference and also to give a greater shape to our findings.
CHAPTER ONE – 1946: THE CONGRESSMAN AND THE PROFESSOR
University of Vermont political science professor Andrew Nuquist was looking forward to a thorough airing of the issues when he challenged six-term incumbent Charles Plumley in 1946. Nuquist was ready to challenge the congressman’s votes on agricultural and labor issues. Plumley’s growing absences and missed votes were causing worries in the Republican party, and several newspaper editorial pages expressed the thought that “Uncle Charlie” was due for retirement.
But as Vermont poet Walter Hard put it that summer,
“Of our Congressman’s consistency,
This much can be truthfully said:
Whoever sets out to seek the job,
He’s sure to find out he’s a Red.”
CHAPTER TWO: 1948: THE HENRY WALLACE CAMPAIGN IN VERMONT
Two years before Senator Joseph McCarthy burst on the national scene, Vermont experienced its first major manifestation of that potent mix of super-patriotism, staunch anti-Communism, and fear tactics that characterized the “Red Scare” era. The occasion was the quixotic presidential campaign of Henry Wallace in 1948.
Bernie Sanders’ presidential run in 2106 drew comparisons with that 1948 campaign, bringing the dimly remembered figure of Henry Agard Wallace back into public view. Wallace had been a person of international renown at the close of World War II, ranking in a June 1946 poll as one of those “most admired” in the United States. But by the time the Wallace for President Vermont chapter was formed in February 1948, he had become a marginalized and, in some quarters, reviled figure for his political positions.
CHAPTER THREE – 1950: A SINISTER POISON: THE ‘RED SCARE” COMES TO BETHEL
Here’s a question that might stump many Vermont history buffs: who was Ordway Mabson Southard? A May 2001 obituary for this prolific poet and haiku specialist mentioned some of the places he and his wife Mary had lived: Alaska, Mexico, Alabama, Hawaii, and finally British Columbia – but not Vermont. Yet it was here in the summer of 1950 that the Southards were the catalysts for an episode that landed Vermont in the national news. Only a passing obituary reference to their political activities (“Both were highly influenced by Marxist Socialist thought and participated in the Civil Rights Movement”) gives a clue to the events that led to headlines such as the one in the August 3 issue of the Bradford Opinion: “Reds Infest Bethel, Randolph Center, McCarthy Charges.”
CHAPTER FOUR – 1953: DEFENDING ALEX NOVIKOFF: THE LEGACY OF ARNOLD SCHEIN
“It was a shabby performance all around…The trustees and the administration disgraced themselves and the University.” The speaker was Arnold Schein on June 11, 1988, as he looked back thirty-five years to one of Vermont’s major Red Scare controversies, involving Alex Novikoff, a biochemistry professor at University of Vermont’s Medical School. Novikoff had taken the Fifth Amendment during a Senate hearing into Communist influence at Brooklyn College, where he had taught before coming to Vermont. He was subsequently fired by the trustees of the University of Vermont. Arnold Schein had never lost his anger at the injustice visited on his friend and colleague. He welcomed the chance to address the “Vermont in the McCarthy Era” conference in 1988 and tell the story to a new generation.
CHAPTER FIVE – 1953-1954: FROM ‘PEIPING’ TO PUTNEY: THE HINTON FAMILY AND THE “RED SCARE”
During the month of September 1949, headlines in the Brattleboro Reformer mirrored those the world over: “Communists Take Over Peiping,” “Mao Tze-tung China’s New Ruler.” This event, which dominated the global news, opened another front in the nascent Cold War and further increased American fears of Communism’s spreading threat. It also created ripples that were felt in Brattleboro’s northerly neighbor, Putney.
Putney, then and now a town of approximately 2500, has had a surprisingly wide connection with world affairs, especially during the tumultuous early years of the Cold War. This was due to the influence of the Putney School, and the children of its founder, Carmelita Hinton. When two of Mrs. Hinton’s children, William and Joan, became fervent supporters of the new Chinese government, the resulting headlines catapulted both the small town and the even smaller school into the national spotlight.
CHAPTER SIX – 1954: THE VERMONT PRESS AND SENATOR MCCARTHY’S DOWNFALL
When the longtime publisher and editor of the Rutland Herald Robert Mitchell spoke at the 1988 conference “Vermont in the McCarthy Era,” he recalled the time in the early 1950s when Senator Joseph McCarthy commanded the news. “At that time it was automatic that anyone who opposed Senator McCarthy or others who exploited fears of subversion was likely to be charged with succumbing to the communist taint itself,” Mitchell recalled. “During that period, the Herald published more editorials intending to debunk McCarthyism and the internal communist threat than were printed on any other subject.” Mitchell did not stop at anti-McCarthy editorials. The Herald also played a pivotal role in supporting the efforts of Senator Ralph Flanders in his battle with Senator Joseph McCarthy, a struggle that dominated Herald front pages from March through December of 1954.
CHAPTER SEVEN – 1950-1956: BERNARD O’SHEA AND THE SWANTON COURIER
As the anti-Communist fervor known as “McCarthyism” took hold of the national consciousness in the early 1950s, it never gained quite as strong a foothold in Vermont as in many other places. One reason for this can be attributed to several of the state’s forthright newspaper publishers and editors. In other chapters, I have explored the roles of John Drysdale (White River Valley Herald) and Robert Mitchell (Rutland Herald). But there were several other outspoken newspeople: Gerald MacLoughlin of the Springfield Reporter, Bill Slator of the Addison Independent, and, in a class by himself, Bernard (“Bun”) O’Shea of the Swanton Courier.
Although O’Shea was known in later years as a perennial Democratic candidate for statewide office, it was at the Swanton Courier that he first came to prominence. Bernard O’Shea was a native of Northampton, Massachusetts, and was working on the weekly Berkshire Eagle when the opportunity to purchase the Swanton Courier arose in 1949. He became its publisher and his wife Sheila the editor; as their son Kevin remembers, “My father was the dreamer, and my mother the driver.”
CHAPTER EIGHT – 1951-1960: MEANWHILE, ACROSS THE CONNECTICUT RIVER….
A recent New York Times article referred to Vermont and New Hampshire as “New England’s unidentical twins.” Another observer termed the two states “geographic twins, but cultural aliens.” Historians have long noted the differences between the two states, even before anyone thought to divide our country into red and blue. Going back to the 1950s, both states were considered die-hard Republican, but there was a significant divergence in how each state reacted to the national political climate.
CHAPTER NINE – 1958-1960: THE CONGRESSIONAL CAMPAIGNS OF WILLIAM MEYER
Trace the roots of Bernie Sanders’ improbable rise in Vermont, and one is inescapably led to William H. Meyer, the unassuming forester from West Rupert who reshaped Vermont’s political landscape during the waning days of the Red Scare. Ask a Vermonter-in-the-street today to identify Meyer, and chances are that you will be met with puzzled looks. Vermont historians and longtime political veterans, however, know Meyer as the 1958 Democratic candidate who wrested the Vermont seat in the U.S. House of Representatives from Republican control after 104 years. And those on the left in Vermont with long memories know of him as an outspoken liberal who espoused nuclear disarmament, critiqued militarism often, advocated for the recognition of “Red” China, and who later became a key figure in the creation of the Liberty Union party.