Teachers Under Investigation

In early 1953, a New York City teacher called in for questioning confronted Saul Moskoff, the city lawyer who ran the anti-communist investigations from 1951 to 1958.

“Some of this information amazes me very much. I don’t know where it came from….” she told Moskoff, as she challenged his authority to question her loyalty and patriotism.*

The information in her file, “which tends to indicate your membership in the Communist Party,” as Moskoff summarized it for her, in fact came from Mildred Blauvelt, an undercover NY Police Department detective who had infiltrated several Brooklyn Communist Party clubs in the 1940s. “Blondie” and “Operator 51” on the Board’s informant code sheet, she worked with Moskoff in the 1950s. She also testified before HUAC, naming an impressive number of teachers and others, and apparently had extensive contacts with congressional investigators – as did Moskoff.

In addition to officers from NYPD’s Bureau Of Special Services and Investigations (BOSSI) and the police commissioner, the cast of characters included FBI agents and state troopers. Board of Education members, superintendent of schools William Jansen, numerous Board of Education assistant superintendents, and several corporation counsels were also deeply involved in the investigations.

Information went back and forth among these agencies and individuals, revving up along with the Cold War spin machine that set the backdrop for the New York investigations and similar ones in cities across the country. (The History tab at www.dreamersandfighters.com offers a narrative description of the New York investigations and of what drew the teachers, and the Teachers Union, to the left and the CP, along with a timeline.)

Basic procedures called for a letter to go out over Superintendent Jansen’s name, directing teachers under suspicion to report for – uh – “interviews” to determine their fitness to teach the children of New York.

School administrators, including Jansen himself on a few occasions, conducted these sessions at first. It appears that the city’s Law Department became involved as the legal issues became more complex and as the Board deemed it necessary to hold public hearings on teachers who refused to cooperate. Moskoff was assigned to the job in July 1951. He remained until mid-1958, but kept his hand in on occasion as first another assistant corporation counsel, and finally his chief investigator, took over day-to-day management of the investigations.

* File accessed at the Tamiment Library and Wagner Labor Archives at New York University. Additional source materials used in this post are in NY’s Municipal Archives and the National Archives.


3 responses to “Teachers Under Investigation

  1. Pingback: Building on Rapp-Coudert « Snoops & Secrets

  2. Salu December 22, 2012 at 5:09 am

    I would suspect that the socend and fourth quarter student teachers are better than the first and third quarter students teachers simply becuase they have already had their first placement and they now know some of the things they can expect. My socend quarter is going much better than my first if only because I had no clue what I was doing my first quarter. I still have no clue on somethings but the more common occurances, such as a student acting up or mistiming of lessons, have become easier to deal with. As for the teachers that think that both groups aren’t very good well they are right and they need to remember what it was like for them. This is my first time infront of a classroom. I HAVE NO CLUE WHAT I AM DOING YET. You don’t throw a 16 year old kid behind the wheel of a car by themselves and say See you later. First you have to teach them. So if the students teachers aren’t good or experienced then all is right with the world. Granted there should be some level of competancy esspecially when it comes to the socend and fourth quarter student teachers. Another problem the veteran teachers may be seeing that a student teacher is trying a new style and they themselves are unfamiliar with and may see that as bad becuase as human beings we are uncomfortable with change.

  3. William Rosenau October 26, 2013 at 11:50 am

    You mentioned that you drew some of your information for this post from the NYC Municipal Archives. Did you by any chance notice if these records went in to the 1970s and 1980s? I ask because I’m working on something on counterterrorism in the city during that period . . .Please let me know. Thanks.

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