In the Beginning….

The more research I’ve done, the more I’ve come to see pretty much the entire 20th century as a single Red Scare, one with similar, but increasingly sophisticated investigative methods and procedures.

The charges against three suspended teachers at De Witt Clinton HS included “holding views subversive of good discipline in the schools and which undermine good citizenship.” Another six teachers from the school were transferred to six other schools for what the Board of Education called “the good of the service.”

The suspended teachers were Samuel A. Schmalhausen, Thomas Mufson, and A. Henry Schneer. All three were charged with variations on the theme of being insufficiently patriotic and too neutral in comparing American democracy with other political theories in their classrooms. Schmalhausen, for example, failed “to develop in the students under his control instinctive respect for the President, for the Governor, and other Federal, State, and municipal officers.”

Held at 3PM on a November Thursday before the High School Committee (chaired by John Whalen), the trial resulted in the dismissals of all three teachers. Associate superintendent of schools John L. Tildsley# furnished the information and evidence that assistant corporation counsel Charles McIntyre used to draw up the charges.

The Teachers Union, in turn, met to draw up charges against Tildsley, and announced plans to launch an effort to raise $10,000 to defend the three teachers. Other planned  TU activities centered on public meetings and speeches in support of the dismissed teachers, as well as those who were transferred.

All this, and much more, was reported in The New York Times – on November 20, 1917. On December 20, the Times reported that the full Board of Education had sustained the dismissals. Board actions on teachers continued well into the Lusk Law/mid-1920s, and the Times continued its reporting on the issues involved. With somewhat different phrasing of charges and issues, the parallels to later years are unmistakable.

#A 1950s article in Teacher News reported that Tildsley later rethought his role in these dismissals and suspensions and became a union supporter. Also worth noting is that in 1937, also reported in the Times, Schmalhausen filed an appeal with the Board of Education, seeking to be reinstated.  Celia Lewis Zitron discussed the post-WWI  red hunts and their impact on teachers in her book The New York City Teachers Union 1916-1964; pages 164-167 specifically cover the three techers noted in this post.

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