Category Archives: Informers

On the Road In the Good Old Days

Saul Moskoff traveled quite a bit during his 1951-1958 years investigating the TU and the teachers. His expense vouchers were every bit as detailed as the records he kept on the investigations, whether they were for his subway fares (30 cents) or for out of town trips to Albany, Washington, D.C., and other places. He would also put in for dinner on late nights. Looked at overall, they indicate the range of his contacts and what was happening in the investigations.

Just an example or two: Moskoff advanced the expenses for a February 8, 1955 trip he and his investigator John Dunne made to Albany in connection with the appeal of four teachers to the commissioner of education. Total costs for both were $29.34, including the train, taxi in Albany, and lunch and dinner.

Expenses were a bit higher when Moskoff and Dunne went to Washington on November 19-20, 1956, “at the request of Dr. Jansen in connection with official business of the Board of Education of the City of New York,” the expense voucher said. Fares, meals hotel, and taxi totaled $97.98. He noted that he was returning $2.22 from the $100 advance he’d gotten. I don’t (yet) know what the “official business” was, but a lot was going on in the city’s hunt for classroom communists. New York State’s education commissioner, James E. Allen, Jr. had handed down his decision against forced informing in August. Moskoff’s to-do list also included also included dealing with the appeals of  the 4 teachers and a principal who had been suspended for refusing to cooperate with his investigation by providing names. As for the reason for the D.C. trip, Moskoff made no secret of his frustrations with the impact of the Allen ruling. His own October 29th deposition in the appealed case of the 5 educators noted that his sources were drying up for a number of reasons, with the Allen ruling being one. Another was that “national security regulations and requirements have made such sources unavailable.”

Did She or Didn’t She?

Bella Dodd went from left-wing darling and Teachers Union fireball to right-wing darling and left-wing pariah in the few years after she was thrown out of the U.S. Communist Party in the late 1940s.

A friendly repeat performer in numerous congressional hearings during the McCarthy years, she made frequent appearances in the newspapers. Headlines like “100 City Teachers Listed as Commies By Dr. Bella Dodd” in the September 12, 1952 New York World Telegram, along with the suspicions of teachers who had known and worked with her, has made it easy to see her as an informer .

But it may not be that easy. I’ve read a lot of Dodd’s testimony before HUAC, SISS, and other congressional committees, both open session and executive session, at the National Archives. (Some is also available online, along with other information on Dodd, some of it downright mystical, if not outright weird.)

At least from these sessions, it’s not clear whether she named New York teachers. She did name CPUSA leaders and other people she’d known in the party. Much of her testimony consisted of her descriptions of the party’s inner workings, and she repeatedly asserted that CP teachers inevitably slanted their lessons and propagandized their students. Missing so far, though, are those 100 or so commie New York teachers the headlines said she named.

Add to this what Abraham Zitron and Celia Lewis Zitron, both strong leaders in the Teachers Union, told researcher Linda Cirino when she asked about Dodd in a 1979 interview: “It never became clear that she gave names of teachers,” Abraham Zitron said. “She gave a list of names of people in the CP. Maybe she added names of teachers who had already been named.”

At the same time, Dodd provided information, which could likely have included teachers’ names, to Saul Moskoff, the New York assistant corporation counsel who ran the Board of Education investigations for much of the 1950s. On the Board’s informer lists, she is code-named “77” and “Falcon.” Moskoff on several occasions asked congressional investigators not to call his informers and undercover agents to testify before their committees, saying that it would hamper his efforts.

In his Reds at the Blackboard, Clarence Taylor notes that Dodd testified before congress and claimed in her own School of Darkness that the CPUSA manipulated the Teachers Union and essentially turned it into a communist front.

And, possibly, Bella Dodd named teachers in other venues – she did testify at least once before a grand jury – or in congressional testimony I haven’t seen, or in private meetings with investigators. There is more to find out.