Category Archives: Red Scare

Setting the Stage for Rapp-Coudert and the ‘50s

Heading into the 1920s and the Lusk Laws, the Board of Education’s demands for loyalty, patriotism, and adherence to democracy were matched by Teachers Union assertions that teachers were loyal, patriotic, and democratic. Some New York Times headlines in 1922 could almost provide an outline of the conflicts between the union and the board:

  • “Teachers Decry Secret Reports”
  • “Teachers Secretly Quizzed on Loyalty”
  • “Demands Justice For Two Teachers”

Those 2 teachers were Eugene Jackson and Austin M. Works, and the board was withholding the required certificates as to their loyalty and character that would enable them to continue teaching under the Lusk Laws. Both had served in the army during the war, and both were then teaching at De Witt Clinton. They were among several teachers caught up in the same bind.

Jackson, a modern languages teacher, kept his job, as did Wood. Both are mentioned in school news coverage in subsequent years. Jackson played an active and public role in the Teachers Union through the 1930s and 1940s. He was among the teachers caught in the mid-century probe, retired in 1952 soon after Saul Moskoff took over the investigation.

But the hunt for radical teachers in the schools continued through the 1920s and beyond; in effect it didn’t stop. Governor Al Smith signed the bill repealing the Lusk Laws in the spring of 1923. Even before he did, as the conflict over the repeal escalated, a Times headline proclaimed “Red Outbreak Tale Told to Governor.” And, after the repeal, in 1925: “Radicalism Taints Schools, Says Doty.” (Doty was dean of De Witt Clinton.)

With both communism and fascism ramping up overseas, the following decades saw the board and the news coverage far more concerned about the red menace, even as fascist forces grew more powerful in Germany.

The Beginning, Continued

Teacher loyalty and patriotism remained fascinating subjects for the Board of Education well after the 1917 dismissals and transfers, going into the 1920s and the post WWI Lusk Laws time frame.

In 1919, the board dismissed history teacher Benjamin Glassberg, charging he had told students that Bolshevism wasn’t so bad and that school teachers were not permitted to tell the truth about the situation in Russia. (Glassberg taught at Brooklyn’s Commercial High School, although it appears that many, if not most, of the teachers caught in this early phase of the 20th century Red Scare were at DeWitt Clinton.)

The New York Times reported Glassberg’s dismissal on May 29, 1919. On June 20, the paper carried an article on a test given to students – but in this case to evaluate their knowledge of WWI and Bolshevism: and where and from whom they learned what they knew. Not much changes, does it – except the tests here examined patriotism rather than reading and arithmetic.  The board was after anyone and anyplace, teachers included, who might be responsible for failing to instill the proper patriotism and loyalty in impressionable minds.

“We are desirous of finding out to what extent Bolshevist ideas have been impressed on the students of  our high schools,” a letter to high school principals, sent out by William L. Ettinger, the city superintendent of schools, said. No pupils would be penalized, assistant superintendent John L. Tildsley wrote in a letter to the principals. Rather than being punished, they would get “such instruction as may be necessary.” As for the teachers, Tildsley said, “the data will  be used only to indicate the measure of the teachers’ opportunity and obligation to assist pupils with reference to facts and problems of vital importance.” (As noted in the previous post, Tildsley later changed his views and came to support the Teachers Union.)

The extent of the board’s concern is also reflected in the tests given in the elementary schools. They were keyed to the board’s assessments of how radical or Bolshevik-y different districts were. “It was believed that the answers to the queries in some of these alleged radical districts would prove interesting,” the Times article reported.

The TU passed resolutions and held protest meetings against the examinations.