Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Red Scare

Red Scare. Blacklisted. Communists. Senator Joseph McCarthy. House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC).  Fifth Amendment.  What?  What kind of trivia are we playing and what on earth does this have to do with the history of the greater Gig Harbor Community?  

The reign of the rabble-rousing Joseph McCarthy  in the first half of the 1950s took place mostly on the East Coast (authors, artists, actors, college professors and students), in Hollywood (movie stars, directors, producers) and the large metropolitan cities of America.  Or did it?  There is no way Washington State or even little Gig Harbor, be involved in the so-called Red Scare.   But this is where I am wrong.

What turned my attention to how the Red Scare affected Gig Harbor was this excerpt from an oral history I picked up while reading in the Harbor History Museum Research room.  

And then Schudacofts, of course, was next to Morford’s.  She’s the one they got in as Communists.  She worked for the school district in Tacoma.  She was a psychologist or something like that.  He was just a big crab - he’d go up to Alaska crabbing and what have you.  They started investigating them.  It turned out that they were involved as Communists.  Of course, this was all during all the Communist stuff.  She was let go from the school district.  I don’t know whatever happened to them.  She was Mrs. Morford’s sister.”  From an oral history/biography Marilyn Rehn Niethammer

I couldn’t believe my eyes. Immediately, I was intrigued. was intrigued.  

With the help of a fantastic researcher, and superb proof-reader, the following are just a few minor highlights that we discovered about the Red Scare in Washington State. And this is just one of the many people affected by the beliefs of a very misguided person.

Margaret Jean Schuddakopf, also known as Jean Danielson, born May 11, 1904, Died March, 1980.

During one of the investigations or interrogations if you will Barbara Hartle, a high-ranking member of the Communist Party in Washington along with her husband, John, had named Margaret Jean Schuddakopf as a member of the Party.  As a result, Margaret was called before the Committee on UnAmerican Activities of the House of Representatives of the 83rd Congress of the United States during their investigation of communist activities in the Pacific Northwest Area (Seattle) in June 1954.

During her appearance before the HUAC, Margaret refused to answer questions regarding membership or participation in the Communist Party. She subsequently refused to confirm or deny whether or not  she had taught at either the Seattle Labor School or the Pacific Northwest Labor School.  She also refused to describe her duties and association with young people and children other than “I work in the elementary school system.  My work is with different groups of people.”  Instead she plead the Fifth Amendment-Rights of Persons.  “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentation or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

I found it very interesting that Clyde Doyle, one of the California Representatives on the HUAC, made the following statement when another witness pleaded the Fifth Amendment.  

“…However, as long as a few minutes ago, my name was mentioned as having declared in the public press that the taking of the fifth amendment was a Commie line. I wish to restate now that to my knowledge, in the history of this committee, the taking of the fifth amendment is a Commie line. That doesn't necessarily mean, in my book, that every person that takes it is one, but the records clearly show that taking the fifth amendment is a direction of the Communist Party. …”

As a result, a County Superintendent of Public Schools, purportedly acting under the provisions of RCW 28.19.060, suspended Margaret from teaching in the public schools of Pierce County.  He did this even though the Tacoma School District No. 10 had interviewed her and decided that it would take no action against her as related to her 1954-55 school contract.  Prior to the Superintendent getting involved in this issue, but after the Board had voted to take no action, two members of Tacoma School Board No. 10 wrote to the Superintendent.  In their independent capacity, but as  concerned residents,  they stated their view that Margaret had injured not only herself but also the school district and its board be taking the Fifth Amendment in her appearance before the HUAC and therefore should be removed.  Three board members, Fred Haley, James Boze and Ray Kelly, had all agreed that taking the Fifth Amendment was not grounds for dismissal.  Or, as Pete Callaghan in the Tacoma News Tribune put in it in his tribute to Fred Haley after his death published on April 7, 2005 referring to the taking of the Fifth Amendment as a defense:  “…This wasn’t akin to Mark McGwire refusing to answer questions about steroid use.”  

You must remember, as brought out in the trial of Margaret Jean Schuddakopf v. Tacoma School District No. 10, Margaret had since her original hiring in 1951 denied being a communist and had signed a loyalty oath reiterating the same foolishness (or ‘statement’) each year she worked for the District.  Haley and Boze continued to back Margaret but eventually Kelly capitulated and requested she be removed.  Haley never backed down.

Neither did the WA Superintendent of Public Instruction, Pearl A. Wanamaker, who served from 1940 until 1957.  She believed that Margaret had the right to protection under the Fifth Amendment and therefore never revoked her teaching credentials.  She also had Margaret reinstated.  But Tacoma School District No. 10 did not hire Margaret back, and eventually she successfully appealed and the Court’s decision awarded her back wages.

Margaret, along with her sister Rose Morford, later protested at anti-nukes demonstration in Bremerton, and in Hanford.  Her  parents farm, orchard and alfalfa fields in White Bluffs were turned into what we now know as the Hanford Site.  This reminds me of William Jerome Bichsel, S.J. (May 26, 1928 – February 28, 2015), nicknamed "Bix", a Jesuit priest in Tacoma, WA.  He is notable for his actions as a non-violent protester, spending time in federal prison for demonstrating on issues such as nuclear weapons and the School of the Americas.    

But Father Bix’s protests came later, after Senator McCarthy and so he was not accused of being a communist.  Father Bix practiced his Jesuit beliefs and teaching as well as the theology of Catholic Pacifism.  But he was never persecuted or blacklisted, although he did spent time in jail, or prison for his part in demonstrations.

Eventually, according to Lesley Thomas, Margaret’s granddaughter, Margaret made a clear break by moving to Kodiak, Alaska where she found work as a librarian.  Later she moved farther north near the Arctic Circle (I believe the Nome area) where she taught school, married a Inupiat.  Lesley lived there with her grandmother, and in 2005 reported that she still goes north to visit her family there.  You might want to check out Lesley’s first novel :Flight of the Goose: A story of the Far North” to learn more about their lives in Alaska.

My question is this:  was Margaret pulled into the Washington State investigation of communist activities because she, Margaret, was a communist sympathizer? Or was it because two of her brothers, George Shaw Wheeler and Donald Niven Wheeler?  Their stories are also interesting but also lengthy.  Oh, did I mention that THEY were communists?  Or was she drug into it simply because she was raised by her father, a Christian Socialist and Trade Unionist and a mother who was a school teacher.  Many other people in the early and mid part of the 1900s were raised in the same fashion.  So what was peculiar about Margaret?

I can’t help but believe that their beliefs were formed from an early age, and ithey are more fully explained in Orchards of Eden:  White Bluffs on the Columbia 1907-1943” by Nancy Mendenhall, Far Eastern Press, Seattle 469 pp paperback .  Nancy’s grandparents were Frank M. and Jane Shaw Wheeler, Margaret’s parents..  As the review states : 
 The book describes vividly an era when being an outspoken socialist or communist was accepted by neighbors and co-workers as “normal,” a spirit of democracy that seems to be regaining ground in our crisis-wracked country. 

Mendenhall writes that Wheeler family members were drawn deeper into the struggles against mass unemployment and poverty and the rising menace of fascism during the Great Depression. Some joined the Communist Party and Young Communist League.  

This book dramatizes a great American tragedy. Millions of men and women toiled in rural America and succeeded in realizing their dreams of a productive, rewarding life for themselves and their children, only to be ruined by the iron law of capitalist profits. In my grandparents’ case, their dream went up, literally, in a mushroom cloud. 

In closing it is important to note that according to a University of Washington (UW), the state of Washington was not a latecomer in joining the crusade against communism.  UW’s report discovered that Washington helped lead the way in the Red Scare that swept the nation.  Washington had already gone through a statewide revolution before 1950 in the first Red Scare.  But Joe McCarthy’s ‘victorious crusade’ succeeded in destroying the Pacific Northwest’s left leaning and radical friendly politics.

Should you be interested in learning more about this part of our, and the US, history,; I recommend  you read all the links provided in this piece.  And then, because this is such an interesting part of Washington (and World) history, you explore further on your own.

I believe that it is very important that we know the difference between ‘socialist’ and ‘communist’, don’t you?  The major and most profound difference as I see  is:  Socialism is an economic system, and communism is a political system.  

  • The socialistic society produces and distributes the goods collectively, or but a centralized government.
  • The communistic society has no centralized government, it is a collective ownership for all members.

If a capitalist society wanted to change, they would first become socialistic where goods are distributed according to quantity and quality of work done.  The communistic distribution is according to needs. Basically, communism is an extreme version of socialism.

Ironically, neither quality nor quantity measured Margaret.  It was suspicion .  It was fear.  Hopefully, we have left such petty things in the past and can move forward forgiving that past, embracing our present and together, venturing into our collective future.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.


  1. The font in your blog on Margaret Schuddakopf is too small! I had a tough time reading it even with glasses.

    As for your question, "was Margaret pulled into the Washington State investigation of communist activities because she, Margaret, was a communist sympathizer? Or was it because two of her brothers, George Shaw Wheeler and Donald Niven Wheeler?" I think neither was the reason. I thought I read during the little bit of research I did that she had been named by a previous witness at the hearings as having been a member of the Communist party many years before. It appears as though she definitely had been a Communist party member because while she stated several times throughout her later life that she was not currently a member of the party, she never denied having been one as a younger woman. The invocation of her fifth amendment rights allowed her to honestly testify that she was not a current member of the Communist party while not having to lie about having been a member many years before. An admission of previous Communist ties likely would've been every bit as damaging to her as current party membership would have been, so she walked a fine legal line to minimize that damage.

  2. . . .if you will Barbara Hartle, a high-ranking member of the Communist Party in Washington along with her husband, John, had named Margaret Jean Schuddakopf as a member of the Party. . . ." 7th paragraph into blog.

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  4. Very fascinating; thank you Harbor History, for your interest in my grandmother and great grandparents. I want to correct an error about Margaret Jean Schuddakopf's later years that originated in an interview of me (her grandaughter) in Queen Anne News and was picked up later by Tacoma Tribune or some other paper in an article about McCarthy Era in PNW-- actually Margaret did not move to Alaska - her daughter did. I was lucky to have lived for a few years with my grandmother Margaret on an organic farm near Gig Harbor; it was a beautiful, intellectual and emotional experience for a kid. She died there after a rich life of activism in social and environmental justice. She once told me she respected socialist ideas but was - if one must categorize such an erudite, compassionate and complex powerhouse - more a follower of (nonviolent) anarchistic egalitarian ideas. Always foremost in her mind was sticking up for powerless people and those without a voice. And never giving up.

  5. This may be closed but I’ll add a few comments for those who may stumble upon it later. I'll tell you what happened to Mrs. Schuddakopf after Tacoma. She moved to Myrtle Point, Oregon and became the High School French teacher (and German) until retirement. No one in Myrtle Point ever knew of her Tacoma problems but many wondered how she ever ended up in Myrtle Point, a logging town of about 1,500 people at that time. How do I know? She was my French teacher. I went on to major in French at the University of Oregon and even spent a year studying French in Paris.