McCarthyism in the Suburbs : Quakers, Communists, and the Children's Librarian
In 1953, Mary Knowles was fired as a branch librarian for the Morrill Memorial Library, a public library in Norwood, Massachusetts. She had been called before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee and, when asked if she’d ever been a member of the Communist Party, she declined to answer, relying on her Fifth Amendment rights. She was fired less than three weeks later. Knowles thought she was unlikely to find a position as a librarian again and left the area. She found a job at a small library outside Philadelphia, where anticommunists who learned of her past tried to create public support for a Loyalty Oath, resulting in the loss of public funding for the library. The resulting controversy eventually brought national attention to the local Quakers who had hired Knowles, the FBI was asked to investigate, Knowles was convicted of contempt of Congress, and the Quakers were subpoenaed and testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Knowles, however, was never fired from this position, retiring from the library in 1979.
This book illustrates the impact of McCarthyism on small towns and “ordinary” people and local officials, some of whom abided by the standards of the era. There were others however, who challenged the status quo. Their actions provide readers with models of behavior often at odds with what has been thought of as the 1950s. People who spoke up risked families and jobs. At the same time, anticommunists also tapped into citizens’ fears of the cold war, not just of Communists but of a broad swath of people who promoted social justice and equality. The resulting interactions as described in this book offer important lessons on how fear and bravery operate local communities against the backdrop of (and involvement with) national events.
anti-communist movements, Quakers, history, women in history
Hepler, Allison L., "McCarthyism in the Suburbs : Quakers, Communists, and the Children's Librarian" (2018). Faculty and Staff Books. 30.