First Parish and the Red Scare in the 1950s

annhalemay54_smallWhat happened in Wayland sixty years ago that affected First Parish – its members, its minister and, indeed, the whole town? Have you heard the story of how a well-liked teacher at the Center School, who also was a member of First Parish, was dismissed from her second-grade teaching position because of her former membership in the Communist Party?

Why would a well-educated Radcliffe graduate like Anne Hale, Jr., have joined the Communist Party in 1938? As she explained later to the Wayland School Committee, her membership in the Communist Party was motivated by her desire to contribute to the improvement of public schools; to the ending of racial and religious discrimination; to the improvement in wages and living conditions of workers; and to the defense of civil liberties, such as the freedoms of speech, press and assembly.

Those members of First Parish who lived through the early fifties will remember when the House Un-American Activities Committee and Sen. Joseph McCarthy were trying to ferret out anyone who might be a member of the Communist Party. Employment of a Communist was illegal in Massachusetts when the legislature (General Court) passed a law forbidding such employment in the Commonwealth and also any political subdivision – including the town of Wayland.

Inevitably, word of Anne Hale’s political activities in the Communist Party until 1950 reached Wayland’s School Committee. She was summoned to appear before the committee in April of 1954 for questioning and to determine her fitness to continue as a teacher. . .

When summoned, Ms. Hale acknowledged readily that she had been a member of the Communist Party between 1938 and 1950 but had since not been involved with the Party.

Thereafter, in May, the School Committee notified Miss Hale of its intention to vote on June 15 “on the question of dismissing you as a teacher in the schools of the Town”; the Committee also suspended her from her teaching duties pending its vote. Soon thereafter, Anne Hale received a follow-up letter stating that it seemed to the Committee “probable that your dismissal would be warranted” for several causes among which were connections with and support of the Communist Party; knowledge of the nature, purposes, and activities of the Party; and that she had allegedly failed to tell the truth earlier in sworn testimony before the Committee.

As a teacher in Wayland since 1948 and now tenured, Miss Hale was entitled to a hearing prior to the School Committee’s vote on her dismissal. She asked for a public hearing, and her request was granted. The hearing was scheduled to begin on the night of June 8 in the Wayland High School gymnasium (now the Wayland Town Building). In a town of 7,000 people at that time, about 700 registered voters, teachers and members of the press packed the high school gym.

One can imagine the tension present that night and succeeding nights as citizens listened, discussed, argued and waited for the final vote on June 15. A Town Crier editorial said: “Both the School Committee and Miss Hale have been exemplary in their conduct.” It went on to say, “Unfortunately the same may not be said of the conduct of some of our citizenry. Rumor and gossip have had a field day. Excited by the discovery of a former Communist in Town, they have jumped to the conclusion that there must be others.”

At the public hearings, the Town Counsel, Roger Stokey, presented the School Committee’s case. He, too, was a member of First Parish and he had debated privately whether to serve as legal counsel in the case because, in his view, the Hale matter was being distorted by anti-Communist hysteria. Despite his reservations, he thought that by conducting the hearing as Town Counsel, he could ensure evenhanded treatment for Miss Hale. He endured much criticism from members of First Parish even though witnesses describe the hearings as orderly and fair. One of Anne Hale’s friends expressed in a letter to the editor her remembrance that “during the trial, though she was often trapped into indecisive and contradictory statements about the dialectic of communism, she staunchly defended her actions, and refused to ‘recant.’”

Defenders of Miss Hale like the Rev. Ray Manker, the Unitarian minister at First Parish, received even greater criticism. Some members of the church turned against him, some stayed silent, some supported Miss Hale’s position, while others agreed that she should be dismissed as a teacher in the town of Wayland.

By a vote of 2 to l, the School Committee dismissed Anne Hale because her statements about the Party’s purposes and activities demonstrated a lack of “perception, understanding and judgment necessary in one who is to be trusted with the responsibility for teaching the children of the Town.”

For a more detailed study of this period of First Parish history and Anne Hale’s life after Wayland (she died in October of 1968), read First Parishioner Bob Mainer’s interesting article, “The Red Scare in Wayland.

By Dick Hoyt