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WPU members at Capitol with I-172 signatures, 1948, University of Washington collection

Representative H.C. (Army) Armstrong

Rep. Armstrong’s testimony to the Committee admitting communist activity in the Legislature
To learn more about the Washington Commonwealth Federation, Washington Pension Union and communist activity, view University of Washington History and Memory Project
Initiative measures attempting to address issues of poverty and privation

Representative Robert Bailey

To view the complete oral history with Robert Bailey

Representative Albert Canwell

To view the complete oral history with Albert Canwell

House Concurrent Resolution 10

Representative Albert F. Canwell, chairman

Representative Sydney A. Stevens, member

Representative Grant C. Sisson, member

Representative George F. Yantis, member

Senator R.L. Rutter Jr., member

Senator Thomas H. Bienz, member

Senator Harold G. Kimball, member

First Report, Un-American Activities in Washington State, 1948, preface and index
Second Report, Un-American Activities in Washington State, 1948, foreword and index

Florence James of Repertory Theater ejected from Canwell hearing, MOHAI Photograph Collection

George Hewitt testifying before Canwell Committee, courtesy MOHAI Photograph Collection

Protestors outside Canwell Committee hearings, Seattle, 1948, courtesy MOHAI Photograph Collection

Senator Wilbur Hallauer

Read complete account of Hallauer’s struggle with the right wing in Chapter 5: “Right Wing Politics and the John Goldmark Affair”

Representative Charles Hodde

Report of the Joint Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities, 1949

Legislative committee to receive report

Legislative Response: Report of Special Committee

Representative John O'Brien, Speaker of the House

Representative Mort Frayn, former Speaker of the House

Report of Speaker John O'Brien

McConaghy, Lorraine. “The Seattle Times’s Cold War Pulitzer Prize,” Pacific Northwest Quarterly

Canwell Commission established

Alarming headlines paraded across the Sunday Olympian on March 2, 1947: “1000 Marchers Swarm on Legislature: Disturbances Mark Demonstration for Pensions, GI Bonus.” The accompanying article claimed one thousand demonstrators converged on the Capitol “to demand legislation favorable to old age pensioners, labor, education, veterans and minority groups.” They reportedly arrived in Olympia on chartered buses, with placards, signs and even a banner saying, “The Communist Party Supports the March.” Members of the group stormed the Senate gallery and had to be removed for disrupting the session. Others “tried to crash the doors of the House gallery while members of the lower chamber still were in session.” Marchers also congregated in the Rotunda. Outside the building, veterans pitched tents on the grounds and rousing speeches were given on the wide steps of the Capitol.

Admittedly, communists and “communist sympathizers” were involved in the demonstrations as indicated by the banner. H. Richard Seller, chairman of the Progressive Citizens of America which organized the march acknowledged the presence of communists to the Sunday Olympian A.P. reporter. “He explained that the Communist Party was not one of the sponsoring groups but if they were represented it was because numerous organizations had been asked to participate.” Communists also operated inside the Capitol as members of the Legislature. During the Depression era, several decidedly left-wing activists were elected and served for several sessions. They attempted to introduce measures to address the economic hardships suffered by many during these lean years and to restructure the economy for “production for use,” not profit.

During the Depression and war years, the Washington State Legislature was heavily dominated by the Democratic Party after years of Republican majorities. The dire economic conditions of the time and then the national emergency of wartime moved the Legislature to respond with liberalized social programs to support those in need—the aged, the poor, the disabled—and those who had served the nation in the military. Large demonstrations at the Capitol by the Washington Pension Union (WPU) and others during these years both exemplified the extent of the crises and exerted pressure on legislators to find solutions. Several initiative drives promoted increased pensions and other governmental supports that stretched the state budget and transformed the traditional notions of the role of the state in the economic well-being of its citizens.

By the end of the war, many were weary of an activist government on both the national and state levels. Soon, worries about the ambitions of the Soviet Union began to overshadow national life, to deepen into the Cold War. In this context, the state elections of 1946 returned seventy-one Republican House members to twenty-eight Democrats, an increase of thirty-five members for the Republicans. The Senate was tied at twenty-three members for each party, an increase of nine senators for the Republicans.

One of the newly elected House Republicans was Albert Canwell, representing part of Spokane. He campaigned on a platform of concern about the spread of communism, not just in Europe, but right here in Washington State. He was convinced that the increased state social programs were both sign and symptom of the infiltration of communists in public life and he vowed to investigate the situation. He was instrumental in the formation of the Un-American Activities Committee of Washington in 1947, more commonly known as the Canwell Committee.

Senator Robert Bailey who was active in the Democratic Party at that time recalled:

“Mr. Bailey: In 1946, there was a swing back to the right—kind of a post-war reaction where people turn toward the conservative side. I do remember that it was quite a conservative Legislature. The House was Republican for the first time in many years and they tied the Senate. Looking back I feel there was a concern of the average person about some of the radical elements. The Cold War had come on rapidly and people were getting concerned that Russia might take over Europe completely. There was a real concern. And believe it or not, these radical people in our party didn’t think that there was any danger. They resented our activities in trying to hold Russia back. They painted the United States as being the bad guy. It was this position, I feel, that turned a large number away from the Democrats in 1946.

Canwell, in a way, was a reaction—as was McCarthy. They represented a reaction that was coming one way or another and had broad support when the movement started. Unfortunately they did far more damage than they ever did good. And only later did public opinion change…With the problems that we had in 1947, I would say that it would be awfully hard for members of the Legislature to vote against looking into communist infiltration, without being accused of being a communist themselves. The times have changed. The resolution passing the committee probably passed by a fairly large vote. It was not wholly an unpopular proposal. It was the operations of the committee later that really got people upset.” (Robert C. Bailey: An Oral History, p.45)

In his oral history, Albert Canwell explained his concerns that influenced him to become a member of the Legislature in 1947:

“Mr. Canwell: To reiterate and expand a little on what I mentioned earlier, to my best recollection, one day I was covering a sit-down meeting of Senator Ed Beck and Jim Haggin, a labor leader. This sit-down strike was called to take place on the county courthouse lawn. I heard about it and I think I called Ashley Holden and told him he might want to be there. So we observed this activity and I think that somewhere along the line I discussed in some depth the communist penetration locally with Ashley, plus what the situation was statewide. He was informed on that because of his Seattle activity.

We discussed that and, as always, like everybody else, I thought something should be done about it and at that time, he said, in effect, “Well, why don’t you do something about it?

And I said, “Well, I’m doing what I can. I’m telling you.”

And that’s what everybody did. They told somebody else, wanted somebody else to do the job, some other mouse to bell the cat. Either then, or shortly after, he suggested that I run for the Legislature. There was a legislative race coming up. Of course, I pooh-poohed the idea because I was a Republican living in a strong Democrat district and, more than that, a left-wing Democrat district, such communists as Ed Beck representing that district in the Senate. And so I didn’t think it offered any great opportunity. I really had no interest at that time. But either then or shortly after, he ran a story to the effect that I was going to run for the Legislature, or I might run, and I knew something about communism. Well, it was a very popular subject at the time. Everybody was talking about it and nobody was doing anything.

Mr. Frederick: Did he do that without your permission?

Mr. Canwell: Yes, he wrote it, I think, as though I were a possibility, or that I might be induced to run, or something along that line. It was a feeler. Not my intention to do that. And as the thing shaped up, I had no idea that I could be elected in that district and I didn’t work too hard at it.

Mr. Frederick: What was the response to that article by Ashley?

Mr. Canwell: There was a pretty good response and some of the Republican leadership contacted me to see if I would be interested. At that time we had a Republican, one Republican in our district in the Legislature. That was Jim Blodgett. He was from a well-known north-side Spokane family. I don’t remember how my candidacy snowballed. It came about that I filed and ran as his running mate. But he did all the work. He had a grocery store. He’d print up all the signs and stick them in lawns. I didn’t have anything, really, to do with it. I was too busy. I thought it was a futile thing to begin with. But, anyway, a certain amount of activity generated interest.

My opponent in the campaign was Frank Martin, the governor’s youngest son, a recent graduate of Gonzaga Law School; a very attractive man, well-liked, and I thought he’d be a walk-away. I think everybody else thought so, but he wasn’t. That year they “threw all the bums out.” I came in on the wave. In this district there was almost a clean sweep.

Mr. Frederick: Frank Martin was occupying that seat?

Mr. Canwell: No, he was running

Mr. Frederick: Was that seat vacant?

Mr. Canwell: It had been vacated, the House seats vacate every two years. Ed Beck was in the Senate and I don’t remember who was in the House. There was a race for the Democratic nomination and the Republican nomination. Frank Martin got the Democrat nomination. I obtained the Republican nomination for one of the divided districts. There were several very far-left-wing people in that district, and had been. I hadn’t paid too much attention to it.

So in 1947, Jim Blodgett and Canwell obtained the Republican nomination for that district. I wasn’t particularly known and anybody who did know me, I had probably put in jail. I ordinarily would not have beaten Frank Martin under most circumstances.

Mr. Frederick: You were running then on a “got to do something about the communist threat” platform?

Mr. Canwell: I remember that I made only two statements about what I would do. I wouldn’t vote for any new taxes and I’d do something about the communists. That was sort of picked up and parlayed from there.

Mr. Frederick: Do you remember where those two statements were made?

Mr. Canwell: They were made about the time that I agreed to run; made to Holden and he took it from there.

Mr. Frederick: Ashley was at the Spokesman Review?

Mr. Canwell: Yes, he was. He handled politics and was probably the major reason why Harry Truman stood out in front of the building and pointed it out as one of the two worst newspapers in America.

But a series of stories followed. Mostly along the line of something being done about the communists. And I was elected—surprisingly.” (Albert F. Canwell: An Oral History, p. 136-137)

On February 26, 1947, Representatives Canwell and Stevens introduced House Concurrent Resolution 10 which called for an “investigation of subversive activities.” The resolution was sent to the Committee on Military and Naval Affairs, chaired by George Kinnear, where it was amended and brought back to the House on March 1. Two days later it was brought up for Second Reading. After only a brief discussion, the resolution was advanced to final passage and was overwhelmingly approved. The resolution was sent to the Senate on March 5 and pushed forward in the process by Senator Bienz, who chaired the Military, Naval and Veteran’s Affairs Committee. It passed that committee without amendment and was handily passed by the Senate 33-12 with one member absent.

Mr. Canwell describes the process of passing the resolution to form the committee:

“Mr. Frederick: Albert, as you had the opportunity to spend some time in those earlier days in the session and to attend caucus meetings in the House, what could you define as the Republican agenda for that session?

Mr. Canwell: It seems to me, and did all along the way, that the Republicans were interested in an economy approach. …Then one of the important issues that kept surfacing was this communist issue.

Everybody kept pointing out how horrible the situation was and asking why didn’t somebody do something about it. To understand that one should probably understand that a great many families in the state, and particularly, to my awareness in Eastern Washington, were sending their sons and daughters to the University of Washington, an advantage that they themselves had never had, and were very anxious to provide formal advanced education to their children. And in so doing they were coming back spouting lines that were completely unacceptable to the people who were paying the bill.

There was a great deal of unrest and complaint and trying to determine who was responsible. There were those who wanted to go down to the University and take some of these professors out and make an example of them. There was a great deal of that sort of feeling. So, every legislator was getting some of this. The University of Washington particularly had become, not only a local, but a national scandal. It was hitting hard at the heart of what the people wanted in education and wanted for their sons and daughters. So, there was constant pressure on legislators to get with it and do something.

It was not too difficult for me to get legislators to come to a meeting in one of our committee rooms, or somewhere where we had the space, and discuss the possibility of producing legislation touching on this issue. There were pretty wild people, too, who wanted to just cut the University’s budget off right at the ankles. And there were others who wanted to do all kinds of things, but nobody was coming up with an answer. We would have these meetings and the members would be all for doing something. I might read the copies of legislation that we had acquired from other states pointing out what the national Congress was doing and what the possible solutions to the problem might be. But nobody had a distinct, concrete idea.

I shouldn’t say nobody. There were people like Tom Bienz who had been very active in the American Legion. The Legion had been active in supporting the Dies Committee. So there were people like that. And Sid Stevens who wanted to drop a bill in the hopper. It was a very pedestrian sort of thing that would not have been effective and probably would not have passed anyway. Well, this sort of things was going on almost every day or evening.

Mr. Frederick: Did that begin early in the session?

Mr. Canwell: Quite early, yes. I did not necessarily take a strong leadership position until it became apparent that nobody else would. They were all talking about it. Everybody thought something should be done and nobody had a solution. At that time I recall we relied on George Kinnear. We felt, he’s an attorney, an experienced legislator from Seattle where a lot of the problem was evident. He indicated a willingness to go along and an enthusiasm for the idea that something should be done, therefore we relied quite heavily on him. It was hard to get him to meetings. He was a very busy legislator. And so that is what was taking place on that level. Materials were gathered and put together, and ideas ended up in his briefcase. Time marched on and nothing was done. And so, as a result of that, somewhere very late in the session I recovered the materials from Kinnear and then disappeared for two or three days and worked on this thing and came up with House Concurrent Resolution No.10, and that became the resolution that passed the House and Senate.

The bills that I had examined, I felt were not always applicable to our area or the problem as I saw it unfolding. So I tried to enhance the recommended legislation and we worked somewhat from the House committee on Un-American Activities resolutions and the California committee. They were good, but I felt that they needed a little fine tuning, so I dressed them up a little. But anyway, the House Concurrent Resolution No. 10 was ultimately a product of those two or three days that I took putting it together. Then as I recall I called on an attorney provided by the House. Like our stenographic pool, we also had a pool of attorneys, two or three. One of those helped me put it in shape. And that is the story of the creation and production of the concurrent resolution that later became the Un-American Activities Committee in Washington State or the Canwell Committee. But that was very late in the session and it was, you know touch and go whether we’d have a bill or not.” (Albert F. Canwell: An Oral History, p. 150-151)

“Mr. Frederick: Who came up with the strategy of the concurrent resolution?

Mr. Canwell: I don’t remember. I think that it was the result of my discussing the legal approach to the thing. A concurrent resolution had certain powers and authority that a one-house resolution would not have. I don’t remember the day-to-day, hour-to-hour process that occurred there but it had to do with the legal authority of a committee, and an interim committee gained more by a joint resolution.

Mr. Frederick: And the advantages to a joint resolution?

Mr. Canwell: Well, you had both houses supporting it. It passed both houses so that represented the total Legislature.

Mr. Frederick: And that would be veto-proof?

Mr. Canwell: Yes, I believe so.

Mr. Frederick: And also would not be subject to review by referendum?

Mr. Canwell: I don’t think it was subject to any review. It would take a separate bill to attack it. I don’t think it was vulnerable in that way. The opposition did try to challenge its legality. It went through to the state Supreme Court and was upheld there. Two or three attempts were made by court justices and others to interfere with the process.

…Mr. Frederick: And what was the intent of the resolution?

Mr. Canwell: It was—you’ve got it there-the intent was to do a thorough investigation of the situation as it existed at the time of the 30th Legislature. And the only responsibility placed on me was to make a report to the next Legislature, which I did.

Mr. Frederick: And what was the budget for that?

Mr. Canwell: …It was privately agreed that we would stay within the certain budget format. There was, I believe, $250,000. I believe that was the amount appropriated for the-what did they call it-the Legislative Counsel. It was an interim committee. And then it was agreed between us that we would use, or have access to $100,000 out of the $200,000 or $250,000. Thaw a san informal understanding. I don’t recall that there was anything written about it. But it was generally understood that was what we had to work with. Grossly inadequate, of course. We had seven investigators and four members of the clerical staff, as well as the seven committee members, and witness expense.

My best recollection is that in formulating this resolution, that I carefully studied the House committee’s resolution and the California resolution. I patterned it pretty much after those two, inserting things that I thought should be there that were not. It was too late, too far along the line to get very much legal evaluation of this resolution. It went through as I presented it to the Legislature. No amendments, no debate on it.

Mr. Frederick: What was it like attempting to recruit members for the committee, and who appointed the chairman of the committee?

Mr. Canwell: The Speaker of the House appointed the chairman of the committee. I wrote into the resolution that that would be the case because I wanted to keep the control of the committee in the House and there were valid reasons for that. I could not-did not wish to-entrust the control of the committee to people who might end up on it from the Senate. And it wasn’t particularly to make me chairman, but it was to keep that control within the House. I wrote into the resolution that the Speaker of the House, I think you’ll find it there, was to appoint the chairman of the committee. He then delegated to me the responsibility of coming up with a recommended list of members with whom I could work.” (Albert F. Canwell: An Oral History, p. 154-155)

The committee was duly formed under the chairmanship of Representative Albert Canwell. Other House members were: Sydney Stevens, cosponsor of the bill, a Republican representing King County and, like Canwell, a one-term member; Grant Sisson, a Republican member from Skagit County, also a freshman but who served two more terms until defeated by another Republican; and George Yantis, a Democrat from Thurston County who had served as Speaker the previous session, but who was already ill with the cancer which ended his life shortly thereafter. Senate members were: R.L. Rutter, a Republican one-term member serving Grant and Kittitas counties; Thomas Bienz who had represented Spokane since 1939 in first the House and then the Senate but who was not re-elected in 1948; and Harold Kimball from Seattle who was a freshman senator who served two more terms, then died in office in 1959.

Representative Canwell was very deliberative in how the committee was composed and how it would operate. He recalled his approach to organizing the committee:

“Mr. Canwell: The first thing that I remember doing is calling a meeting of the members of the committee at which time I had outlined what I though was a necessary agenda to be followed if we were to fulfill the requirements of the resolution. I pointed out to them the extreme shortness of time. The factor of time, the very limited funds available to us, and that it was going to require a full-time operation by the chairman if the job were to be done. I took them completely into my confidence as to what I thought the responsibilities of the committee to be.

I was, of course, seeking their agreement on a general program. And as I recall the only member of the committee not present at that time would have been Harold Kimball. But we did have the authority to designate a quorum and so we had unanimous agreement on what our problems were. Also it was very evident that it would require an enormous amount of time by the individual responsible for setting up and operating this committee. There was no regulation, no stipulation as to compensation. Whoever did the job, and I was willing to do it, would have to do it, in general, at his own expense and it would require an enormous amount of time away from home.

I went into that phase of it and the fact that I was willing to do the job if I had the necessary support of the committee. It could not be done if we wasted our time in headline-seeking. It had to be a highly professional job. The investigation had to be conducted by competent employees. I had to seek out and find them.

There was a question of records. I had an enormous amount of personal records in this field and it seemed necessary that they be available to the committee. But it was not acceptable to me that they become the property of the committee.

Then, more sensitive things developed or became obvious that, in the record-keeping and the fast-moving operation of the investigations, there would have to be an integration of record material. I had an agreement with other agencies that they would cooperate and help if they were not involved or embarrassed in any way by so doing.

I went into all of these things, what the potential was, and stated it quite frankly that either we do the job and do it right or not do it at all; that I was unwilling to go into a political boondoggle situation; that I felt that it would need professional direction, that I was prepared to provide that but I could only do so with the complete cooperation of the committee. As I recall the limited discussion, there was very general agreement that I should go ahead and that I would the complete support of the committee in the task undertaken.

It was either at this first meeting or later that it was understood that my records and those entrusted to me by friendly agencies not become the property of the committee. They were a tool or a convenience made available to the committee and necessary in its function, but should not become the property of the committee as such, or carelessly passed on to the next Legislature. We had one responsibility and that was to conduct the investigations and make a report to the succeeding Legislature and that’s what I intended to do, but I needed the tools with which to do it.

There was very general agreement. The members of the committee were cooperative and helpful. Very willing to do anything that they could and offered to serve on subcommittees and the tasks that might develop. I had not disagreement, no ill feeling or that sort of things. But that’s how the operation developed.

Well, that’s about the way the thing shaped up. There’s a question of employing professional personnel. I was very determined that we have competent, reliable people. That this was not to be a circus. That we were not to let the radicals exploit it or take over. We had a job to do for the Legislature. We were going to do it in a thorough-going, dignified manner and we proceeded along those lines with general understanding.” (Albert Canwell: An Oral History, p. 171)

The chief areas of activities investigated by the Canwell Committee were the Washington Pension Union, the University of Washington and the Seattle Repertory Theater. Two sets of hearings were held in the Armory in Seattle in 1948. Immediately, issues of civil liberties were raised. The American Civil Liberties Union became involved in attempts to “secure the essentials of fair play in the conduct of the hearings.” Their observers “saw a complete flouting of fairness and due process. Testimony relied heavily on the opinion and hearsay of imported ‘expert’ witnesses who had made a career of testifying against alleged Communists. Those accused had no right of defense or cross-examination, and their attorneys were not allowed to state objections…Many who objected to the Committee’s tactics were indeed forcibly ejected from the hearings.”(Honig and Brenner, p. 25-26)

Senator Bailey commented on the conduct of the Canwell hearings:

“Mr. Bailey: I think conditions of that time justified looking into some of these loyalty matters because everyone was concerned. However, there was no excuse for the Red hunt conducted by Al Canwell—and McCarthy—at the expense of individual constitutional rights. There was a lot of resentment over the tactics of the Canwell committee, and the fact that the Canwell committee was made up of extremely slanted members with a very conservation persuasion, no one of the middle-of-the-road. Most could wrap the flag around themselves and then declare they were patriots while destroying constitutional rights and freedoms. Sometimes I took great exception to some of the Canwell stuff, not only because it was so unfair in spots, but that he seemed to have just one thing in mind—to build Canwell to some future elective job.” (Robert C. Bailey: An Oral History, p. 44-45)

“Mr. Bailey: Again, I don’t recall details, but I do remember that I thought that he just grabbed at anything from anyone who didn’t believe exactly as he did. The committee tried to destroy political disagreements into casting aspersions on a person’s loyalty. They might have been on the trail of something sometimes, but in so many cases it was just a wild goose chase trying to make spectacular headlines. I think that’s all it was—or that’s what it resulted in, anyway. He did hurt the reputation of many innocent people.

Ms. Bridgman: How did you feel about the committee’s justification on not allowing cross-examination of witnesses because it was a fact-finding committee?

Mr. Bailey: Well, I don’t remember that much, except that I do remember that a lot of us considered the tactics were very high-handed, It wasn’t the fact that cross-examination should take place in all legislative committees, but in this case he was destroying the careers of a great number of people. He destroyed university professors and many good agencies. He was destroying their careers and not giving them any chance to respond. I think that was the thing that a lot of us felt was unfair, and it was the way he ran his meetings…It became a one-man committee, as I recall, very few of the others had hardly anything to say or at least were not heard from…most of us considered it a political committee—it was a Republican political committee. As it went along later, Canwell made it even more personal, and I think the rank and file Republicans didn’t seem to be a part of it anymore… I would say this: that Canwell seized control of that committee. It was no longer a Senate or legislative committee, it was the Canwell Committee. He seized control of that vehicle and made it a one-man show. The staff that presented the cases probably only reported to Canwell. He put on his shows, and he built such a name familiarity that I think that he thought he could file on the Republican ticket, and there were enough people on his side that he could sail into office, I think he thought that he was going to become the figurehead and idol that represented this type of reactionary philosophy that was sweeping the country.” (Robert Bailey: An Oral History, p. 45-47)

The Canwell Committee—for better or worse—was tied to the legislative career of its chair. Canwell next ran for a Senate seat but was defeated. Despite several attempts, he never again served in the State Legislature. Several other committee members were also absent from the Legislature. After only one session under Republican dominance, the House swung back to a Democratic majority in the 1948 election. Thirty-nine House Republics lost their seats; the Democrats had sixty-seven members to their thirty-two. The Senate remained in Republican hands with twenty-seven members to nineteen Democrats. A new atmosphere prevailed.

Senator Hallauer, then a freshman House member representing Okanogan County, remembered the discussion concerning the Committee and whether or not to reauthorize it:

“Mr. Kerr: One of the first items of business when you arrived in Olympia for the first time in 1949 was whether or not to re-authorize another version of the Canwell committee. Had Canwell been defeated for reelection in 1948?

Mr. Hallauer: Yes, that’s right. He was defeated by Don B. Miller. He was the fellow who had the certificate from Eastern State saying he was sane!

Mr. Kerr: According to newspaper accounts, Charles Hodde was trying to deal with the re-authorization question in the Democratic caucus. Do you remember anything about that?

Mr. Hallauer: Some people wanted the committee reestablished. Of course, with a Democratic majority in the House and a Republican majority carrying over in the Senate, it was sort of a difficult situation. The Democrats weren’t entirely anti-investigation committee either. There was a conservative group based largely in Spokane and some in Seattle. In the 1930s there had been a lot of real left-wing activity in Seattle in terms of the Pension Union and some of our congressional Democratic candidates like Marion Zioncheck and Jerry O’Connell. There were questions about these people and what their real base of political belief was.

Mr. Kerr: How about Harry Bridges?

Mr. Hallauer: Of course Bridges was in the union movement, and the union movement was badly split itself over it. We had a lot of good union people in our legislative caucus in 1949. One of the stand-outs was A.L. “Slim” Rasmussen from Tacoma. Slim had been in the 1947 Legislature when the Canwell Committee was authorized, and was very opposed to it. He was outspoken in criticizing the activity of the committee. I rather bought what Slim had to say about it—that rather than really investigating communists, it was a political tool to embarrass liberals. The committee didn’t really care about the stripe. It was going to embarrass people who were politically liberal by saying they were the same breed of cats as communists, only a different color. Pink instead of red. A lot of language was wasted on this sort of thing. There’s no doubt that there were communists who were active at the political level and trying to do their thing and assert what to them were their ideals for the future of the country.

I’ve always theorized that the country was built on a system of dissidents. You have to have differences of opinion and you have to stand up for the right of those you totally disagree with. Our political system won’t work unless there’s a right to disagree strongly and advocate other things. I think Jefferson at one point said that about every generation we ought to have a revolution. Well, there’s something to that. But I had a different point of view than Mr. Canwell and his group.

Mr. Kerr: My impression was that at least part of the problem was that the Canwell committee had been like a loose cannon. It did not seem to have been responsible to either the House or the Senate. So the thinking was that if they tried to reinitiate the committee, they needed to put it under some kind of control. In fact there was talk of placing it under the Legislative Council, which had just been created, or the state Attorney General. Does that ring a bell?

Mr. Hallauer: That does about the State Attorney General. I really hadn’t been close to the thing when it originally was generated back in 1947. I just knew it from newspaper reports. I had the strong feeling that it hadn’t been conducted on the basis of fair play for these people, and it was supposed to be an investigating committee. The media picked it up and made it into a trial. That’s the way it came about. These people would be accused of something and it would be dropped there. They didn’t really have a chance to rebut what had been said against them and to confront their accusers. I thought this was totally wrong. It’s supposed to be a committee to investigate un-American activities. I thought the major un-American activity was the committee itself. It was conducting itself on the basis of unfairness and accusations. The public was being presented with a view of the person that was not a proper representation of him. The committee didn’t give the person a chance to give his side.” (Wilbur Hallauer: An Oral History, p.68-69)

Charles Hodde, who became the new Democratic Speaker of the House in 1949, remembered the controversy about reauthorizing the committee and how it was handled:

“Mr. Hodde: Some of the other big issues that were in that session—very difficult for the Speaker to handle—one of them was the so-called Canwell Committee. It was really a state little-McCarthy committee, if you recall back to that period of time.

Mr. Rogers: Un-American Activities Committee like the Congress had.

Mr. Hodde: Right, we called it the Un-American Activities Committee; it was authorized in ’47 and without getting into any detail, some of their findings were later overturned. I know that a Seattle Times reporter got a Pulitzer Prize for having, after two or three years work, having vindicated one of the U.W. professors that they’d called a Communist and tried to put a case together on.

Mr. Rogers: That was Ed Guthman, who later became a very nationally known journalist.

Mr. Hodde: ….Going back to the Canwell Committee first, before we get out of that. We decided in the Democratic caucus that we should continue the committee. We should draft the bill that authorized it in the manner that it would assure that they did not do unfair things. That counsel would be allowed for witnesses, and witnesses would be given access to the information they were being charged, showed their leanings, things of that type. It was really a hard political decision for the Democrats; they wanted to get rid of it. Maybe I shouldn’t go too far into depth on it but I want to say this much about it, that it passed the House, it passed the Senate a little different, it came back for concurrence, quite a bit different in fact. The Senate was much less soft in the language of the bill; it was pretty tough. It got into Conference Committee and finally a Free Conference Committee. Well, one of the people I had had working on this was Web Hallauer—these people are still around so I hope they remember the same way I did. Web was a new member, but he was extremely—I think today still is—a very conscientious person. While he had worked to help put the bill together, when it came up to vote, he decided he couldn’t vote for it. That caused me some problems. I said, “Man, you helped write it and then you won’t vote for it.” I finally decided that it would be better if we didn’t have a committee and the only way to do it without having everybody on the spot—because nobody wanted to vote against this committee—it just died in Free Conference. The fact that Julia Butler Hansen was part of that committee, it really never caused anybody any problem really, but it actually was killed that way, got the thing clear out of our picture.” (Charles Hodde:Mr Speaker of the House p. 134-135)

The committee was not reauthorized but its collection of files remained an issue. Apparently, Canwell had never had any intention of releasing his gathered information to the Legislature despite being authorized and financed by that body. A report was sent to the Legislature in 1949, to be received by a specially appointed committee named by Speaker Hodde who issued a list of recommendations, but the files of information supporting Canwell’s assertions were not included. Speaker Hodde insisted that Canwell turn over this information—in part to protect some of the loosely accused. Hodde recalled:

“Mr. Hodde: One of the things I did during that session was I sent the Sergeant of Arms, along with the State Patrol, up to Seattle to pick up all the records from the Canwell Committee office, which they had never turned into the Legislature.

Mr. Rogers: That was one of the criticisms, that they hadn’t turned in their report.

Mr. Hodde: Yes, they never gave us the background or papers or nothing. Then we brought them down to Olympia and I had already arranged for a safety deposit box with the keys to one of the little rooms on the fourth floor and those files were all shoved in there and they were locked up and the keys put in the safety box and they stayed there for, I think, ten years before the Legislature finally decided they’d open them up. It was long enough now that they could do that, and when they opened them up they found out that we didn’t really get anything of significance; we could have opened them up immediately. Apparently, Canwell had stored the critical records that presumed to show un-American activities in his own home or somewhere else. He stayed in the news for some time but he never did get elected back to the Legislature, or do anything further in that way.” (Charles Hodde: Mr. Speaker of the House, p. 135)

Senator Bailey also recalled:

“Mr. Bailey: He was supposed to have all of these fantastic files, and he was going to open them up and expose everyone some day. He kept saying, ‘I will at a certain time…I will at a certain time.’ Always a threat. When I was in the Legislature someone got the keys to the vault where the Canwell records were kept, and with great publicity opened them up. There wasn’t a thing in the vault and Canwell had been bragging about it all these years. If there were any files, Canwell must have taken them home with the idea that sooner or later he would publish those files and make a little money on it. Or perhaps he had no files at all…It turned out to be quite a joke. It was almost like opening Al Capone’s safe.” (Robert Bailey: An Oral History, p.45)

Speaker Hodde, without looking into the files, locked them away in a small room at the Capitol and made security provisions to guard the key to the storeroom. Several years passed without anyone making an attempt to examine the files until 1955 when John O’Brien became Speaker of the House. He subsequently took the lead in organizing a response to the work of the Committee.

John O’Brien had been out of office during the session of 1947 when the Committee was active, but he returned to office after the next election. Although not a supporter of the Committee in 1949, he too was concerned about the world-wide spread of communism and sponsored two resolutions in this area. But when attempts were made to revitalize the Committee in 1951, O’Brien helped slow its progress by proposing amendments that “would stop any member of the committee from going off on a tangent…or conducting a witch hunt.” (Chasan, p. 68) The measure died when the Senate and House could not reach a compromise. Although the Committee was not reconstituted, there was still the problem of what to do with the records of the original Canwell investigation. His biographer, Daniel Jack Chasan, noted:

“During the first part of the 1955 session, someone brought up the fact that the Canwell papers were not really in legislative custody. O’Brien and Lieutenant Governor Emmett Anderson obtained a key from a safe deposit box in an Olympia jewelry store, and—accompanied by FBI agents and the press—they opened the fourth floor hearing room in which everyone assumed Canwell’s records had been stored. Dust coated everything, even the electrical cords. One metal filing cabinet held a card index with more than 1000 names, but with no supporting information that would make the names useful. Another held photographs of known communists, a history of Russia for beginners, and some dusty newspapers. There were also three safes to which no one had the combinations. Canwell provided the combination to open one of the safes. The others had to be drilled open by a locksmith. Again with O’Brien, Anderson and the FBI looking on, the safes were opened. One was completely empty. The second held a transcript of public testimony given at the committee hearings. The third contained some communist literature and a few brief investigative reports. No significant papers were found.” (Chasan, p. 81-82)

Speaker O’Brien then formed a committee with former Republican Speaker Mort Frayn to investigate the Committee and discover the whereabouts of the background files. A hearing was held but Canwell would divulge nothing and the secrets of the Committee were never revealed.

Chasan concluded:

“Until the 1955 hearing, some right-wing legislators had clung to the idea of a new investigation, and there had always been a chance that the rest of the legislature would go along. The hearing made it clear that Canwell had represented no one, that he had taken matters into his own hands, and that his committee had left the legislature with nothing. No one wanted to revive what had obviously been a fiasco. The witch-hunting impulse was not dead in Washington—it would be revived in the early 1960s—but the legislature had had enough.” (Chasan, p.85)

The issue of communist influence in the Legislature and the state was not resolved but no committee was ever again appointed to investigate “un-American activities.” Albert Canwell remained active and convinced there was a real danger to the state. He continued to work closely with Ashley Holden, a reporter from the Spokane Spokesman-Review, most notably in what became known as the Goldmark case. John Goldmark was a state legislator whose reputation was besmirched and legislative career ended by a whispering campaign orchestrated in part by Canwell in the early 1960s.

Albert Canwell lived until 2002. In an interview he gave journalist Shelby Scates near the end of his life, he maintained his belief that communists riddled the government and were a threat to society. He only regretted that he had been unable to uncover them all.

Resources for Further Study


“1,000 Marchers Swarm on Legislature,” Sunday Olympian, March 2, 1947

Boswell, Sharon and Lorraine McConaghy, “Rooting out the Reds,” The Seattle Times, July 28, 1996

McConaghy, Lorraine, “The Seattle Times’s Cold War Pulitzer Prize,” Pacific Northwest Quarterly, Winter 1997/1998, volume 89, number 1

Niendorff, Fred, “Demo-GOP Coalition Plans State Red Probe,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 13, 1946

Scates, Shelby, “Cold Warrior,” Washington Law and Politics, February/March 2000, pages 12-15


Acena, Albert A. The Washington Commonwealth Federation: Reform Politics and the Popular Front. University of Washington, Seattle, 1979

Chasan, Daniel Jack. Speaker of the House: The Political Career and Times of John L. O’Brien. University of Washington Press, Seattle and London, 1990

Countryman, Vern. Un-American Activities in the State of Washington: The Work of the Canwell Committee. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1951

Dwyer, William J. The Goldmark Case: An American Libel Trial. University of Washington Press, Seattle and London, 1984

Honig, Douglas and Laura Brenner. On Freedom’s Frontier: The First Fifty Years of the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington State. American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, Seattle, 1987

Miller, Margaret Ada. The Left’s Turn: Labor, Welfare, Politics and Social Movements in Washington State, 1937-1973. University of Washington, Seattle, 2000

Pennock, William J. Career of a Communist in Washington State Politics, 1932-1950. Washington State Taxpayers Association, Seattle, 1954 [Available from Washington State Library Rare Collection]

Rader, Melvin. False Witness. University of Washington Press, Seattle and London 1969

Sanders, Jane. Cold War on Campus: Academic Freedom at the University of Washington. University of Washington Press, Seattle and London, 1979


“The Cold War and Red Scare in Washington State,” University of Washington,

“Communism in Washington State,” University of Washington,

“Seeing Red,” University of Washington,

Oral Histories:

Robert C. Bailey: An Oral History, Washington State Oral History Program, Office of the Secretary of State, 1996

Albert F. Canwell: An Oral History, Washington State Oral History Program, Office of the Secretary of State, 1997

Wilbur G. Hallauer: An Oral History, Washington State Oral History Program, Office of the Secretary of State, 2001

Charles Hodde: Mr. Speaker of the House, Legislative Oral History Project, Washington State Archives, Office of the Secretary of State, 1986