Document 9: Testimony of Professor Sophus K. Winther, English Department, University of Washington

Washington State Joint Legislative Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities,
Second Report: Un-American Activities in Washington State (Olympia, 1948), 18-26.

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MR. HOUSTON: Please state your name.

DR. WINTHER: Sophus Keith Winther. . . .

MR. HOUSTON: Are you responding here today, as a result of being subpoenaed to this hearing—

DR. WINTHER: Yes, I am. . . .

MR. HOUSTON: Doctor, I will ask you if you have ever been a member of the Communist Party?

DR. WINTHER: Yes, I was.

MR. HOUSTON: Do you know about when you joined the Communist Party, Doctor?

DR. WINTHER: I am a little bit indefinite about the date of joining. I think it was in the spring of '35. . .

MR. HOUSTON: And about how long did you remain a member of the Communist Party?

DR. WINTHER: I left Seattle for the summer in June 1936. I don't think I attended a Party meeting after that. I returned in October. Except, I remember there being an open meeting late in November. I know definitely the date when I withdrew from the Party, which was—that is, it was late November or December, 1936.

MR. HOUSTON: Of 1936. Well, one answer to—this is as good a place as any other doctor—you say you know definitely when you withdrew. Will you tell us the circumstances of that?

DR. WINTHER: Well, it was an accumulation of dissatisfaction with the Party. The realization that I no longer wanted to belong. Something, I suppose, I should have realized earlier, but I didn't.

MR. HOUSTON: Speak loudly, doctor, this is being recorded. Now, what mechanics did you go through to get out of the Party?

DR. WINTHER: None, whatsoever, except I notified one of the members that I would no longer attend meetings.

MR. HOUSTON: Now, do you know to what group you belonged when you were in the Communist Party?

DR. WINTHER: Well, it was a group—a University group, or a group associated with the University.

MR. HOUSTON: Other faculty members were—


MR. HOUSTON: —Party members there with you. Now, do you know Professor Garland Ethel?

DR. WINTHER: Yes, I do.

MR. HOUSTON: Was he a member of the Communist Party at the time you were, doctor?

DR. WINTHER: Yes. I would like to make the same sort of qualifications that the previous witness made. That is, I assume he was—and so that I can answer yes to your question, I was a member—at least I thought I was—I assumed that these others were. [When questioned, Winther went on to name Ethel and four other University of Washington Professors as communists or former communists.] . . .

MR. HOUSTON: Now, do you know Professor Melvin Rader?

DR. WINTHER: Yes, I do.

MR. HOUSTON: Did the Party give you any instructions concerning Professor Rader while you were a member? Did you have any—


MR. HOUSTON: —assignment to recruit him into the party?

DR. WINTHER: No—I—No, I don't think I did. . . . I recall Melvin Rader being discussed—and I think more than once because of his liberal position, I think they thought it would be desirable to get him into the Party, but he refused. And I think, what they didn't realize was that he drew a very sharp line between accepting the Communist philosophy and that of an honest liberal.

MR. HOUSTON: You would class Professor Melvin Rader as an honest liberal then, in 1936?

DR. WINTHER: Yes, I would.

MR. HOUSTON: By the same token would you class these other people as dishonest liberals?


CHAIRMAN CANWELL: Let's not draw any conclusions here. . . .

MR. HOUSTON: Do you know Mrs. Burton James?

DR. WINTHER: Yes, I do.

MR. HOUSTON: Now did you receive any information while you were member of the Communist Party that would lead you to believe that she or was not a member of the Communist Party?

DR. WINTHER: Giving testimony as I am under oath, I certainly couldn't say that I had any evidence that she was a member of the Communist Party.

MR. HOUSTON: I didn't ask you—I don't want to quibble with you, shouldn't ask you—in other words you formed no opinion then as to whether or not Burton James or his wife were members of the Communist Party?

DR. WINTHER: I think I formed all sorts of opinions, but in that respect they are opinions that I wouldn't trust. I would like to limit my testimony to what I believe to be facts.

MR. HOUSTON: Well we certainly want the facts and only the facts, Doctor. . . . Now, will you describe one or two of these [communist] meetings for us? They were held in various houses, were they not?

DR. WINTHER: Yes, they were.

MR. HOUSTON: And different of you people would be given different assignments to perform?

DR. WINTHER: The most that I recall about those meetings, they concerned themselves with the discussion of—discussion of books—reports on various books that concerned themselves with national and international affairs. It was—in that respect it was, I suppose, a typical professor's organization—a great deal of talk.

MR. HOUSTON: Does it cost any amount of money to belong to the Communist Party?

DR. WINTHER: Yes, sir.

MR. HOUSTON: About—well, was it a small amount, or quite a little bit—considerable?

DR. WINTHER: Oh, I think it varied—perhaps five per cent.

MR. HOUSTON: Five per cent of your salary?

DR. WINTHER: Yes, perhaps.

CHAIRMAN CANWELL: [Referring to noise caused by a motorcycle outside of the building:] Just a moment, may we ask the State Patrol to do something about this heckler outside.

Now proceed. . . .

MR. HOUSTON: You testified that you took a vacation in the year 1936, was that right?

DR. WINTHER: Yes, I left Seattle right after school, in 1936.

MR. HOUSTON: And did you have any conversation with Mr. Rapport [the head of the Communist Party in Washington state at that time] when you returned, concerning this vacation?

DR. WINTHER: I'm not sure. I know the general attitude was that one was not supposed to take a vacation without the consent of . . . Mr. Rapport.

MR. HOUSTON: They had quite iron discipline then, did they not, in the party?

DR. WINTHER: It didn't work very well.

MR. HOUSTON: It didn't work very well? Mr. Chairman, I believe that is all from this witness, unless you and the Committee have some questions. . . .

CHAIRMAN CANWELL: On the understanding, Doctor Winther, that you will be on call if the Committee wishes to hear from you again, I will release you from the subpoena and wish to thank you sincerely for your appearance here.

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