1954 July 29

ACLU Defends Dorothy Kenyon, Named by Joe McCarthy


Dorothy Kenyon, a New York liberal activist and recently a delegate to the United Nations, was the first person named by Senator Joe McCarthy as a Communist-affiliated employee of the federal government. McCarthy accused her of being a member of twenty-eight “Communist-front” organizations. The ACLU on this day rose to her defense, calling McCarthy’s charge a “reckless accusation.” McCarthy had been under pressure to name Communists in the federal government after claiming he had a list of names in his  February 9, 1950 speech which made him famous.

Kenyon had a long record of activity in liberal and feminist causes, had been a New York City Municipal Court judge, and was a member of the ACLU Board of Directors. Nothing in her record even hinted at any radical political activity, much less any Communist beliefs or activities. Nor did McCarthy offer any tangible evidence to that effect.

The attack on Kenyon was typical of the reckless, guilt-by-association tactics of Senator McCarthy. The U.S. Senate finally censured McCarthy for his reckless accusations and disregard for the truth on December 2, 1954.

Because of her pioneering work on women’s rights, when Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued and won the landmark case on women’s rights, Reed v. Reed, on November 22, 1971, she added Kenyon’s name to the brief in tribute.

Learn more about Dorothy Kenyon: http://asteria.fivecolleges.edu/findaids/sophiasmith/mnsss35_bioghist.html

Learn more about Joe McCarthy: David Oshinsky, A Conspiracy So Immense: The World of Joe McCarthy (1983)

Read: Samuel Walker, In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU (1990)

Read the ACLU FBI File (not the complete file): http://vault.fbi.gov/ACLU

Learn about the ACLU today: www.aclu.org

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