1917 October 1

Columbia University Fires Two “Disloyal” Faculty


Columbia University on this day fired two faculty members, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana and James McKeen Cattell, for alleged “disloyalty” regarding U.S. involvement in World War I. Both were vocal opponents of the war. There were, of course, no hearings regarding their views.Catttell was a formidable figure in American academia. He was the first chairperson of the first Psychology Department in the U.S., and held many prominent positions. Dana was the grandson of the noted American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Cattell’s son Owen was a Columbia University student in 1917, and became a leader of the Collegiate Anti-Militarism League. He and two other students were arrested for distributing anti-draft leaflets. His father supported him, and that was one factor in his being fired.

To protest their firing, the distinguished historian Charles Beard resigned his position at Columbia on October 9, 1917. Beard supported the war and resigned in protest of the violation of academic freedom.

Professor Dana went on to a long career involved in various civil liberties issues. He also continued his academic research and was the author or editor of many books, including The Six Centuries Since Dante (1926) and Handbook on Soviet Drama (1938).

When the U.S. entered World War I, on April 6, 1917, a wave of patriotic fervor swept the country, and colleges and universities were not exempt. Faculty members at other universities were fired because of their opposition to the war. Columbia University was particularly notable with regard to the repression of dissent, in part because of the belligerent attitude of its president, Nicholas Murray Butler, who had a famous hostility to freedom of expression when it involved ideas he did not like. (On May 6, 1941, for example, he used his influence to deny novelist Ernest Hemingway the Pulitzer Prize in Literature for his novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls, because he did not like the author’s views on the Spanish Civil War.) The Columbia University events received more publicity for the simple reason that it is located in New York City.

Learn more: Paul Murphy, World War I and the Origin of Civil Liberties in the United States (1979)

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