Senator Joe McCarthy Names First Alleged “Communist”
Senator Joe McCarthy (R–Wisconsin), under pressure to document his claim of Communists working for the federal government, on this day named Dorothy Kenyon as affiliated with at least twenty-eight “Communist-front” organizations. Since his February 9, 1950, speech that brought him to public attention, McCarthy had been claiming that he had a “list” of Communists in the Truman Administration. The number of people on the “list” kept changing and, until this day, he never identified a single person. Kenyon replied by calling McCarthy an “unmitigated liar,” and said she had never actually joined the organizations he identified. Additionally, Kenyon was no longer working for the federal government, having left her position as delegate to the UN Commission on the Status of Women on January 1, 1950, two months earlier. She also denounced him as a “coward” for making his statements while enjoying the Congressional immunity.
Kenyon, who died on February 12, 1972, was a feminist and liberal activist who was involved in many different organizations, including the ACLU. But she was not a member of the Communist Party or associated with any Communist-affiliated organization. At the time McCarthy “named” her, Kenyon was a member of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. As a tribute to her early contributions to women’s rights, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, then head of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, added her name to the brief in Reed v. Reed, the breakthrough women’s rights case in the Supreme Court (November 22, 1971).
McCarthy’s naming of Kenyon dramatized both the recklessness of his anti-Communist crusade and the fact that he did not really have the names of any genuine Communist Party members in the federal government, much less anyone who posed a genuine threat of espionage. His attack on Kenyon was typical of the guilt-by-association tactics of the anti-Communist movement in the Cold War. People were accused of Communist associations or sympathies simply because they belonged to liberal or left-wing organizations that the anti-Communists hated. McCarthy was finally censured for his conduct by the Senate on December 2, 1954.
Learn about Dorothy Kenyon:
Learn more: David Oshinsky, A Conspiracy So Immense: The World of Joe McCarthy (1983)
Watch a documentary on McCarthy, Point of Order: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2EhOdSSI8n4
Learn more about McCarthyism: http://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/joseph-mccarthy