SENIOR POWER When you are in your forties…

By Helen Rippier Wheeler,
Saturday March 02, 2013 - 03:53:00 PM

When you who are in your forties or younger, look back with curiosity on that dark time, as I think occasionally you should. It will do no good to search for villains or heroes or saints or devils because there were none; there were only victims.” Robert Man-from-Uncle Vaughn (1932- ) relied on American screen-writer and novelist James Dalton Trumbo (1905-1976) for the title of his University of Southern California PhD thesis and for his 1972 book, Only Victims; A Study of Show Business Blacklisting.  

The chief function of a Congressional investigatory Committee is to investigate for the purpose of creating legislation. The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC)’s show-business hearings created no significant laws vital to the security of the nation in the twenty-year period l950-l970 examined by Vaughn. 

Dalton Trumbo was summoned to appear before the HUAC on October 28, 1947. Like Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr., John Howard Lawson, Albert Maltz, Samuel Ornitz and Adrian Scott, he refused to answer any questions. They claimed that the 5th Amendment of the United States Constitution gave them the right to do this. They became known as The Hollywood Ten and were found guilty of contempt of Congress. 

In the 1951-53 HUAC, some of the victims strategized. Lloyd Bridges named “self” in an “executive sworn statement” never made public. Lee J. Cobb named Phoebe Brand, Lloyd Bridges and Larry Parks. Larry Parks named Lee J. Cobb, Anne Revere, and Gale Sondergaard. Elia Kazan named Sterling Hayden. Clifford Odets named Phoebe Brand and Elia Kazan. Bud Schulberg named Ring W. Lardner, Jr., and so on and on. 


March is Women’s History Month. Herstory was coined to emphasize that women’s lives, deeds, and participation in human affairs have been neglected, undervalued, or distorted in standard works. 

Were any women summoned by the HUAC and expected to act as friendly witnesses by identifying Hollywood communists? The several HUACs’ actions resulted in the demise of many show-business actors of both sexes, spouses, secretaries and other little people and functionaries in the studios and in the Screen Actors Guild. Dorothy Parker, Anne Revere, Gayle Sondergaard were among the women who lost their jobs and their employability, blacklisted. Phoebe Brand (1907– 2004,) a respected actor, director and teacher, outlived colleagues Lee J. Cobb, Elia Kazan and Clifford Odets, who named her as a Communist. 

When Larry Parks (1944-1975) was summoned by the HUAC, he eventually named names and was blacklisted anyway. Columbia Pictures dropped him, and a film he had made for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was shelved. And what of Mrs. Larry Parks? The promising career of actor, singer, dancer Betty Garrett (1919-2011) was cut short, blacklisted. Garrett, an alumna of the Mercury Theater and a former dancer with the Martha Graham Company, was a Broadway regular in the mid-1940s, winning a Donaldson Award for her work in Call Me Mister. Signed by MGM, she had appeared in several films including My Sister Eileen and On the Town. In the 1970s, she appeared in supporting roles in two TV sitcoms-- All in the Family and Laverne and Shirley. 

Only Victims; A Study of Show Business Blacklisting contains a complete list of the women and men who lost their livelihoods.  

In 1952 Lillian Hellman was summoned by the HUAC as a friendly witness in connection with Dashiell Hammett. She testified that she had attended Communist Party meetings in 1937 and that her two-year membership in the Communist Party had ended in 1940, but she did not condemn the party nor express regret for her participation in it, declaring, “I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashions.” 

Long before the HUACs, women writers, directors and actors were censored. In 1927 Grace Lumpkin, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Dorothy Parker, Katherine Anne Porter, and several others were arrested for picketing to stay the execution of accused anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti. Lois Weber (1883-1939), the first American woman filmmaker, became a controversial figure but never backed away from issues of public concern. Her Where Are My Children? was very profitable: an idealist physician advocates birth control and is jailed while an unsavory colleague collects big bucks performing illegal abortions. But by 1927, Weber was finished because of controversy surrounding her choice of themes: marital problems, a minister’s romance, a drama about a prostitute, interracial love.  


March 8 is International Women’s Day. In 1998, shortly before her death, Bella Abzug declared "They used to give us a day-- it was called International Women's Day. In 1975 they gave us a year, the Year of the Woman. Then from 1975 to 1985 they gave us a decade, the Decade of the Woman. I said at the time, who knows, if we behave they may let us into the whole thing. Well, we didn't behave and here we are."  

The Treaty for the Rights of Women, officially known as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and often called the international bill of rights for women, was drafted in 1979 to help curb worldwide gender discrimination. This agreement addressing the rights of women and girls was passed by the UN General Assembly on December 18, 1979 and signed by President Carter on behalf of the United States in 1980. One hundred eighty-six nations have ratified the CEDAW. It has never been ratified by the U.S. Senate. In this, the U.S. is keeping company with such human rights violators as Iran, Somalia and Sudan. While other nations and many local government organizations have adopted CEDAW, the U.S. and California have not yet done so. 

Then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton made international news in 1995 in her speech at the Fourth World Conference on Women. She declared, "It is time for us to say here in Beijing, and for the world to hear, that it is no longer acceptable to discuss women's rights as separate from human rights." In January 2013, a coalition of 100+ organizations co-signed a letter urging the U.S. Senate to ratify the treaty in the 113th Congress. President Obama endorses ratification, and has identified the Convention as a multilateral treaty priority.  

After Shyamala Rajender received her PhD in Chemistry, she received a research grant for post-doctoral work from the University of Minnesota, and later was offered a faculty position. After eight years, when she was not given tenure, she asked for a reason and was told, “We have 46 faculty members and all are men. We cannot give you tenure because being a woman they won’t like you there, and also because of your national origin they will not accept you.” She filed a formal grievance, a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and then in federal court. As a result, the university did not renew her contract, and she could not find another job. “I found out I was blacklisted in the academic circles in the entire country”. To utilize her time, she went to law school and subsequently passed the Bar exams. The case took 7-8 years. Shyamala Rajender won a landmark ruling in the first employment discrimination class action ever tried. The judge ruled in 1980: “It is hereby ordered and decreed: The University is permanently enjoined from discriminating against women on the basis of sex.”  

Response to female-sex discrimination in all types of work within higher education is exceedingly important as compared with other employment sectors. Students observe role models in classrooms and administrative offices. Young professionals may get their basic standards, perspectives, ethics and even their initial placements in their preparation phase. Academe is the place of many continuing education and retooling experiences and contacts. The university itself employs all types of workers in substantial numbers—clerical, food-service, instructional, technical, counseling, civil services—and including many male-role job fields—agriculture, security, administration, publishing, medicine, law. National, regional, and professional associations are involved via such things as their accreditation programs, publishing activities and recruitment. Certification and licensing procedures are closely related in many jurisdictions. Future professionals—lawyers, librarians, physicians, scientists, social workers, teachers, theologians—are indoctrinated during their college and university years. 

There are basics which, until publication in 1975 of Joan Abramson’s The Invisible Woman, had not even been touched upon in the literary market place. The tendency to perceive female sex discrimination as somewhat distinct among the several classes encompassed by the Civil Rights Act and Amendments continues. It is indeed different—so ingrained, historical and pervasive as to be invisible to most males and some females. The university is not a more “professional” employer merely because it is perceived as more respectable, pointing up the handicap of assumptions and stereotypes. Many colleges and universities rely on untenured women without contracts or “benefits” to teach sections of courses with large enrollments. Women who have responded have learned the hard way that the process is itself fraught with built-in limitations. Many have experienced and some have recognized an ordeal analogous to rape: the unenforced laws against sexual exploitation, the initial violation which may ultimately become less traumatic than the attempt to respond to the assault, the victim’s need to prove prior chastity and to face discredit alone, the assumption of her guilt, the protective male bond throughout, and the need for unity if change is to come.  

Abramson demonstrated how the academic power structure’s discrimination against women was (and is) different. But her experiences at a major university were typical. Most women academics are still unaware of the dynamics of discrimination and therefore unable to cope emotionally or strategically. Administrators claim to want to understand what “it” is all about. Sex discrimination does not make news, but the mere filing of a charge effectively blacklists a woman in academe. Untenured American women who have taken this step have become unemployed; some tenured women have lost their professional lives, years of delay, division and discredit only just begun.  

Affirmatively managed recruitments and advancements can not only achieve compliance but also result in better universities. Professions aspire to maintain relevant standards of education and performance. The university administration, governing body and trustees are ultimately responsible for what transpires on campus. Some states have human rights charters and guarantees relating to the civil rights of minorities. But ultimately the federal government is responsible for implementation of provisions of the United States Constitution and legislation that it has enacted in behalf of the “protected classes.”