Posts Tagged ‘mccarthy era’

Searching for Eleanor Roosevelt

April 1, 2010

Again, my favorite class intrigued me with a tidbit to pursue. In American History, Dr. Robert Rydell closed class by bringing the McCarthy era home to us. He told our class about a gentleman who used to be part of the MSU staff, Robert Dunbar, and his invitation to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to come speak here at the (then) Montana State College.

Statue of Eleanor Roosevelt

Even Eleanor Roosevelt was accused of communism for her support and activity with the UN.

For those who didn’t know, Mrs. Roosevelt had been a signer in the formation of the United Nations. She worked feverishly to alleviate hunger and suffering across the world in the aftermath of World War II. But since, in the eyes of Senator Joseph McCarthy, the UN weakened America, anyone supporting it, especially those who were instrumental in creating it, were seeking the destruction of America and must therefore be Communist.

At the time, then MSC President Roland Renne had some political ambitions and was seeking the office of Governor of Montana. He had grave concerns regarding Mrs. Roosevelt’s pending visit and how it would reflect on him. Fearing association with a suspected Communist sympathizer, Mr. Renne had the audacity to deny Mrs. Roosevelt a place on campus to speak. She was only able to take her plans into downtown Bozeman and speak at another venue (Dr. Rydell wasn’t sure which. If I’m able to find out, I’ll update this.)  Dr. Dunbar was flabbergasted, of course, but powerless to do anything about it.  Mrs. Roosevelt stepped up to speak on a stage completely draped in red – the carpet, the podium cover, the curtains, all of it. The implication was obvious. Still, she went on to deliver her message to a packed house.

Dr. Dunbar, in the meantime, was accused of communism by the Bozeman community. He received numerous death threats, kidnapping threats aimed at his children and other persecution. Like Mrs. Roosevelt, Dunbar wasn’t deterred. He went on to form the school’s first Peace Corps chapter – a group that in 2008 received recognition from the parent organization for high volunteerism and service.

What I found most perplexing was the near complete lack of information available about this episode with Mrs. Roosevelt. There is a very brief mention on the University’s website (historical page) and, so far as I have found, nothing else. Why? Perhaps it wasn’t (isn’t?) considered noteworthy. That may be, but looking at the utter nonesense that otherwise finds its way into historical documents, this seems at least as memorable or significant. Perhaps it’s a splotch of mud on our shining coat. No one today likes to be remembered as reactionary or worse, duped.

Most likely, I’m just not looking in the right place. That’s what I’m hoping. If true, then once more, I’ll update this when more facts are known. In the mean time, here’s looking forward to more of Dr. Robert Rydell’s classes. May they all be as thought provoking as this series have been!

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