Vermont is widely acknowledged as avoiding the worst of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist hysteria. But even there, people’s lives were needlessly upended and hurt because of the witch hunts McCarthy helped stoke.
Roy Cohn (L) and Senator Joseph R. McCarthy (R) during the McCarthy investigations, trying to prove the existence of Communist subversion in high government circles. ( Bettmann / Getty Images)
Adapted from Red Scare in the Green Mountains: Vermont in the McCarthy Era 1946–1960 (Rootstock, 2018).
When I moved to Vermont in 1970, the state was in the early days of a remarkable political and cultural transformation. The “rock-ribbed Republican” place of the past was now providing fertile soil for progressives like Bernie Sanders, and liberal Democrats such as Howard Dean and Patrick Leahy. As a child of parents whose livelihoods were threatened during the McCarthy era, I became curious about how my adopted state responded to the anti-communist fear that had gripped America just a few decades earlier, culminating in a book, Red Scare in the Green Mountains: Vermont in the McCarthy Era 1946–1960. I learned that even in a relatively liberal state widely acknowledged as avoiding the worst repression and fearmongering of the Red Scare, Vermont experienced a number of red-baiting incidents during this time period. Those incidents are worth examining because they give us insight into the kind of paranoia, repression, and absurdities that characterized McCarthyism.
One of the most complex episodes of that era in the state involved the prolific poet Ordway Mabson Southard and his wife Mary. In the summer of 1950, the Southards set off a chain of events that thrust Vermont into the national news. Only a passing reference in Ordway’s 2001 obituary to their political activities (“Both were highly influenced by Marxist Socialist thought and participated in the Civil Rights Movement”) gives a clue to the events that led to headlines such as the one in the August 3 issue of the Bradford Opinion: “Reds Infest Bethel, Randolph Center, McCarthy Charges.”
Two of the most public and persistent Vermont critics of this “Red Scare” were newspapermen. Each played a vital role in defusing that episode: Robert Mitchell, who had edited the Rutland Herald since 1941 and became its owner-publisher as well in 1948; and John Drysdale, who had published the White River Valley Herald (now the Herald of Randolph) and Bradford Opinion since 1945. In 1991, Drysdale was inducted into the Community Newspaper Hall of Fame; his citation noted his role in discrediting claims that the Randolph-Bethel area was a “hotbed of communism.”
Mitchell and Drysdale were among the major figures involved in the Bethel-Randolph Center controversy, which also featured a Tibetan Buddhist dignitary, a local self-described “Red hunter,” and two well-traveled, prolific authors who, unlike Ordway Southard, were nationally prominent: the Far East expert Owen Lattimore, and the Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson.
This incident may have had an outcome in which the forces of reason ultimately triumphed, but not before wild accusations, so representative of the time, derailed the lives of several people.
The Arctic Explorer and the Asia Scholar
The story begins with Stefansson, renowned veteran of several Arctic expeditions (the first in 1906) and author of several books about the Far North, who first came to Bethel in 1941. He was born in Winnipeg to Icelandic immigrant parents and grew up in rural North Dakota. Stefansson took a course in anthropology while a student at Harvard Divinity School and soon transferred to that department (though never completed his degree, having been convinced by a mentor that an academic credential wasn’t necessary in the field).
The Icelandic author Halldór Laxness described Stefansson as “a poetry-loving academic, who gets up from his writing desk, wipes the ink off his fingers and becomes an Eskimo, in order to expand the boundaries of science to include the nations of the Arctic.” During the 1920s and ’30s he was based in New York City and amassed an extensive research library, open to students of the Arctic. Stefansson had difficulty adjusting to the sweltering summers of New York and started looking for property in Vermont. Shortly after his marriage to Evelyn Baird in 1941, he bought land known as the Dearing Place in the Lympus area of Bethel.
After Stefansson learned that an adjoining property, known as the Stoddard Place, was to be logged, he convinced Charlie Andersen, the first mate on his expeditions, to buy it. But Andersen left after a few seasons and Stefansson bought the property. In 1947, he and Evelyn invited their good friends Owen and Eleanor Lattimore to stay for the summer; during that time they made plans for the Stoddard Place to become a summer center of Asiatic studies.
The postwar political landscape was undergoing a severe change, with an increasing fearmongering about Communism and a suspicion of heretical ideas about foreign policy.
Owen Lattimore was born in Washington, DC, in 1900, but shortly afterward his father moved the family to Shanghai, China, to teach. By the time the younger Lattimore was in his twenties, he had traveled widely in China and was a fluent Chinese speaker. On his honeymoon in 1925, he and his wife Eleanor traveled across northern China and Mongolia, where he formed a deep connection with the Mongol people and empathy for their struggles for autonomy. Among the close friends he and Eleanor made was a “Living Buddha” (somewhat akin to a cardinal of the Catholic Church) known as Dilowa Hutukhtu, who would play a role in Lattimore’s Vermont stay years later.
In 1937, Lattimore became a professor at Johns Hopkins University, and by the start of World War II he was widely regarded as one of the world’s leading authorities on Central Asia. In 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt chose him to be a personal emissary to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, a post he held until his appointment in 1942 to head the Pacific operations of the Office of War Information. During this period he lectured, wrote, and edited Pacific Affairs, the influential magazine of the Institute for Pacific Relations.
Lattimore and Stefansson met at an annual meeting of the American Philosophical Society during Lattimore’s first year at Johns Hopkins, and quickly they and their wives became intimate friends. Stefansson’s wife Evelyn later recalled:
The special kind of dialogue that Owen and “Stef” had when conditions were right. . . . These two exceptional men, each expert in his chosen field and interested in everything that related to it directly or peripherally, would begin [a conversation]. In comparing Eskimo and Mongol ways, no detail was too small to be recited and followed by evaluation, comparison, and speculation. Both brought marvelous but different linguistic accomplishments to the discussion. Each could stir the other intellectually and bring out his best.
By the time these four friends developed the idea of the summer center in Bethel, the postwar political landscape was undergoing a severe change, with an increasing fearmongering about Communism and a suspicion of heretical ideas about foreign policy.
Mongolians in Rural Vermont
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) started files on both Stefansson and Lattimore long before Sen. Joseph McCarthy came on the scene. In Lattimore’s case, his support for the Maryland Civil Liberties Committee in 1941 was enough to get an FBI file started.
In the 1940s, Stefansson, like many anthropologists, was already under suspicion by the FBI for the causes he supported — expressing support for civil liberties fights was more than enough to earn a spot on the FBI’s radar at that time. The fact that he was about to undertake his long-planned Encyclopedia Arctica with the active assistance of Soviet experts on the Arctic only heightened his profile.
Stefansson’s offer to the Boy Scouts of the use of his farm to learn about Arctic camping led to a sensational January 1948 article in the Hearst-controlled New York Journal-American, in which he was identified as belonging to seventy-six different “Communist front” organizations (such as the Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born and Committee of Fair Play for Puerto Rico). The Boy Scouts consequently rejected his offer, “for the protection of the Boy Scouts of America from possible public criticism.”
Lattimore’s FBI file had been deactivated during the war, but by 1949, previously discredited witnesses were getting a second hearing from the agency, and the file was reopened. As turmoil in China increased, Lattimore began speaking publicly about his disenchantment with Chiang Kai-shek, urging American policy makers to adjust to the possibility of an eventual victory by Mao Zedong’s Communist insurgency, and arguing that Mao was not necessarily a pawn of Russian Communists. His strong opinions, forcibly expressed, made him powerful enemies, especially those on the Right looking for scapegoats for the “loss” of China to the Communists.
In May 1949, both Lattimore and Stefansson appeared on a list of 102 speakers and entertainers judged by the American Legion’s National Americanism Commission to be “unsuitable for Legion sponsorship.” They were among only a handful of academics on a list that included Lena Horne, Paul Robeson, Lillian Hellman, Burl Ives, and Gene Kelly. Lattimore sent a letter to Stefansson asking, “What do you do about such newspaper stories, ignore them or write and demand to know on what grounds they make slurring remarks?” Unfortunately, there is no record of Stefansson’s response.
That letter was one of many that spring between the two families as they considered the land purchase and the necessary renovations. Lattimore proposed bringing some Mongolian exiles, and the Lattimores’ son David enlisted some of his Harvard classmates to help with the renovations. The exiles soon came.
The arrival of Lattimore’s Mongolian friends was a source of excitement for the town of Bethel that summer. The group included his old friend, the “Living Buddha,” Dilowa Hutukhtu. A front page article in the White River Valley Herald announced, “Buddhist High Dignitary Here for Summer on Bethel Farm.” An editorial noted, “The White River Valley is proud to welcome a Living Buddha. . . . We are sure that the dignified bearing of The Dilowa will be strengthened and fortified by his summer’s communion with the Green Mountains.”
The daughter of another Mongolian visitor, Urgunge Onon, recalled, “Both my parents remember their time in Vermont fondly. Because of Owen Lattimore’s great generosity, he took them (and me aged just 18 months) to Vermont to spend the summer in the old farmhouse. We were the first Mongolian family to go to Vermont.”
Neither Stefansson nor Lattimore was aware of the FBI’s intense interest during the busy summer of 1949. The FBI took note of the Dilowa’s presence and went as far as arranging with the Bethel postmaster to intercept Lattimore’s mail — the best they could do, since the isolation of the Stoddard and Dearing farms presented no easy cover for firsthand reconnaissance. The enthusiastic agent assigned to the case, A. Cornelius from the Albany, New York, office, read mail, listened to phone recordings, and sent photographs of letters (some in Chinese and Mongol) to Washington for translation. Hundreds of letters to and from Lattimore ultimately wound up in bureau files.
Agent Cornelius also decided to read up on Buddhism to better understand what was taking place at the Stoddard farm. The theory he advanced was that Lattimore might be preparing the Dilowa to be the Communist figurehead in Tibet. In fact, Lattimore was working diligently with his network of contacts in Asia to save rare Tibetan cultural manuscripts from the Chinese Communists. As Lattimore had written that February to his friend Luther Evans of the Library of Congress, “Tibet is clearly doomed to come under the control of the Chinese Communists. There is, however, time for a planned salvage operation.”
By late September, the Lattimores and their Mongolian friends were back in Baltimore. On September 18, Lattimore wrote to Stefansson, “We are already looking back nostalgically to the wonderful summer we had, and now Eleanor, as well as David and I, is looking forward to joining the deer hunting trip in November.”
A Change in the National Mood
Though Lattimore was no doubt aware that his views on China were not popular in Washington, he likely would have been surprised to find that he was under FBI surveillance. After all, he and the American foreign policy establishment were in agreement about the threat to Tibetan and Mongolian sovereignty. Lattimore looked on the Vermont experience as an opportunity to actively help Mongolian exiles and preserve their culture — far from what the FBI had suspected.
During the winter of 1949–50, further developments chilled the political landscape, most significantly the conviction in January of Alger Hiss on perjury charges. Hiss had denied being part of a secret Communist group in the State Department, and his conviction emboldened embittered ex-Communist informants like Louis Budenz, political enemies of Lattimore such as the wealthy importer Alfred Kohlberg, and unscrupulous politicians such as Senator McCarthy. In February 1950, McCarthy made his first major headlines when, in a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, he claimed to have the names of 205 Communists in the State Department.
Throughout February and March, McCarthy stayed in the headlines, promising to name the mastermind of this conspiracy. In March 1950, while Lattimore was on a United Nations–sponsored economic mission to Afghanistan, Senator McCarthy charged with great fanfare that Lattimore was in reality the highest-placed Soviet spy in the State Department. Despite McCarthy’s haphazard methods (his charges took even the FBI by surprise), he had “a brilliant sense of timing and sure instinct for what an uncritical press and a disillusioned public would buy,” according to Lattimore’s biographer, Robert P. Newman.
Lattimore and his many supporters quickly dismissed McCarthy’s charges as outlandish. Lattimore’s telegram to the press, sent as he hastened home to face the charges, read in part, “McCarthy’s off-record rantings moonshine. . . . Delighted his whole case rests on me as this means he will fall flat on his face.”
McCarthy quickly backpedaled when it came time to address the full Senate, downgrading Lattimore to someone who had ‘tremendous power in the State Department as the architect of Far Eastern policy.’
As Evelyn Stefansson Nef wrote in her memoir, “Could this be happening? In the United States? This felt like a Kafka novel in which unimaginable, terrifying nightmares occurred. . . . Our scholarly friend Owen, the man who loved the Mongols and their culture as much as ‘Stef’ loved the Inuit — if it had not been so scary, it might almost have been funny.”
McCarthy quickly backpedaled when it came time to address the full Senate, downgrading Lattimore to someone who had “tremendous power in the State Department as the architect of Far Eastern policy.” But the damage had been done to Lattimore’s reputation.
It was easy to prove that Lattimore had never even been a State Department employee, and by July 1950, he was cleared of McCarthy’s charges by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but not before amassing significant legal fees (he was represented by future Supreme Court justice Abe Fortas). It was sadly clear to the Lattimores that they would have to sell their half-share in Stefansson’s farm, and Stefansson agreed to help by placing an ad in his own name in the Saturday Review of Literature.
The only person who answered the ad was Ordway Southard, a former anthropology student at the University of Alaska and a longtime admirer of Stefansson. Southard had done some research in Stefansson’s New York library a few years earlier, and had helped move some books and furniture when Stefansson first came to Vermont. He saw the ad and quickly saw an opportunity to have further contact with one of his idols. On June 14, the sale was completed.
Hunting Reds in Central Vermont
Stefansson wrote to Lattimore just after the sale that he had heard through the winter that Southard was a Communist, but “my clippings bureau was then sending me cuttings from the Hearst and Scripps-Howard press saying that I was a Communist. . . . To me this sort of thing was Salem Witchcraft over again, and I perhaps leaned over backward not to be appear to be afflicted with what was increasingly worrying me as mob hysteria.”
Stefansson astutely went on to warn Lattimore that selling the Stoddard farm to a “Communist” might be used against Lattimore. Lattimore did look into canceling the sale, but his attorney, Abe Fortas, advised him against it, because there was a valid contract.
Evelyn Stefansson did not trust Southard, and wrote in her memoir, “I was angry and hurt that I hadn’t prevailed in not wanting to sell to Southard, probably the only time in our long and happy marriage that I blamed ‘Stef’ and felt he should have listened to me.” Evelyn’s fears were not just paranoia. What Southard did not tell Stefansson before the sale was that he and his wife Mary had been Communist Party organizers and were still party members; while in Alabama organizing steel mill workers, Ordway had run for governor on the Communist Party ticket in 1942, and Mary Southard ran for State Senate as a Communist that same year.
Stefansson described the ensuing confrontation with Southard in his memoir:
He had not intended to make a secret of his past, he told us. The point simply had not come up. We asked him if he had given a thought, ahead of time, to the possible consequences of his purchase. Well, yes, he had considered the matter, but the fact was, he said, none of us had done anything illegal. On this point, naturally, we had to agree. At the same time, Evelyn and I considered the situation, innocent though it was, most unfortunate for the Lattimores.
The FBI was not alone in watching the Lattimores and Stefanssons. The Southards’ past might merely have been the “innocent situation” the Stefanssons imagined, if not for the attention of a local Bethel woman, Lucille Miller, who was known in the area for her extreme anti-Communist views.
Headline from the Burlington Free Press, July 27, 1950.
Miller claimed to have been a former “fellow traveler,” but by the mid-1940s dedicated herself to exposing what she saw as left-wing cells that had formed in the Bethel-Randolph area. She wrote frequent letters to prominent conservative syndicated columnists Fulton Lewis, Jr and Westbrook Pegler, and often sent ideas for investigative articles to the Hearst newspaper chain, especially the Boston Evening Record.
It was an opportune time for red-baiters like Miller, though not a credible journalist or investigator, to make their mark on the news. Miller and others throughout the United States could easily make life miserable for anyone simply by accusing them of being small-c or capital-C communists or left sympathizers.
The influential Pegler finally took note of Miller’s letters in a July 1950 column titled, in one paper, “Vermont Yankees are Suckers for Commies”: “The secret of Communist success here has been charm and money. They have bought their way into organizations. They have given farm jobs and contract jobs and washing and ironing work out to the people. They go out of their way to be sympathetic and understanding. I never thought the people would fall for it, but they have.”
Special targets of Miller’s were four summer residents of Randolph Center who had been on the front pages in 1948. Whittaker Chambers, a disillusioned ex-Communist, had named Lee Pressman, former lead counsel for the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), and Nathan Witt, former secretary general of the National Labor Relations Board, as part of a spy network that included Alger Hiss (who summered with his family in Peacham). Pressman and Witt’s attorney (as well as the attorney for the Communist Party), John Abt, and Abt’s sister Marion Bachrach, also owned summer residences in Randolph Center.
By July 1950, only Pressman still owned property in Vermont. But with Lattimore on the front pages, Boston Evening Record reporter Thomas Riley finally took up Miller’s invitation to see for himself what was happening in Bethel and Randolph Center. He promptly uncovered the Southards’ past associations and rushed to press on July 27.
Senator McCarthy charged that day on the Senate floor that Lattimore’s property was “in the Hiss area of Vermont” and that the profit Lattimore made on the transaction ($3,000 was the figure quoted) was going to the coffers of the Communist Party. Said McCarthy, “There is no secret that the way the Communist Party handles its payoffs and contributions is often by the transfer of property.”
When reached in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, Lattimore told the Associated Press, “Since I had to sell my property to meet expenses forced on me by McCarthy’s scurrilous attacks, the property was sold to a stranger about whom I knew nothing and of whom I had never heard.” The reporter then asked Lattimore about a comment by Sen. Bourke Hickenlooper of Iowa concerning the possible discovery of uranium oxide on the Vermont farm, increasing its potential value. “Lattimore laughed loudly and said, ‘Just wait till I tell that one to my wife.’”
Miller’s crusade had eased the way for McCarthy’s baseless attack on Lattimore. Now the Wisconsin senator’s unscrupulous hunger for headlines set in motion a series of events that threatened to snowball even further.
Soon Stefansson’s connection was news as well (“Link Explorer With Lattimore Land Deal” read the Rutland Herald headline on July 29). Pegler’s nationally syndicated column that week focused on the land transaction: “Not only did Lattimore buy an interest in Stefansson’s dwelling in a backwoods Vermont spot where Abt, Hiss, Pressman, Witt, and Bachrach had settled, but less than three months later sold it to a buyer described as a prominent Communist.”
Once reporters investigated the actual Bethel town records, McCarthy’s story of a $3,000 profit was easily demolished.
Once reporters investigated the actual Bethel town records, McCarthy’s story of a $3,000 profit was easily demolished. Publishers Mitchell of the Rutland Herald and Drysdale of the White River Valley Herald and Bradford Opinion led the way, with Drysdale summarizing, “No ‘excessive profit’ indeed no profit at all, was made on the sale of the Stoddard farm. The Lattimores received only half the selling price (Mr McCarthy take note!).” Mitchell added in a Rutland Herald editorial, “One can only conclude that [McCarthy] deliberately withheld the information that Stefansson was the other half-owner of the Bethel farm and that he was to receive half of the sale price, because this would have weakened the accusations and insinuations against Lattimore.”
Drysdale led off his editorial in early August with, “The quiet White River towns of Randolph and Bethel have had an introduction in the past week to the slander technique of a certain section of the American press and of Senator McCarthy. Those who will examine the McCarthy accusations . . . can see a perfect case history of the manner in which individuals can be smeared and slandered in attacks against which they have no defense except the cool common sense of their neighbors.” The more conservative Burlington Free Press weighed in, “Most hard-headed Vermonters will want to examine with care his present charges before getting into a lather over the situation.”
Even the Burlington Daily News and St. Albans Messenger, owned by William Loeb and perhaps the most conservative papers in Vermont, showed some skepticism. On July 29, both papers ran an exclusive interview with the journalist Dorothy Thompson, a syndicated columnist for the Hearst chain and a friend of the Stefanssons who lived in nearby Barnard. The headline read, “Noted Author Doubts Bethel Is Red Colony;” Thompson was quoted as saying she was “extremely skeptical” about McCarthy’s charges. “I see nothing strange in the transactions. . . . I see nothing odd about two old friends buying a farm together and selling it when one of them needs the money.”
M. Dickey Drysdale, son of John Drysdale and publisher of the White River Valley Herald since 1975, recalls that his father persuaded Mitchell of the Rutland Herald to follow the story further, using the advantage of that paper’s statewide circulation. Mitchell then took that step, enlisting the collaboration of John S. Hooper of the Brattleboro Reformer in commissioning an investigative report by a nationally known journalist, William Gilman, who had worked for the New York Times and United Press International in China, and had been a war correspondent for the North American Newspaper Alliance.
The series of six articles ran from August 14–19. Mitchell explained in an editorial of August 12, “There has been so much loose talk and rumor locally, fanned by distorted reports from outside sources, that this newspaper hopes that a constructive service can be performed by presenting a factual report on the communist problem.”
Headline from the Rutland Herald, August 16, 1950.
The first article was an overview of the situation headlined, “Red Stronghold in State Mostly Hotbed of Gossip and Rumor.” Gilman noted that “Although Vermonters know Randolph Center is some 40 miles from Peacham and Bethel is around 50, the Hearst press has ringed all three towns into what it calls Vermont’s ‘Hiss area.’” He quoted a local farmer, Clifton Chadwick, as saying, “I wouldn’t brand anybody a Communist till I knew. It’s gotten so that my daughter’s ashamed to say she’s from Randolph Center.” Gilman complimented Drysdale for his editorials “appealing to common sense that have followed the best traditions of a fearless and unbiased press.”
Five more in-depth articles followed, as Gilman explored the backgrounds of the Southards and Miller, and the worldly exploits of Stefansson. Gilman gave readers a much-needed context for the events of the preceding months and in the process, thoroughly demolished McCarthy’s claims about the property transfer.
By the end of August 1950, the controversy over the land sale had disappeared from local front pages and editorial columns. Evelyn Stefansson wrote to Eleanor Lattimore in early September that “everywhere we hear words of praise for Owen’s wonderful fight [against McCarthy’s charges].”
The Southards stayed on at the Stoddard farm, though the Stefanssons refused to speak to them after that summer’s events. They maintained a low profile until an incident in April 1952 put them back in the news: their pickup truck was vandalized with a hatchet in broad daylight. A local man, Thomas Petrocelli, was charged with public intoxication, breach of peace, and malicious destruction of property, and another Bethel resident, Wilfred Loura, was alleged to have struck Ray Brink, a Southard neighbor who was attempting to escort Mrs Southard away from the scene.
In a letter to the Rutland Herald several days later, Miller asked to be charged as well by State’s Attorney Lewis Springer: “I take complete responsibility for this incident and all others like it because if it were not for my 1950 attack on this Communist colony, nobody would have known that the Southards were Communists.”
This letter was on Stefansson’s mind when he Lattimores proposed a visit for July 1952, shortly after Dwight Eisenhower’s selection of Richard Nixon for his running mate. “Much as I want to see you,” Stefansson wrote, “I feel you must do your own judging on whether Mrs. Miller is likely to send in ‘information’ and how likely the Nixon wing of the Republicans is to pick up and use her imaginings in a further attack on you. . . . If you decide that coming here is no more dangerous than not coming, we can get up some presentable wakes here for the demise of American liberty.” There is no evidence of what the Lattimores decided.
Stefansson’s fears were well founded, for by 1952, Lattimore’s troubles had increased. Although he had been cleared by the Senate Judiciary Committee in July 1950, Lattimore’s defiant stance toward Senator McCarthy created new enemies; Sen. Pat McCarran of Nevada, chairman of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, took up McCarthy’s charges against him and added new ones, aided by the FBI. Lattimore was forced to spend the next five years on leave from Johns Hopkins, fighting charges that he had lied to Congress.
The charges were eventually dismissed in 1955. He went on to reclaim his reputation as a world-class scholar, as head of the Asian Studies Department at the University of Leeds, England, and was an early opponent of the Vietnam War. He lived to see Nixon go to China and revisited China and Mongolia before his death in 1988.
Although the Southards kept their property until 1964, they left Bethel shortly after the vandalism incident and continued their travels. During their stay in Hawaii, they became deeply involved in Asian culture and philosophy; “Ordway” and “Mary” became “O” and “Malia.” It was as “O Mabson Southard” that Southard became well-known in the poetry world as both a haiku poet and an expert on the form.
Meanwhile, Lucille Miller and her husband Manuel, emboldened by letters of support she received from all over the country, started publishing a mimeographed broadside in 1952 called Green Mountain Rifleman. Their targets were Communists, Jews, and Vermonters such as Education Commissioner A. John Holden.
Shortly after his proposed “Encyclopedia Arctica” was scuttled by the Department of Navy in 1949, Stefansson donated his entire collection of Arctic literature (running to over twenty thousand volumes) to Dartmouth College. In 1951, he was offered a position there as director of a Polar Institute. Although he and Evelyn kept their Bethel property until his death in 1962, the “Southard Affair” left lingering bitterness, and the Stefanssons spent most of their time in Hanover.
But they weren’t yet through with being subjects of suspicion. In 1954, New Hampshire’s headline-hunting attorney general Louis Wyman, accused them both, with little success, of being Communist sympathizers. Stefansson’s memoir, published posthumously in 1974, had a chapter on the Lattimore episode that concluded with these words: “Even today, the nightmare [of those years] reappears, reminding us that the McCarthy type of persecution is a sinister poison that affects the innocent perhaps more than the guilty.”
“The Lattimore Affair” encapsulates Vermont’s mixed record during those dark times of reaction. Newspaper editors like M. Dickey Drysdale and Robert Mitchell exemplified the best of small-town Vermont values in standing up to fearmongers. But the fabric of one community was severely damaged by unfounded suspicion, leading to the loss of a a highly accomplished citizen, Vilhjalmur Stefansson. And how much richer might our state have been with the continuing presence of Owen Lattimore and his sadly ill-fated “Center for Asiatic Studies”? Come to think of it, how much richer would communities across the United States have been without the damage wrought by McCarthyism?Original post