For the Class’ most politically engaged students, the Wisconsin senator’s attacks had proved a decisive event in their college careers.
Stanley N. Katz ’55, who now teaches public and international affairs at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, recalls that the reverberations of the Red Scare tinted certain students’ college experiences a different shade of crimson.
“I was a member of the Harvard Liberal Union, a left-wing political organization,” he says. “I can remember as a freshman being warned that, if you were a member, you were unlikely ever to get a job in the government.”
While McCarthy’s accusations may have sparked students to think twice about their political affiliations, his claims weighed more heavily on members of the faculty, some of whom were brought before congressional committees to respond to allegations of communist ties.
“In terms of academic freedom, we thought it was a threat because our professors were being brought to trial,” Katz says.
And yet, for many students, college life went on as usual in the early 1950s.
“As far as the day-to-day life of business, one didn’t feel the reverberations very much,” recalls Walter Goffart ’55, who now teaches history at Yale. “It’s very different, reading history books and actually being there.”
At times, however, the national surge of red-baiting unexpectedly crept its way into student affairs.
During his freshman year, Arthur J. Langguth, Jr. ’55 sent a letter to his parents and jokingly labeled his return address “the Communist Party Headquarters at Cambridge, Massachusetts.”
When his parents received the letter, it had been opened and inspected by government officials.
“I realized very quickly that this wasn’t just a big joke,” says Langguth, who later became Crimson president.
The Class of 1955 had attended Harvard during the height of McCarthy’s influence. Though the senator was censured in late 1954, the specter of McCarthyism lingered even as students made their way out of Harvard Yard.
“By the time we graduated,” Langguth says, “it was still in the air.”
As Cold War tensions rose in the late 1940s and early 1950s, fears of communism surged across the United States, and the nation’s university campuses were no exception.