When the various unions of Seattle put down their tools and walked off the job on February 6, 1919 the city came to a halt. All but the most urgent services ceased as the sympathy strike for the shipyard workers on Seattle’s docks took hold. While the city lay dormant, the mayor, city officials, union leaders and Henry Suzzallo worked day and night to find solution to the strike.
Henry Suzzallo, however was not a city official or a labor leader. He was the President of the University of Washington, a president whose connections to state and federal leaders resulted in appointments to positions of more power and prestige. Governor Lister had landed him the powerful job of Director of the State Council of Defense during the war and bizarrely enough asked Suzzallo to fill his position as he lay dying during the strike. Suzzallo’s unwavering patriotism and close compliance with conservative wartime rhetoric and practice were evident not only in his work as a Chairman of the Council of Defense but also as President of the University of Washington.
From the beginning of his presidency, Suzzallo was a central player in the labor issues of the era. He imposed his own political and ideological beliefs on a university, that while largely compliant had its resistant Socialist faculty and a small, but active leftist student community. These campus dissenters resisted Suzzallo and the regents’ indoctrination using many of the methods organized labor: speeches, pamphleteering and strikes. Suzzallo’s attempts to suppress socialism on campus would meet with middling success as there was a strong support system between powerful labor movement of the are and the Socialist and pro-labor issues and ideologues on campus. Nonetheless, many of the University of Washington’s more radical students and a few professors were removed or left during Suzzallo’s early years, finding Campus a stifling environ for radicalism.
This essay is an exploration of Henry Suzzallo’s role as an anti-radical authority figure from 1915 through the 1919 General Strike in Seattle. Suzzallo became an increasingly conservative anti-radical leader as his clout in the state grew; he tried to shape the University in his own political and intellectual ideals. Backed by a nervous business community Suzzallo worked to rid the university of radicalism and to instill a patriotic ethos on campus. To a degree Suzzallo was successful. Some radical professors left, but other remained. Suzzallo saw the greatest change in the student body, those radicals that remained on campus in February of 1919 did so covertly, the rest stood behind their President.
By the time Seattle was in the throes of the General Strike, Suzzallo, his supporters and opposition at the University had been through a number of strikes of their own. Suzzallo’s sympathy for organized labor waned as he served on strike mediation boards. The Industrial Workers of the World, revolutionary-minded labor activists central to lumber strikes in the Pacific Northwest, engendered much of his contempt while he served on strike mediation boards. His sympathy for organized labor waned the more involved he became in the State Council of Defense embracing a new patriotic conservatism that had little room for the dissention of labor.
Suzzallo became President of the University in 1915, the result of an Horatio Alger-esqe career. The son of Yugoslavian immigrants, he attended public schools in San Jose, California. Suzzallo worked to overcome his family’s lack of funds and his own poor grades to attend Stanford. He divided his time from year to year working as a principal at a local school and attending the university, graduating in 1899. While at Stanford he studied the burgeoning fields of sociology and education; melding the two into his own philosophy of early indoctrination, "educational sociology." He developed his oratory and leadership skills at Columbia’s Teacher’s College, mentored by Nicholas Murray Butler. From Butler and other models of educational theory Suzzallo developed a conception of education as a socializing tool.
Universities at the time were undergoing great growth and Suzzallo, greatly influenced by the faith in science of the early twentieth century, sought efficient and rational teaching methods and systems. Suzzallo’s confidence in science and scientific management was developing at the same time that new ideas about the organization of universities were being explored by presidents like Eliot at Harvard, White at Cornell, Hall at Chicago University and Jordan at Stanford. Like his predecessors, Suzzallo wanted to turn the University of Washington into a great university and leave the school a rational, efficient institution.
Following his swearing in as President, Suzzallo began to make changes in the interest of educational efficiency. One of the first, was to focus intellectual energy at the UW in Seattle, thereby reducing the State College in Pullman to an agricultural tech school. Suzzallo whittled away at Washington State while developing the Departments of Fisheries, Forestry and other sciences of the University in Seattle. Suzzallo was also behind the birth of the College of Business Administration and the University’s growing libraries. Suzzallo defended his reorganization of the two schools on the grounds of educational efficiency; the state did not need two adequate liberal arts schools, but an agricultural school and a powerful liberal arts institute.
At the same time theories of efficiency and scientific management were becoming a part of university administration, new ideas about labor mediation were forming. Scholars were beginning to turn their new theories of psychology and sociology towards laborers, where scientific management had already been applied. Academics like John R. Commons and Carleton Parker were examining the drive to unionize in psychological and sociological terms, theorizing ways to make industrial relations less violent. Their academic approach led them to conclude that much of the strife between owner and employee could be mediated. Mediation, Commons, believed was a solution to scientific management with its "cold calculations, was a method he believed, "has the defects of autocracy," since it, "begins and ends with individuals separated from their fellows." Commons theory of "Industrial Goodwill" was a new approach to the long-standing problems of labor dispute, most of which were ended in some way or another with violence.
Carleton Parker, a contemporary of Commons, concluded from his observations that the increasingly revolutionary labor movement could be psychologically analyzed. Parker believed that labor unrest, especially migratory labor like Seattle’s, was rooted in poor working conditions, long hours and seasonal unemployment. Parker believed that the cure for these, "tragic symptoms of a sick social order," was to alleviate the causes of worker maladjustment. Parker’s believed that unrest, even the "problem of unionism" could be solved if employers hired psychologists to assess worker dissatisfaction and improved working conditions accordingly. Many businessmen labeled Parker a labor sympathizer
Suzzallo’s adherence to scientific methodology did not prevent him from mediating labor disputes the way Commons had designed. Mediation, performed by a disinterested expert was becoming a popular method of solving labor disputes and Suzzallo, as a man of academia, was often called upon as a mediator. His motivations seem less rooted in the progressive agendas of Commons or Parker, whom he brought to the University in 1917, but more in his duty to state and country.
The University that Suzzallo inherited in 1915 was already an important part of the city, with faculty, staff and students as embroiled in the events of the day. The people that made up the University also made up the city and its politics. And like the city it was not a place of pure socialism nor was it one of completely blind faith in Americanism. Rather, the university was a mix of outspoken patriots, soldiers, veterans and those with strong anti-radical notions as well as a number of labor sympathizers and radicals. Individuals and groups on campus were actively involved with the larger community. Students joined labor organizations, enlisted in the armed services, professors spoke to labor groups while others served on committees that oversaw intelligence bureaus.
Suzzallo’s disapproved immediately of the varied and at times outspoken politics of campus. He reported to his mentor Butler that "a group of radicals were ruling the faculty and students by sheer aggressiveness.". In much the same way he began to privilege the University in Seattle over the College in Pullman, Suzzallo began making changes that better suited his own political agendas. The new President set about reorganizing departments in an effort to isolate faculty whose politics he believed were dangerous. Many businessmen viewed J. Allen Smith, an outspoken radical professor of Political Science, who wrote The Spirit of American Government, as a serious threat. According to biographer Donald T. Williams, Suzzallo and many Seattle businessmen wanted to remove Smith, but Smith was popular with students and a prominent figure who had the backing of the powerful local branch of the American Federation of Labor, Seattle’s Central Labor Council. One of Smith’s students recalled in her memoirs that Smith escaped dismissal by Suzzallo because James Duncan, Secretary of the C.L.C. "went up to him and said, ‘If you fire the McMahons or J. Allen Smith you won’t last long as president.’" Unable to fire Smith outright, Suzzallo opted to isolate him. He split the Department of Political and Social Science into three new departments: Sociology, a School of Commerce and the Department of Political Science whose faculty was entirely composed of one, J. Allen Smith.
Smith may have been isolated from other faculty members to a degree, but his influence among students remained. Smith reportedly criticized Seattle Times publisher Colonel Blethen for supporting for the Minneapolis Street Railways, a monopoly in Blethen’s hometown. When students attending the University of Washington in the teens had demonstrated their political savvy and power in the Chimes Incident of 1912, Smith and President Kane took much of the blame. Students, incensed over Colonel Blethen’s gift of a set of chimes to the University, protested, despite the regent’s "gag-rule" and the matter became one of the reasons for President Kane’s dismissal. The controversy was one of many episodes when Kane had defended free speech on campus; he had refused to fire Smith a few years earlier. Kane’s eventual dismissal by the Regents in 1914 and the hiring of Suzzallo were no doubt linked to conservative opposition to free speech on campus.
Suzzallo began his presidency as an advocate of free speech, he believed that students should abide by the "ideals and methods" of the University. In his inaugural speech to the University Suzzallo outlined his expectations of students. He expressed a hope that students commit themselves to "reasonable and moral" action. As well, Suzzallo pledged that problems would be treated in a democratic fashion, but warned, "Only when you show yourself morally insensitive to real issues of human right and wrong, . . . shall I interfere. Then I shall interfere with an iron hand." Suzzallo’s iron hand was tested that year when students, some of whom were Socialists, began protesting compulsory military drilling.
The Student’s Anti-Drill Society dispersed 3,000 copies of a pamphlet entitled, "Compulsory Military Drill, a Great College Menace, and called for mass meetings to discuss the matter. President Suzzallo allowed the meetings and protests, but the next spring when the faculty voted on the matter, compulsory drilling was retained. Following the vote Suzzallo told assembled cadet corps that he expected a new "enthusiasm and strength that is necessary for the defense of our nation." War preparedness was a growing concern as the war in Europe unfolded and a growing point of contention for the labor movement.
Much of organized labor had adopted the International Socialist belief that the war was a capitalist venture, pitting working men against each other while war time profits piled up. Military drilling remained on campus throughout the war and well into the 1920’s continuing to be a source of strife between labor and the University. Pacifism ran hard against the growing wartime patriotism and the mass protests against military training on campus faded as the University became committed to the war effort. It was a time when being a radical on campus was an increasingly dangerous occupation. Suzzallo’s work with the State Council of Defense made it no easier to be a radical anywhere else in the state.
In Washington and all over the U.S., patriotic war-effort sentiments prevailed and attitudes and activities deemed "un-American" or seditious were watched with a cautious eye. At the top of the list of groups to watch in Washington and at the University were those of German descent, Socialists, anarchists and especially the Industrial Workers of the World. The I.W.W. became scapegoats blamed for the increasingly assertive labor movement’s strikes and demands. The Wobblies were not popular with the American Federation of Labor for their one big union idea and business hated them for stirring workers to strike. Government tended to side with business, wary of the group for its revolutionary rhetoric. Many believed that the I.W.W. were part of a Russian Bolshevist plan to overtake the U.S., others feared Wobblies were German operatives working to sabotage war production.
As Chairman of the State Council of Defense, Suzzallo headed a governmental group that only considered the I.W.W. a threat to America. The Council of Defense, a far-reaching umbrella organization that oversaw numerous wartime efforts, was a springboard for Suzzallo’s demonstration of patriotism. In addition to overseeing the organization, he served on mediation boards of two pivotal labor strikes that preceded and may have influenced the General Strike of 1919. Suzzallo worked with James A. Duncan to settle the Seattle Street Car Strike of 1917 and his work on the Wobblie-tinged lumber strikes of 1917 further galvanized his anti-I.W.W. stance.
The I.W.W. were in fact organizing and spreading the word of solidarity and strikes in logging communities, much to the chagrin of state officials. The Council of Defense notes in its 1919 Report to the Governor of Washington that accounts of "roaming bands of I.W.W. seemingly well supplied with money, and of numerous threats that warehouses and grain fields would destroyed by fire, if their unreasonable demands were not met." The State Council of Defense devotes seven pages of its report entirely to the problems it encountered dealing with the I.W.W. and lumber strikes. There is no author cited, but it can be assumed that the report reflects the vision of Suzzallo and his fellow council members.
The I.W.W. was perceived as a genuine threat to the war effort and as "directly opposed to our government." The response of the Council and other government agencies was to organize a system of citizens, secret service operatives and troops to monitor and counter the Wobblie threat. Suzzallo showed no signs of sympathy for the I.W.W.: telegrams to lumber mill owners and managers show a distinct spite for Wobblies. Suzzallo’s Council of Defense worked in concert with Disque’s Loyal Legion of Loggers stemming the I.W.W. influence in the camps by way of intelligence services, essentially spy rings, reporting to both the Council and Disque who dispatched Loyal Legions to problem areas.
In a letter to J.H. Bloedel of the Bloedel-Donovan Lumber Mills Suzzallo thanks Bloedel for supplying intelligence information about the Wobblies and labor unions in his camps. Suzzallo notes the reports (which were not kept) "certainly casts a suspicion on organized labor." Whether Suzzallo and others’ suspicion of the power of the I.W.W. were founded or not is superseded by their personal fears. Suzzallo continues his letter writing, "I had hoped we could separate the goats from the sheep completely. It would be a great disappointment to me personally if the present mentioned crisis could not separate everybody from the I.W.W." Suzzallo’s stance on the I.W.W. and organized labor in this short telegram is particularly revealing. Suzzallo’s paternalistic view of labor issues is evident in his language. Suzzallo refers to the "goats" and "sheep," for Suzzallo labor becomes not so much humans, but groups that must be dealt with the way a rancher deals with livestock.
Suzzallo’s view of labor was certainly not as sympathetic as Carleton Parker’s, a fellow sociologist/economist he hired in 1917. They both believed in the positive outcome of mediation, and viewed both labor and owners as legitimate bargaining parties. But as Suzzallo dealt more with outspoken radicals, Socialists and Wobblies on campus and in particular, his war-work as head of the Council of Defense, his compassion for organized labor waned. The war was a major source of Suzzallo’s changing beliefs about labor. Unlike Parker who was interested in finding solutions to the problems laborers faced in the workplace, Suzzallo’s professional interest in labor was limited to a regard for labor as a source of seditious thought and in terms of efficiency.
While this may sound a bit heavy-handed, it becomes clear that this was not an uncommon way to think of labor at the time. Suzzallo’s reports on shipyard efficiency demonstrate a similar regard labor as a part of the machinery that must be maintained. Labor itself recognized this attitude and used it in their own pamphlets and leaflets. The famous We’re Ready pamphlet of the General Strike aimed at striking workers reads, "Labor power under the present system is a commodity," a commodity that organized labor claimed had been exploited long enough. The pamphlet further notes that labor produces "more than is necessary to maintain itself on." Therefore, the argument continues, "the products and the industries of the world are ours by right." Labor was in no way willing to be the easily shepherded sheep that Suzzallo and Seattle businessmen wanted. It is not surprising that such rhetoric frightened the business interests of Washington at the time. It must be remembered that the Bolshevik Revolution had taken place in Russia only a few years prior to the General Strike. Fear of a similar Socialist takeover weighed heavy on the minds of those who ran and owned businesses. In their concern they turned to agencies like Suzzallo’s to monitor and counter labor’s growing agitators.
Suzzallo was happy to comply, a quick look through his papers concerning his role as Council of Defense director present a man who took his duties quite seriously and personally. Suzzallo obviously enjoyed the camaraderie of the united cause of the war effort and the connections with powerful people in the state it afforded him, not to mention a certain glee in persecuting those who opposed him. A telegram to H.D. Young of Marysville proudly outlines the three months of work that resulted in an intelligence bureau and ends with Suzzallo ambition to utilize the bureau to "really find the seditious people." Sedition was serious business and accusation often led to arrest and even jail time, a consequence many members of the I.W.W. came to know all too well.
It was the I.W.W. that raised the greatest ire from officials like Suzzallo. He kept himself abreast of their activities by way of his intelligence bureau, the Minutemen and communicated with lumber mill managers about the status of I.W.W. influence in their camps. B.H. Hornby of the Dover Lumber Co of Dover, Idaho supplied Suzzallo with intelligence reports in early 1918, Suzzallo replied via telegram thanking him and voiced his own personal stance on organized labor and the I.W.W. "I do not believe these professional I.W.W. can carry the men out when the substantial causes for discontent are removed." The "substantial causes for discontent were largely to be found in the long hours that lumber industry workers endured, ten, twelve and even fourteen hour days while their urban counterparts had already won the now standard eight-hour work day.
Despite Suzzallo’s scorn for the I.W.W. he was fairly sympathetic to the demands and desires of the average worker. His own work on labor mediation boards reveals a compassion for organized labor’s reasonable requests for shorter hours and better working conditions. How much of his sympathy was influenced by governmental haste, as was the case with spruce collection is up for debate. Carlton Parker greatly aided Suzzallo in the lumber strikes, his sympathies for labor, even the I.W.W. were well known and may also have been an influence on the mediation. Nonetheless, Suzzallo was quite familiar with the various industries whose prosperity hinged on war dollars, namely lumber and shipbuilding. As one of his duties to the Council of Defense in 1918, Suzzallo filed an Investigation into Labor Efficiency of Steel Shipbuilding Yards, in the report he discusses, among other efficiency concerns, the "Slacking of Labor." Slackerism, a term bandied about and usually used in conjunction with sedition, socialism and pacifists, referred to those who shirked their patriotic responsibility to work for the war effort. The more vocal devotees of labor radicalism in Seattle, particularly those of Socialist bent, viewed the war as a giant capitalist venture that pitted international workers against each other while war time profits soared. Pacifism and slackerism went hand in hand, according to many business people who were often concerned that Socialist workers in the teeming shipyards of Seattle, were intentionally stalling or sabotaging work to impede the war effort.
Suzzallo’s investigation reports that "Labor is reasonably efficient in the ship yards," however, Suzzallo writes, "it can truly be said that laborers are not spending their energies freely." Suzzallo credits some of the idleness to management, an influx of "green and young labor" as well as a variety of legitimate reasons for what had been rumored to be slackerism. More likely to slow production than saboteurs was Seattle’s notorious cold, rainy weather, which at times cooled the ship’s hulls so much that it was impossible to drive the rivets. . Suzzallo concluded that while many of the stories of loafing workers were "exaggerated" and could be explained, "there was possibly some truth in the stories that labor unions cause some slowing up in the work."
When Suzzallo’s authority was called on to mediate the lumber strike, he followed his sense of duty and lost the support of a very powerful industry. Strikes demanding an eight-hour day had halted the badly needed lumber for the war-effort. Neither the unions, nor the mill owners would concede. As the need for lumber grew stronger, Suzzallo had to buckle and comply with the Federal government. Suzzallo’s response was to side with the Wilson administration’s request to end the strikes and institute the eight-hour day. For his decision Suzzallo was criticized as being a labor sympathizer by some. It was not the only time his politics and decisions would garner criticism.
Both business and labor attacked the president for his policies on campus during the war, especially those concerning military drilling. Drilling, which had been a touchy subject, became only that much more inflamed as students, as early as 1915, staged protests against the mandatory military preparedness exercises. Pacifist students on campus had the full support of labor unions and following the war, women’s clubs. Nonetheless, the mandatory drills continued through the war years and after, much to the praise of local business associations and legionnaire clubs.
The debate over military training raged on into the 1920’s, years after the Armistice was signed. Letters poured into the University of Washington Board of Regents during 1921 and 1922. The unions adopted a form letter outlining an argument organized labor had been using for years against militarism. The Central Labor Councils of cities and towns across Washington sent a letter summarized their opposition to the training young men at the university in "the science of modern warfare for the apparent benefit of the armament maker and at the expense of the already overtaxed people." The appeals conclude that "the training of you men in the science of taking human life is subversive of every human instinct, it is in contrast to every ideal of the labor movement." While the appeal of the labor movement did not fall on deaf ears, it certainly fell on unsympathetic ears, ears that were tuned more to the congratulatory voice of business.
For the most part Suzzallo was congratulated for his conservative stance on militarism by businessmen, but there were those who felt Suzzallo was spending too much of his energy away from the still too liberal University. Edwin Selvin, editor of the Business Chronicle of the Pacific Northwest, was outraged when the first draftee in Seattle, a senior at the UW, refused conscription as a Socialist conscientious objector. Ernest Leo was quoted in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer claiming that he was indoctrinated in the Seattle Public Schools and the University. "I believe personally, that I am not at fault, but my education is at fault." He told the paper. " Selvin was furious that Suzzallo’s University was producing Socialists. He cried, "Business men whose sons and daughters are attending this State Institution, will not be satisfied until the allegation of this member of the student body is either disproved, or if found to be true, those responsible therefore are summarily dismissed." Leo and Selvin’s editorial were no doubt a great embarrassments to the President. For the rest of the war Suzzallo adopted a strong pro-militarism agenda for campus.
Despite the occasional criticism business in Seattle was supportive of the University’s management. The Seattle Chamber of Commerce, one of the most agitated groups during the General Strike, sent a letter to the Board of Regents congratulating the University for their continuation of military drilling. The Chamber believed, "such training tends to promote citizenship, patriotism and Americanization." Suzzallo and members of the Board of Regents wholeheartedly agreed with the views of the Chamber of Commerce. In what must have been more than coincidence, many of the Regents and professors were appointed positions on the Council of Defense, alongside many business people.
While much of the business community supported Suzzallo, much of the labor movement regarded the president as a serious threat, Suzzallo’s most scathing critic was Anna Louise Strong. While the university was not usually a source of labor news or commentary, Strong wrote a few telling columns about the University of Washington and Suzzallo, the "Campus Kaiser." Strong, an exceptional radical, even for I.W.W. occupied Washington, wrote an assertive, sarcastic poem for the Seattle Daily Call in 1917 criticizing Suzzallo’s actions as both Defense Councilman and President of the University. The poem, "Who Killed Our University?" is a biting critique of Suzzallo’s repression of free speech, his support of militarism and the exodus of faculty from campus.
Strong viewed the University as a dead place for the free thinker, especially the pacifist:
And now the University with all its many schools
Is now a campus Army which the Campus Kaiser rules
To talk or write with freedom is such a dire disgrace
That five and twenty teachers just up and left the place.
And he passed the word this fall
That the faculty and students were no longer
To think at all.
Although the poem is caustic, many of Strong’s points about Suzzallo’s censure of the university and its subsequent effects were accurate.
Indeed, Suzzallo did advocate a policy of unquestioning faith in patriotic leaders. In a speech he made to the Seattle Chamber of Commerce he said, "we must cease being a debating society in which every man shall have his say, and become a nation with few experts leading and the large crowd appreciating and supporting them." No doubt this was well received by the members of the Chamber of Commerce, people with intimate contacts to those "few experts" who were indeed making it very uncomfortable to debate or a have one’s say.
Suzzallo’s support of military training continued and his disdain for Socialist and radicals multiplied, however they existed on campus. Political Science professor and known Socialist sympathizer Abraham Bergland was asked to leave, and did. Bergland’s Germanic name was probably no great aid to his defense. Three members of the German department of the University of Washington resigned on May 20, 1918 after being hounded by the press and others. While there were dismissals and resignations from the faculty, most weathered the storm of indignation for pacifist and radicals.
Strong’s "five and twenty" refugee professors was probably an exaggeration, many instructors did find themselves at a university where federal Secret Service operatives and fellow staff were constantly watching anyone suspected of sedition. Suzzallo’s war work and rising notoriety in both the state and national politics made him all the more paranoid about sedition in lumber mills, shipyards and on campus. Employing the power granted by the Council of Defense, Suzzallo took the matter of sedition on campus upon himself. He confided in Ruth Karr McKee, a regent and fellow Council of Defense member, that he had, "unusual opportunities to keep watch on the instructional staff." Suzzallo requested that the federal Secret Service watch all persons of German descent and those in the German department and he mobilized his own secret service within the university. Suzzallo took these matters into his own hands, no doubt part of his duty as one of those "few experts" to be trusted during a time when pacifists, Wobblies and professors were viewed as serious threats to the war effort and business.
Professors like J. Allen Smith and instructor Theresa McMahon were likely among those Suzzallo were keeping tabs on. Both were staunch supporters of unions, fought for the eight-hour day and lectured on labor issues. Both donated time and funds to the labor movement. McMahon, an instructor in the Economics department, received a payment of $60 for lectures she had given to the Workers College in late 1919. She returned the check noting that the school was in need of funds and offered her support, wishing "success in your future work with the college."
Smith, one student recalled, was a vehement liberal who gave impassioned lectures. Smith once reportedly delivered a lecture on free speech after a ruling on left wing mail restrictions was issued. "Smith was a ruddy-faced fella to begin with," the student remembers, "but on this occasion he was so heated up that his face went purple." Smith spoke to the class, half of which was uniformed soldiers, concluding his speech, he dramatically, "raised his fists. He says, ‘America is not fit to be a member of the Society of Masons.’" The student remembers thinking it "a very bold piece of behavior." Indeed it was bold behavior from a man who would send an undisclosed amount of money to the labor journal, the Union Record, telling Editor Ault that he did not care to make the matter public. Whether Smith’s statement was inspired by modesty or fear of retribution is unknown. It can safely be said, however, that despite Suzzallo and the regent’s crackdown on dissidents, free thinkers did exist and communicate with the labor movement.
Support and disdain for labor did not come solely from the management and faculty of the University. Students played just as varied and important roles in the years building up to and during the General Strike as their elders. Students protested, spied, worked as strike breakers, joined unions and were as much a part of the labor controversies of the day as anyone. The average student was probably like the average faculty member, supportive of war efforts and the Council of Defense and wary of radicals, especially the I.W.W. There were students who, like their elder counterparts, were stationed at ideological opposites on labor issues as well, however, they appear to have been the minority.
Of those students who were labor oriented, their experiences on campus and off during the war and strike years were springboards to careers as leftists and labor advocates. Harvey O’Connor, who was briefly enrolled at the University, was working his way through the ranks of labor journalism, writing for the Daily Call with Anna Louise Strong, the International Weekly and the Union Record. O’Connor’s early activism matured into full-length books on labor topics, including a history of radicalism in Washington State. Like O’Connor, Garland Ethel’s early years at the University made lasting impressions on the budding leftist. Both left invaluable records of their impressions of Seattle, labor and the University during the era.
O’Connor, who grew up around Tacoma, became interested in labor at an early age and upon coming to Seattle to attend the University in 1914, became involved in labor issues in Seattle. He was a member of the Social-Democratic Club of the University of Washington, a club that all but disappeared from the records when the war broke out. The UW club was a charter of the larger New York based Intercollegiate Socialist Society, a group founded by Socialist authors Upton Sinclair and Jack London. The Social-Democrat Club disintegrated during the years Suzzallo was President. The club may have been suppressed, but it is more likely that member like O’Connor found college too conservative and dropped out. O’Connor had quit the University by February of 1919 when the General Strike took place but his activities as a labor journalist, particularly since he was editing the International Weekly at the time, won him a place in jail with other alleged conspirators of labor unrest following the Strike. O’Connor and his friend from Tacoma Hays Jones were arrested in the Seattle Police’s Red roundups days after the Strike came to a halt.
O’Connor and Jones, the University of Washington Daily reported, were among the thirty-nine alleged radicals rounded up by the police. O’Connor, the paper stated, faced charges of "publishing matter tending to incite a breach of the peace," and "criminal anarchy, punishable by not more than ten years in the state penitentiary and a fine of not more than $5000 or both. O’Connor also faced a gross misdemeanor charge.
Hayes Jones, O’Connor’s friend, was according to the UW Daily, a source of I.W.W. propaganda who had only evaded conscription due to the fact that he was missing two fingers on his right hand (possibly a lumber mill accident?). He was a laborite who in addition to working on the Daily Call took a job working on the construction of Camp Lewis in the summer of 1917. Jones and his politics did not last long there, he was "escorted outside the camp and sent on his way,’ after being warned by Secret Service men to "discontinue his I.W.W. propaganda." Jones was also reportedly behind the 1915 student protests against military training on campus.
If the Daily article demonstrates the general feeling of University of Washington students, radicalism was not particularly popular. Harvey O’Connor recalled in 1964 that during the strikes, "students at the University, most of whom came from the middle and upper classes, were paid to act as guards in their ROTC uniforms ‘to help save the world from the Bolsheviki.’" Indeed, much of the student body stood faithfully behind its expert leader, Dr. Suzzallo.
Perhaps one of the most telling documents of Suzzallo’s influence on campus is a letter from the Associated Students of the University of Washington President, Walter Hodge addressing the strike crisis that had come to the state. Hodge, writing to express the student opinion on campus, pledged the students’ support of "whatever action you may in your discretion deem advisable." Hodge requested that should a need arise that students be allowed to protect state property on campus, Suzzallo’s home and sorority houses from the mounting "ultra violent element (that) might wish to take vengeance upon the University for any Sate action which they might resent."
Hodge’s letter is evidence of the amazing influence Suzzallo had upon his students as well as the mounting fears that made radicalism hazardous on campus. Hodge pledges the students’ unquestioning faith in Suzzallo’s discretion. Students were eager to prove themselves as loyal defenders of state property and the virtue of campus sororities. The male organizations on campus were called upon to bolster the Seattle Police department; members of fraternities, R.O.T.C. and other groups went downtown to be deputized and issued clubs and guns. One former deputy, not from the University, recalled twenty-eight years later that "it was a wonder that some darn fool kid with bullets in his gun didn’t blow somebody’s head off." Indeed it was a wonder after years of war-hype of defense and warnings of the domestic radical threat, there was a certain trigger-happy mood among many students on campus.
The war era was one punctuated by Secret Services and Minutemen spying. Suzzallo set up a voluntary secret service within the university and had access to all the state secret services and even asked the Federal Secret Service to watch the German Department as well as people of German birth and descent. However, the government and Defense Councils were not the only ones spying. One student, Garland Ethel, returned from the war and enrolled in the University in January of 1919 as a part-time student. Ethel worked to support himself and attend school and had joined the blacksmith’s union, but lacking funds for civilian clothes he continued to wear his uniform. It was that uniform that camouflaged him from unsuspecting business people who expressed their concern about labor unrest to him openly.
Ethel recalled that during the strike wealthy people "cultivated the people in uniform," possibly for protection. Members of these "superior classes" would pick up uniformed men on University Way and take them wherever they wanted to go. Most uniformed men, Ethel believes were headed down to volunteer, "for anti-strike, anti-revolutionary services." Uniformed students, Ethel remembers were immediately issued a gun and ammunition as reserve police forces. Taking advantage of his position Ethel rode around the city with, "these people of property and substance," who would "sound off" to him. Ethel reported whatever information he had heard to the strike committee at headquarters daily.
Ethel, Hays and O’Connor’s pro-strike actions are important to the understanding of a lively, if small group of student labor sympathizers. For all their efforts, the U.W. campus was for the most part dedicated to Suzzallo and his more conservative ideals. The Student body, like much of the country, had embraced the leadership of people like Suzzallo during the war. The war effort t brought great ideological and political change to Seattle, and certainly to the University. Prior to the war the University was where students organized against mandatory military training, where student Socialist groups met and leftist politics were widely discussed. By the end of the war, at the time of the General Strike, the prevailing attitude of the University had become far more conservative.
Henry Suzzallo was the driving force behind much of that change. His own shifting views of organized labor coincided with appointment to the State Council of Defense. While heading the Council, Suzzallo became more and more wary of the power of organized labor, particularly the power of the I.W.W. Suspicions of sedition were not limited to the labor camps; many University professors and students found the campus an increasingly hostile place for labor sympathizers and Socialists. Some, like Harvey O’Connor, left of their own accord to pursue intellectual discourse in more sympathetic communities. Professors like Theresa McMahon and J. Allen Smith persevered with the support of powerful labor leaders, while professors in the German Department, hounded by war-hysteria, resigned.
Suzzallo was a powerful force in the city, that state and most definitely on campus. He had a profound impact on the political makeup of the University, and while not a great advocate of leftist thought, he at times tolerated it. Suzzallo embraced his duties to state and country serving on mediation boards and the State Council of Defense. His work outside the University brought him into close contact with business interest and heads of state, people whose ideas about labor, radicalism, and patriotism reflected and influenced his own changing beliefs. Suzzallo, supported by these interests, tried to indoctrinate the University, influencing much of an independent student body to join the war effort and suppress sedition, in all its forms.
The University of Washington underwent a great change in attitudes about labor in a few short years under Suzzallo. The small contingent of student radicals that had been active on campus had for the most part left. Suzzallo had made campus a militaristic place that was hostile for radical students. The remaining student body had ceased to be the pro-active community, instead they unquestioningly followed those few experts like Suzzallo. The same student body that in 1915 supported an anti-militarism club lined up at the door of the Seattle Police Department in 1919 to guard the city from radicals.
©1999 Patrick Farrell