Hope Hale Davis

Hope Hale Davis

Hope Hale Davis, the fifth and youngest child of Hal and Frances McFarland Hale, was born in Iowa City, on 2nd November, 1903. Her father, a high school principal, died soon after her birth and her mother married John Overholt. After her step-father's death, the family moved to Washington. (1)

Hope studied at the Corcoran School of Art and George Washington University, as well as Cincinnati University and the Portland School of Art. In 1924 she became assistant to the art director of the Stuart Walker Repertory Company. While working for company, she met and married her first husband, scenery designer George Patrick Wood. The marriage was short-lived. (2)

Hope moved to New York City and she briefly worked as a secretary to an advertising executive at the Frank Presbrey Agency. According to Stephen Miller: "Despite having no college education, she found work writing advertising jingles for cereals (she wrote that her male boss took credit for her work)". (3) She left to become a freelance writer, publishing stories in magazines such as Collier's Weekly, The New Yorker and Life Magazine. (4)

Hope Hale Davis & Claud Cockburn

On 18th February 1932 Hope Hale married the British journalist, Claud Cockburn. (5) At the time he was working for The Times. However, the Great Depression had a dramatic impact on Cockburn's political opinions. He now considered himself a Marxist. Hope later wrote of Cockburn: "I wanted what a woman has traditionally asked of a lover going off to war - his qualities and his heritage." She was attracted to him for his "charm, gaiety, mischief and wit" and the way he made people laugh. But privately with her, she added, he would talk seriously about how "we could sweep away all these disgraces at once and build a new society that would rule them out forever". (6) Hope gave birth to Claudia Cockburn but the marriage did not last.

The New Deal

In 1933 Hope Hale went to work in the Consumers' Counsel of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA), under Frederic C. Howe. He had been appointed by George N. Peek, the head of the AAA. Peek later recalled that the appointment of Howe and Jerome Frank, the AAA's general counsel was "one of the two big mistakes he had made setting up the AAA." (7) Peek claimed that the AAA "was crawling with... fanatic-like... socialists and internationalists."

While working at the AAA she met Karl Hermann Brunck: "He (Karl Hermann Brunck) was sturdy, but not tall... He expected people to take him seriously, and I responded, though maybe subliminally, to the way he held himself in his gray linen suit, and even the burnished glow of the heavy brogues he wore." (8) Brunck joined the National Recovery Administration as an economist. He argued that President Franklin Roosevelt was well-meaning but believed his New Deal program lacked a distinct political philosophy. He told Hope Hale Davis that Roosevelt was "like a blind sculptor."

Hope Hale Davis
Hope Hale Davis with her daughter Claudia

Brunck eventually began to appreciate the difference that President Roosevelt had made: "Letting a whole industry get together to set prices and limit production had the effect of canceling all the hard-won antitrust laws, but in return for this the industries had to let unions be legalized. Also, for the first time in history child labor was prohibited. This and the minimum wage of fifteen dollars for a forty-hour week seemed advance enough to balance almost anything. Women in the cotton mills had been earning four or five dollars a week for such long hours that they worked through winter weeks without seeing daylight. Children spent their childhood rushing from one loom to another tying threads with their tiny nimble fingers, until they collapsed with tuberculosis and their little brothers and sisters took their places." (9)

Communist Party

In 1934 Hope Hale divorced Claud Cockburn and married Karl Hermann Brunck. The same year, they both joined the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA). They were invited to the home of Charles Kramer, for their first meeting. Also in attendance were Mildred Kramer, Victor Perlo and Marion Bachrach. Kramer explained that the CPUSA was organized in units. "Charles... explained that... we would try to limit our knowledge of other members, in case of interrogation, possible torture. Such an idea, he admitted, might seem rather remote in the radical Washington climate, but climates could change fast. In most places members of units knew each other only by their Party pseudonyms, so as not to be able to give real names if questioned."

Kramer explained that as members they were expected to contribute money to the CPUSA: "Basically they would be ten per-cent of our salary, plus occasional extras. We had been warned of this... Charles was explaining that more was expected of us as a privileged group. Our salaries - even in the Depression - were far above the average comrade's. We were permitted - in fact, urged - to win career advancement, usually impossible for open activists. Extra assessments from us would help support comrades who could not make public appeals for funds. While rallies in Madison Square Garden could collect money for such causes as the Scottsboro Boys, there were unknown comrades in the South living on almost nothing - eating with the sharecroppers they were trying to organize - alone and always in danger of being beaten up or shot. We could think of our money going to help them."

Kramer also told the group that in future they should obtain their copies of the Daily Worker and the New Masses from him instead of newsstands. "We must keep away from any place where leftists might gather. We must avoid, as far as possible, associating with radicals, difficult as that would be in Washington." Even outspoken liberals such as Jerome Frank and Gardner Jackson "were out of bounds". Kramer added "we couldn't go near any public protests or rallies."

Hope Hale was encouraged to get articles on politics published in national magazine. Marion Bachrach told the group that she had recently had an a piece published in Atlantic Monthly. Bachrach was currently working on an article on education: "Marion reported that she was writing a profile of a typical American teacher, one lucky enough to be still employed. A quarter of a million teachers had no job, and a huge number worked without pay. In eighteen states they were paid in IOU vouchers called scrip, for which they could never get the stated value. Low as salaries already were, they were constantly being cut. Even so, Chicago owed back salaries amounting to $28 million. Marion's figures showed that at least 200,000 children couldn't go to school for lack of clothes. And there would be many more, she said, but for the teachers themselves. In New York City alone they had given over $3 million to buy hot lunches, shoes and so on, for the children who otherwise wouldn't be able to come to school. Marion planned to show the teacher in her everyday life, handing out her own lunch to hungry-eyed kids around her desk, slipping a sweater or a pair of socks to a cold child in the cloakroom. If teachers hadn't made these sacrifices the country's educational system would have fallen apart totally in the past five years." Bachrach said she hoped to get the article published in Scribner's Magazine.

The meeting reminded Hope Hale of the words of Arthur Koestler, who in his memoir, Arrow in the Blue, describes his first meeting with a group of comrades as "one of those rare moments when intellectual conviction is in complete harmony with feeling, when your reason approves of your euphoria, and your emotion is as lover to your thought." She recalled in Great Day Coming: A Memoir of the 1930s (1994): "It was true for me that night, though I couldn't have analyzed it if I had tried - though I wish I had. I just told Hermann that I'd never been so stimulated in my life. That delighted him. We hurried home newly elated toward another night together." (10)

Hope Hale was told to read and understand the Daily Worker and the New Masses (the litrary magazine meant to nattract liberals"). She claimed that it reminded her of her childhood when she was forced to read the Bible. The Party required us to read it, just as Mother had required me to read not only the Bible but the Christian Herald."

Hope Hale and Karl Hermann Brunck, attended one meeting addressed by Joszef Peter. Other members at the meeting included Lee Pressman, Marion Bachrach and John Abt. "Steve (Joszef Peter) had made the trip to give us authoritative answers to our larger questions." Brunck criticised the way party publications had attacked Sidney Hook. "When Hermann's turn came he mentioned reviews in Party publications of a recent book by the philosopher Sidney Hook. Wouldn't Party critics have a more convincing effect, he asked, by analyzing and demolishing the book's arguments on philosophical grounds rather than using the space for invective? Peter replied: "This kind of stupid talk I never expected tonight! To call by the name philosophy the filth that renegade spews out!"

Hope recalled that "Hermann went on to say that we members of the lower ranks couldn't keep questioning policies. The Party's strength lay in its unity. Any attempt to change the agreed-on position would lead to fragmentation, breaking up into weak and ineffectual splinter groups. I loved Hermann for this ability to be objective even about what he might well have resented as a personal insult. It showed an inner assurance that attracted me strongly." However, after Joszef Peter's outburst, "comrades asked only cautious questions after that." (11)

Chester R. Davis

Chester R. Davis replaced George N. Peek as head of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA). He was determined to remove the left-wing elements in the AAA. In February 1935, Davis insisted that Jerome Frank and Alger Hiss should be dismissed. Davis told Frank "I've had a chance to watch you and I think you are an outright revolutionary, whether you realize it or not".

Rexford Tugwell claimed that Hope Hale's boss, Frederic C. Howe was "the subject of vitriolic attacks by the business interests" and was "pictured as a Red". (12) Davis now decided to get rid of Howe. He later recalled: "Fred Howe was a man of high ideals and very practical sense. He was the 'turn the other cheek' type. He was a well-meaning man who permitted his organization to be loaded down with a group of people who were more concerned with stirring up discontent than they were with achieving the objectives of the act." (13) Hope Hale believed he did a great job as the head of the Consumers' Counsel and was extremely upset when he was forced to resign from the AAA in 1935. Davis commented "he had been dismissed for no other reason than that he had tried to protect the consumer, as the law required." (14)

Hope Hale Davis & Harold Ware

Hope Hale met Harold Ware who was a consultant to the AAA. She described Ware as having a voice that was "always easy sounding, unlike the staccato of most Party men" and was reassured by Ware's "tanned lean face, his rolled-up blue shirt sleeves showing the muscles in his forearms". (15) Hope joined Ware's "discussion group" that included Charles Kramer, Alger Hiss, Nathaniel Weyl, John Abt, Laurence Duggan, Harry Dexter White, Abraham George Silverman, Nathan Witt, Marion Bachrach, Julian Wadleigh, Henry H. Collins, Lee Pressman, Charles Kramer and Victor Perlo. Ware was working very close with Joszef Peter, the "head of the underground section of the American Communist Party." It was claimed that Peter's design for the group of government agencies, to "influence policy at several levels" as their careers progressed". Weyl later recalled that every member of the Ware Group was also a member of the CPUSA: "No outsider or fellow traveller was ever admitted... I found the secrecy uncomfortable and disquieting." (16)

Whittaker Chambers was a key figure in the Ware Group: "The Washington apparatus to which I was attached led its own secret existence. But through me, and through others, it maintained direct and helpful connections with two underground apparatuses of the American Communist Party in Washington. One of these was the so-called Ware group, which takes its name from Harold Ware, the American Communist who was active in organizing it. In addition to the four members of this group (including himself) whom Lee Pressman has named under oath, there must have been some sixty or seventy others, though Pressman did not necessarily know them all; neither did I. All were dues-paying members of the Communist Party. Nearly all were employed in the United States Government, some in rather high positions, notably in the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior, the National Labor Relations Board, the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, the Railroad Retirement Board, the National Research Project - and others." (17)

Hope Hale Davis - Soviet Spy

Hope Hale claimed that Harold Ware "directed the Washington underground". He told her and Karl Hermann Brunck that the "Party wanted us to rise fast in our professions to be ready" for what he called the "next stage". They were asked to obtain any government documents that would be useful to the Soviet Union. Although they agreed to do this Hope Hale claimed the material was of little importance. She later told the Boston Globe: "The only thing I ever stole from the Department of Agriculture was the formula for making soybean milk." (18)

In July, 1935, Ware asked Brunck if he ever visited the German Embassy. When he said no he was asked: "How about wangling an invitation for yourself?" According to Hope Hale Davis Ware told him: "This might be a good moment to become persona grata there. The task was essential, and Hermann was uniquely qualified." Brunck set about the task and two weeks later they visited the embassy to attend a reception for Leni Riefenstahl and managed to have several conversations with staff members.

The operation came to an end when Harold Ware was killed in a car accident in Harrisburg on 14th August, 1935. Hope later recalled: "On one of Hal's trips among the Pennsylvania mines his car crashed into a coal truck and he was killed... Someone said Hal had been trying to avoid a school bus. And we all knew he would have been driving too fast." Brunck commented that he always drove "as if the devil was after him." (19) The death caused great confusion in the spy network. Hope Hale later explained that unit heads suspended meetings and there was to be "no unnecessary contact with other members... if we had to communicate, we must use the conspiratorial techniques we had learned, such as pay phones at preplanned hours and intervals."

Death of Karl Hermann Brunck

It has been claimed by Stephen Miller that Brunck's spying activities caused him to have a mental breakdown. (20) Brunck was taken to Chestnut Lodge in Rockville, Maryland, where he was treated by Dr. Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, the former wife of Erich Fromm. Brunck's wife was told, "No one really knows (why he was suffering from this mental illness)... All we can say for sure about his sort of illness is that it has its roots in the failure of the parents - commonly the mother figure - to provide emotional security in infancy. This causes a weak ego organization, inability to give and receive love on an adult level." (21)

Karl Hermann Brunck made several attempts to kill himself. On one occasion he tried to do it when the hospital allowed him to spend the weekend with his wife. Hope Hale Davis recalled what happened in her memoir, Great Day Coming: A Memoir of the 1930s (1994): "In the kitchen Mimi had Hermann locked in a grip from behind, pinning his arms against his body. Hermann's hand gripped the carving knife... He was jerking and flinging himself from side to side, trying to wrench away from her. I ran and seized Hermann's wrist, but he was stronger than I expected. Slender as his wrist was in my two hands, he was able to twist the knife suddenly, first toward himself and then toward me. I had to step back to escape its thrust. Incredulous, I cried out his name, protesting, but he seemed not to hear. His face was pale and distracted, absent looking, yet with an expression of impersonal resolve. Then for a moment anger contorted it as he summoned the force to break away. For all Mimi's strength, his body's spasmodic heaves of effort were becoming almost too much for us. As I clung to his wrist I was half lifted off my feet and swung to one side and then the other, the knife jerking in directions I was never prepared for. Hermann really intended, I soon realized, to point the knife toward his own neck. I concentrated on preventing this, forgetting to guard against the rebound, when to loosen my hands he suddenly shifted the position of his. The knife grazed my cheek." (22)

At the sight of Hope's blood he relaxed his hold. "At that moment Mimi let go of one arm and brought her right hand down with a chop that sent the knife clattering to the floor. I caught it up and carried it away. When I had hidden it I came back to hear Mimi trying to argue with him openly against suicide. I begged him to promise not to try it again, but he only looked around desperately as if for another method."

Karl Hermann Brunck returned to Chestnut Lodge but in 1937 "the most elementary routine precautions had been neglected, and Hermann had used a belt to hang himself." (23) Hope Hale Davis has suggested that his suicide was linked to his disillusionment with the Soviet Union. "Had Hermann seen this, that autumn of 1935, when he found truths that conflicted with his commitment to the Party? In confronting that choice he retreated into madness. When I look back at my last visit at Stony Lodge, his frown of fear and foreboding seems all too sane; his ominous words express dread of a terrible reality. I even wonder if he saw this risk from the beginning, when I was so fervent, so eager to take the step from which his nature held him back. I laughed at his caution, at his need to consider consequences. Might not his foresight have added unbearably to the conflict between his Party duties and his loyalty to those who trusted him?" (24)

Hope Hale returned to New York City in 1939 where she worked as a free-lance writer. She married literary critic Robert Gorham Davis later that year. They both left the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) after the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. (25) "We who were self-blinded suffer the further pain of shame. Not shame that we joined in the fight, which indeed must be renewed and renewed, as long as people are still ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and brutally tortured. My shame is in the terms of my joining: I forfeited my most essential freedom, to think for myself. Instead of keeping my wits about me, I gave them over to others, believing big lies and rejecting truths as big as millions starving. No excuse can lighten the knowledge that I used my brain and talents in defense of Stalin." (26)

Hope Hale Davis, who remained a "committed leftist" (27) continued to work as a journalist and in 1985 began teaching at Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (28) In 1998 published a book of short-stories, The Dark Way to the Plaza. An autobiography, Great Day Coming: A Memoir of the 1930s appeared in 1994.

Hope Hale Davis died just a month short of her 101st birthday on 2nd October, 2004.

Primary Sources

(1) Hope Hale Davis, Great Day Coming: A Memoir of the 1930s (1994)

He was sturdy, but not tall, compared to Claud's willowy six feet four. And though Claud took a genuine interest in other people, he could hardly enter a room before he became the center of a group listening and laughing. They would hear some comic tale such as his being swindled at age eighteen in a Budapest castle by a shady count teaching him Hungarian. Claud's sort of self-mocking humor required a special kind of assurance - maybe cultivated only in England.

This man's confidence was different, but real. He expected people to take him seriously, and I responded, though maybe subliminally, to the way he held himself in his gray linen suit, and even the burnished glow of the heavy brogues he wore. My conscious interest was in his knowledge of Russian.

A little, he said: just what he had picked up during three weeks in the Soviet Union last summer. He stood waiting with the towel for me to wrap the baby in.

While I powdered the crevices in the baby's solid pink body he talked about Moscow, the parks of Culture and Rest. They really swarmed, he said, with people playing games (soccer and chess), listening to concerts or just sitting reading. Everyone had learned to read, and they were all reading!

His manner of speaking - the inflection pure American but with a European edge of precision - gave a convincing effect of accuracy. Since he had come to Washington for an interview at the National Recovery Administration, he might clear up some of my confusion. "Does your taking a job at NRA," I asked, "mean you believe in Roosevelt's grand schemes?"

He said he doubted if even Roosevelt did, or knew what he would do from one day to the next. "He's like a blind sculptor."

That statement caught my attention, as it deserved to. Later I could see more than one meaning in it. But that day I heard it as he intended simply dismissive. I told him it was the first straight talk I'd heard since I left New York. (20)

(2) Hope Hale Davis, Great Day Coming: A Memoir of the 1930s (1994)

At first his letters had caused me problems. Claud was the one I wanted letters from and Hermann's handwriting was almost illegible.

But I soon began to value them, even when they were only brief accounts of talk among the Marxists in the John Reed Club. He reported their ridicule of his prospective chief, General Hugh Johnson, and the campaign to get industry's compliance with the National Recovery Administration. The president was helping; in his Fireside Chats he urged consumers to buy only where they could see the NRA sign with its blue eagle and the words We Do Our Part.

"The crazy thing is that it's working," Hermann said, "even on me." He had accepted the Washington job, in spite of misgivings.

Letting a whole industry get together to set prices and limit production had the effect of canceling all the hard-won antitrust laws, but in return for this the industries had to let unions be legalized. Also, for the first time in history child labor was prohibited. This and the minimum wage of fifteen dollars for a forty-hour week seemed advance enough to balance almost anything. Women in the cotton mills had been earning four or five dollars a week for such long hours that they worked through winter weeks without seeing daylight. Children spent their childhood rushing from one loom to another tying threads with their tiny nimble fingers, until they collapsed with tuberculosis and their little brothers and sisters took their places.

Gradually I began to look forward to his letters. He was making me see the schemes and patterns, the power plays behind the events in the news. They helped me wake up from my heat-drugged days of waiting, to exercise my mind (to a limited degree, at least). I began transcribing some of his reports and sending them to Claud; soon in an issue of The Week I recognized an item of New Deal gossip Hermann had picked up from his friend John Donovan.
John had already started at NRA, working in the unit set up to enforce Section 7a guaranteeing the right of workers to organize. Hermann's ambivalence about this "wild-eyed red" was a bit like the mix of attraction and resistance I had felt in grammar school for the bad boy of the class. But Hermann had come much farther from eighth grade than I had. It was a long time before I really understood this, and by then it was too late.

In September he wrote of watching a huge Blue Eagle parade down Fifth Avenue, which had lasted from morning till midnight, people marching all that time, bands playing "Happy Days Are Here Again," the atmosphere festive and exhilarated. "They think everyone will have a job tomorrow, at thirty a week," Hermann wrote. "They're in for a big come-down." And yet their excitement had been infectious. "It was just a matter of numbers, I suppose. All those millions marching together. Nothing has ever been seen like it. I kept thinking what a kick you'd have got out of it"

(3) Hope Hale Davis, Great Day Coming: A Memoir of the 1930s (1994)

We set out for our first Party meeting on a mild winter evening. To passersby we must have appeared as we were meant to - just one more strolling pair of lovers. "Act as if you're visiting us socially," Charles had murmured, bending over my desk with his finger on a line of milk-price figures.

As we walked I must have said it felt strange to go to a meeting on the very Euclid Street where at age eighteen I had lived with my mother in a "light housekeeping" room. Refusing to go to Iowa university as a poor "town girl" I wanted to be "independent." But Mother had come with me to Washington.

The Kramer apartment was not in one of those row houses, where everyone sees who comes and goes. In a modern building, with an unusual entrance at the back, it seemed almost too obviously suited for conspiratorial purposes.

There was no lobby, just a bare, open stairway, where we found Charles leaning over the fourth-floor railing. As we reached the top he greeted us with a warm smile I had never seen before.

In the office I had first met him as a morose man named Krevisky. The change to Kramer had not caused much comment, perhaps because he never took part in the camaraderie of the staff. Among all these vocal New Dealers his silence had made me curious. When I came to know him better I would realize that he had to keep his lips shut tight to hold in his rage and scorn.

Inside the apartment his wife Mildred was waiting, a shy southern girl with ash-blond hair and the pallor of the Appalachian children whose pictures we had been publishing in our articles about how Subsistence Homesteads would better their lot. Beyond her, in the light of a bridge lamp, a boy knelt trying to untie a bundle wrapped in brown paper. He looked up distractedly, biting his lip and brushing back his hair, when Charles spoke his name, Victor Perlo. A mathematical prodigy, he had been at City College in New York with Charles. Now at age twenty-one he was a full-fledged statistician. The other member of the unit, Marion Bachrach, looked small and hunched in a deep canvas sling chair. But her face was fine-featured, with intelligent brown eyes and smiling, receptive lips.

Charles began talking in an assured voice I hardly recognized as his. He explained that though there might be changes - a comrade had already been drawn away to head another unit - we would try to limit our knowledge of other members, in case of interrogation, possible torture. Such an idea, he admitted, might seem rather remote in the radical Washington climate, but climates could change fast. In most places members of units knew each other only by their Party pseudonyms, so as not to be able to give real names if questioned. But here in Washington, where the New Dealers were always meeting one another socially, we'd run the opposite risk, of using the Party name at the wrong time. But though they would be used only on official records, we should each choose one now.

I listed myself as Mary MacFarland, after my strong-willed, talented musician aunt who had died in Mother's arms at the age of twenty. To me she was a romantic figure; for exactly the opposite reasons Hermann chose the unremarkable name, Walter Becker.

Continuing about precautions, Charles warned us that Marion's husband, who as a nonmember must be kept in ignorance, caused practical problems. Marion had made every effort to bring him close enough to recruit, but though sympathetic he had the typical liberal's fear of committing himself. Charles turned to Marion. "is that a fair statement?"

"Let's just put it," Marion said, "that he's a wise old bird."

Charles smiled, but in a strained way. Even I, new to the Party, felt a slight shock. It would take a while to learn that under Marion's mischief was a dedication deeper than that of many comrades who religiously parroted the official line.

She would rise to the next-to-highest national rank in the Party, be indicted under the Smith Act, and escape trial only by death. Charles went on to say that Marion was a writer who had published in Atlantic Monthly. We would hear later about her project.

But first came collection of dues. Basically they would be ten per-cent of our salary, plus occasional extras. We had been warned of this. It had given Hermann some concern, since he sent a regular stipend to his friend Ernst, who was on the last lap of his doctorate in chemistry. But we could manage, I was sure. Mary and I had proposed a consumer column to McCall's magazine which they seemed about to take. And in free-lancing I had ranged from Snappy Stories to the New Yorker.

Charles was explaining that more was expected of us as a privileged group. Our salaries - even in the Depression - were far above the average comrade's. We were permitted - in fact, urged - to win career advancement, usually impossible for open activists. Extra assessments from us would help support comrades who could not make public appeals for funds. While rallies in Madison Square Garden could collect money for such causes as the Scottsboro Boys, there were unknown comrades in the South living on almost nothing - eating with the sharecroppers they were trying to organize - alone and always in danger of being beaten up or shot. We could think of our money going to help them.

I hardly needed his persuasion any more, I suppose, than my mother had needed the minister's persuasion to find somehow an extra quarter or half dollar for a foreign missionary. And Party dues of ten percent-thirty dollars out of my three hundred a month seemed quite normal to one whose mother tithed. She had given to the Lord's work ten percent of an income that was sometimes as low as fifteen dollars a month, even including what my oldest brother earned by chopping wood for neighbors.

Hermann was taking out his penknife; he cut the cord that Victor Perlo had been struggling to untie. (When he told me later that he had seen the address - John Smith on Third Street northeast I had visions of a murky cellarway over beyond the Capitol. A dark figure was emerging with this bundle, hurrying across the sidewalk, glancing over his shoulder, tossing his burden into a shabby black coupe and speeding away. One day I would take my turn at being that dark figure.)

On the floor were stacks of the Daily Worker, the thick red Communist, the red and white Communist International, the violent black and white New Masses, and the mimeographed agitprop bulletin.

Hermann declined New Masses, saying he had bought it at the newsstand on Pennsylvania Avenue. Charles told him sharply never to go there again. We must keep away from any place where leftists might gather. We must avoid, as far as possible, associating with radicals, difficult as that would be in Washington. Even liberals, outspoken ones such as Gardner Jackson, Charles said, looking my way, were out of bounds. This saddened me. Pat had been so kind a friend.

Obviously, Charles added, we couldn't go near any public protests or rallies.

This disappointed me, remembering Trafalgar Square, feeling part of a huge crowd unified in the same uplifting urgency. But these directives carried their own charge, setting our group apart, preparing us to face our own hard challenges.

The literature we had to buy cost almost ten dollars. This, plus the dues, almost exactly equalled the wages I paid Mamie, the cheerful woman who now brought Claudia home for lunch and put her to bed. Hermann had insisted on hiring her after going once with me to pick up Claudia after work. Sitting on the nurse's lap she had seemed quite contented, but at her first sight of me large round tears had spurted from her eyes, splashing on the floor. Mamie must stay, whatever else we gave up to the Party.

When Victor Perlo had bundled up the leftover literature, he gave a report on the national news, starting with Roosevelt's appointment of Joseph P. Kennedy as chairman of the new Stock Exchange Commission. He called it a capitulation to the most vicious political elements. A Wall Street operator himself, Kennedy had made his millions in bootlegging. Such facts were probably a fraction of the truth, Vic said; but enough to rid us of the illusion that FDR was "any better than a glorified ward heeler."

These words were painful to hear. I knew Roosevelt was a politician, but nothing I learned about his compromises could keep his voice from stirring me physically. Sometimes I spent a night in erotic, idolatrous contact with him, waking to a sense of privilege which might stay with me for days. When I told Hermann about my dream he did not laugh. He envied me in a way; he himself could not remember ever having dreamed. Because I was a posthumous child, he said, I was even more vulnerable than most, but the whole population right now felt a childlike need of a father figure. I resisted this. I had no wish to share that private intimacy with 120 million people.

Marion reported that she was writing a profile of a typical American teacher, one lucky enough to be still employed. A quarter of a million teachers had no job, and a huge number worked without pay. In eighteen states they were paid in IOU vouchers called scrip, for which they could never get the stated value. Low as salaries already were, they were constantly being cut. Even so, Chicago owed back salaries amounting to $28 million.

Marion's figures showed that at least 200,000 children couldn't go to school for lack of clothes. And there would be many more, she said, but for the teachers themselves. In New York City alone they had given over $3 million to buy hot lunches, shoes and so on, for the children who otherwise wouldn't be able to come to school.

Marion planned to show the teacher in her everyday life, handing out her own lunch to hungry-eyed kids around her desk, slipping a sweater or a pair of socks to a cold child in the cloakroom.

If teachers hadn't made these sacrifices the country's educational system would have fallen apart totally in the past five years.

Charles asked dubiously where she planned to publish this. In the Atlantic, Marion hoped, or Scribner's. Vic waved his hand urgently. When he got the floor he asked why she should glorify a group of fuzzy-minded liberals who were only postponing the moment when the workers would seize the means of education. He moved that the comrade point this out, showing how piecemeal charity was reactionary reformism; that these inequities could not be corrected under capitalism.

"But if she put that in," I asked before I could stop myself, "where could she publish her piece?"

"Exactly." Marion's grateful glance may have begun the collaboration that would bind us so close. She said that what Vic had outlined would fit into the Sunday Worker but would come as no surprise to its readers. Whereas she could reach a wider audience, one less political. And mightn't such readers one day become important to us? Having them friendly - or at least not hostile could make a crucial difference when the chips were down.

Charles thought she had a point there. The Party needed to "neutralize" potential class enemies. But Vic insisted that any valuable material we had must be used to strengthen the voice of the Party.

Hermann said in his reflective way that he was struck by how often the Times quoted quite radical statements by New Dealers. Didn't that suggest that the middle class at the moment was more ready to listen than we might assume? He proposed that our comrade use her material doubly. She could first follow her strong impulse, then afterward put her facts into form for Party publication.

"That's the second Gordian knot he's cut tonight," Marion cried.

The group agreed on a plan to have editorials ready to go into Party publications when Marion's article was published, calling attention to it and making any points that seemed strategically desirable.

It was the sort of consensus that Hermann often brought about during the next few months. Soon he would be put in charge of a new unit of high-powered, neurotic economists...

On the way home Hermann was silent at first. I wondered what Charles had asked him to do. But from now on we would have to have secrets from each other.

I couldn't hold back my relief at the prediction of Hitler's downfall. And I remember the doubtful way Hermann said he hoped they were right. But ever since 1924 he had heard the line, "Hitler can't last."

I suggested the Party might know things that we didn't know. There was Claud's dispatch in The Week about the illegal publications that kept appearing, in spite of Hitler. Sometimes a folded mimeograph would have "Horoscope" outside, and inside would be items of world news that had been suppressed in the newspapers.

Hermann agreed that this sort of mass operation was encouraging, and the great reason for working in the Party. But it may have been then that he spoke worriedly about the engineer's letter. What would happen if it landed in the hands of someone with poor judgment? Suppose this comrade met the engineer and thought from something he said that he was ready to be recruited. Whereas in fact the engineer was a Trotskyist, say, rabid against the Party. Wouldn't he betray the Consumers' Counsel rather than miss a chance to damage the Party? Our office was already suspect because of vocal liberals like Howe and Jackson. If it got out that a letter to the Consumers' Counsel had been given to the CP, the fat would be in the fire. A lot of powerful people were looking for just such an excuse to get rid of the whole group and put in their own puppets.

That was frightening. But surely, I said, the Party would understand the danger and be careful. Hermann hoped they would, but they were human, with built-in fallibility. I refused to let my spirits be damped. "We've joined," I said, "so we've got to trust them." And he agreed.

After a silent step or two, I suddenly stopped short on the sidewalk. The letter had not even been addressed to us. It had been passed on by the Consumer Board of NRA. Hermann laughed, saying that NRA might as well be hung for a lamb as a sheep. He had been talking out of fatigue, he said. The meeting, like all meetings, had been tiring.
Tiring? In my mood the word was unthinkable.

Arthur Koestler's memoir, Arrow in the Blue, describes his first meeting with a group of comrades as "one of those rare moments when intellectual conviction is in complete harmony with feeling, when your reason approves of your euphoria, and your emotion is as lover to your thought." It was true for me that night, though I couldn't have analyzed it if I had tried - though I wish I had. I just told Hermann that I'd never been so stimulated in my life. That delighted him. We hurried home newly elated toward another night together.

(4) Hope Hale Davis, Great Day Coming: A Memoir of the 1930s (1994)

"Steve" was J. Peters, in charge of the Communist underground nationally. On one of his visits to Washington about fifteen of us a sort of chosen elite, mostly unit leaders, some with their wives had gathered at Lee Pressman's new house in the suburbs. Marion Bachrach had come with her brother, John Abt, a handsome brown-eyed lawyer, already important in a quiet way.

Steve had made the trip to give us authoritative answers to our larger questions. When Hermann's turn came he mentioned reviews in Party publications of a recent book by the philosopher Sidney Hook. Wouldn't Party critics have a more convincing effect, he asked, by analyzing and demolishing the book's arguments on philosophical grounds rather than using the space for invective?

Steve's heavy brows had knotted furiously. "This kind of stupid talk I never expected tonight!" he shouted. "To call by the name philosophy the filth that renegade spews out!"

After a moment John rather hesitantly reminded Steve that Hermann, though a new comrade, had faithfully followed Party directives, and was successfully handling a difficult unit. Steve calmed down, probably remembering the material Hermann had carried to the New York waterfront; still, the comrades asked only cautious questions after that.

Driving home I cried out against Steve's unfairness. Hermann explained that Sydney Hook was a former Communist, and his turning against the Party's policies made him seem a traitor. "Just forget what happened tonight." (I couldn't forget it, but I failed to take in its full significance.)

Hermann went on to say that we members of the lower ranks couldn't keep questioning policies. The Party's strength lay in its unity. Any attempt to change the agreed-on position would lead to fragmentation, breaking up into weak and ineffectual splinter groups. I loved Hermann for this ability to be objective even about what he might well have resented as a personal insult. It showed an inner assurance that attracted me strongly. And that night, in a state the Party would have called "confused," I needed his instruction. My memory was still warm with Tresca's charm, his intentness on giving us a superlative meal, his refusal to act the prima donna. Why did the Party hate him so? Was he a Trotskyite? I knew that the very name of the Red Army leader Stalin had exiled after Lenin's death was anathema to the Party.

Tresca was an anarchist, Hermann said. Quite close to the Party until a few years ago, he had suddenly turned against us. When that happened, the Party had to expose him, show the consequences of what he was doing.
But Jerome Frank had told me that Tresca did courageous work against Mussolini among the Italians in this country, and had great influence. Hermann agreed about his bravery in fighting fascists.

(5) Hope Hale Davis, Great Day Coming: A Memoir of the 1930s (1994)

Returning, I knew something was wrong almost before I entered the house. I told Claudia to play outside and rushed up the stairs. At the door I could hear grunting breaths, sounds of struggle.

In the kitchen Mimi had Hermann locked in a grip from behind, pinning his arms against his body. Hermann's hand gripped the carving knife he had used an hour before. He was jerking and flinging himself from side to side, trying to wrench away from her. I ran and seized Hermann's wrist, but he was stronger than I expected. Slender as his wrist was in my two hands, he was able to twist the knife suddenly, first toward himself and then toward me. I had to step back to escape its thrust. Incredulous, I cried out his name, protesting, but he seemed not to hear. His face was pale and distracted, absent looking, yet with an expression of impersonal resolve. Then for a moment anger contorted it as he summoned the force to break away.

For all Mimi's strength, his body's spasmodic heaves of effort were becoming almost too much for us. As I clung to his wrist I was half lifted off my feet and swung to one side and then the other, the knife jerking in directions I was never prepared for. Hermann really intended, I soon realized, to point the knife toward his own neck. I concentrated on preventing this, forgetting to guard against the rebound, when to loosen my hands he suddenly shifted the position of his. The knife grazed my cheek.

Mimi reproached him. Hermann, his face shocked as he saw the scratch, relaxed his hold. At that moment Mimi let go of one arm and brought her right hand down with a chop that sent the knife clattering to the floor. I caught it up and carried it away. When I had hidden it I came back to hear Mimi trying to argue with him openly against suicide. I begged him to promise not to try it again, but he only looked around desperately as if for another method. Mimi told me to phone Chestnut Lodge. Hermann moaned, entreating me not to phone. His voice had changed from before, had lost all fight and resolve. But I had to make the call, which I had agreed to do if things went wrong.

(6) Hope Hale Davis, Great Day Coming: A Memoir of the 1930s (1994)

Naturally I want to face facts honestly. Of course. But it has taken me years, out of range of pressures, to free my conscience from its blind loyalties. Even when much later I was given reason to believe that Trotsky's assassination had been planned in my inner room on Bank Street, I could only hope I would not have agreed to its use if I had known.

When blind people suddenly are given sight they often find it painful at first the harshness, the garish light; it hurts to look at what they have to see.

We who were self-blinded suffer the further pain of shame. Not shame that we joined in the fight, which indeed must be renewed and renewed, as long as people are still ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and brutally tortured. My shame is in the terms of my joining: I forfeited my most essential freedom, to think for myself. Instead of keeping my wits about me, I gave them over to others, believing big lies and rejecting truths as big as millions starving. No excuse can lighten the knowledge that I used my brain and talents in defense of Stalin.

Had Hermann seen this, that autumn of 1935, when he found truths that conflicted with his commitment to the Party? In confronting that choice he retreated into madness. When I look back at my last visit at Stony Lodge, his frown of fear and foreboding seems all too sane; his ominous words express dread of a terrible reality. I even wonder if he saw this risk from the beginning, when I was so fervent, so eager to take the step from which his nature held him back. I laughed at his caution, at his need to consider consequences. Might not his foresight have added unbearably to the conflict between his Party duties and his loyalty to those who trusted him?

We can never be sure of a final answer. But in writing this history I have learned enough to ask the question. And the question is important, not just in its implications for one man's life. Hermann's history becomes a major tragedy when we see him as an early sacrifice of a whole generation of young believers whose lives were damaged by disillusionment in the Soviet Union's false promise. Their loss went far beyond the loss of their years of effort to help keep this promise. It was an irreparable loss, a loss of faith in their own integrity.

(7) Stephen Miller, New York Sun (8th October, 2004)

Hope Hale was born in Iowa, daughter of a schoolteacher and a school superintendent. She left home early and settled at a Washington, D.C., boarding house, living near an older sister. There she met her first husband, a scenery carpenter for a theater company. "I was decorating a Christmas tree," she told the Boston Globe, "and he came in to the parlor and took one look at me - I was, you see, up on the ladder - and a half an hour later he proposed." She toured with the theater company and helped paint sets. "In Cleveland he took out after the stage carpenter, a person he actually respected, with a hatchet. He was quite violent."

Marriage no. 1 having failed, she arrived in New York in the mid-1920s and soon established herself in bohemian society in Greenwich Village. Despite having no college education, she found work writing advertising jingles for cereals (she wrote that her male boss took credit for her work) and then as promotions manager of Life, a humorous weekly magazine that happened to have the same title as Time's later photogenic sibling. She later founded a magazine called Love Mirror that was sold in department stores.

By 1930 she was earning the princessly salary of $4,000 a year, holding formal dinners for the smart set in her basement apartment, and contributing to the Talk of the Town section of The New Yorker. Already possessed of a keen social conscience, she was proud of publishing romantic stories that included tableaux of rural squalor, including the Harlan County coal strike and the plight of sharecroppers.

In 1932, she married Claud Cockburn, the junior New York correspondent for the Times of London. Cockburn was an ardent Stalinist, and although Davis did not join the Communist Party, she fully partook of his vision of "the revolution that had to come." Cockburn would soon return to England and found The Week, the notorious radical paper that was suppressed by the government during World War II. Orwell condemned Cockburn in Homage to Catalonia for issuing communist propaganda during the Spanish Civil War....

Stuck with a baby and little means of support, Davis went to Washington, where she moved into a small cabin near her sister's home and divorced Cockburn. Soon, Davis found work writing consumer guides for the Agricultural Adjustment Agency. There she met a bright young German immigrant economist, Hermann Brunck, and together they embarked on a love affair that revolved around their membership in the Communist Party. They were married in short order before a disapproving minister who chewed jelly beans as he performed the ceremony.

Davis tithed to the party, and even admitted to doing a bit of spying: "The only thing I ever stole from the Department of Agriculture was the formula for making soybean milk," she told the Boston Globe. Later, she spoke with distaste of Alger Hiss's refusal to admit to communist affiliations. "The Washington spectrum ranged only from pink to red at that time," she wrote to a friend.

Brunck was less comfortable taking orders from the party hierarchy, who apparently wanted him to cozy up to Nazis at the German Embassy. He was prone to depression, which the party seemed to regard as somewhat counter-revolutionary. Brunck was institutionalized, and hung himself with his belt in the hospital.

Always resilient, Davis lastly married husband no. 4, Robert Gorham Davis, another communist, whom she met at a workshop for radical writers in 1939.The two resigned from the party on the eve of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. They were finished with radical politics, although they retained a deep sensitivity to social injustice. In her memoir, Davis wrote of the fight that "indeed must be renewed and renewed as long as people are ill-fed, ill clothed, ill-housed, and brutally tortured. My shame is in the terms of my joining (the communists): I forfeited my most essential freedom, to think for myself."

After retiring to Connecticut in the 1970s, the Davises moved to Boston when Davis received a fellowship from Radcliffe to begin work on her memoir, in 1983. She ended up taking a permanent teaching post. Among her topics was how to keep a journal, something she had done religiously all her life.

(8) Christopher Reed, The Guardian (15th October, 2004)

As an early feminist and communist, the unconventional was always expected from the author and teacher Hope Hale Davis, who has died aged 100.

She certainly fulfilled such expectations with her Project Revolutionary Baby. This was the name she gave to the planned child from her brief marriage in February 1932 to the renowned British journalist, author and communist, Claud Cockburn, then a correspondent in New York for the Times of London. He later joined the Daily Worker, reported from the Spanish civil war, and became a radical commentator and Private Eye columnist. He died in 1981.

The Davis-Cockburn wedding in New York, celebrated at a party given by Claud's cousin Alec Waugh, was intended, Davis asserted, only for "the marriage certificate from Claud as necessary for the child's sake".

Although being a lawfully wedded wife was perhaps less revolutionary than the project indicated, the couple did not live together. By July that year, Cockburn's posting for the Times was up, and he sailed to England, leaving Hope pregnant. Although he kept in touch, the marriage, his first of three, was over.

The child, Claudia, married the entertainer and writer Michael Flanders, who with composer Donald Swann wrote At The Drop Of A Hat, in which her husband and Swann appeared in London's West End in 1956. Flanders, who was confined to a wheelchair by polio, died in 1975, and Claudia died in 1998.

This was Davis's second marriage. Her first husband was a vaudeville scenery painter, and her third was the German economist Hermann Brunck. They lived in Washington where she wrote romantic stories with a message for women, and both joined the Communist party in 1934.

But Brunck was ordered to spy on the Nazis at the German embassy and the strain of having to socialise with fascists, as well as keep his party membership secret, weighed heavily on him, and he committed suicide in 1937.

Davis married her fourth husband Robert Gorham Davis, the literary critic and professor of English at Columbia university, in 1939. Gorham died in 1998.

Davis's writing career included stories for the New Yorker and other magazines, and they were published as a collection, The Dark Way To The Plaza, in 1968. Her memoirs of the 1930s, Great Day Coming, appeared in 1995.

She wrote of Cockburn: "I wanted what a woman has traditionally asked of a lover going off to war - his qualities and his heritage." She was attracted to him for his "charm, gaiety, mischief and wit" and the way he made people laugh. But privately with her, she added, he would talk seriously about how "we could sweep away all these disgraces at once and build a new society that would rule them out forever".

Davis's teacher father died before her birth in a small town in Iowa. Her mother, also a teacher, raised her but Davis did not attend college. Instead, she headed to New York and wrote fiction. She left the Communist party over the 1939 Soviet pact with Hitler's Germany, but remained a committed leftist.

In 1985 she was invited to teach journal writing and autobiography at Radcliffe College, and she was still holding classes up to a month before she died in Boston.

She is survived by a son and a daughter.

Hope Hale Davis, writer and teacher, born November 2 1903; died October 2 2004


References

(1) Hale Davis Papers, Harvard University (August 2007)

(2) Christopher Reed, The Guardian (15th October, 2004)

(3) Stephen Miller, New York Sun (8th October, 2004)

(4) Hale Davis Papers, Harvard University (August 2007)

(5) Hope Hale Davis, Great Day Coming: A Memoir of the 1930s (1994) page 4

(6) Christopher Reed, The Guardian (15th October, 2004)

(7) George N. Peek, Why Quit Our Own (1936) page 107

(8) Hope Hale Davis, Great Day Coming: A Memoir of the 1930s (1994) page 20

(9) Hope Hale Davis, Great Day Coming: A Memoir of the 1930s (1994) page 29

(10) Hope Hale Davis, Great Day Coming: A Memoir of the 1930s (1994) pages 68-76

(11) Hope Hale Davis, Great Day Coming: A Memoir of the 1930s (1994) pages 98-99

(12) Rexford Tugwell, Roosevelt's Revolution (1977) page 355

(13) Chester R. Davis, Reminiscences (1953) page 313

(14) Hope Hale Davis, Great Day Coming: A Memoir of the 1930s (1994) page 77

(15) Hope Hale Davis, Great Day Coming: A Memoir of the 1930s (1994) page 102

(16) Nathaniel Weyl, interview with US News & World Report (9th January, 1953)

(17) Whittaker Chambers, Witness (1952) page 31

(18) Stephen Miller, New York Sun (8th October, 2004)

(19) Hope Hale Davis, Great Day Coming: A Memoir of the 1930s (1994) page 108

(20) Stephen Miller, New York Sun (8th October, 2004)

(21) Hope Hale Davis, Great Day Coming: A Memoir of the 1930s (1994) pages 165

(22) Hope Hale Davis, Great Day Coming: A Memoir of the 1930s (1994) pages 263-64

(23) Hope Hale Davis, Great Day Coming: A Memoir of the 1930s (1994) page 315

(24) Hope Hale Davis, Great Day Coming: A Memoir of the 1930s (1994) page 337

(25) Dinitia Smith, New York Times (17th July, 1998)

(26) Hope Hale Davis, Great Day Coming: A Memoir of the 1930s (1994) page 337

(27) Christopher Reed, The Guardian (15th October, 2004)

(28) Los Angeles Times (7th October, 2004)