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Publication Date



University of Nebraska at Kearney


Kearney, NE


College president Charles H. Fisher’s transformation of Bellingham State Normal School, a small state teacher’s college, into Western Washington College of Education earned him the overwhelming respect of his peers, faculty, students, and much of the local community. His reward was an abrupt firing by Washington Governor Clarence Martin in 1938. Fisher’s ousting was engineered by a cabal of “anti-communist” citizens led by Frank I. Sefrit, the conservative editor of The Bellingham Herald. The group had ties to a range of “pro-American” groups, including the American Legion, several conservative women’s organizations, local churches, and the Ku Klux Klan. Sefrit called Fisher a communist sympathizer who fostered anti-Americanism, atheism, and “free love” on a campus infected by “Red” academics, many trained at Columbia University. College trustees in 1935 exonerated Fisher, but three years later, acceded to Gov. Clarence Martin’s insistence that Fisher be fired. Subsequent investigations described the firing as politically motivated, raising alarms about infringement of academic freedom during a period of social strife. Existing accounts of the Depression-era incident paint Fisher’s foes as oddball radicals. But the campaign did not occur in a political vacuum. Previously unknown documents about the Fisher case reveal varied personal motivations of Fisher’s foes in a town torn by political rancor, fomented by a vicious, decades-long media war. New evidence also reveals a link between the Fisher case and a concurrent national red-baiting campaign directed at academic institutions across the United States. Additional new evidence suggests that the Fisher dismissal might have been influenced by a separate financial scandal at the college in the 1930s. This study will explore Charles Fisher’s ousting in unprecedented detail, placing it for the first time within the context of a decade of strident, ultra-conservative activism serving as what one historian has dubbed “a bridge between the two Red Scares.”


Subjects - Topical (LCSH)

Education, Higher--Washington (State)--Bellingham--History



Geographic Coverage

Whatcom County (Wash.)--Politics and government--History

OCLC number



History | Political History | Social History

Document Type


Subjects - Names (LCNAF)

Western Washington University--History





The Liberal Arts on Trial: Charles H. Fisher and Red-Scare Politics at Western Washington College of Education, 1933-39