A series of rash faculty firings at the University of Utah in 1915 exposes the concern over the influence of “radicals” in the United States at the outbreak of World War I.
The year was 1915, and a handful of popular professors were about to lose their jobs at the University of Utah for what the school’s president Joseph Kingsbury called “the good of the university.” Charles Wilbert Snow, an English professor, was one of the teachers slated for dismissal. According to President Kingsbury, Snow was a dangerous radical who was unwilling to stop encouraging religious and political discussions in his classes. By February, Snow had been fired along with 3 of his colleagues. A second purge nearly a week later included George Marshall, the chair of the English Department.
What possessed Kingsbury to make such a drastic move? First, many people were deeply concerned about the effect supposed radicals were having on the country. A few years after the mass firings at the U, following the United States entrance into World War I, political leaders seized on the hot-button issue and okayed a series of raids designed to round-up and deport leftists. It seems Kingsbury was intensely concerned about what people would think if he let supposed radicals like Snow and Marshall continue teaching at the university. But he seemed to go a step further, believing that a well-organized underground radical network was actually operating on campus. Fourteen faculty members resigned in protest, and one of the university’s most promising students, Bernard De Voto, left in disgust for Harvard. De Voto would later become one of county’s most influential literary critics and historians.
See the February 1995 collection of the History Blazer, a joint project of the Utah State Historical Society and the Utah State Centennial Commission. The History Blazer can be found on the Utah History Suite CD available from the Utah State Historical Society.