Bella Dodd

Intro American communist and anti-communist
Was Jurist Activist Trade unionist Politician
From United States of America
Type Activism Law Politics
Gender female
Birth 1904, Picerno, Italy
Death 29 April 1969, New York City, USA (aged 65 years)
Politics Conservative Party of New York State

Bella Dodd (née Visono; 1904 – 29 April 1969) was a teacher, lawyer, and labor union activist, member of the Communist Party of America (CPUSA) and New York City Teachers Union (TU) in the 1930s and 1940s ("one of Communism's most strident voices"), and vocal anti-communist after her expulsion from the Party in 1949.


Bella Dodd was born Maria Asunta Isabella Visono was born in 1904 in Picerno, Basilicata region, Province of Potenza, Kingdom of Italy. She was the youngest of ten children. When her family came to the United States, they were very poor. They stopped going to Church. She attended public schools in the New York City area including Evander Childs High School. In 1921, after winning a state scholarship, she attended Hunter College, a public university. There, she received an A.B., developed an interest in social issues, and drifted into agnosticism. In her senior year, she became president of the student council. She worked summers to fund her studies. In 1925, she graduated with honors. She received an MA from Columbia University working toward a doctorate in philosophy. The title of her MA thesis was "Is Congress a Mirror of the Nation?" Then she switched to the legal division. From Fall 1927 to June 1930, she graduated from the School of Law at New York University where she received a JD. During Summer 1930, she traveled to Berlin, Vienna, Venice, Florence, and Rome. In Italy, she found Fascism appalling and became vehemently anti-fascist.


In the Fall of 1925, Dodd got her first job as a substitute teacher in History at the Seward Park High School. In February 1926, she accepted an offer to teach at Hunter College. She continued to teach, even after passing the New York bar in 1931. On route home from Europe in 1930, Dodd met a group of New York City school teachers, who belonged to the Teachers Union (TU). Upon her return to the States, she started attending TU meetings. "I found them disconcerting because there was so much strife between groups seeking control," she later wrote. Married, she took off time from work but returned to teaching at Hunter College by 1932, when the Great Depression affected both her parents and husband. From 1926 until 1938, Dodd taught political science and economics at Hunter College. In 1938, she resigned that job and became a full-time activist for the New York City Teachers Union. Dodd joined an "Anti-Fascist Literature Committee." She was attracted to the Communist Party by Margaret Schlauch. "The Communist Party in this country set itself up as the one organization that was fighting fascism." She was recruited by Harriet Silverman, who introduced her to Party leader Earl Browder. Teachers urged her to attend a "Class Room Teachers Association," through which she learned of the Trade Union Unity League (TUUL) and the Teachers Union (TU). She saw Celia Lewis, Clara Richer, and Max Diamond emerge as leaders of the TU's "Red minority." A first bill she helped pass led to her promotion as a TU legislative representative, for which she took a six-month leave of absence from Hunter College in Spring 1936–she took over from TU co-founder Abraham Lefkowitz. (Charles J. Hendley was the new TU president as of 1935 through 1945.) Party leaders like Jack Stachel and William Z. Foster demanded that American workers become "politicalized" and "proletarianized." Through the intervention of friend and mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, Dodd got leave again. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), teachers recruited among themselves for volunteers for the Lincoln Brigade: Dodd names Sid Babsky and Ralph Wardlaw as teachers who answered the call. In the same period, membership rose to more than 9,000, of which a tenth were communists. So many college teachers joined that they formed their own New York City College Teachers Union Local 537 AFT. Dorothy Wallace joined the TU as "minder" for the Soviets. The "Stalin" among them was Dale Zysman (Party name "Jack Hardy"), who had trained in Moscow (along with some other teachers): he was TU vice president. Dorothy Wallas turned out to be Zysman's sister. Then Henry Linville and Abraham Lefkowitz split from the TU to form the New York City Teacher Guild. By 1938, Dodd resigned from her job at Hunter College and took a full-time position in the TU. To ease access to state legislators in Albany, New York, in 1938 she moved her family to Poughkeepsie. In 1939, the Hitler-Stalin Pact undermined the TU's public position. The Rapp-Coudert Committee started its investigations. By 1940, opposition to the TU had gathered: Linville and Lefkowitz rallied George Googe and others from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the American Federation of Labor (AFL), and other anti-communists including George Counts and John Childs of Teachers College, George Axtelle, Lovestoneites led by Ben Davidson, and teachers from Detroit, Atlanta, Washington. The Party formed a "Committee to Defend the Public Schools." Dodd personally burned a list of TU members in her possession. The Coudert subcommittee subpoenaed more than 600 teachers. In 1940, the Party asked Dodd to head a "Women's Trade Union Committee for Peace." By that time, Dodd worked for the Communist Party, the TU, and the American Labor Party. City College of New York expelled 50 teachers, including Morris U. Schappes. She spent the rest of 1940 and all of 1941 in defending teachers or finding them new jobs. Dodd also led the TU into new affiliation with United Public Workers as Local 555 UPW. the During 1942, she found herself deep in political infighting to control the American Labor Party by communist and socialist parties. In 1944, she watched the opening of the Jefferson School of Social Science, successor to the New York Workers School, orchestrated by Earl Browder and Alexander Trachtenberg. She taught one class there, then stopped. She declined an offer to run the California Labor School. During this time with the TU, Dodd was working closely with the Party. She was not an open member. In fact (she testified before HUAC in 1953), "the Communist Pary was emphatic that professional people engaged in public service who had public jobs were not to be exposed and were not card-carrying members. Rather, she served in the faction that moved the TU "in the direction of the Communist Party." By 1943, Dodd's feelings toward the Communist Party had changed: In the Party I was beginning to see many people of a different stripe. During the war period I saw how opportunism and selfishness engulfed many comrades. They wore expensive clothes, lived in fine apartments, took long vacations at places provided by men of wealth. There was, for one, William Wiener, former treasurer of the Party, manipulator for a score of business enterprises, who wore Brooks Brothers suits, smoked expensive cigars, and lunched only at the best places. There were the trade union Communists who rubbed elbows with underworld characters at communist-financed night clubs, and labor lawyers who were given patronage by the Party by assignment to communist-led trade unions and now were well established and comfortable. In March, 1943, Gil Green convinced Dodd to become an open Communist Party leader. In 1943, Dodd succeeded Si Gerson (who was enlisting in the Army) as Communist legislative representative for the New York district, although she retained an honorary position with the TU. At Party headquarters, she attended Politburo meetings with Gil Green, Earl Browder, William Z. Foster, Robert Minor, Jim Ford, Jack Stachel, John Williamson, and Elizabeth Gurly Flynn. With Party consent, Dodd, Philip Jones, and Allen Goodwin set up a law office at 25 West 43rd Street to keep political relations open beyond the Party. Dodd began to associate closely with the National Maritime Union at this time. In 1944, Dodd began serving as a member of the National Committee of the Communist Party. She also served as a member of the secretariat of State Communist Party of New York until 1948. Fellow state secretariat members included Si Gerson and Israel Amter. She later wrote: By January 1944 I was firmly established at Party headquarters on Twelfth Street. There I organized the legislative program of the Party; but, more important still, I supervised the legislative work of the unions, chiefly the unions of government workers on a state, local, and national level, of the mass organizations of women, and of 'the youth organizations. But the Tehran Conference had led to dissent with Party leadership, which led to the ouster of Samuel Adams Darcy. Foster was also critical but went with the majority and stayed in the Party. At the Party's annual conference, Dodd was elected to the National Committee of the "Communist Political Association." Dodd wrote that the Party had control of the CIO Political Action Committee as well as the Independent Committee of Artists, Scientists and Professionals, chaired by sculptorJo Davidson. Depressed by continued infighting, Dodd complained to Gurley Flynn, who let Dodd replace her in 1945 in cross-country speaking engagement. However, upon her return to New York, she found no improvement. She noted a contradiction in Party policies: at one support the formation of the United Nations and for post-war labor agitation and "petitions for universal military training." By April 1945, Browder had fallen from favor in Moscow, supported vocally by Mother Bloor, Gurley Flynn, Ann Burlak, Benjamin J. Davis Jr., and Pat Tuohy. A top committee reviewed Party leadership for expulsion. Dodd began angling to leave the Party but was refused. In January 1946, Browder was expelled from the Party for "Browderism." Dodd claimed that "from 1945 to 1947 several thousands were expelled" from the Party. These included the writer Ruth McKenney and husband Bruce Minton. Dodd herself began to come under suspicion. She received a subpoena from a New York County grand jury and told the district attorney's office she had become a Communist "because only the Communists seemed to care about what was happening to people in 1932 and 1933… They were fighting hunger and misery and fascism then; and neither the major political parties nor the churches seemed to care." In Spring 1947, Foster traveled to Europe and during a June 27, 1947, meeting of the Party's National Committee it became clear to Dodd that Moscow had finalized a Party reorganization. For instance, the Party replace the Daily Worker editor Morris Childs with John Gates–Dodd abstained from the vote. Then Foster announced plans for a new "farm-labor party" as well as support for a new "Progressive Party." In January 1948, "before Henry Wallace had made any public statement, in fact even before the Progressive Party had been formally organized, Foster announced through the Associated Press that it was going to be formed and that Henry Wallace would be its standard bearer." By late 1947, Dodd became convinced of pending expulsion. She focused on her law work. In 1949, Dodd met with Communist officials, who questioned her. On June 17, 1949, she received a call from the Associated Press: "We have received a statement from the Communist Party announcing your expulsion from membership. It says here that you are anti-Negro, anti-Puerto Rican, anti-Semitic, anti-labor, and the defender of a landlord. Have you any statement to make?" Dodd gave no comment. Ostensibly, she was expelled for representing a landlord in a legal dispute with a renter, which was a violation of Party bylaws against recognition or defense of the right to private property. However, Dodd's expulsion from the Party was part of a larger purge following the ouster of Earl Browder as the CPUSA's General Secretary.


On April 8, 1952, Dodd rejoined the Roman Catholic Church, she announced on August 5 later that year. Previously, she had been taking weekly instruction from Monsignor Fulton J. Sheen (whose converts also included Louis F. Budenz and Clare Booth Luce). By 1954, Dodd had become an outspoken proponent for the Catholic Church and vocal anti-communist. As example, she warned against that "materialistic philosophy," which she saw as "guiding" public education, "demoralizes" Americans. She was speaking to "Columbiettes" at a New York gathering of the Knights of Columbus. She also noted that materialism formed the basis of both Communism and Nazism.


On March 10, 1953, Dodd testified before a televised hearing of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (SISS) about widespread Party infiltration of labor unions and other institutions. The following day, The New York Times headlined its front-page story "Bella Dodd Asserts Reds Got Presidential Advisory Posts." Dodd had testified that "Communists had got into many legislative offices of Congress and into a number of groups advising the President of the United States," as well as the State of New York's Office of Education in Albany and New York City's Board of Education. Overall, she estimated that the communist Party had "read the minds" of some thousand school and college teachers in New York. Dodd explained to SISS that it was "very easy" for her to "inject" communist beliefs into her teaching – as was the "function of a Communist teacher," namely "to create people willing to accept a Communist government." She also supported federal government efforts to root out communism among teachers by stating, "I believe that the only way this sinister conspiracy of the Communist party can be really uncovered is by a Federal investigating group with subpoena power." On June 17 and 18, 1953, Dodd testified before the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). She claimed to have resigned her Party position in 1946 and returned to law. (In her memoir, she reports that she left high office but used her position as a lawyer as cover to continue Party work until her expulsion in 1949. She testified that she knew J. Peters.) On her attraction to in the Party and her experience in it, she explained: "The Communist Party in this country set itself up as the one organization that was fighting fascism." "I went in the Teachers' Union and I received $60 a week… When I went to serve as he legislative representative of the Communist Party, I received $50 a week… We weren't doing it for pay. We were doing it because we really believe in it." Her dedication to Communism arose from nascent Browderism: "After the Tehran Conference and Yalta Conference, we were told the United States and the Soviet Union were going forward to a hundred years of peace." Explaining how American communists can conceive of overthrowing their government, she explained that "They (the Party) divide your loyalty to the 'country' from loyalty to the 'people.'" She found it was hard to leave the Party. She said that when she tried to leave in 1946, New York party secretary Bill Norman told her "Nobody gets out of the Party. We throw you out, but you don't get out by yourself." She was warned that leaving the Party meant disintegration until she became a "stool pigeon." She remarked, "That is a hard word to live with. It is a hard word to live with." On the topic of testifying, she opined: She encouraged others to testify: "I am here to testify to this committee that, as far as I know, no one in New York City has been hurt by the fact that he was in the party if he went to the superintendent and said, 'I was a member. I am no longer.' His or her name hasn't been mentioned publicly. The people got notoriety are those who asked for it by refusing to answer the question." "The people I know, and I knew practically everyone in New York City who appeared before the various committees, I know of no one who has appeared and claimed the fifth amendment, in New York City, who was not a member of the Communist Party… It is my opinion that those attorneys who advise their clients to take the fifth amendment are putting their clients into a noose." "The Communist party advises everyone who received a subpoena from any government agency, should it be a person who has worked with the party, to get in touch at once with his immediate superior in the party. Then he is advised as to which legal service to get," either a communist lawyer or "lawyers who have worked with the Communist Party… There are certain lawyers that the Communist movement will use. Many of them are not party members… Many times these lawyers give their services for nothing in cases of this kind because they expect to get cases later on, from the trade-union movements …" On the topic of hidden communist teachers, she said, "At the time I had knowledge, I would say conservatively, we had about 1,500 member of the Communist Party" (among teachers nationwide). Leading the witness, HUAC lead counsel Robert Lowe Kunzig solicited yes or no answers from her: KUNZIG: Are you suggesting that professional people and teachers are handled in a special way?DODD: Yes, I said in the very beginning–KUNZIG: –If there was a professor in a college anywhere… his Communist Party membership and his participation in Communist activities would be kept on a highly secret level?DODD: Yes, it would. On the topic of academic freedom, she said, "There is only one academic freedom to them, that is loyalty to the Communist Party. There is no room for difference of opinion." However, she noted, "There are many teachers in America, and 99.99% are loyal Americans." Dodd named teachers, whether communist leaders or sympathizers (or, as Kunzig characterized them, "suckers"), including: Moe Finkelstein, secretary of the American Committee for Democracy and Intellectual Freedom Franz Boas Albert Einstein Christian Gauss


Dodd continued as a lawyer for the rest of her life. In 1968, Dodd made an unsuccessful attempt to become a member of the US Congress as a candidate of the New York Conservative Party; she lost by a significant margin. She came in last place with 3% of the vote, against Democratic incumbent Leonard Farbstein (easily reelected with 53%), Donald Weeden (Republican), Ralph Denat (Liberal), and David McReynolds (Peace and Freedom).

Personal life and death

Dodd met her future husband John Dodd during her Summer 1930 trip to Europe. They married in late September at the county clerk's office, with friends Beatrice Feldman and Louis Finkelstein as witnesses. In 1940, her husband left her out of political differences. They had no children. On April 29, 1969, at age 64, Dodd died in Manhattan, New York, New York after undergoing gall bladder surgery. She was buried at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Pleasantville, New York.


Dodd, Bella (1954). School of Darkness. New York: P.J. Kennedy & Sons.

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