In the Portland area Reed was viewed as extremely dangerous. It condoned immorality, for one thing, because women students were allowed to smoke anywhere on campus. Also, the Reed dormitories were unsupervised by house mothers. And then of course the Reed faculty was considered dangerously radical. And to cap it all, the college was non-denominational. There was no compulsory chapel attendance, in fact, no religious services were held in the chapel, only concerts and lectures. Despite the staid gravity of President Coleman, a former clergyman, the rumor persisted that the principal subjects taught at Reed were “atheism, communism, and free love.”
—Mary Barnard ’32, from her autobiography, Ascent on Mount Helicon
Note: Mary Barnard ’32 passage is reprinted by permission of her executor.
Five months slipped by before we realized there had been no inauguration for President Keezer. So, one day I said seriously to Reed’s new president, “The regents are of the opinion that we ought to pause for a moment and anoint you with the holy oils.” “You insist?” he asked. Then I said: “You should know by now that Reed College has been credited with encouraging such unconventionalities as communism and free love, and we haven’t yet legitimized your relationship with us and made an honest man of you.”
—E.B. MacNaughton, president of the board of trustees, in a 1935 speech
at the inauguration of Reed president Dexter Keezer
They used to say, “Oh, you go to that college that has free love.” Whatever that meant. I think there was a lot of “coupling,” as they say, in the dormitories. It was not frowned on as it would be at a different kind of college. I think most people knew who was sleeping with whom. Great times, great times! I often wonder if people who came after us, particularly in the ’50s, which was a more restrictive time, had as much fun as we did.
—Doris Bailey Murphy ’38
We used to laugh, because they accused us of being for communism and free love. We just laughed. I don’t know where they got the idea.
—Brunhilde Kaufer Liebes ’35
The way I figured, Reed was atheistic because Amanda Reed was a Unitarian, but people thought she was atheistic. I used to say Reed was communistic because we were taught how to think at Reed. Now where I got the idea that communists “thought,” I don’t know, but I did. And then free love. I always enjoyed saying, “I didn’t get any.”
—Ruth Wetterborg Sandvik ’38
That was the fun of it—that we were thought of as communists. There used to be a student who would hang out the dorm window every morning and put the red flag up for dawn rising. Doing things like that just to irritate people. I don’t know whether they were communists or not. There probably was a lot of communist activity, which the time sort of invited for some reason.
—Rita Leibrand Othus ’40, MAT ’63, MALS ’71
In my time communism was a serious factor. Communism had a disproportionate attraction for intellectuals, even though the principal appeal was supposed to be to the workers. But it never quite worked out that way, so to have communist views in those days was not all that uncommon on campus. It was an intellectual exercise. I don’t think I ever heard the term “free love” used. I don’t recall—and again, I may have been totally out of the mix of things—I don’t recall drugs. I don’t recall orgies. Certainly there was sex, of course, but it was quiet and people did their own thing. There was some drinking. But again, I don’t recall alcohol flowing like wine.
—Harry Turtledove ’42
“Communism, Atheism, Free Love” was bandied about. People were amused by it. Thought it was okay. People used to sort of laugh and be kind of pleased that this is what we were accused of.
—Ann Stearns Whitehead ’44
I wore my hair shoulder-length before any other kid in America wore shoulder-length hair. Not that I was an avant-garde person but I just happened to like long hair. Many Reed kids had beards. Nobody had a beard except if you were an anarchist or a Red in the public mind. We were, and some of us remain, pretty sloppy dressers. We acted as if we didn’t care what anybody else thinks. We’re going to do our thing, our way. We did, and I think to a large extent, do still. That didn’t set well.
—George Joseph ’51
During the Joseph McCarthy era, Reed came into attack on the ground of tolerating communists, or having communists who were influential in the faculty or the student body or the administration, and things of that sort. The Velde Committee, which was the committee of the House of Representatives that was investigating these matters, came to Portland. It was perfectly clear that their whole Portland mission had nothing to do with communism in Oregon. It simply had to do with Reed College because all of the people that were called before them were people who were associated with Reed College—with one exception.
—Richard Jones, professor of history at Reed, 1941–86
I loved the football games on Friday nights for their irreverence. I remember cheers like, “Schopenhauer Marx Kant Spinoza/Come on Reed, Hit ’em in the Nosa!” And, if the team should start winning, people would start to chant, “Beware of Overemphasis! Beware of Overemphasis!” Another football chant we did was: “Atheism, Communism, Free Love,” or just “Love/Love/Love,” and then, “Free Love.” One of the things that I really liked about Reed was a sense of solidarity, and to some extent that was accomplished in opposition to the community. My freshman year, Gus Hall, the secretary of the American Communist Party, came to speak in what was then Botsford gymnasium, which had just a layer of plywood as its walls. Portlanders came and banged on the walls while we were trying to enjoy this expression of free speech, which was not greatly appreciated in other parts of town.
—Richard Conviser ’65
Our main rival on the rowing team was the University of Washington. Their goal was to win every race, and they used to have to shave their heads until they won their first race. They had these sort of fascist uniforms. Our goal was to not come in last once during the whole season. What particularly irritated them was that our uniforms, which we had gotten from the thrift store, were Hawaiian print shirts. They did not match, and so were very, very visible in the water. We made up cheers. One of the traditional Reed cheers was “Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Reed’s the team that’s really hotsky.” Another one was, “Go Reed go, with alacrity.”
—Frank Garcia ’85
There is a book called The Far Corner by Stewart Holbrook, who was an editor, I think, at the Oregonian. He explains why Reed has this reputation in Portland. It’s based on misidentification. The head of the Communist Party at one time in the United States was William Z. Foster. The first president of Reed College was William T. Foster. John Reed was from Portland, and everybody assumed that he was the guy who put up the money for Reed College, and not Simeon Reed. You get a myth out there and sometimes it’s really hard to change it. This is what happened with Reed.
—Armand Schwartz ’60