Celebrating 100 Years of Oakland Technical High School
Gayle Shuttleworth Taylor ’51
I graduated from Tech in 1951 and remember two very different things. The first one concerns a member of the faculty. In my senior year my Spanish teacher, Miss Ellis, refused to sign the Loyalty Oath and was put on leave because of it. We had substitutes to fill out the rest of the term until I graduated in June of 1951. Whether Miss Ellis was ever reinstated I don’t know. I do know that her picture was not published in our yearbook, along with all the other teachers, because of this event.
She taught Spanish, and yes it was a shock to the students when we heard she would no longer be teaching at Tech. The students did not support her decision not to sign the Loyalty Oath–in fact the rumor going around school was that Miss Ellis was a member of the Communist Party!! None of this was based on fact, to my knowledge, but the students felt Miss Ellis was being a traitor to America and certainly unpatriotic. I, and I’m sure others that knew Miss Ellis, would love to know what was really behind the incident¬ was she really unpatriotic or did she feel she was being coerced into something she didn’t believe in. To my knowledge, Miss Ellis was the only teacher who refused to sign the oath that year.
Miss Ellis, Marguerite Ellis, was unmarried, wore rimless glasses, was about 50ish with gray hair she pulled back and often secured with a large black bow (about 4″ x 6″!)!! Sometimes it was a black ribbon, but always in black (years before the “scrunchie” came into fashion). She never wore any color, always a white blouse and a black skirt¬ very uniform-like. She informed the class she was Catholic, so maybe her outfits were a throwback from her Catholic school uniforms, though we didn’t know for sure she attended Catholic school.
Miss Ellis’ picture is in the 1950 yearbook and you can see from her picture there is a big black bow showing at the side of her head. Mostly I remember she was a very no nonsense teacher and we were not allowed to speak any English in senior Spanish; all instructions, questions, comments, etc. had to be in Spanish. It was a pain at the time, but it did help when I got to U.C. Berkeley and took Italian because so many of the words were similar. That is about all I remember about Miss Ellis; I really do wish we knew more about her personal life as I’m sure she was a much more interesting person than she was able to show in front of her classes.
[In 1950 the Levering Act became law in California, mandating a loyalty oath for employees of the state of California. The only California state senator voting against the bill was George Miller of Contra Costa County. It wasn’t until 1967 that the Levering Act was declared unconstitutional by the California Supreme Court.]
The other thing I remember was that we had a Sadie Hawkins dance each year and the girls were allowed to ask a boy, which was a big deal in the 40s and 50s; it took all of our courage to even think of such an aggressive thing, let alone act on it. I did ask a boy (he accepted), and the girls had to make a corsage out of vegetables, of all things, for their date to wear. I made mine out of carrots and broccoli which was pinned to my date’s lapel–it weighed so much it practically pulled his jacket down to his mid-section, so most of the evening was spent holding up his corsage while trying to dance. Before the evening was over, the dance floor looked like a decaying vegetable garden¬ bits and pieces of many of the boys’ corsages everywhere. I’m sure there is no longer a Sadie Hawkins dance at Tech, let alone vegetable corsages. Kids now are much too sophisticated for that now!!??
Background on the “Loyalty Oath:”
From the California Federation of Teachers website, an article entitled “1950’s: The Teachers Union that Came in From the Cold War:”
If the early 50s proved anything, it’s that the creation, preservation and extension of civil liberties of every generation have to be defended and won all over again by the next one. Heir to the Palmer Raids and Dies Committee witch hunts, McCarthyism scarred far more than teachers and their unions before it was through. For teachers in California, it defined the very atmosphere of the times, attempting and often succeeding in making any action out of the ordinary seem opposed to ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’ and ‘the American way of Life’.
The issue was not merely philosophical. Many federal and state laws were passed making new or continued employment contingent upon the signing of loyalty oaths; others made current or past membership in the Communist Party sufficient cause for dismissal. Congressional committees were set up to implement the new laws. The most famous, of course, was the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and the person most directly identified with the anti-Communist crusade, Joe McCarthy. The witch hunts associated with these people and institutions bred their local counterparts, and they didn’t stop with persecuting Communists.
It was the view of San Francisco Superintendent of Public Schools Herbert Clish that teachers “…are afraid to discuss controversial issues in the classrooms. They are afraid of community pressures.” A generation of children were denied teachers able to openly discuss and stand up for their ideas.
From fewer than a thousand teachers in 1950 the CSFT membership had more than doubled by the mid-50s.
From AL Times, March 7, 2006: “Loyalty Oath Roils Academic Waters”: At the height of the anti-communist scare, more than half of UCLA’s faculty protested the signing of a so-called loyalty oath that the University of California Board of Regents was requiring of all employees, regardless of tenure. Most faculty members later gave in to the pressure, swearing that they were not members of the Communist Party or any group that advocated overthrowing the government by force or violence. Thirty-one professors refused.
May 2, 2008 by The Los Angeles Times: The loyalty oath was added to the state Constitution by voters in 1952 to root out communists in public jobs. UC Berkeley was the first to impose a tough anti-communist loyalty oath in 1949 and fired 31 professors who refused to sign.
After a version of the oath was added to the state Constitution, courts eventually struck down its harshest elements but let stand the requirement of defending the constitutions
“I, ____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California against all enemies, foreign and
domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties upon which I am about to enter.
“And I do further swear (or affirm) that I do not advocate, nor am I a member of any party or organization, political or otherwise, that now advocates the overthrow of the Government of the United States or of the State of California by force or violence or other unlawful means; that within the five years immediately preceding the taking of this oath (or affirmation) I have not been a member of any party or organization, political or otherwise, that advocated the overthrow of the Government of the United States or of the State of California by force or violence or other unlawful means except as follows:
(If no affiliations, write in the words “No Exceptions”)
and that during such time as I am a member or employee of the
______________________________________________________ I will not
(name of public agency)
advocate nor become a member of any party or organization, political or otherwise, that advocates the overthrow of the Government of the United States or of the State of California by
force or violence or other unlawful means.”