“Plenty Hot, But Not Scorching”
March 30, 1925
Left-leaning KU students found a supportive if intermittent outlet for their views during the years 1925-1951 via an off-campus publication called the Dove. According to an editorial in the first issue, published on March 30, 1925, the Dove was to be a journal of campus opinion; the staff was “any person on the hill willing to express himself in writing over his full signature.” While that may have been true to some extent, those who published in the Dove were either quite adept in their writing skills or had plenty of help from the editors. And while the editorial board claimed to have “no axe to grind,” the paper gave a lion’s share of its space to labor issues, civil rights, equality of the sexes – in short, issues that were popular with the Left.
Arriving as it did on the heels of the post-World War I “Red Scare,” the Dove was generally printed on pink paper and further maximized its impact by publishing views out of fashion in the mainstream. (However, such views were seething just under the surface of American society, especially during the Great Depression). Remaining independent of the University, the Dove insisted on reserving the right to determine for itself what constituted “decency and common decency.”
What this publication considered to be “decency” often conflicted with the prevailing opinions of many Kansans. In September 1935, for example, Kansas Board of Regents member Balie P. Waggener of Atchison gave a speech in which he told KU students that the Regents would not tolerate the teaching of “socialism” at the state institution. He encouraged his listeners to spy on their professors and report the names of those with socialist inclinations to the Board. The Dove responded with an issue that devoted much of its space to attacking Regent Waggener, adding that students who acted on his suggestion would be the equivalent of “intellectual pimps.”
Board of Regents Chairman C.M. Harger of Abilene wrote to KU Chancellor Ernest Lindley asking for a copy of the Dove as well as Lindley’s opinion of the campus reaction to the speech. This incident was one in a series that occurred at KU during a time when the perilous the state of the nation’s economy made leftist views seem particularly threatening. Advocates of free speech, like Lindley, often found themselves on the defensive. The Chancellor told Harger that campus reaction was generally unfavorable; apparently Waggener had overstepped the University’s bounds regarding intellectual freedom. Lindley then referred Harger to an editorial in the Topeka Capitol that made “the right discrimination in teaching all these theories vs. attempted indoctrination.”
The Dove’s penchant for socialist causes gave it a reputation as a “radical” publication, a legitimate perception since some of the paper’s editors were avowed Marxists. Many of the paper’s themes were labor-related, which many Kansans, such as Waggener, interpreted as being “Red” or pro-Communist viewpoints. For example, in one piece headlined “A Student Labor Union?” the Dove pointed out that in a small town like Lawrence with 4,000 students, the unbalanced supply and demand for labor resulted in low wages. A small per-hour pay scale forced students to work more hours, which deprived other students of any job at all. A student labor union, suggested the Dove, would ostensibly be able to remedy the situation. In addition to higher pay, shorter hours, and fuller student employment, a cooperative relationship between student labor union and local businesses would produce numerous benefits. These included mutual agreement on working conditions, job protection so that student workers would not be summarily replaced by KU athletes, and higher wages that would be spent locally and improve “town and gown” relations. The Dove concluded that “bourgeois” attitudes of students had prevented labor unions from forming, but counseled that if they established a union they would “acquire a psychology and an understanding they could acquire in no other way.”
Besides labor issues, the paper embraced another unpopular stance whenever it published pro-civil rights articles. Indeed, African-American students found an advocate and a forum in the Dove. An article written by a black student in the spring 1935 issue, “Negro Students Given Bad Break by Administration,” criticized KU for keeping its swimming pool off-limits to black students and maintaining or allowing segregation in intercollegiate and intramural athletics, the Kansas Union, and the Greek letter organizations.
Of course, the Dove regularly blasted fraternities and sororities for more than just discrimination. In its second issue in the spring of 1925, the paper published an article that called the “shallowness of Greek living” one of the main problems on campus. Editorial board member Norman Plummer took aim at Greek life with this rhetorical question: “Do you know that a large proportion of the University students are gross, ignorant panderers of a cheap or rotten culture, and that the balance are ashamed of being otherwise – excepting, of course, you and me?”
The Dove also associated athletics with this perceived shallowness. An irreverent 1927 article titled “God’s a Jayhawker” told of a University Daily Kansan letter-writer and sports fan who had cited prayer as the decisive factor in a recent KU-MU football game. Apparently, the fervent prayer of the crowd, sensed by this person in the tension-filled closing seconds of the game, inspired the Divine to “put the ball over the line” for KU. (The Dove mockingly suggested that Jehovah’s name “be placed on the list of candidates for KU sweaters . . . the awarding of an athletic sweater to the Almighty would be the perfect way to induce students to worship him with deepest reverence.”)
Cynicism was as prevalent in the Dove as leftist rhetoric. In taking the Sour Owl, (a purported student humor publication) to task for its reporting of a 1926 campus election, Bernard Bloch wrote, “Why, to scold a journalist for violating a Principle would be like finding fault with a politician for breaking his honor; neither would know what you were talking about.” The next year, the Dove printed an article headlined “Vote for the Devil” which began, “The day will come, I suppose, when all of us will have to choose either Satan or God as a leader.” The writer then assigned attributes to the two candidates. The Devil, he asserted, was a good candidate because he was “a non-fraternity man,” he was self-supporting – one need not worry about a collection plate; he was well-known for being democratic – the gates of hell were open to all. Using biblical quotations, this writer then observed that God, on the other hand, was an egotist, “Thou shalt have no other God before me.” He was a lover of war, “I will make my arrows drunk with blood and my sword shall devour flesh.” Certainly He would lose the women’s vote, “But suffer not a woman to teach . . . but to be in silence.” And furthermore he did not appear to be a pro-family man, “Now therefore kill every male among the little ones and kill every woman.” The writer concluded this article, reminiscent of Mark Twain’s Letters from Earth, by stating that the Devil was likely to win such an election.
In a more serious vein, the Dove frequently took stands against war. When Adolf Hitler was building up his Nazi war machine in the 1930s, pacifist sentiment was at a peak in the US. The Dove, for example, called militarism “flag worship.” Inflaming the local Kansas “patriots,” the paper argued that “Flaunting the Flag” was simply a substitute of “stone idols” by “colored cloths.” Reason, the Dove added, was sacrificed at the altar of militarism.
During this time, pacifist groups began holding annual “strikes” against war in Europe and the Dove was in the midst of them. “Can international disputes be settled better by peaceable arbitration than by arbitration after a war?” was the key question, according to a Dove article. One could see the tyranny of militarism, the paper argued, by observing the degree to which liberal university faculty were forced to resign because they opposed militarism on campus, such as ROTC programs. The Dove asked KU ROTC officers Major J.R. Cygon and Lieutenant Henry F. Meyers if they would like to contribute articles in defense of military training or perhaps join in a debate on the topic. Apparently, the paper said, at least one of the officers felt that “to defend it was an admission that it needed defending.” The Dove editor responded to the snub, “As Will Rogers might say, they were so sure that they were in the right that they would not trust to have the matter discussed.”
This “liberal journal of discussion” survived intermittently until Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy’s committee on “Un-American Activities” apparently drove left-leaning publications such as The Dove further underground. The editors of the paper were students, and shortly before its demise, the Dove had acquired legitimacy by having such notables as KU Professor John Ise of the economics department on its advisory board. In addition, as the paper’s banner noted proudly – albeit somewhat tongue-in-cheek – “Everybody Reads The Dove…Even The Board of Regents.”
Ironically, this increased authority and acceptance of The Dove is what may have spelled its final doom. Students and advisors both had a lot to lose by continuing to publish and support a leftist organ. Indeed, the shutdown of publications such as the Dove is one way of measuring the degree to which civil liberties suffered during the Cold War and “McCarthyism.” For 25 years, the Dove pursued a mission its editors saw as promoting “intelligent critical thinking by serving as an unfettered forum for the presentation of any viewpoint.” For these efforts, its supporters saw the Dove as “plenty hot, but not scorching,” while its opponents called it “that damnable sheet.” Yet little more than a decade after its closure, the Dove would seem tame in comparison to such truly radical off-campus publications in Lawrence such as Reconstruction and Vortex.
Department of History
University of Kansas