Friday, September 10, 2021

A Decade Undercover as a Communist

Carol Foster's subpoena to the Committee on Un-American Activities
At a Cub Scout meeting in 1945, suburban New Hampshire housewife Carol Foster asked another parent, an FBI agent, “Don’t you have a job in the FBI for someone like me?” So began her thirteen-year career as a counterspy for the FBI, undercover in the Communist Party in New Hampshire, which only ended in 1958 when the House Un-American Activities Committee called her to testify about what she had learned. Foster kept a large scrapbook with mostly clippings of newspapers mentioning her, which include transcripts of the hearing where she appeared.

Front page story about Foster in the Nashua TelegraphReading through these news articles, it’s easy to understand how normalized the “Red Scare” mindset was at the time. Even Foster was asked whether she had any “sympathy with the Communist ideology,” and when she had finished testifying, Congressman Bernard Kearney advised her to ignore the insults of people he dismissed as “Fifth Amendment Americans”—referring to the fifth amendment protection against self-incrimination, which suspected communists relied on in these hearings. This attitude did not bother Foster, though; she believed the FBI had been “sticking to constitutional methods,” and she had no problem with encouraging civilians to call the FBI to report “anything which might seem subversive.” While she felt guilty about revealing people’s personal information herself, she also felt that it was “bigger than [her].”

Part of a newspaper clipping with a transcript of Foster's hearing
It is also apparent in Foster’s scrapbook how much her gender influenced news coverage of the events. Although Foster was celebrated as a hero, headlines pigeonholed her as a “mother,” a “housewife,” and even “pretty” before anything else. When the papers did mention her life outside her FBI career and family, they revealed that she had a home photography studio, and that she enjoyed skiing, hunting, fishing, and flying. Somehow, Foster still found the time to carry out what she felt was her patriotic duty, as a secret from everyone but her husband, for over a decade.

To see Foster’s scrapbook (or her impressive collection of communist publications), come to Rauner and ask for MS-1441.

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