Pacifist, Labor Advocate, Civil Liberties Defender, 1890 – 1983
“We must oppose those who in the name of Americanism employ the method of repression, who speak with the voice of democracy but whose hands are the hands of tyranny. “
The World Fellowship Center is a unique political and cultural institution in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the character of which was formed during two of the most turbulent eras of social conflict in this country’s history.
The Center’s founders Charles and Eugenia Weller, were social activists of the Jane Addams era. They reached adulthood in the 1890s, the first Gilded Age, a period when American wealth and influence in the world were mushrooming, and they were part of a movement which tried to look at the issues of those who were being left behind, and also urged that with power came responsibility.
They were integrally involved in national campaigns around slum clearance, adequate housing and public playgrounds. They also worked to promote understanding and tolerance of new immigrants and of the wave of internal immigrants during the Great Northern Migration of African Americans from the sharecropping life of the south to new opportunities in the industrial north. Charles Weller wrote several books, including Neglected Neighbors, an expose of living conditions in Washington, DC, of which President Theodore Roosevelt wrote the forward.
In addition, Charles Weller was a bit of a mystic. He believed in something he called “the Good Life Universal,” which was essentially an ecumenical vision of a loving, compassionate God. He and Eugenia formed an organization called the World Fellowship of Faiths whose mission was to bring together people from around the world from different faith backgrounds to pursue peace through mutual understanding.
In 1933, in Chicago, they hosted a gathering of 199 representatives of different countries, religions and spiritual practices. Each was challenged to answer the question “How my Faith solves man’s Present Problems: War, Persecution, Prejudice, Poverty-amidst Plenty, antagonistic Nationalisms, Ignorance, Hatred, Fear.” Related conversations continued in New York the following year, and in 1935 the organization published a book of 1004 pages with the transcripts of 242 talks.
Over the years, the Wellers had developed an attachment to the White Mountains, so, in 1940, after the sudden death of their son, Charles Weller escaped up here to think things over, to be alone with his grief, and to figure out what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. He camped for ten days near the summit of Mt. Whiteface, fasting, praying and writing. Then he came down from the mountain with the epiphany that the World Fellowship of Faiths needed a home more permanent than his and Eugenia’s kitchen table, and soon after he found the old Draper Estate in nearby Albany, a farm that had been vacant and neglected for 16 years. He hit up a friend in Chicago, Lola Maverick Lloyd, a founder of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom who had married into the Chicago Tribune fortune, for the down payment, and dozens of others in the Wellers’ network provided the rest of the purchase price of $5000 dollars… for two big old farmhouses, outbuildings, and over 200 acres.
Anyway, with the support of Lola Maverick Lloyd and others, the Wellers were on their way, and in the summer of 1941 the World Fellowship Center opened for business with the slogan “in a time of war, prepare for peace.” By this time, Charles Weller had developed deep convictions in favor of World government, so he had high hopes for the fledgling United Nations. In fact, the Wellers offered our Albany site as a possible location for the UN headquarters; the leadership politely declined, explaining their need to be closer to a major urban center.
In order to really understand what came next, it’s important to remember the political climate in the US in the aftermath of World War Two. By the time the Soviet Union, our former allies, tested their first nuclear bomb in August, 1949 in Kazakhstan, there was already a climate of fear in the United States. The House Un-American Activities Committee had been founded in 1938, but it worked overtime during this period, exposing people in all walks of life for alleged Communist Party membership or sympathies. By the early 1950s, people on the left, especially Communist Party members or those affiliated with organizations controlled by Party members, lived in a state of fear, never knowing when they might be called to testify, or fired from their jobs, or evicted from their apartments for their political beliefs.
By early 1953, momentum had slowed in the national witch hunt, led by Senator Joseph McCarthy, but several states had begun investigations of their own. In New Hampshire, Hugh Gregg had just become governor, and he appointed as attorney general Louis Wyman, an ambitious young Harvard-educated lawyer.
In response, the New Hampshire state legislature passed the Subversive Activities Act, which outlawed any organization from committing or advocating any act intended to overthrow or destroy the constitutional form government by force or violence. Under the authority of this Act, Attorney General Wyman was set up as a one-man investigating committee and began to investigate organizations and individuals looking for communist influence.
Given this climate, imagine the relief families felt when finally saw the sign four miles north of Chocorua and turned right and began winding their way up Drake Hill Road to World Fellowship, a place where they could be together with like-minded people, where they and their children fit in, and where children could run free, untroubled by the prejudice of mainstream society. Relief of a place where children could run free across the grass and among the pines, and talk openly without giving away their parents’ political activities.
By 1953, the Wellers were into their early 80s, and they were ready to retire from their retirement job. So they found a much younger couple, Willard and Ola Uphaus, who were in their mid sixties, to take over the reins of World Fellowship.
Willard defined himself as a Christian Socialist, and a “fellow traveler of Jesus,” but his politics had not always been radical. He had grown up in the rock-ribbed German Republican farm country of Indiana, and remembered feeling sorry for the two misguided local families that were Democrats. He later recalled that during the summer, as the flies buzzed around the lemonade on the kitchen table, his mother would often say, “Willard, swat that Democrat.”
So by the time Willard Uphaus came to World Fellowship, he had already seen careers and lives destroyed by McCarthyism. He had suffered its effects himself, and he had seen organizations for which he’d worked, especially the National Religion and Labor Foundation and the American Peace Crusade, ripped apart by internal divisions or disbanded completely because of the fear anticommunism generated.
At the end of that first summer, 1953, the Wellers had already left for Florida, and Willard and Ola were closing down World Fellowship for the winter. The leaves were beginning to change color, and the crispness of fall was in the air. One morning Uphaus drove into Conway to do some errands, and stopped to pick up a copy of the Union Leader. The big, bold front page headline brought him up short: “Pro-Red Takes Over New Hampshire Fellowship Group”. He read further to discover the news that he supported the Communist Party and was harboring members of subversive organizations. In a small article further down the page, New Hampshire Attorney General Louis Wyman pledged to investigate Uphaus and World Fellowship.
This began a seven year ordeal of interrogations, court appearances that all the way to the US Supreme Court. At issue was whether they would cooperate with the state, providing list of guests and staff to be fine-tooth combed for connections to the Communist Party and other subversive organizations. From the time Willard and Ola received the first subpoena, they new they could not submit to this demand. The idea of exposing other people to what they were going through was not an option for them.
On November 14, 1958, , the Supreme Court justices ruled 5 to 4 that the public interest outweighed Uphaus’s private rights; given the power granted Wyman by the Legislature, the attorney general could force Uphaus to produce the guest list or prosecute him. So Willard Uphaus was sent to Merrimack County Jail in Boscawen for one year, or “until purged of contempt.” On December 14, 1959, Uphaus and his attornies made one last stand before Judge Grant in NH Superior Court. When the judge denied his request and motioned for the sheriff to take him into custody, Ola said “We are no longer ourselves. We are something much bigger.”
Indeed, the Willard Uphaus case became a cause célèbre. That day, as he was led away to begin serving his sentence, 200 supporters were on hand to sing “America,” “My Country Tis of Thee” and “A mighty Fortress is our God,” his favorite hymn. Hundreds of college students demonstrated for his release, and the national media weighed in on the justice or injustice of his sentence. On his 70th birthday the following November, he received 720 cards.
Although Wyman eventually questioned 131 people he suspected of subversion – most of whom he identified in a public report to the Legislature in 1955 – none, including Uphaus, were ever indicted on criminal charges. Both Willard Uphaus and his attorney Hugh Bownes are on the Concord Monitor List of 100 most influential NH people of the 20th century; Wyman didn’t make the list.
During the time Willard was in jail, every Wednesday a caravan of cars made the trip to Boscawen each Wednesday, when Ola and one or two others would be allowed in to see him and the rest would demonstrate for his release: “Free Willard Uphaus.” Some of the folks who still come to World Fellowship to this day first came in contact with World Fellowship at that time. Indeed, Willard always said that his ordeal had been worth thousands of dollars in free publicity. The place became renowned for its defense of civil liberties, and while not many genuine Communists attended before Willard went to jail, more certainly came afterward: just one of history’s little ironies.
As people or organizations, we’re being shaped every day. But there are times that shape us more than others. For World Fellowship, the two great formative periods were the first Gilded Age, when it became clear that everything that has been made possible by human endeavor was at risk because of absurd concentrations of wealth and power, and the McCarthy Era, when the directors took a stand to protect their people and to make room for dissent.
We continue working in this great tradition today. In preparation for every summer, we put together a calendar of more than seventy programs to stimulate the mind, inspire the conscience, or lift up the spirit. There were years when our sign on Route 16 was burned and defaced in various ways by right wing hate groups or local hooligans, and years when we were simply ignored, but we’ve come into a time when I think it’s increasingly understood that an institution with a global focus on creating peace and social justice through education and dialogue inspired by nature is a real local resource.
Ola’s recognition that “We are no longer ourselves, We are something much bigger,” is central to the World Fellowship approach, a big tent, big hearted approach to social change. It’s the vision of life we aspire to and wish to hold up: we are more than just ourselves–the life of which we’re a part doesn’t stop at the outer edge of our individual skin.
Jeffrey Bolster is Professor of History at UNH. Among his fields of expertise is New Hampshire history. He can provide a context for the political atmosphere at the time in the state. Among his publications is the article “‘The Absurdity of Nonresistance’: Reexamining Article 10 of N.H.’s Constitution, the ‘Right of Revolution,’” in Historical New Hampshire, so he can also provide historical background as to analogous cases and antecedents over time.
Clare Chapman is Executive Director of the New Hampshire Council of Churches, which describes itself as “New Hampshire’s religious voice for peace, justice and the integrity of creation.” She is a member of the United Methodist Church, as Willard Uphaus was, and is in a unique position to explore the religious motivations behind the conscientious stand he took, and to give examples of similar cases in which an individual’s religiously motivated expression has come in conflict with the laws of the land. She is a Juris Doctor and served as General Counsel to the National Council of Churches before coming to her current position, giving a strong legal grounding to her perspective as well.
Michael Ferber, our humanities expert and the panel’s facilitator, is Professor of English and Humanities at UNH. During the Vietnam War, while at Harvard Graduate School, he helped organize the draft-resistance movement and returned his own draft card to the Justice Department, which put him at the center of a federal conspiracy trial along with Dr. Benjamin Spock, Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Jr. and others. He has taught courses in civil liberties and nonviolent social change at UNH and Boston University. His personal history combined with deep grounding in the classics and the broader humanities position him well to set just the right tone and raise the big questions for this panel.
Maria Sanders is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy and coordinates the Philosophy program at Plymouth State University. She has a JD degree in addition to a Ph.D. in philosophy, and teaches legal ethics. She is an award-winning teacher with a special interest in the Uphaus case who teaches classes on “Building a Civil Society” and applied ethics. Among the many gifts she brings to the panel, she can speak to the role of the individual’s ethical role in contributing to a functioning civil society.
TRANSPORTATION: BOSTON to & From DOVER
Carpool option Dover is about 1.25 hours from Boston by car. To:
Contact email@example.com by March 25th. Norma will match you up and give you each other’s contact info. After March 25th, contact firstname.lastname@example.org in our office in NH, and we’ll do the best we can.
Public transportation option
The most convenient and timely option seems to be to go to Dover by train and return by bus.
Train from North Station, 5pm Amtrak 685 Downeaster
arrives 6:30pm at the Dover Transportation Center (.4 miles from the Dover City Hall, where the event takes place). Tickets start at $20. We will pick people up at the station and shuttle you to the event. Call Andy at 603-452-4446 if you don’t see us at the station.
After the event, there’s a 9:30pm bus back to South Station, getting in at 11:40pm. Ticket is $18. It’s from a different station, 2.4 miles from the event location. We’ll get you there by 9:20!