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Twentieth Century Radicalism in Minnesota Oral History Project: Interview with Grace Holmes Carlson
BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION: Grace Holmes was born in St. Paul in 1906. Her father, an Irish American, was a boilermaker for the Great Northern Railroad. Her mother, of German descent, encouraged Grace and her sister Dorothy to get good educations. The two girls went to Roman Catholic grade schools and high schools, then on to the College of St. Catherine. Both continued their educations at the University of Minnesota, and Grace earned a doctorate in psychology and educational psychology in 1933. For the first few years after her graduation, Ms. Holmes taught at the University. She also joined the Farmer-Labor Party, and in 1935 she got a job in the Minnesota Department of Education, in the vocational rehabilitation program. Her association with the Farmer-Labor Party did not last long, however. Through her sister, she met some of the leaders of the general drivers' local of the teamsters union, which had just conducted its historic strike in Minneapolis. Since the teamsters' leadership was largely Trotskyist, both the Holmes sisters were soon drawn into the Workers Party of America. There Grace met and married Gilbert Carlson, the attorney for the teamsters union. Dorothy met and later married Henry Schultz, another Trotskyist. When the Workers Party merged into the Socialist Party in 1936, Ms. Carlson became a Socialist, and when the Trotskyists left the Socialist Party in 1938 she attended the founding convention of the Socialist Workers Party. In 1940 she left her job with the state of Minnesota to work full-time for the SWP, as its state organizer. A year later she, her sister, and many of the other leaders of the SWP and Teamsters' Local 544 were indicted under the Smith Act for trying to overthrow the government through force and violence. Ms. Carlson and seventeen others were convicted, and she served thirteen months in a federal prison. Since the Smith Act trial made her something of a celebrity in radical circles, Ms. Carlson toured the country after her release from prison in 1945. Returning to St. Paul in 1946, she resumed her role in the SWP, and ran for U.S. Senate in 1946 and U.S. Congress in 1950. In 1948 she ran for vice-president, and toured the country again with her running mate, Farrell Dobbs. On the eve of the senatorial campaign of 1952, Ms. Carlson abruptly announced her withdrawal from the SWP. Her father's death a year before had shaken her considerably, and she found herself asking questions that a political party could not answer. Although she remained a Marxist until her death, she ceased her party activities, rejoined the Roman Catholic church, and reunited with her estranged husband. This choice led to a period of alienation from her sister, until Dorothy and Henry Schultz were in turn expelled from the SWP some four years later. Ms. Carlson first found a job at St. Mary's Hospital in Minneapolis as a secretary. Soon, however, she was hired to teach at the hospital's school of nursing, which later became St. Mary's Junior College. She retired from that institution in 1972. She remained involved in peace and social justice work through the church until her death in 1992. SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: Memories of growing up in St. Paul's Rice street neighborhood; sources of her radicalism; the First World War. Railroad shopmen's strike, 1922. Comparisons of the Farmer-Labor Party and Workers Party of America. Smith Act trials, 1941. Alderson Federal Correctional Facility, 1944-45: description of inmates activities there; educational testing program in the prison system. Impressions of the St. Paul branch of the Socialist Party, 1930s. Memories of Mulford Sipley. Trotskyist strength in Minnesota; relationship between the Trotskyist parties and Local 544; Trotskyists in other trade unions; participation in the Farmer-Labor Party and Worker Education Program of the Works Progress Administration. Controversy over Dr. John G. Rockwell, state director of education, 1940. Memories of John Jacobsen. Assessment of Elmer A. Benson and Floyd B. Olson. Descriptions of Vincent, Miles, and Grant Dunne. Relations between Trotskyists and Socialist, especially during the period when the Trotskyists belonged to the Socialist Party, 1936–37. Reflections on leaving the SWP, 1952; requests from the FBI to turn informant. Opinions about the impact of the SWP on the labor movement; comparisons of the Communist Party and SWP successes; importance of the social life of both parties to their members; factionalism in the SWP. Experiences with present-day Trotskyists, 1987. Reactions to glasnost in the U.S.S.R., 1987. COMMENTS ON INTERVIEW: The interview is particularly interesting because Ms. Carlson and Mr. Ross at one time held equivalent positions in the Socialist Workers and Communist Parties, respectively. At that time, they would barely have spoken to each other. The interview is a very frank and easy exchange of views, however. There is some repetition of subject matter between the first and second days of interviewing, especially about the Smith Act trial.
4 hours sound cassette
48 pages transcript
Content Category: sound recordings
Content Category: text
03:27:14 running time
Interviewee: Carlson, Grace
Interviewer: Ross, Carl
Made in: Saint Paul, Ramsey County, Minnesota, United States
Creation: 07/07/1987 - 07/14/1987 (Interviews conducted 7/7/1987 and 7/14/1987.)
|Holding Type||Oral History - Interview|
OH 30.13 (Library Call Number)
AV1990.228.9 (Accession Number)
MNHS Library Catalog
Oral History - Project, MHS Collection, project: 'Twentieth Century Radicalism in Minnesota Oral History Project'