Eugene and Peggy Dennis Papers, 1923-1982

Scope and Content Note

The papers of Eugene and Peggy Dennis document thirty-three years of the couple's political work together as Communist Party activists, and, after the death of Eugene Dennis in 1961, over twenty years of Peggy Dennis's own political activities. The collection consists of correspondence, newspaper and periodical articles, unpublished writings, research notes, and tape recordings.

About half of the collection consists of correspondence, articles, unpublished writings, and notes relating to the couple's organizing activities in this country and abroad from 1925 to 1961. Peggy Dennis used this material to write The Autobiography of an American Communist.

The remaining half of the collection dates from the 1960s and 1970s, and consists of writings by Peggy Dennis and others, Peggy Dennis' business and personal correspondence, a small amount of material arranged by subject, notes, and two high school autograph/scrapbooks. Her papers include literature and notes from a 1965 trip through eastern Europe and articles about anti-Semitism and Soviet dissent. Peggy Dennis' personal correspondence with individuals around the country reveals her perspectives on the Party and social movements. The collection contains numerous writings on women and feminism by Peggy Dennis and others.

The collection is organized in six series. The BIOGRAPHY series consists of two folders, one containing two of Peggy Dennis' high school autograph/scrapbooks, and some material relating to her early political activity. The other file contains articles and forms which briefly review her life.

Although correspondence is scattered throughout the collection, the main body of correspondence is filed in a CORRESPONDENCE series, divided into two parts, Eugene and Peggy Dennis Correspondence, and Peggy Dennis Correspondence. The correspondence between Eugene and Peggy Dennis are letters exchanged between the Dennises during Eugene's prison term. The Peggy Dennis correspondence is divided into Business and Personal subseries and is arranged chronologically within each. Correspondence which contains both personal and business information is filed in the Personal subseries, as is correspondence with Communist Party officials. The Business correspondence primarily concerns Peggy Dennis' publishing endeavors. Letters to editors are included in the Writings series.

The major portion of the WRITINGS series consists of Peggy Dennis' research materials for The Autobiography of an American Communist. This material has been kept in chronological order, as established by Peggy Dennis. The dates assigned to the folders correspond to the time period associated with the subject, however, recent correspondence and other material about the subject area also is found here. Many writings by Eugene Dennis are included in this section, filed by date. His advocacy of coalitions among progressive organizations and his resistance to sectarianism within the Communist Party are well documented here.

Box 3, folder 4 contains material on the years the Dennises lived in Wisconsin, particularly the activities of Communists in the rank-and-file movement which helped form the Congress of Industrial Organizations in the 1930s. This was also the period when the Communist Party experimented with the United Front, a coalition of organizations on the Left working together to oppose fascism and to sustain the gains of the New Deal. One can trace the evolution of Dennis's support for the Farmer-Labor-Progressive Federation and his critiques of the state Progressive Party and the Socialist Party of Milwaukee. Included in this folder is an unpublished manuscript compiling a number of major articles written by Eugene Dennis on the United Front, with introductory comments by Peggy Dennis.

Box 4, folders 3, 4, and 5 contain clippings, trial transcripts, personal notes, and personal correspondence on the 1949 trial and conviction of Eugene Dennis and ten colleagues under the Smith Act. Folder 5 contains a handwritten legal brief composed for the Party's attorneys by Dennis while in the Atlanta federal prison. It outlines the political and constitutional arguments against the McCarran Act, which threatened the Party's legality at that time. Other notes written in prison comment on the U.S. penal system.

Articles, personal notes, and letters in boxes 3-9 provide a base for analysis of the internal difficulties within the Communist Party after its leaders emerged from prison and from the underground. During this period Communist leaders sought to rebuild the Party in light of Khrushchev's 1956 denunciations of Stalinist era crimes. Material from the 1940's and 1950's also deals with the status of Blacks and the Cold War atmosphere.

The Notes in the WRITINGS series, box 6, folder 7 and boxes 7, 8 and 9, cover topics such as organizing in California and Wisconsin, the status of minorities, China, the Soviet Union, the Smith Act trial of 1949, McCarthyism, and inner Party politics. The Note Cards (boxes 7, 8, and 9) are divided by subject and arranged roughly chronologically thereunder, as arranged by Peggy Dennis. Also included in the WRITINGS series are newspaper and periodical articles, unpublished manuscripts, research notes and correspondence. Writings by Peggy Dennis and others which are related are filed with Peggy Dennis' writings. Some biographical material on Eugene Dennis can be found in box 6, folder 6.

The RESEARCH FILE series is arranged in two parts. The chronological section consists of published writings on a wide range of political and social issues by numerous authors, among others, Gus Hall, Irwin Silber, and Michael Harrington. It also contains correspondence, writings, and notes, arranged chronologically on specific topics. The subject portion of this series includes runs of Party Affairs and material about Al Richmond and Dorothy Healey's resignations from the Communist Party. Writings and notes in the file entitled “Peggy Dennis' Trip to Eastern Europe” are arranged by country in the following sequence: the U.S.S.R., the G.D.R., Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia.

The TAPE RECORDINGS consist of five cassettes recorded in 1977 and 1978. No. 1 is a talk and question-and-answer session on the status of women in the Communist Party, given by Peggy Dennis to students in the women's studies program at the University of California at Los Angeles. Nos. 2 and 3 are the radio show “California Hard Times”, aired on radio station KPFA as part of the Berkeley Radical Oral History Project. On the tape, seven radicals active since the 1930s, Lorraine Ballard, Peggy Dennis, Ed Robbins, Marcela Stack, Archie Brown, Rose DeLarma, and Al Richmond, discuss activism on the west coast during the Depression. Bruce Kaiper acted as moderator. No. 2 covers the organization of agricultural and maritime workers, the Upton Sinclair Movement and the End Poverty in California Program. Discussion on No. 3 centers on Dust Bowl migration and the Tom Mooney case. Nos. 4 and 5 are an interview with Jessica Mitford and Peggy Dennis, aired on KSAN in San Francisco. A question-and-answer period ends the tape which terminates before the session actually concludes. Topics covered include the organization of agricultural workers in Southern California in the 1930s, Eugene Dennis, the Truman loyalty oath, life in the USSR, and why people left the Communist Party.