Early Congressional Smear Attempt of WRL

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War Resisters League - One Hundred Years of Nonviolent Resistance

During my research of WRL's history, every now and then a little gem pops up, thanks to the continuing digitization of old magazines and newspapers, not to mention new student theses and books by historians. One such item dates to the earliest days of WRL. 

In July 1926, when not yet three years old, an attempt was made to smear the League during a congressional hearing. That hearing centered on a bill seeking to prohibit the Army from teaching military courses in public schools.*

Congressmen Carl Vinson (D, KY) and Frank James (R, MI) were grilling John Nevin Sayre, future head of FOR and chair of the Committee on Militarism in Education, not so much about the bill as on Sayre's reputation by linking him with William Z. Foster and the Communist Party USA, Big Bill Haywood and the I.W.W., Roger Baldwin and the ACLU, and anarchists in general. But near the end the reserved their coup de grâce with the following line of questioning:

A page from the United States Daily, Wednesday, July 7, 1926 with the headline "Witness Suggests Outlawing of War Through Treaties: The Rev. John Nevin Sayre Gives Views at Committee Hearing on Welsh Bill"Mr. Frank James: Mr. Sayre, who is Kathleen Whitaker Sayre?

Mr. John Nevin Sayre: She is my wife, sir.

Mr. James: She is an officer of the War Resisters League is she not?

Mr. Sayre: I believe she belongs to that group.

Mr. James: The War Resisters League is an enrollment of persons, without regard to age, sex or creed, who have subscribed to the following statements: “I declare it to be my intention never to take part in war, offensive or defensive, international or civil, whether it be by bearing arms, making or handling munitions, voluntarily subscribing to war loans or using my labor for the purpose of setting others free for war service.” Is that correct?

Mr. Sayre: Yes, sir, I believe it is. It sounds familiar.

Mr. James: Do you subscribe to that?

Mr. Sayre: I think I explained to the committee that I personally do not recollect ever having signed such a statement, but I dare say my wife has.

Mr. James: You say that you never associated, never had anything at all to do with Communists, if I understand you correctly?

Mr. Sayre: I said that there was no Communists on my committee and I had very little contact with them. I do not say I have never met one in my life.

The testimony continued a bit more but portended future attempts by Congress, FBI, government spy agencies, NY Police Department, conservative media, among others to tarnish WRL’s legitimacy and reputation.

Kathleen Whitaker Sayre (1884-1982) was a founding member of WRL, on the WRL Executive Committee from 1924 to 1928, and hosted early meetings of the League at her NYC home with John Nevin Sayre whom she married in 1922. She was also a member of FOR and Executive Secretary of Rockland County Peace Association.

blog post by Ed Hedemann


*House Committee on Military Affairs hearings on House bill No. 8538, known as the Welsh anti-compulsory military training bill “would prohibit Army officers, et al., teaching in any military training course in any educational institution that requires military training, except” military schools



“The Rev. John Nevin Sayre Gives Views at Committee Hearing on Welsh Bill,” The United States Daily, p. 14, July 7, 1926

Scott Bennett, Radical Pacifism: The War Resisters League and Gandhian Nonviolence in America, 1915-1963, 2003