Commonwealth College Collections

Now available: Commonwealth College Fortnightly online!

About Commonwealth College

Commonwealth College Students, March 1925, Source: Picture Collection 2898b
Negihbors come to hear Mrs. O'Hare; Source: Picture Colelction 2990

Commonwealth College was established in 1923 at the Newllano Cooperative Colony (near Leesville, Louisiana) to promote labor education and especially to educate leaders for the labor movement. Due to clashes among strong personalities and conflicting priorities, the college was soon looking for a new home. Commonwealth College moved to a temporary location in Mena, Polk County, Arkansas, in December 1924. On April 19, 1925, the school moved to a permanent location thirteen miles west of Mena.

In 1926, the American Legion’s State Convention charged Commonwealth College with Bolshevism, “Sovietism,” Communism, and free love. After months of negative publicity for the school, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover denied that the college had any record of such ideas and activities. These charges, though unfounded at the time, gave Commonwealth a public image of being “Red.”

In June 1931, a student-staff revolt headed by Lucian Koch seized control of the college and ousted the director William E. Zeuch. Activist faculty, staff, and students supported coal miners’ strikes, farm-labor organizations, and the formation of a new Socialist Party in Arkansas. Clay Fulks, the party’s nominee for governor in 1932, was an instructor at Commonwealth.

The school’s increasing involvement with the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union led to its focus shifting almost entirely to providing training for potential union leaders and supporting STFU activities. Conflicts of ideologies and personalities resulted in the STFU severing its relationship with the college by the end of 1938.

The college eventually closed in 1940.

Commonwealth College was in the news a great deal during 1954, when Orval Faubus’ previous attendance at the school became a major campaign issue.

Published Sources for Background Information

Altenbaugh, Richard J. Education for Struggle: The American Labor Colleges of the 1920s and 1930s. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990. MAIN and ARK COLL LC5051 .A69 1990

Cobb, William H. Radical Education in the Rural South: Commonwealth College, 1922–1940. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2000. MAIN and ARK COLL LD1276 .C63 2000

Koch, Raymond, and Charlotte Koch. Educational Commune: The Story of Commonwealth College. New York: Shocken Books, 1972. MAIN and ARK COLL LD1276 .K62

Related Manuscript Collections

Clay Fulks Papers

(MC 1473)

Correspondence, notes, reports, literary manuscripts, published articles, pamphlets, clippings, and other material pertaining to author and socialist Clay Fulks and his family, Commonwealth College, and alternative press materials from the 1920s through the early 1960s.

The Commonwealth College materials include copies of the Commonwealth College Fortnightly, writings by Fulks about Commonwealth, copies of a series of articles about the college published in the Arkansas Gazette in 1954, and newspaper clippings pertaining to the 1954 controversy over Orval Faubus’s early “attendance” at Commonwealth. The bulk of the issues of Commonwealth College Fortnightly in the digital edition were from this collection.

St. John Collection of Commonwealth College Papers

(MC MS Sa235, Loc. 714-717)

Correspondence, memoranda, notes, reports, minutes, bulletins, pamphlets, clippings, and other material pertaining to Commonwealth College.

FBI Commonwealth College Files

Federal Bureau of Investigation, Commonwealth College Files, ca. 1920s-1930s (MC 1323)

Collection consists of 182 copies of documents from FBI records pertaining to Commonwealth College, Mena, Polk County, Arkansas, ca. 1920s-1930s. Contains correspondence and memoranda from the United States Department of Justice, United States Senate, Arkansas House of Representatives, Arkansas Chamber of Commerce in Mena, Arkansas, Arkansas Federation of Women's Clubs, and private citizens from Mena and neighboring communities, regarding the college's allegedly anti-American and immoral practices; transcripts of testimonies against Commonwealth College; Arkansas Legislature report; Arkansas House of Representatives Hearings, H.Res. 220 Investigation of Communist Propaganda, 1930 and H.Res. 282 Investigation of Un-American Propaganda Activities in the United States, 1938; pamphlet, Communism and Commonwealth College Unmasked, by L.D. Summers, Mena, Arkansas; and newspaper clippings.

Information highlighted in black has been deleted by FBI pursuant to Title 5, U.S. Code 552 of the Freedom of Information Act.

William A. Gilbert Papers

Correspondence and papers, 1923-1969 (MC 190)

William A. Gilbert (1892-1976) was a socialist activist and community leader who settled in Ink, Arkansas, in 1924. Originally a member of the Newllano cooperative colony in Louisiana, Gilbert joined with a group of secessionists who wished to establish Commonwealth Community near Mena, Polk County, Arkansas. Gilbert and his wife, Viola, started a small machine shop business at Ink and continued their interest in socialist causes throughout the decades following 1924. William wrote a number of articles for socialist periodicals and ran for state representative of Polk County in 1934.

The papers consist of correspondence, business records, newspapers, pamphlets, tracts, and brochures reflecting his wide range of interests including socialism, mysticism, pacifism, Commonwealth College, Southern Tenant Farmers Union, and the American Legion.

Orval Eugene Faubus Files, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Investigative reports, 1954-1969 (MC 1324)

Files pertain to Orval Eugene Faubus' controversial attendance at Commonwealth College, Mena, Arkansas in 1935; desegregation of public schools in Little Rock, Arkansas, and Governor Faubus' contempt of court; and two separate extortion investigations, 1958 and 1964.

Includes an inquiry made at the request of the Assistant Attorney based on an allegation that Faubus, a Major in the United States Army Reserve, falsely executed a "Loyalty Certificate for Personnel of the Armed Forces," to conceal his association with Commonwealth College. This allegation came out during the primary political campaign between Faubus and Governor Francis Cherry.

Henry Clay East Papers

Correspondence and Printed Materials, 1934-1973 (MC 189)

Henry Clay East (1900-1993) co-founded with H. L. Mitchell the Southern Tenant Farmers Union in Tyronza, Arkansas, in 1934. Born in eastern Arkansas, East attended Blue Mountain Academy and Gulf Coast Military School but returned to Tyronza to operate a gasoline station. In 1932 he was elected township constable and named deputy sheriff and town marshall. East was an active member of the Socialist Party in Arkansas. After serving as the STFU president for a short period, East left the union in 1937 and moved to Arizona. During World War II, he helped organize a union at an aircraft plant in Phoenix. East spent the next thirty years operating gasoline stations and grocery stores in Arizona until his retirement in the early 1970's.

Much of the material is correspondence, 1934-1973, from H.L. Mitchell to East regarding Mitchell's union work after the STFU merged with other labor unions. Some correspondence concerns East's personal and political activities. Also includes clippings, pamphlets, brochures, and newsletters.

RESTRICTION. To protect the privacy of certain individuals, some items have been replaced by positive photocopies with names and sentences obliterated. The original material is restricted until the deaths of the principal parties.

Wilson, Henry Edward, 1921- , collector.

Newllano Colony Papers, 1915-1962. (MC MS W693) 2 feet.

Correspondence, memoranda, financial records, essays, addresses, notebooks, legal briefs, clippings, periodicals and other published and unpublished material, most of which dates from 1917 to c. 1950, pertaining to the history of the Llano Cooperative Colony of Newllano, Louisiana, especially as regards its founding in 1917, its legal and financial relationship with the Llano Del Rio Co., its social aims, financial plans and problems, dissention and conflict among its leaders and members, and the founding of Commonwealth College. Correspondents include Harry J. Early, William A. Gilbert, Job Harriman, A. James McDonald, Kate Richards O'Hare, George T. Pickett, Ernest Wooster, and William Edward Zeuch.

The David And Barbara Pryor Center For Arkansas Oral and Visual History’s Gazette Project

Includes oral histories with references to Commonwealth College, for example:

Microfilm of Selected Manuscript Collections from other Archives

Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union Papers. Southern Historical Collection. University of North Carolina Libraries, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. PER-MFILM S3 .S64 (60 reels of microfilm). A guide to the set is available in REF and PERIODICALS-GUIDES S3 .S64; with an overview guide available online.

Commonwealth College Fortnightly & Other Records PER-MFILM Film 356 Reel 2

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