Scope and Content
Title: Belle Persons Clewe Papers,
Date (inclusive): 1921-1960
Collection number: MSS 014
Clewe, Belle Persons
Extent: 3 document cases
Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research.
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[Identification of item], Belle Persons Clewe Papers, #, Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research, Los
Belle Persons Clewe (dates not known) was a teacher in the Los Angeles school district from the early part of the century
until approximately the late 1930s or early 1940s. As a member of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF),
she was active in local peace and disarmament efforts.
Clewe's education was on the East Coast; she went to Wellesley, earned her B.S. degree from Columbia University and was granted
a teaching diploma from Teacher's College at Columbia. After teaching kindergarten for a year and a half at Horace Mann, the
laboratory school at Teacher's College, she turned to physical education for young children, work which resulted in 1905 in
a book entitled
Plays and Games for Indoors and Out. Shortly after the book's publication, Clewe moved to California where she continued to write articles for journals in the
field of education.
In Los Angeles, Clewe taught English at various high schools. She married John F. Clewe, also a teacher, in 1915. From 1919
until 1922 she took a leave of absence from her career and worked as Assistant Campaign Manager for the Citizens for Better
Schools Campaign--a committee organized to support candidates for the Board of Education election of 1921. The Better Schools
candidates ran successfully that year against candidates backed by the conservative Better America Federation but lost during
the Board elections of 1923.
While teaching at Huntington Park Union High School in 1923, Clewe faced charges of un-Americanism which, while not substantiated,
led to her reassignment. She began teaching at Fairfax High School in 1924 under the onus of radicalism but did not curtail
her teaching of disarmament issues. In 1928, her class presented speeches on the Kellogg-Briand Peace Pact and, as an act
to back up their words, took letters to their parents urging letters in support of the Pact be mailed to senators.
Public interest surrounded the Geneva Conference talks on universal disarmament scheduled to convene February 1932. At Fairfax,
both the American Legion Hollywood Post essay contest and the Goodwill Day speech contest, sponsored by WILPF and involving
Clewe's speech students, had disarmament as their topic. Interested students in Clewe's class also took petitions to circulate
in their neighborhoods and other students in the school were encouraged to do so as well. Some members of the American Legion,
dismayed at positions taken by students in favor of disarmament, and members of various other `patriotic societies, met at
the Hollywood Post to condemn the teaching of what they considered to be rhetoric undermining the strength of the nation.
They issued a statement to the press calling for the dismissal of R.G. Van Cleve, the principal at Fairfax, and for disciplinary
measures to be taken against Clewe.
Clewe and Van Cleve presented their case before the Board of Education prior to the 1931 summer recess and charges were unofficially
dropped, or at least proved inconclusive. However, in July, Clewe received notice that she was to be transfered at the start
of the school year to another school, a position that would have been a demotion. At her protest, the transfer date was postponed
until February. The issue of Clewe's transfer provided the motivation for a Parents' Committee meeting with the Hollywood
Post and for continued meetings during the autumn of 1931, including one on December 2, 1931 for which a transcript was taken.
The Board of Education publicly exonerated Clewe from all charges brought against her on January 21, 1932.
Clewe was transfered to a corresponding position at John Marshall High School in February of 1932, and although she was teaching
in a tent, expressed satisfaction with the change. It is not known whether or not she encountered additional opposition to
her teaching philosophy.
After retirement, Clewe became active in Everybody's Committee to Outlaw War and occasionally attended services and events
at the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles.
Scope and Content
The bulk of the material in this collection derives from the 1931 incident at Fairfax High School in which Clewe was criticized
for involving her students in disarmament issues. The first series, FAIRFAX HIGH SCHOOL, is comprised of this material and
is followed by REFERENCE MATERIALS, CORRESPONDENCE, ORGANIZATIONS AND ACTIVITIES, and JOHN F. CLEWE.
FAIRFAX HIGH SCHOOL includes material Clewe gathered to offer in her defense during various meetings and hearings held from
May of 1931 through January of 1932. Included are school memos, classroom material and articles from the student newspaper,
Colonial Gazette, regarding the disarmament projects she initiated in her classes. Also included are instructions for the American Legion Hollywood
Post Patriotic Essay Contest held in May of 1931. Certain that the Better America Federation was the organization instigating
the complaint, Clewe retained a copy of an article from their Special Bulletin in which WILPF is named as the `League for
Peace-time Sedition' and the `truth' of the Fairfax story is told.
The major statement Clewe prepared was for the joint committee meeting on December 2, 1931 of the Parents' Committee organized
in Clewe's behalf and members of the American Legion. Members of the `patriotic societies' were invited in order that they
might state the case against Clewe and allow her the opportunity to publically clarify her actions or refute their charges.
In this statement, Clewe discusses WILPF and the American Civil Liberties Union (both of which were perceived to have a commitment
to communism), the meaning of and general support for universal disarmament, and denies her supposed hostile treatment of
boys enrolled in the R.O.T.C. program at Fairfax. Although it is not specifically known what meetings were held before the
December 2nd meeting, it seems that they were not as public nor as well documented and were likely meetings held between Clewe,
R.G. van Cleve (the principal at Fairfax), and members of the Board of Education. It may have been that Clewe's shorter statement,
in which she itemizes the inaccuracies of the stories appearing in the press, was prepared and adapted for those earlier meetings.
The notes she took and the drafts she wrote in the course of preparing her statements are retained in this series as are the
exhibits she duplicated for inclusion in her statements.
Clewe clipped and annotated the newspaper articles appearing at the outset of the incident in order that she might make note
of their inaccuracies and misstatements. Later, she clipped articles regarding her exoneration, the vote for which was taken
by the board at their meeting January 21, 1932 and reported in the press the following day.
Among the correspondence from friends in which they express their regret or anger at the injustice of the situation is a letter
dated June 11, 1931 from Florence Curtis Hansen of the American Federation of Teachers (Chicago office) pledging union support
for Clewe; attached is John Clewe's responce in Belle's behalf. Also included is the copy of a letter from Ethelwin Mills--President
of the California State Council of WILPF--for publication in the Los Angeles
Herald as a public statement regarding the history and aims of WILPF. Clewe's letter of March 1934 to Howard K. Beale is, of all
the material in the series, that which most elucidates the episode at Fairfax.
The transfer to John Marshall High School was to some extent welcomed by Clewe--she sent letters, copies of which are in the
Transfer folder, to Board members Eckman and Sheldon expressing both her thanks for their help in procuring her exoneration
and her satisfaction with her new assignment. Also included are four photographs taken of Clewe and her students in the tent
they used as their homeroom at John Marshall.
The remainder of the material is much less directly concerned with details of Clewe's life. The series REFERENCE MATERIALS
includes articles, quotations and statistics Clewe collected, organized and used for various presentations both before and
after she incorporated some of it into her Fairfax statements. The folder entitled Free Speech, includes a clipping about
the activities of Yetta Stromberg and the `Red Flag' decision of the State Court of Appeals.
The series CORRESPONDENCE includes in a general file personal letters from friends. Letters to Clewe from Upton Sinclair and
letters from fellow supporters of Sinclair's 1934 campaign to End Poverty in California (EPIC) are included in subsequent
In the ORGANIZATIONS AND ACTIVITIES series is located material detailing the Board of Education campaigns of 1921 and 1923,
the campaigns in which the Clewes were most heavily involved, and the campaigns of 1933 and 1935. The exact date of Clewe's
retirement is not known, but evidence of her contining interest in education and of the rights of
teachers is seen in mailings from the American Federation of Teachers Union (AFT), Los Angeles branch and the Teachers Defense
Committee. The draft for the undated essay, A Perilous Adventure in Democracy, appears to have been co-authored by Belle and
perhaps John and is included in this series for its discussion of the American Federation of Teachers.
Material concerning peace and disarmament organizations covers a span of years--from 1919 until well into the 1960s--and,
as the incident at Fairfax suggests, comprised the major focus of Clewe's activism. The articles and pamphlets she collected
regarding the Kellogg-Briand Peace Pact in 1928 and the Geneva Conference conceivably were used to spark discussion or as
research material in her classes as students prepared their Armistice and Goodwill Day speeches. Pamphlets about the history
of WILPF and clippings about Jane Addams, WILPF's International President, were used to disprove the linkage proposed by members
of the `patriotic societies' between WILPF and communism. Included in the WILPF pamphlet folder are programs from the convention
held in Los Angeles at the Hotel Roosevelt in Hollywood in June of 1931. The Clewes also took part in the California leg of
the WILPF Peace Caravan, a motor parade taken across the U.S. to Washington DC where signed disarmament petitions were presented
to President Hoover. After World War II, both Clewes held office in Everybody's Committee to Outlaw War. A folder on that
committee in the Library's Organizational File (Box 8) supplements material in the Clewe Collection as does the Libary's collection
on the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles.
The final series JOHN F. CLEWE consists of material collected by Belle's husband John, and is included here due to the overlap
between their interests and the likelihood that they acted to some degree in tandem.