California Labor School

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
California Labor School
San Francisco

United States
Other nameTom Mooney Labor School

The California Labor School (CLS) (1942–1957), was formerly named the Tom Mooney Labor School (renamed in 1945), was an educational house in San Francisco from 1942 to the 1957.[1][2] Along with the contemporary Jefferson School of Social Science, the CLS represented the "transformed and upgraded" successors of the "workers schools" of the 1920s and 1930s, e.g., New York Workers School.[3]


During World War II, as part of Browderism, Communist Party USA Earl Browder established new communist "schools of social sciences" in major urban areas. On the East Coast, these schools included names of American patriots: the Sam Adams School (Boston), Tom Paine School of Social Sciences (Philadelphia), George Washington Carver School (Harlem, New York), Abraham Lincoln School (Chicago), and Jefferson School of Social Sciences (New York). West Coast schools used geographic names: the Pacific Northwest Labor School and the California Labor School.[3]


The CLS was founded in August 1942, in premises above a car showroom at 678 Turk Street in San Francisco, and named for labor leader Tom Mooney, who had died on 6 March that year. It later moved to a 5-story building at 216 Market Street, and in 1947 bought premises at 240 Golden Gate Avenue.[3][4]

The school was supported by 72 trade unions, including members of the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations.[1] Its initial program "promised to analyze social, economic and political questions in light of the present world struggle against fascism".[4] It also taught the arts: the teenage Maya Angelou had a scholarship to study dance and drama.[5] The school taught students on many subjects such as labor organization, journalism, music, drama, history, women's studies, economics and industrial arts.[1] Union officials and professors from Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley taught the courses at CLS.[1] The most popular course at the CLS called "Mental Hygiene Today" was taught by Erik Erikson.[6] The most important history course was called "History and Problems of the Negro in America".[6] The school offered different kinds of services such as preparing union pamphlets and newspapers, conducting dance concerts and theatrical shows at local meetings.[6]


The largest funder of the CLS was the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), headed by Harry Bridges. The American Federation of Labor (AFL), Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), American Veterans Committee, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACOP) also supported it.[3]

People's Educational Center[edit]

From 1944 to 1948, the school ran a "counterpart" or "extension" called the "People's Educational Center" (or "Peoples Educational Center). Its head was Dorothy Healey, head of the Communist Party of Los Angeles. Frances Eisenberg of Canoga Park High School served on its board of directors. John Lawson was an instructor there.[7][8] Robert E. Stripling stated that the center succeed the writers school of the League of American Writers. Sam Wood testified that Edward Dmytryk taught there. Oliver Carlson testified that William Wolfe of the ILGWU education department ran it, succeeded by Sidney Davison (sent from New York); Herbert Biberman taught there (Soviet theater), as did Guy Endore Robert Lees. Advisors included Lees, Lawson, Healey, Herbert Sorrell, Frank Tuttle, and Sondra Gorney.[9][10]

Attendance and closure[edit]

From 1945 to 1947 the school was accredited for veterans' education under the G.I. Bill of Rights, and by 1947 there were 220 full-time students, among the 1800 students attending 135 classes. In 1948 the school was placed on the Attorney General's List of Subversive Organizations and attendances declined.[7] The school closed in 1957.[2][4]


David Jenkins was the initial director and Holland Roberts was the first education director for this "people's school." [1][3]


Teachers included Oleta Yates, Jules Carson, Celeste Strack, Tillie Olsen, muralist Anton Refregier, and dramatist Dave Sarpis, and psychologist Erik Erikson. Artist Pele de Lappe taught figure drawing in the 1940s at CLS.[11]

Howard Selsam and Philip S. Foner lectured at CLS, as guests from the Jefferson School.[3]


Archives of the school's material are held in the Labor Archives & Research Center of California State University[12] and the University of Michigan.[1]

The Graphic Arts Workshop (GAW) of San Francisco, a cooperative print studio, was founded in 1952 by several artists from the California Labor School.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Finding Aid for the California Labor School Records, 1942-1955". University of Michigan: Special Collections Library. Retrieved 15 April 2013. Includes several paragraphs about the school
  2. ^ a b Carlsson, Chris. "California Labor School, Historical Essay". FoundSF. Retrieved 2019-06-05. and by 1957, the California Labor School closed its doors for good.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Gettleman, Marvin (7 October 2001). "Lost World of U.S. Labor Education: Curricula at East and West Coast Community Schools, 1944-1957" (PDF). Gotham Center.
  4. ^ a b c "California Labor School". Social Networks and Archival Context Project. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  5. ^ "Biography". Official Website. Maya Angelou. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  6. ^ a b c Robert W., Cherny (2004). "East and West Coast Communist Schools". In William, Issel; Kieran Walsh, Taylor (eds.). American Labor and the Cold War: Grassroots Politics and Postwar Politics. New Jersey: Rutgers University. pp. 207–208. ISBN 0-8135-3403-8.
  7. ^ a b Committee on Un-American Activities, United States House of Representatives (March 1947). Investigation of Un-American Propaganda Activities in the United States. US GPO. pp. 244, 246. Retrieved 29 October 2001.
  8. ^ Investigation of Communist Activities in the Los Angeles, Calif., Area. US GPO. July 1955. p. 1786. Retrieved 29 October 2001.
  9. ^ "Hearings regarding the communist infiltration of the motion picture industry". US GPO. 1947. pp. 68 (Wood), 241-242 (Carlson), 244 (Carlson). Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  10. ^ Ryskind, Allan (5 January 2015). Hollywood Traitors: Blacklisted Screenwriters Ð Agents of Stalin, Allies of Hitler. Regnery. pp. 191-193 (Carlson), 234 (Davison). Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  11. ^ "Pele deLappe Papers". Online Archive of California, California Digital Library. Retrieved 2019-06-04.
  12. ^ "Inventory of the California Labor School Collection, 1942 - 1957". Online Archive of California. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  13. ^ Hamlin, Jesse (2002-11-25). "The Graphic Arts Workshop presses forward / S.F. artists group works for social justice". SFGate. Retrieved 2019-06-04.
  14. ^ "Re: Workmen's Educational Association - San Francisco". H-LABOR@H-NET.MSU.EDU. 26 July 2000. Retrieved 7 February 2016.

External sources[edit]