The Bertrand Russell Case

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Kay v. Board of Higher Education
CourtSupreme Court of New York, New York County
Full case nameIn the Matter of the Application of Jean Kay, Petitioner, v. Board of Higher Education of the City of New York
DecidedMarch 30, 1940
Citation(s)1193 Misc. 943 18 N.Y.S. (2d) 821 (1940)
Court membership
Judge(s) sittingJohn E. McGeehan

The Bertrand Russell Case, edited by John Dewey and Horace M Kallen, is a collection of articles on the 1940 dismissal of Bertrand Russell as Professor of Philosophy from the College of the City of New York.


Russell's appointment was confirmed by New York's Board of Higher Education in spite of a media frenzy led by Dr William Thomas Manning, the Episcopal Bishop of New York City. The matter was however taken to the New York Supreme Court by Jean Kay who was afraid that her daughter would be harmed by the appointment, though her daughter was not a student at CCNY.[1]

Court case[edit]

The judge hearing the case was the Irish Catholic John E. McGeehan who on the basis of four of Russell's popular and non-philosophic books (On Education, What I Believe, Education and the Modern World, and Marriage and Morals) ruled against 'a chair of indecency,' finding Russell morally unfit to teach philosophy.[2] In the books, Russell advocated sex before marriage, among other things.[3]

Russell was prevented from appearing in court and an appeal by the American Civil Liberties Union was denied in several courts. The City of New York's lawyers told the Board of Higher Education that the verdict would not be appealed. A few days later Mayor LaGuardia removed the funds for the position from the budget.[4]

Judge McGeehan's ruling was published as Kay v. Board of Higher Ed. of City of New York, 193 Misc. 943 18 N.Y.S. (2d) 821 (1940).[5]


When Russell published An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth, the lectures he gave at Harvard that fall, he added "Judicially pronounced unworthy to be Professor of Philosophy at the College of the City of New York" to the listing of distinctions and academic honours on the title page in the British version.[6] Russell commented on Judge McGeehan that, "As an Irish Catholic, his views were perhaps prejudiced," and compared his case to the case against Socrates saying that "precisely the same accusations were brought — atheism and corrupting the young."[7]


  • Bertrand Russell, The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell: The Middle Years: 1914-1944. Bantam, 1969.
  • Thom Weidlich. Appointment Denied: The Inquisition of Bertrand Russell. Prometheus Books, 2000.


  1. ^ McCarthy, Joseph M. (May 1993). The Russell Case: Academic Freedom vs. Public Hysteria (PDF). Educational Resources Information Center. p. 9.
  2. ^ Kennedy, Walter B.; White, Jr., William R. (1941). "The Bertrand Russell Case Again". Fordham L. Rev. Fordham University. 10 (2): 196–218. Retrieved 17 November 2017.
  3. ^ "Sex Seer", in Time, November 4, 1929.
  4. ^ Editors, Law Review (1940). "The Bertrand Russell Litigation". The University of Chicago Law Review. The University of Chicago. 8 (2): 316–325. Retrieved 17 November 2017.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  5. ^ "School Boards--Discretionary Power--Appointment of Professors--Judicial Review (Kay v.Board of Higher Education, 193 Misc. 943 (1940))". St. John's Law Review. St. John's. 15 (1): Article 24. November 1940. Retrieved 17 November 2017.
  6. ^ Russell, Third Earl Bertrand (2017-06-06). In Praise of Idleness: The Classic Essay with a New Introduction by Bradley Trevor Greive. Macmillan. ISBN 9781250098726.
  7. ^ Feinberg, Barry; Kasrils, Ronald (2013-01-04). Bertrand Russell's America: His Transatlantic Travels and Writings. Volume One 1896-1945. Routledge. ISBN 9781135099558.