This account is based on 3 main sources: First, my own recollection, with the internet to check dates (I hope I have them all correct); second, a book by Alistair Cook, A Generation on Trial, and finally the transcripts of some taped interviews my daughter did with my father about 20 years ago.
My father’s name was Henry Julian Wadleigh, but he was always called Julian, except sometimes, in his family, he was called by his nickname, Ribby, because he was quite skinny. He was born on Feb 2, 1904. He was American, but his parents lived in Europe (various countries – Germany, France, Switzerland and Italy) and he was educated in England.
He went to Marlborough, a “public” school, and then to Oxford, where he read classics. My grandmother insisted he do classics, because that is what she believed an English gentleman should do. She was a consummate snob. He had wanted to study entomology, and as a youth, for his own amusement, he wrote a paper entitled, “Insect and Man.”
At Oxford he was considered brilliant, and he expected to become a fellow of Christ Church College. However, he had a long bout of jaundice at the time of his exams, and as a result he took second class honors. At least, that was the excuse for the second. At Oxford he leaned left politically, and was known by other students as “that Bolshie American.”
He was a good looking man, though somewhat nerdy and earnest, completely innocent in all worldly matters. He had a habit of guffawing loudly at things nobody else thought were funny, and not getting the point of most jokes. But he was gentle and good natured, always more comfortable dealing with abstract ideas than with anything concrete or the personal.
Because of the second at Oxford, he gave up the idea of a fellowship and enrolled at the London School of Economics, where he met my mother, a New Zealander. Together they came to the United States. He had a fellowship at the University of Chicago. My mother also got a fellowship there. Both of them later had fellowships at the Brookings Institution.
I was born in 1932 in Washington, DC. I think my father was unemployed at the time, but soon he got a job as an economist at the Department of Agriculture. When I was 3 my mother left to be with another man, a Canadian economist they had met at the University of Chicago. About that time my father transferred to the State Department.
At the end of his tenure in the Department of Agriculture he got mixed up with radical left wing politics. He joined the Socialist Party and got to know a woman named Eleanor Nelson. She turned out to be a communist, and when he wanted to do something active against the growing fascist movement in Europe she put him in touch with the communists in Washington.
At that time we lived in an apartment at a place called Cathedral Mansions, which was across the street form the Washington Zoo. Almost every evening in summer, when he came home from work, he would take me for a walk in the zoo. We walked mostly at the upper end where they kept the elephants. I often rode piggy-back on his shoulders. I had an anxious fear that they would close the gates of the zoo before we got out, and we would be stuck there all night – an eternity to a 3 year old.
Eleanor Nelson introduced my father to a man who would never reveal his real name. He called himself Harold Wilson. Harold Wilson explained to him that if he wanted to work for the communists he would need to submit some of his writing. My father gave them some samples of reports he had done about foreign trade barriers to American farm products. Apparently this satisfied the murky characters in charge of espionage, and he was recruited to take documents from his work, to be copied.
At first he would give the documents overnight to Harold. Later another man was introduced whose name was Carl. This man turned out to be Whittaker Chambers, and he became my father’s usual contact. My father began this activity in 1935. That was when I was 3 and we were walking in the evenings in the zoo.
After my mother left I was taken to my aunt Clare’s because my father couldn’t take care of me and work. I stayed with my aunt for a year. My father moved to the State Department where he worked in the trade agreements division. He came to my aunt’s to visit me several times during that year. My mother came back in 1936 (the Canadian economist dumped her). My father continued his espionage activities. I went to kindergarten.
Early in 1938 my father went to Turkey for nine months to negotiate some trade agreements, about tobacco, among other things. Before he left, at the end of 1937, there was some backing off of his contacts – they had begun to be nervous, not only about getting caught, but also about power struggles in the USSR over the defection of Trotsky. Some spy in Switzerland had been murdered, presumably by Stalin’s secret agents. My father told Harold and Chambers that he would be away anyhow in Turkey.
I spent the summer of 1938 in Italy at my grandmother’s villa which perched high on a hill overlooking the Riviera at a town called Alassio. It was a beautiful summer of swimming and sunshine. I listened to the grown-ups talk about the coming war, and worry about the fascists. Of course, I didn’t understand, but I felt their fear, and I was afraid. From the balcony of my bedroom I watched them after dinner as they had coffee and liqueurs on the terrace below. They dressed for dinner, the ladies in long chiffon skirts that fluttered in the breeze, and the men in worn tuxedos.
My parents came back from Turkey, and I was brought back by my aunt from Italy. We took the night train from Italy to, I think, Marseilles where boarded the Normandy, an elegant ocean liner that later burned in New York harbor (we traveled third class). At the border crossings in Austria and France soldiers with guns came on the train to check papers. I was very frightened of them.
At home I started first grade. My mother was working for the Treasury Department as an economist and my father was still at the State Department. He was no longer in contact with the communists, but one day Chambers called him at his office (a very unusual thing to do) and said he wanted to meet him in Lafayette Park.
“Lafayette Park!” my father said, “That’s right in front of the White House.” They met, however, and Chambers told my father that he had quit the Communist Party and advised my father to do the same. Chambers believed that he and my father were suspected of being Trotskyites and were in danger of being killed. My father hoped that Chambers was being paranoid.
Since my father had had no contact with the communists for more than a year, and he was becoming disillusioned their tactics, he decided that the best thing to do was just stay quiet. Then in August of 1939 Stalin made a non-aggression pact with Hitler, and Stalin and Hitler divided up Poland between them. My father was disgusted by this and vowed to have nothing more to do with the communists.
He was worried, however, that on the one hand Chambers would go to the FBI and tell them everything, and on the other hand that there might be some retaliation against him by the communists. He believed that, in fact, Chambers did go to the FBI, but he went without proof. My father believed that the lack of proof kept the FBI from acting – after all, Chambers might have been a crack-pot. But he felt that his own career in the State Department failed to prosper because of lurking rumors of his communist sympathies.
The war came. Life everywhere changed forever. My mother and father were divorced when I was 8, and I remember Pearl Harbor. My mother remarried, another economist named Carroll Daugherty. I lived with them in New York for a couple of years. There were practice air raid alerts and we had special black-out shades on the windows. My stepfather was called to Washington to head the division of wage stabilization during the war. I went back to my aunt’s house to live permanently.
My father remarried and his choice was less than ideal. My stepmother was a selfish, bad-tempered woman. When troubles came to my father she made them worse.
My father went to Italy for the State Department after the allies invaded, in order to asses the food situation for the war stricken population. He shared an apartment with his brother, Richard Wadleigh (Dickie) in Rome. Dickie was an intelligence officer in the army because he spoke fluent French, Italian and German. He had led the first armored division into Rome because he knew the roads.
The war ended and the post war era began. I was in high school at a girl’s prep school in Andover where my aunt and uncle lived. In 1948 Richard Nixon, an ambitious young congressman who was a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee met Whitaker Chambers, a former editor of Time Magazine who was making headlines by accusing Alger Hiss, a State Department official of being a communist spy.
I think Nixon was an opportunist without any particular ideology. But he saw anti-communism as a way to gain public attention quickly. He summoned Hiss to testify, and Hiss denied the charge. The charges and countercharges dragged on. Hiss sued Chambers. Chambers initially made his accusations without any documentation, but in November Chambers led a group from HUAC to his farm in Maryland and produced a lot of microfilmed documents from the interior of a pumpkin.
I was always interested in politics, so I had been following all this. Even as a small child in Washington I listened to my parents discussing politics and absorbed some of it. My father said that when I was about 5 a neighbor told him, with a sly grin, “I know quite a lot about your political views.” He asked her how she knew and she replied, “From hearing your daughter expressing them.”
One evening in the winter of 1948 I came home from school and the news was on the radio in the kitchen where my aunt was preparing dinner. My 6 year old cousin Deborah was there also. As I entered the room I heard my father’s voice on the radio saying, “I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that it might tend to incriminate me.” As Nixon was asking his next question Deborah began making some sort of loud noise and I screamed at her to be quiet. My aunt said, “Don’t talk to her that way, she’s just a child and doesn’t understand.”
I was sorry I had yelled at Deborah, and overcome with distress about what was happening in the news. I think my aunt had known about it for a while, because my father had already been testifying before a grand jury in New York. Nobody had told me.
The Boston Globe the next day had a headline something like “NIXON QUESTIONS AS AID SQUIRMS” My father’s name, Julian Wadleigh, was all over the front page. My school, Abbot Academy, pulled all the newspapers from stands around the school so that the other girls wouldn’t see them. Wadleigh is not a common name.
I immediately assumed that all the accusations against my father were false. I thought he could do no wrong. My aunt gently tried to tell me that I would be disappointed, but I was positive I was right.
A couple of weeks later he came. In the big front hall of the Andover house as he arrived and took off his scarf and gloves and I said to him, urgently, “You didn’t do it, Daddy, did you?”
Looking down at the hall table he said in a voice tinged with irritation, “Of course I did it.”
I guess that’s when I grew up.
That spring, in 1949 I graduated from high school. I spent the summer in Vermont with my mother and half sister. My stepfather was arbitrating a labor dispute in the steel industry on a board appointed by Harry Truman. The Hiss trial was proceeding and my father was a key witness for the prosecution. At the time he had been testifying before HUAC he was also telling all he knew at the grand jury in New York. Both my stepfather’s and father’s names were often in the newspapers. I went square dancing almost every night with my handsome new boyfriend.
All this happened a long time ago. I have seldom spoken to anyone about it over these years, except for the family and very close friends. Why write about it now?
Because it happened. It was a piece of history, albeit a footnote, and to the best of my ability I have told it truly, as my father ultimately did. I think telling the truth is important. Life is not all happy, our elders are not all inspirations. Life’s fabric is flawed; the flaws make beautiful.
Do I judge my father? The honest answer is yes. He did not do what he did for any sort of personal gain. He was taking action, he thought, to help stop the fascists from enslaving the people of the world. He thought he was joining in a great revolutionary movement. But he was wrong to do what he did. He betrayed a trust, he broke the law, and it was a really dumb thing to do. To carelessly toss aside the ordinary rules that govern us all was to arrogantly put himself above the rest of human kind. He thought himself superior in intelligence and judgment.
There are degrees of error. Ultimately he saw that it was wrong. He stopped doing it, and when confronted, he told the truth. He paid dearly. It ruined his life from the time it began until he was a very old man.
Alger Hiss continued to betray his country long after it was clear to everyone that Stalin was evil and the USSR was our enemy. Alger Hiss went to his grave an unrepentant liar.
Alistair Cook, in A Generation on Trial, wrote:
“If Hiss had said he had done all this, that he had passed papers proudly to confound the Nazis, to quicken the day of deliverance of enslaved populations, he could have been a greater Wadleigh”