Commonwealth College Fortnightly, Papers Now Online

December 30, 2017
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The University of Arkansas Libraries Special Collections completed a project on October 31, 2017 to digitize the run of the Commonwealth College Fortnightly online. The issues begin with volume 2, number 1 (January 1, 1926) and end with volume 14, number 5 (March 15, 1938).  The paper was written, edited, typeset and printed by the staff and students of Commonwealth College, the famed labor college located in Mena, Arkansas. The issues are in most instances, four pages long and include a mix of local labor news; information about upcoming classes, student activities and faculty; as well as short stories and plays.  The Fortnightly was also a vehicle for fundraising and a recruiting tool to attract future students. The issues were distributed to union and labor organizations across the country. Commonwealth College was closed and its assets sold off in 1940.

Several students and faculty members went on to serve in Spain including: Van Rensalaer Chase Jr., Ralph Field, Peter Frye, Henry Griffith Eaton, Norman Law, Harold London, Mary Rader (attended post-Spain), Bob Reed, Max Shufer, and Paul Sigel. One of the more poignant articles deals with the announcement of Henry Eaton’s death at Belchite.  Eaton attended Commonwealth in 1935 and served as vice-president of the class so was well known to the faculty. The article from the volume 13, number 19 (November 1, 1937) issue is presented below:

Henry Eaton

Supper hour in the Commons. Marvin Sanford suddenly pushed back his bench and banged for attention.

“I don’t know quite how to say what I have to Say,” he began. It was the way he said it. There was a hush over the Commons. He continued:

“The other evening a little group of people gathered at Alice Slosson’s home in Los Angeles to give her the news that her son had given his life for Spanish freedom. This comrade, whose great-grandfather fought in the American revolution and whose grandfather had fought in the Civil War, received the blow with rare calm, with restraint and dignity. . .

“Letters were read from buddies of the Los Angeles boy who had volunteered early in the war and joined the George Washington Battalion. Later, he was transferred to a Spanish battalion, which he captained after the other officers were killed. As political commander of his company he had the never-ending and sleepless job of maintaining morale, working on problems of food and water, health and sanitation . . .” Here the Commons group was receiving a new insight into the internal working of the loyalist forces, in keener appreciation.

“An advance was ordered on the fascist walled town, Belchite. Our comrade and his group occupied a position in an olive grove a short distance away.

To the right ware the Lincoln-Washington and Dimitrov forces, to the left were Spanish forces. In the first few feet of advance our comrade received a fascist bullet which ended his life instantly.

“In the night comradely hands inscribed fitting words on a slab of wood, dug a grave and laid him to rest amid the protection of the olive trees . . .

“The company is now named for him –  the Henry Eaton Company.”

It was a solemn moment. To the casual mind it was only a teacher talking to some students about the death of a soldier. But the muse of history may have another name for it.

For the moment the black spectre [sic] of fascism seemed at the very Commons door:

“Henry Eaton was president of the Commonwealth College student body in the fall of 1935 . . . “

“Comrades! Tonight Commonwealth College has one more reason, than which there is none greater, for the intensification of its all-important educational work; for the solidification of its line and program; for its continued resistance to the forces of fascism, the enemy of the world; and finally, for the firmer cementing of the tie that binds us all: the cause of the working class.”

Supper was over in the Commons.

The University of Arkansas’ special collections also includes numerous related items.  They have a page dedicated to the Commonwealth College Collection with a research guide.

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