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Harry Steinmetz Papers, 1917-1986Add to your cart. | Special Collections & University Archives

Title: Harry Steinmetz Papers, 1917-1986Add to your cart.
ID: MS-0305
Extent: 23.75 Linear Feet
expand icon Historical Note

Harry Steinmetz was a professor of Psychology at San Diego State College from 1930 until 1954. His career was subject to controversy, as he was dismissed from his teaching position on grounds of insubordination and subversion stemming from allegations of Communist affiliation. California law was significantly altered for the purpose of expediting his dismissal.

A Seattle native, Steinmetz received his bachelor's degree in Psychology from Purdue University, his masters from the University of Maryland, and his PhD from UC Berkeley. He began teaching at San Diego State College in 1930, serving as an associate professor of Psychology, and sat as chairman of the department for several years.

Though it was well known that Steinmetz held liberal political views, he became more conspicuous once faculty members became aware of his political involvement outside of campus. In 1935, Steinmetz unsuccessfully ran for mayor on a Socialistic platform and held high offices in local labor organizations. His position as an educator caused some to become suspicious of him in the conservative political climate after WWII. The first formal action taken against Steinmetz came from San Diego County Posts of the American Legion and the Disabled American Veterans Association. His influential position at the University gave these organizations reason to believe that he could coerce impressionable students into adopting Communist values.

San Diego's post-war conservativism and strong ties to the military influenced the public's willingness to embrace an intolerance of non-conformity. Though Steinmetz was unthreatened by legal action at this point, local newspapers and media portrayed the professor in a suspicious light; associating him with Communist organizations and institutions. This attention was eventually enforced by legislative action made by state Senator Fred H. Kraft of San Diego. The senator was once a part of the California Legislature's Investigating Committee on Un-American Activities, and he created a bill that would have provided for the "dismissal of employees of state colleges" by expanding "unprofessional conduct" to include "persistent active participation in public meetings conducted or sponsored by a communist front organization," and "willful advocacy of communism, either on or off campus." Further, it allowed dismissal proceedings to be initiated by anybody who wished to file a complaint.  This proposal was vetoed by Governor Earl Warren, yet the anti-Communist sentiment permeating the country set the stage for further legal action against the professor.

On March 26, 1953, Steinmetz received a subpoena from the House Un-American Activities Committee, chaired by Congressman Harold Velde, and was required to appear before the committee. As Steinmetz once held a position with the American Federation of Teachers, he was questioned as to whether or not there had been any Communist infiltration of the organization. As the professor wished to protect himself from self-incrimination, he invoked the Fifth Amendment, creating an even greater air of suspicion surrounding his involvement with the Communist party.

Breaking what had been several months of silence, Steinmetz gave a vehement speech before 300 students, speaking out against the methods and purpose of the questioning committee. The speech was met with rancorous reactions from several prominent community members; many of which called for San Diego State College to dismiss the professor. Finally, on February 5, 1954, Steinmetz was fired from San Diego State College. He spent two years in appeals, where his lawyers challenged the constitutionality of the Luckel Act, which incorporated many of Senator Kraft's early proposals. The courts contended that although Steinmetz may have not been a threat to national security, he was definitely guilty in terms of his subversion of students. It was not until 1968 that the Luckel Act was ruled as unconstitutional, when it was too late for the professor.

Steinmetz spent the rest of his working career "hiding out," though he did continue to be active in left-wing causes. He practiced psychology in San Diego and Los Angeles, and lived in Europe, Canada, Michigan, and Georgia. He returned to SDSC in the late 60's, eventually receiving the title of Professor Emeritus. Steinmetz died on February 15, 1982 at the age of 82.

expand icon Arrangement

I. Personal Papers

II. Correspondence

III. Education and Social Awareness Groups

IV. Various Articles and Newspapers

V. Periodicals

VI. Oversized Materials

VII. Miscellaneous

expand icon Forms of Material (links to similar genres)
expand icon Administrative Information
Acquired: 03/08/1983.
Restrictions: This collection is open for research.
Rights: The copyright interests in these materials have not been transferred to San Diego State University. Copyright resides with the creators of materials contained in the collection or their heirs. The nature of historical archival and manuscript collections is such that copyright status may be difficult or even impossible to determine.  Requests for permission to publish must be submitted to the Head of Special Collections, San Diego State University, Library and Information Access. When granted, permission is given on behalf of Special Collections as the owner of the physical item and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder(s), which must also be obtained in order to publish. Materials from our collections are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials.
Acquisition Note: Harry C. Steinmetz
Preferred Citation: Identification of item, folder title, box number, Harry Steinmetz Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, Library and Information Access, San Diego State University.
Collection Material Type: Personal Papers
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