Robert Meeropol |
Eric Foner |
Lisa Harbatkin |
Deborah Heller |
Ann Dermansky |
Amy Kesselman |
Ellen Bernstein Murray |
Alan Snitow |
Children of the Blacklist:
Stephen Adler is an award-winning physics professor at
the Institute for Advanced Study. His parents, Irving and Ruth Adler, were
Teachers Union members who had been investigated during the blacklist era.
In Irving's video, he expressed concern over his son's application to Harvard
because of his own dismissal from the Board of Education. Steve tells his
own story here:
Photo by Cliff Moore
Courtesy of the
Institute for Advanced Study
I remember feeling that if I achieved in school, and earned
people's respect that way, it would redeem my family's reputation. So
in a funny way the witch hunt was a positive formative experience for me --
it motivated me to work hard, and to look inwards for self-motivation and
My experience with the left-wing movement has made me wary
of dogmas of all sorts, including in physics, where in my choices of problems
to work on I have always been a bit of a contrarian. Sometimes this has been
good, sometimes bad -- when the crowd is running in the right direction, it
pays to run with them. But when the field becomes bound by dogmas and
bandwagons that are dead ends, being a sceptic can pay dividends.
I do remember picketing at the Board of Education, and on
occasion I went in to the TU headquarters with my father, and remember
Rose Russell, (TU legislative representative) who I recall being glamorous
and very gracious. If I remember correctly, she saved stamps from overseas
for my stamp collection.
|Steve Adler, son of Irving and
Ruth Adler, on picket line in front of the
Waldorf-Astoria, where there was a testimonial dinner
being held for William Jansen, then Superintendent of
the New York City Public Schools
The Community Reaction
I don't recall discussions with other TU children (about our
parents' situation)-- we were far from the city in Bayside, but I do recall
ugly headlines in local papers, and once, some men coming to our house when
my parents were away. When I opened the door and said my father wasn't in,
they left, but the episode was scary.
I was picked on by other kids at school until I learned to
fight back (by fighting against someone baiting me whom I knew I could lick, and
ignoring the bigger ones); in high school I got interested in gymnastics and
became muscular, and the bullies interests turned towards girls, so the problems
There was an atmosphere of fear that spread to all public
employees. I learned about radio electronics through an elementary school
classmate, but after my father was dismissed, my friend's father, a fireman,
was afraid he could be in trouble if the friendship continued, and so it ended.
For many other friends (including one with politically conservative parents, whose
father was also a firefighter, and whose mother served for years as a social contact
for many of the bright kids in school) the friendships continued with no
interruption. So whether people gave in to fear or not was very individual.
Another example of fear was when in 8th grade I won
first prize at a NYC science fair for an oscilloscope I had built from salvaged
parts. That would have made me a natural recipient of the science prize when I
completed elementary school, and the wonderful science teacher at my school regarded
me highly, but the year I graduated (1953) the science prize was mysteriously omitted!
We assumed that the principal was afraid to award it to the son of a dismissed teacher,
but have no concrete proof of that.
My father was well-liked by other teachers at Bayside High School,
which I attended, and I was respectfully treated by all of them. My physics
teacher worried to the principal that since I was "tainted" I might have trouble
getting a job in physics, but that was never a problem. (The principal relayed
this comment to my dad, which is why I heard it.)
Thriving in the Waning Years of
Despite the political atmosphere, I had a good time in high
school -- I was valedictorian and set what was then a record for grade point
average, was the first Westinghouse Science Talent Search winner from Bayside,
and was also on the swimming team and a respectable gymnast. I was a pet of the
physical education teachers, who greatly appreciated having a top student who was
also interested in athletics. (I'm still a jock at heart.) I received many
awards when I finished high school, unlike my experience in elementary school.
But that was in 1957, when effects of the McCarthy era were already fading.
My mother was afraid, somehow, that if I went to Harvard I would
be lost to the family, and wanted me to go to Queens College, but my father
insisted that since I had gotten into Harvard, I was going to go there, something
for which I am eternally grateful.
This is an adaptation of my remarks when the first Ruth and Irving Adler
Expository Lecture was given at the Institute for Advanced Study's School of
Mathematics -- now an every other year event here.
Remarks from the First Ruth and Irving Adler
This is a document I prepared about
my father's career, including his work as a
community servant, to support a proposal (which
succeeded) for CCNY to give my father an honorary
Document Prepared for Irving Adler
CCNY Honorary Degree
© by Stephen L. Adler. Posted on this Web site with
permission for individual, noncommercial use. Other
use requires permission from Stephen L. Adler.
This is an article I wrote about my
father's influence on my becoming a physicist
for the volume One Hundred Reasons to be a
Scientist, published by the Abdus Salam
International Centre for Theoretical Physics.
of Radio to Elementary Particle Physics