John M. Weatherwax Collection
Scope and Contents
The John Martin "Jack" Weatherwax Collection (1913-1981, undated) contains 32 boxes and 12.6 linear feet of material that documents Weatherwax's career as a writer, journalist, publisher, union activist and political activist. Series I: Personal Papers contains financial documents and correspondence mostly related to properties in Washington State and Jamaica; as well as family genealogy, notes, business cards, and other material. Series II: Writings and Notes contains drafts of manuscripts, essays, articles, radio transcripts, film treatments, notes, revisions, and research material related to works authored or co-authored by John Weatherwax. Series III: Correspondence contains letters regarding topics such as real estate and construction projects, writing projects, holidays, health, trips, and politics. Series IV: Subject File contains letters, pamphlets, brochures, newsletters, flyers, leaflets, mailers, and other documents mostly related to civil liberties, constitutional rights, African Americans, the Chicano movement, the United Nations; and other political and socioeconomic movements and organizations. This series is divided into twelve sub-series as follows: Sub-Series A: Red Scare, Smith Act, McCarthyism, Communism; Sub-Series B: McCarran Act; Sub-Series C: American Committee for Protection of Foreign Born/Los Angeles Committee for Protection of Foreign Born; Sub-Series: D: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg Case; Sub-Series E: National Federation for Constitutional Liberties; Sub-Series F: Socialism, Marxism, Labor, Fascism, Trotskyism; Sub-Series G: May Day; Sub-series H: Anti-War; Sub-series I: Alameda County Labor Party; Sub-Series J: California Politics; Sub-series K: Leo Gallagher Campaign; Sub-Series L: Other Material. Finally, Series V: Kate Crane Gartz contains correspondence, poems, clippings, photographs, and activism ephemera related to Kate Crane Gartz, as well material related to Gartz’s travel diary “Around the World with Kate Crane Gartz”.
- 1913-1981; undated
- Majority of material found within 1930-1960
Conditions Governing Access
There are no access restrictions on this collection.
Conditions Governing Use
All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Director of Archives and Special Collections. Permission for publication is given on behalf of Special Collections as the owner of the physical materials and not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained.
Biographical / Historical
John Martin “Jack” Weatherwax- a writer and political activist was born on July 18, 1900 in Aberdeen, Washington. He died on January 18, 1985 in Santa Cruz, California just a few weeks after moving from Los Angeles, California where he had resided since the 1930s. He was the son of Dora Mabel Bryant (1871-1954) and Clyde Benjamin Weatherwax (1865-1917). At the time of Weatherwax’s birth, Aberdeen in Grays Harbor County, which has been referred to as the Gateway to the Olympic Peninsula, was a center of the lumber industry with a large number of lumber mills. During Weatherwax’s youth, the Grays Harbor area was also a hotbed for labor unrest and the home of a large contingent of the I.W.W. union also known as Wobblies. Nearby Centralia was the site of the Centralia massacre in which six people died when the Wobblies engaged American Legionnaires.
This connection to labor unrest in the lumber industry also led to a creative spark. During the 1930s, several novels (lumped together as “proletarian” novels) were generated by folks who had grown up in and worked around the lumber industry around Aberdeen/Grays Harbor. In addition to the prominent writer Robert Cantwell (Laugh and Lie Down,The Land of Plenty), Louis Colman (Lumber!) and Clara Weatherwax (Marching! Marching!) wrote novels focused on the lumber industry near Aberdeen between 1931 and 1935. Clara was John M. Weatherwax’s sister and co-author with John of a few children’s books. Cantwell and Clara Weatherwax attended the same high school, which was named after Clara and Jack’s grandfather, the J.M. Weatherwax High School. A review of Marching! Marching! in the February 1936 edition of the New Republic gave Cantwell the opportunity to muse about the literary output of his hometown. The novel was awarded a prize as the best American novel on a proletarian theme in a contest sponsored by the John Day Publishing Company and New Masses. Jack Weatherwax would also try his hand at documenting the Lumber Industry in Aberdeen with a series of screen treatments entitled “Skidroad,” “Timber Pirate,” and “Three-Star Marshall”.
According to the book On The Harbor edited by John C. Hughes and Ryan Teague Beckwith, J.M. Weatherwax (1826-1896) was a Grays Harbor pioneer who led his family from Michigan and who opened the area’s third lumber mill in 1886. Sources vary on how much wealth the Weatherwax Family generated in the last two decades of the 19th century, but they consistently point out they lost a lot of that wealth. The lumber mill was no longer owned by the family by the late 1890s. In turn the J.M. Weatherwax High School opened in 1908.
In 1917 Jack’s father Clyde Weatherwax died. According to the 1920 census Jack was employed as a bookkeeper at a timberman’s office. Jack attended the University of Washington before transferring to Harvard in 1921 for a couple years where he studied literature, mythology, and world literature. This interest in mythology would provide Jack with a lifelong interest in stories of various cultures.
Idella Purnell (April 1, 1901- December 1, 1982) was Jack’s first wife. Idella, an American from Guadalajara, Mexico and graduate of U.C. Berkeley, edited the small poetry magazine, Palms between 1923 and 1930. During this time writers such as D.H. Lawrence, Mabel Dodge Luhan, Witter Bynner, Mark Van Doren and others contributed to the magazine. Jack and Idella met in Los Angeles in 1925 while she worked at a public library. Jack became publisher of Palms after 1927. They married on August 19, 1927 at Calle Pricilianna Sanchez in a civil ceremony and then moved operations of the magazine to Aberdeen. Soon after this move Idella became pregnant and returned to Guadalajara to have the baby. Georgia Bryant Weatherwax was born in April 1928 but died one year and ten days later on May 3, 1929. A biographical note for Idella’s papers at the University of Texas Austin Ransom Humanities Center states Jack never saw the child. In 1929 Weatherwax sued for divorce from Purnell on the grounds of alleged desertion. Despite the divorce, Purnell and Weatherwax collaborated on 19 books between June 1929 and October 1930. Weatherwax sent Purnell to New York to find a publisher for their manuscripts. On the trip Purnell was introduced to Remington Stone whom she married in 1932. Idella later published a novelization or re-telling ofWalt Disney’s Bambi in 1944.
The 1930s started with Jack being a resident of Aberdeen. Later he lived in San Francisco and Los Angeles. In the early 1930’s Jack was described as a music and cultural journalist, although he wrote several children’s stories during this period. In 1934, Jack co-authored The Coming of the Animals, and a series of California Native American stories with Clara Weatherwax and her husband, Gerald Strang. They also wrote “The Pet Whale: Myths of the Polynesians”.
While Jack, Clara and Gerald were in the San Francisco Bay area they struck up a friendship with muralist, Diego Rivera and painter, Frieda Kahlo. The renowned Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein wrote a letter of introduction for Jack to Rivera primarily to inform Rivera of Eisenstein’s Mexican film project produced by Upton Sinclair. Sinclair hoped Weatherwax (who apparently had some degree of political, financial and social connections according to his second wife) would be able to convince Rivera to help with Eisenstein's film. Rivera and Kahlo were staying at the Montgomery Street studio of sculptor Ralph Stackpole while Rivera worked on a mural at the San Francisco Stock Exchange. At this time Jack was working on a manuscript translation of the Mayan myth Popol Vuh. He asked Rivera if he would provide illustrations for the manuscript. Although the translation was never published, Rivera agreed and produced twenty-four watercolor illustrations for the text. It was many years from the outset of this project in 1933 before the Popol Vuh pictures were ever exhibited. Jack wrote two stories about Rivera and Kahlo. One was “The Queen of Montgomery Street” and the other, entitled “Diego.” Those manuscripts are available at the Archives of American Art and UC Santa Cruz. In a letter held by the Archives of American Art, Kahlo sent an affectionate letter to Clara and Gerard stating that she was sorry to hear that Jack had a black beard. Then she threatened Jack with jail if he had the beard when she was in San Francisco again. Ultimately the majority of Rivera’s art works ended up in the hands of the Museo Casa Diego Rivera, part of the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura. In 2015, the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California held an exhibition documenting the 85th anniversary of the signing of the contract between Weatherwax and Rivera to produce the art for Popol Vuh, entitled: Popol Vuh: the Watercolors of Diego Rivera.
Clara Fowler Weatherwax married composer Gerard Strang (1908-1983) on September 27, 1930 in Aberdeen—witnessed by her mother and brother, Jack. Strang was an American composer who studied with Arnold Schoenberg, was part of the New Music movement and among the first composers to have an interest in computer music. According to an entry by Jan-Christian Suggs, in the Encyclopedia of Literature and Politics, upon observing the San Francisco general strike of 1934-1935, Clara began her novel Marching! Marching! While Strang and Clara lived in the hills above Berkeley the couple became connected to the political and cultural left as well as several avant-garde figures involved in the New Music community. Into this mix came Jack Weatherwax who was described as closely connected with the Communist Party of California. In 1935 with Clara’s winnings ($750) from the publication of her novel the couple moved to Los Angeles on a scholarship to USC where he studied with Schoenberg. He worked at several academic institutions in Los Angeles including CSU Long Beach.
In 1933 and 1934 Jack managed the campaigned of Leo Gallagher's run for a Los Angeles Municipal Court judicial seat and lost. The next year Gallagher ran for associate justice on the California Supreme Court and Jack was again his campaign manager. Gallagher ran on the Communist party ticket.
Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Jack was living with his mother Dora Bryant Weatherwax as well as his sister Clara, brother-ln-law, music composer Gerard Strang and another brother. He had spent the late 1930s writing and advocating on behalf of progressive, socialist, anti-racist and communist causes.
In 1940 Jack met Seema Aissen. Seema was a life-long activist and thus had many things in common with Jack. Seema was born in Ukraine in 1905 to Jewish parents. The family raised three girls. They emigrated to Leeds, England where her father died of the 1918 influenza. In 1922 Seema and her mother joined other family members in Boston where she found her first job in a photography lab. In 1928 Seema and family then migrated out to California in time for the Great Depression. On the trip out Seema met the communist activist Ella Reeve Bloor better known as “Mother Bloor” in Kansas City. Seema had a first short marriage with James Lacey (living often in Long Beach), then traveled to Tahiti with her lover Clarence Lingeman where she stayed for over a year. She was back in Los Angeles in 1932 and again found work in a darkroom finishing photographs. Photography was an important creative outlet for Seema, but she never thought to take it up professionally. She met Chan Weston, son of photographer Edward Weston, and engaged in a relationship for several years They had met during a Worker’s Film and Photo League event. The League was involved in showing films that documented the need for social change. In 1937 Seema joined photographer Ansel Adams and his wife in Yosemite where she ran the Adams’ photo studio for three years. On a break from her Yosemite work Seema met Jack in Los Angeles. Upon deciding she and Jack would marry, Seema took off for Las Vegas to get a divorce from Lacey. On or about March 17, 1941, Jack and Seema were married. They returned to Los Angeles two days later so Jack could testify before the Tenney Committee. Jack appears in Seema’s biography/oral history entitled, Seema’s Show: A Life on the Left by Sara Halprin, University of New Mexico Press, 2005. It was published in Seema’s 100th year.
Jack’s name appeared in the Los Angeles Times on March 27, 1942 under the headline “Reds Accused of Plan to Dupe Mayor—Communist-Inspired Plan to Influence City Defense Council Claimed.” Jack was summoned to testify in a hearing of the California Senate Factfinding Subcommittee chaired by State Senator Jack Tenney. The Committee investigated so-called “subversive” activities throughout most of the 1940s. In spite of holding hearings for close to ten years, Tenney’s crusade resulted in no indictments. The reason for the hearing with Jack was to try to establish that the “reds” were trying to dupe Los Angeles Mayor Fletcher Bowron into attending a meeting with consumer and labor groups at Polytechnic High School. The mayor indeed attended the meeting, only to leave when he decided it was going to be controlled by Jack and the people who invited him. The implication apparently was that the consumer groups wanted to have more influence over the City Defense Council and Jack’s actions were a “widespread attempt of Communists to infiltrate civilian defense set-ups.” The article pointed out that the Tenney Committee believed that a current “communist trend” was to use consumers groups or co-operatives as their wartime front (the U.S. had been in the war for two months at this time).
The article points out that Jack was on the executive committee of the Consumer Council of Los Angeles. The Council had its headquarters at Clifford Clinton’s restaurant on Olive Street which was also the location of Clifton’s Cafeteria. Clinton was a life-long activist for the feeding of people. Apparently, Jack was in charge of arrangements for the meeting at a high school, but the major objected to the fact that the program for the event had been arranged by the Consumer Council. The overall point of the hearing seemed to be to get Jack to admit his ties to the Communist Party. He testified, according to the article, that in 1930 he was appointed to the Communist Party Central Committee in California and had given speeches to communist groups. Among Communists whom he admitted knowing was Earl Browder, “erstwhile” Communist Party presidential candidate. The Los Angeles Times article states that the whole episode with the mayor based on a “thesis” and a “circle of circumstances” yet the Times notified its readers no fewer than three times that Weatherwax was a communist. According to Seema, Jack told the committee he was a “Harvard man, a Christian Scientist and a Mason….”
Jack met Woody Guthrie at a radio station and became friends. With an interest in dust bowl refugees, Seema and Jack joined Woody for a trip to the Shafter Camp directed by activist Fred Ross. Seema photographed farm workers and unemployed folks while Jack and Woody sang.
During this period Jack also worked and wrote for the Free India Movement as well as the publication People’s World. He was involved with a rationing committee for the City of Los Angeles during the war. Seema and Jack moved around quite a bit during the 1940s and worked in the photography industry, but also worked in Laguna Beach in an airplane parts factory.
In 1945 Jack and Seema attended the United Nations Conference on International Organization in San Francisco. Jack attended sessions as a journalist and took notes. He generated a book entitled Peace Key. The book documents the treaties produced at conference. Next, they travelled to New York to try to get the book published. Jack ended up having the book published by the John Henry and Mary Louisa Dunn Bryant Foundation, an organization named for his grandparents. While in New York they met James Ford, the first African American to run for Vice President of the U.S. on the Communist Party U.S.A. ticket. Ford was married to a cousin of Seema’s. Jack and Seema also met with Howard Fast and William Z Foster during the trip.
Through the 1940s and 1950s, Jack and Seema were advocates for racial justice, against lynching and very much involved with the Communist Party’s attempts against racial discrimination. They moved into an East Hollywood neighbor inhabited mostly by African Americans. They were neighbors of a young folk singer named Odetta. They started the East Hollywood Interracial Council. They helped organize an early Charles White exhibition in LA and held endless events and fundraisers for leftist causes including demonstrations in support of the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. They were spied on and the FBI visited them, but what the various existing archival records reveal was that were involved in a vibrant multi-ethnic leftist community that persisted despite attempts at political suppression. According to Seema’s biography, Jack was even the secretary for the National Association of Colored Women.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s Jack wrote several pamphlets on African American history. Among these publications were The Founders of Los Angeles. The main point of this publication was to note that the majority of the founders of Los Angeles were of African descent. The pamphlets were essentially self-published through the family run Bryant Foundation and sold most often at the Aquarian Bookstore, the longest running African American bookstore in Los Angeles run by Alfred and Bernice Ligon. The bookstore was dedicated to African American culture but also to the study of the metaphysical. The records of the bookstore are held at CSU Dominguez Hills. There are a couple tapes of talks Jack gave at the bookstore.
The records and files Jack kept were left in Los Angeles when Seema and Jack moved to Santa Cruz in 1984. Jack died a short time after that move.
While it is not clear what happened to Jacks files, it is clear that they were dispersed far and wide. The main bulk of Jack’s papers are now at CSU Dominguez Hills. Layout materials for his pamphlets came with the Ligon Aquarian Bookstore Collection. The bulk of materials including correspondence and manuscripts were purchased. After 2016 a good deal of Jack’s papers were available through antiquarian booksellers. The papers relating to Frieda Kahlo and Diego Rivera were donated to the Archives of American Art by Seema. Another segment of the Rivera episode was sold to the Newberry Library in Chicago. See also “A Collaboration: Diego Rivera, John Weatherwax, and the Popol Vuh,” by Lucretia Hoover Giese in the Archives of American Art Journal. Vol. 39, No. 3/4 (1999), pp. 2-10 (9 pages) Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of The Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
The important materials saved by Seema including her photographs are located at Stanford University and the University of California, Santa Cruz. The Idella Purnell Collection at University of Texas, Austin hold materials relating to Jack and Idella. According to Seema’s biography the Paul Robeson Center may have housed Jack’s collection of African American books and portfolios at some point.
Seema’s Show: A Life on the Left by Sara Halprin, University of New Mexico Press, 2005.
See also “A Collaboration: Diego Rivera, John Weatherwax, and the Popol Vuh,” by Lucretia Hoover Giese in the Archives of American Art Journal. Vol. 39, No. 3/4 (1999), pp. 2-10 (9 pages) Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of The Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
Ancestry.com also has many materials on John Weatherwax and his family. Some of the entries have a photograph of Diego Rivera rather than Jack.
14.6 Linear Feet
Language of Materials
This collection contains material collected and written by John M. Weatherwax such as correspondence, manuscripts, essays, film treatments, research notes, pamphlets, leaflets, flyers, programs, mailers, and other documents. Material authored by Weatherwax includes drafts of manuscripts, essays, novellas, articles, radio transcripts, and film treatments; as well as notes, revisions, and related research material. Collected material is from organizations such as American Committee for Protection of Foreign Born, National Federation for Constitutional Liberties, Los Angeles Committee to Secure Justice for the Rosenbergs, Alameda County Labor Party, Communist Party of Los Angeles, Socialist Labor Party, and other organizations, groups, and publications focused on sociopolitical issues. Topics include: socialism, marxism, labor, communism, fascism, McCarthyism, the Red Scare, war, political campaigns and elections, and others. Material from the collection is available online by visiting the John M. Weatherwax Collection.
This collection is divided into five series and twelve sub-series:
- Series I: Personal Papers, 1919-1985; undated
- Series II: Writings and Notes, 1915-1981; undated
- Series III: Correspondence; 1920-1976; undated
- Series IV: Subject File, 1913-1981; undated
- Sub-Series A: Red Scare, Smith Act, McCarthyism, Communism; 1936-1972; undated, bulk: 1948-1956
- Sub-Series B: McCarran Act, 1950-1962
- Sub-Series C: American Committee for Protection of Foreign Born/Los Angeles Committee for Protection of Foreign Born. 1938-1981; undated
- Sub-Series: D: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg Case, 1952-1976; undated
- Sub-Series E: National Federation for Constitutional Liberties, 1940-1946; undated
- Sub-Series F: Socialism, Marxism, Labor, Fascism, Trotskyism, 1913-1974; undated, bulk:1934-1948
- Sub-Series G: May Day, 1934-1981; undated
- Sub-series H: Anti-War, 1934-1981, undated; bulk:1940-1952
- Sub-series I: Alameda County Labor Party, 1935-1937
- Sub-Series J: California Politics, 1934-1973
- Sub-series K: Leo Gallagher Campaign, 1933-1934; undated
- Sub-Series L: Other Material, 1926-1974; undated
- Series V: Kate Crane Gartz, 1929-1954; undated
Copies of books by Weatherwax including: The Founders of Los AngelesThe Prophets,The Man Who Stole a Continent,The African Contribution, and The Efficent Life have been cataloged and shelved seperately. Oversized material has been removed and placed into Map Case 4, Drawer 5.
Box 33 is oversized and located separately from the rest of the material.
Processed by Kendall Hinesley in 2015. Additonal processing took place in 2018 and 2021.
- Aberdeen (Wash.)
- Altadena (Calif.)
- Civil rights
- Communism -- United States -- History -- 20th century
- Espionage, Communist
- Espionage, Soviet
- Gallagher, Leo
- John Henry and Mary Louisa Dunn Foundation
- Labor movement
- Labor movement -- United States -- History -- 20th century
- Labor unions
- Labor unions -- United States
- Los Angeles (Calif.)
- Marxism -- United States
- May Day (Labor holiday)
- May Day (Labor holiday) -- History
- Peace movements -- United States -- 20th century
- Political campaigns
- Rosenberg, Ethel, 1915-1953
- Rosenberg, Julius, 1918-1953
- Socialism -- United States
- Trotskyism -- United States
- United States -- Politics and government
- United States. Internal Security Act of 1950
- National Committee to Secure Justice in the Rosenberg Case (Organization)
- Los Angeles Committee to Secure Justice in the Rosenberg Case (Organization)
- National Federation for Constitutional Liberties (Organization)
- American Committee for Protection of Foreign Born (Organization)
- Los Angeles Committee for Protection of Foreign Born (Organization)
- Crane-Gartz, Kate (Person)
- Weatherwax, Clara , 1905-1958 (Person)
- Inventory of the John M. Weatherwax Collection
- Karen Clemons
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- 2021-04: finding aid was updated to include additional material. Finding aid was also re-organized, and series and sub-series were created.