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Brief Biographical / Historical Sketch

Biography

John P. Hoerr was born in McKeesport, Pennsylvania in 1930. Hoerr witnessed both post-Depression conditions and post-war prosperity in the mill town of McKeesport. In addition, he also worked in a mill in McKeesport during his time in college at Penn State University. This background familiarized Hoerr with the labor conditions in Pennsylvania. After Hoerr graduated from Penn State University in 1953, he moved on to numerous reporting positions in New Jersey, Michigan, and Pittsburgh. After 1960, Hoerr focused his attention solely on labor reporting until 1991, when he began freelance writing. It was during this time when Hoerr began researching for his book, Harry, Tom, and Father Rice, of which one of the main research topics, Harry Davenport, was his uncle. This book focused on telling the story of how the Red Scare brought these three men, Harry Davenport, Thomas Quinn, and Father Rice, together during the Red Scare.

Harry J. Davenport was born August 22, 1902. Shortly after his birth, his family moved to McKeesport, Pennsylvania. Harry followed his brother around in an advertising company and moved from Johnstown to Buffalo to Utica and then to Seattle. Not much is known of Harry Davenport during these cross country years. However, by 1937, Davenport had joined the Communist Party United States of America in Detroit, Michigan.

In 1949, Davenport ran for a congressional seat for the Democratic Party in a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania district. John Hoerr draws the connection between Davenport and Thomas (Tom) Quinn during this congressional campaign, as it was the first time they met. Quinn was the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE) Local 601 chairman, who supported Davenport’s campaign from the labor sector. He arranged political support for Davenport’s campaign from his labor union. Quinn later commented that Davenport would be far more progressive than the other Democratic representatives. He thought it was very important that Harry was elected, “everybody who knew Harry felt that he would make a difference. He was different” (Hoerr, p. 117).

Davenport was victorious over the Republican nominee, John McDowell. McDowell had previously strong ties to the House Un-American Activity Committee as a chairman in 1948 and Davenport addressed this connection to his liberal voting groups. Once elected, he immediately came out in opposition to the House Un-American Activities Committee and attempted to create a resolution to abolish it. Davenport claimed that the House Un-American Activities Committee had been “directly responsible for either murder or suicide… to blame for broken homes, broken lives, and shattered reputations” (Hoerr, p. 138). Despite his strong feelings against the Committee, Harry’s resolution was never brought to a vote.

Harry Davenport was also known for his attacks on bigotry, intolerance and racism. He was considered to be extremely liberal in his practices. He supported the repeal of the Taft-Harley Act, continuation of rent control, public housing for low income people, the expansion of Social Security benefits, the increase of minimum wage, and wished to suppress anti-Semitism. Davenport also wished to dispose of a discriminatory poll tax.

Davenport’s downfall came only a year after his election to his congressional post. By 1949 and 1950, Communist accusations had increased tremendously, and despite Davenport’s stance on foreign communism, he could not escape the accusation of bringing communism to the domestic front. His Communist ties first surfaced when Tom Quinn of the UE Local 601 was accused of supporting Communism. The UE Local 601 that had elected Davenport to power had also been accused of supporting Communism, thus tying Davenport to the party. It was during this time that Davenport was even faced with voting against Tom Quinn in a trial. By 1950, Davenport had lost his congressional seat and retired to his grandmother’s house to live. He began writing a book of his life which he entitled, “Death of a Congressman.” It is unknown to John Hoerr when Harry Davenport stopped writing "Death of a Congressman," but Harry left almost no papers behind. Harry J. Davenport died in December 1977.

Thomas (Tom) Quinn was born August 10, 1917, but was orphaned in 1918 after both of his parents died of the flu. He was raised by relatives until age twelve, when effects of the Depression sent him to an orphanage. He soon earned a welding certificate and began welding barges before taking a job at the Jones and Laughlin Steel Mill. It was at this mill in 1937 when Quinn first participated in a strike. He later began working at Westinghouse in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1941, where he also became a member of the UE 601. By 1946, Tom Quinn had emerged as a leader of UE Local 601 during a national strike against Westinghouse. In response, he became a staff representative for the district and was in charge of negotiating contracts.

By 1949, UE was denounced as a Communist union along with its leaders and supporters. Since Quinn fell under this branch, he was called forth by the House Un-American Activities Committee to testify on his own behalf. Quinn claimed to assert his constitutional rights by refusing to answer certain questions about himself during this trial, and he was held in contempt of court. UE promised to support Quinn if his trial was taken all the way to the Supreme Court. However, in 1953, Quinn was fired from Westinghouse because he had been an accused Communist. In 1955, Tom Quinn prevailed in the Supreme Court case Quinn v. the United States which proved to be a major victory for civil liberties. But, this case was not the end to Quinn’s meetings with the House Un-American Activity Committee. In 1959, he was again brought before the committee to testify. It was here that Quinn disagreed with an undercover FBI agent admitting that he had never seen the man before that day. It is observed that during this trial Tom Quinn brought an end to harassment by the House Un-American Activity Committee.

After his dealings with the House Un-American Activity Committee, Tom Quinn remained involved with labor and the UE. He held the position of field organizer in the UE from 1954 to 1962 in Western Pennsylvania. After this position, Quinn moved on to serve as a business agent for the UE Local 610 where he represented two groups of laborers. In 1974, Quinn joined the Pennsylvania Bureau of Mediation and, in 1979 became director. (Refer to the Papers of Thomas J. Quinn Finding Aid for more information) Tom Quinn died February 11, 2005 at the age of 87.

Charles Owen Rice was born in New York City, New York, on November 21, 1908 to Irish immigrant parents. His mother died in 1912 and his father sent him to live in Ireland with family. He returned in 1920 to find his father remarried and moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which is where Rice spent his teenage years. Rice graduated from Duquesne University and moved on to Saint Vincent Seminary School, where he was ordained a priest in 1934. Rice wished to use his new position to engage in social reform in the areas of labor and working class issues.

Father Rice immediately took an anti-Communist stance in his labor policies. He often spoke out against Communist practices during his weekly radio addresses. Monsignor Rice is well known for his involvement in the 1949 Local 601 Election. This occurred during Rice’s second anti-Communist crusade. Father Rice “pushed” Phil Murray to expel UE from the Congress of Industrialized Organization and wished to replace it with a new union in which he engineered, the International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (IUE). Rice did not stop there; he continued to collaborate with congressional investigators to begin to accuse union members of communist membership. However, he did not foresee his actions continuing as far as they did and harming as many people, including, Tom Quinn and Harry Davenport. Charles Owen Rice died November 13, 2005 with an ambivalent attitude regarding his accomplishments.

Hoerr died on June 21, 2015.