Barbara Elfbrandt

Honored By

Honored by: Tobias, Sheila
Date submitted: October 24, 2006
Gift: Engraved Paver, Small

Barbara Elfbrandt and her husband Vern were junior high teachers in the Amphitheater district in 1961 when Barbara was faced with an ominous choice: either to sign a "loyalty" oath that violated her and her husband's Quaker principles -- based on a recently passed law, the Arizona "Communist Control Act" -- or to give up her job. Barbara was the only teacher in her school who did not sign the oath meted out in the principal's office. On the surface, the oath appeared harmless. Signers were sworn to defend the United States and Arizona "against all enemies, foreign and domestic." The Elfbrandts were more concerned about a warning on the form that any teacher who signed th oath and knowingly and willfully joined the Communist party or any other organization whom someone could claim advocated the overthrow of the American government, could be sent to prison for perjury.

The period of "witch hunting," of the House Un-American activities investigations, of Black Lists, and defamations, and careers brought to an end was about over. Sen. Joe McCarthy, progenitor of "McCarthyism" had been censured in 1954, but Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, who had voted against censure, continued McCarthy's crusade against "subversives" in Arizona. As Peter Irons reports in his chapter on Barbara and Vern Elbrandt's case that went all the way to the Supreme Court, Barbara and Vern were without much support. Irons writes, "The scattered resistance to loyalty oaths was centered in universities. Elementary and high-school teachers had far less protection from dismissal and faced more direct pressure from principals and parents to conform."

Four weeks after refusing to sign, Barbara Elfbrandt filed suit in Pima County Superior Court against Imogene Russell, who chaired Amphi's School District and a host of local and state officials, including Gov. Fannin and Arizona's attorney general, Robert Pickrell. Drafted by Tucson lawyer, W. Edward Morgan, and filed on behalf of all Arizona teachers, the suit asked for an injunction against enforcement of the loyalty oath and a judicial declaration that it violated the state and federal constitutions. The suit centered on First and Fifth Amendment claims.

In the first round, it was established that Amphi school district could not dismiss Barbara Elfbrandt but they could withhold salary. After losing three rounds in Arizona courts, in 1965, after Barbara and Vern had lived for four years without pay (thanks to the generosity of a neighborhood support system), the Supreme Court voted for reinstatement and struck down the teachers' loyalty oath for all time. Barbara and Vern learned of their narrow victory on April 18, 1966.

Barbara never went back to Amphi H.S. For five years she worked as a draft counsellor in the law offices of Edward Morgan, and then went to law school herself after which she practiced military and veterans law and administrative law. She founded and managed an agency for handling discharge cases for veterans and litigated employment civil rights and other general law causes. Still later, she became Program Director of the American Friends Service Committee in Tucson (1980-88) and thereafter consultant to the AFSC in Philadelphia and at the Quaker U.N. office in New York (1988-93). Since returning to Tucson from New York in 1994, she has taught at Pima Community College courses in Women in Society and International Business.