Document 9A: "President Commutes Mrs. O'Hare's Sentence," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 29 May 1920, pp. 1-2.


        On May 30, 1920, after months of agitation and lobbying by her supporters, President Wilson commuted O'Hare's five-year sentence and she was released. Throughout her imprisonment, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had chronicled O'Hare's prison life, including articles about her children, her political views, and her advocacy on behalf of her fellow prisoners. O'Hare's release was the Post-Dispatch's lead story two days in a row. The articles affirmed O'Hare's socialist beliefs, but in them she declared publicly that she would "take up" prison reform. Descriptions of her health and prison experiences differed somewhat in the mainstream and Socialist presses. The Post-Dispatch described her as "in the best of health" (see Document 9B), and did not include any details of the prison conditions. Also, articles in the Post-Dispatch emphasized the larger political context, and focused on the uproar O'Hare's failure to receive a full pardon caused. In contrast, the New York Call acknowledged her weakened voice, almost completely white hair, her callused and scarred hands, and provided details of the prison conditions at the Missouri State Penitentiary (see Document 10).

p. 1





Prisoner Shows Little Excitement,
but Is Visibly Satisfied
When Informed of the
Executive's Action in Freeing
Her From Further Service.




Statements Made in Speech
at Bowman in 1917
Alleged to Have Been Violation
of Espionage Act.


By the Associated Press

        WASHINGTON, May 29--President Wilson today commuted to expire at once the five-year sentence imposed on Mrs. Kate Richards O'Hare of St. Louis, sentenced on April 14, 1919 to five years in the penitentiary at Jefferson City, Mo., for a violation of the espionage act, in a speech she made at Bowman, N.D.

        Mrs. O'Hare was one of the prisoners which the recent Socialist National convention at New York asked to be released.

        Secretary Tumulty later announced that the President had acted in Mrs. O'Hare's case on the recommendation of the Attorney-General, and that the action had no relation to the case of Eugene V. Debs, Socialist candidate for President, whose release also has been asked for by the Socialist convention.


Mrs. O'Hare's Citizenship Not
Restored or Acts Condoned.

        The act of the President does not restore Mrs. O'Hare to citizenship nor does it condone the alleged acts on which she was convicted; it simply reduces the punishment fixed by the Court.

        Mrs. O'Hare was attending a picnic of women prisoners at the State farm at Jefferson City this afternoon when appraised by a Post-Dispatch reporter of the commutation of her sentence. She was sitting on the grass distributing among other women prisoners several boxes of chewing gum that had been sent to her by friends.

        She showed little excitement, althought [sic] visibly satisfied.

        "I had expected it, although not so soon," she said. "I am glad that it didn't come any sooner. I am glad for every day of the 14 months that I have spent here. It has given me an opportunity to study prison conditions that I never could have gotten otherwise.

        As news of the commutation spread among the other women prisoners on the lawn, they gathered around her. Some threw their arms around her; others shook her hands. It was apparent that they were glad to hear the news.

        "But what will we do without you Mrs. O'Hare?" asked one girl.

        "Never mind dear, I'm going to spend my time in making things better for you here," she replied.

To Take Up Prison Reform.

        "The Socialist party is now in so firm a position in the country that I do not believe it needs my services as an active worker any longer, and I propose to devote my lectures and writings in the future to prison reform."

        She explained that her views on Socialism remained unchanged--that she simply felt she could do more good hereafter in the other field.

        Frank O'Hare, her husband, was deeply disappointed over the failure of Mrs. O'Hare to receive a complete pardon. He said:

        "If Mrs. O'Hare has received a full pardon, with restoration of her citizenship, she will be able to devote at least part of her energies to further study and educational work in prison reform.

        "If her citizenship has not been restored, and she has not been completely exonerated of the libelous charges which were fabricated by North Dakota politicians and given circulation broadcast by Senator McCumber, then it is likely that she will have to spend part of her time
p. 2
in convicting before the American people the schemers who 'framed' her.[A]

        "Mrs. O'Hare always has been a political Socialist, believing that by means of political action and the ballot, violent, catastrophic revolution could be avoided. It is hard to imagine what part she could play in the political life of America if deprived of her franchise. It is evident that every appeal she would make to working men to use the ballot would arouse in their minds a serious question.

        William M. Brandt, secretary-treasurer of the Socialist party in St. Louis, today said that Socialists would arrange a welcome for Mrs. O'Hare on her return to St. Louis. A committee would go to Union Station to meet her, he said, and it was probable a meeting in her honor would be held.

        Brandt expressed surprised and indignation when told Mrs. O'Hare was to be released on a commutation and not on a pardon.

Ground of Pardon Plea.

        "The plea for a pardon for Mrs. O'Hare was made on the ground that she was innocent. The national organization of the Socialist party sent George E. Roewer, a Boston attorney, to Bowman, N. D., where she was alleged to have made a treasonable speech and he got 100 affidavits from citizens of Bowman and Fargo who attended the meeting. Every one of these affidavits argued that she did not make the remarks charged in the indictment.

        "The Socialist National Executive Committee of which I am a member met in Milwaukee early in March this year and after receiving Roewer's report we sent Roewer, William H. Henry of Indianapolis and James O'Neal of New York to Washington to lay the affidavits before the President and the Attorney-General and ask for a pardon for Mrs. O'Hare. The showing which they made called for a full and complete pardon. The affidavits proved to our satisfaction that her case was a frame up. I am greatly surprised that she was not pardoned."

        Mrs O'Hare's case was different from those of Eugene V. Debs and other Socialist leaders who were convicted of violating the espionage act by making statements that were held to obstruct the prosecution of the war. While Debs and others admitted the facts, gloried in them, and reiterated that they were being maryred for their principles, Mrs. O'Hare, on the other hand, denied that she made the statements attributed to her.


A. During his presidency, Calvin Coolidge pardoned O'Hare which restored her citizenship rights.
       Back to Text

| Documents Projects and Archives | Teacher's Corner | Scholar's Edition | Full-Text Sources | About Us | Contact Us |