In the summer of 1948, Mary Wolfe Price (1909-1980), a Rockingham County native, was in the process of making history as the first woman to run for governor of North Carolina, on the Progressive Party ticket. On July 30, 1948, she and her campaign would receive some extremely unwanted publicity, when she was identified before the Senate Committee on Expenditures in Executive Departments as a secret communist party member and former Soviet agent. Price was named by Elizabeth Bentley, a confessed former Soviet espionage operative who identified dozens of individuals as having been part of a communist spy ring inside the U.S. government during World War II. Bentley would expand on her testimony about Price and others in five appearances before the House Un-American Activities Committee between July 31-August 11, 1948, making headlines in North Carolina and across the nation.
Price strongly denied Bentley’s charges, and would continue to do so for the rest of her life. For several decades, Price would be portrayed as a victim of baseless, McCarthyite persecution. Since 1995, however, post Cold War archival revelations have forced historians to reconsider this view.
Please see our forthcoming August post for a detailed account of the Price-Bentley controversy and what we now know about it.
Correction (9-8-14): Mary Price had not yet been nominated as a candidate for governor when Elizabeth Bentley testified about her before Congress. For the full story, see the following post: http://blog.ecu.edu/sites/cwis/2014/09/cwis-north-carolina-topic-2-1948-the-spy-who-ran-for-governor/