The Librarian Spies: Philip and Mary Jane Keeney and Cold War Espionage

The Librarian Spies: Philip and Mary Jane Keeney and Cold War Espionage

The Librarian Spies: Philip and Mary Jane Keeney and Cold War Espionage

The Librarian Spies: Philip and Mary Jane Keeney and Cold War Espionage


In 1950, Senator Joseph McCarthy declared that the State Department was a haven for communists and traitors. Among famous targets, like Alger Hiss, the senator also named librarian Mary Jane Keeney and her husband Philip, who had been called before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee to account for friendships with suspected communists, memberships in communist fronts, and authorship of articles that had been published in leftist periodicals. Conservative journalists and politicians had seized the occasion to denounce the pair as communist sympathizers and spies for the Soviet Union. If the accusations were true, the Keeneys had provided the Soviets with classified information about American defense and economic policies that could alter the balance of power between those rival nations. If false, the Keeneys had been shamefully wronged by their own government, for the accusations tumbled them into grief and poverty.


This book was a joint effort. Rosalee McReynolds spent more than fifteen years on it, until her early death. She passed a partially completed manuscript and a veritable deluge of documents on to me. I have labored over the unexpectedly difficult task of making someone else’s research my own, forming pictures of events and circumstances that often, but not always, agreed with Rosalee’s. It has inevitably been changed with viewing by a new set of eyes and the surfacing of new information. I am grateful for her work and hope that my completion of it has been worthy of her beginning.

I owe special thanks to John Earl Haynes, twentieth-century political historian at the Library of Congress, for remembering my Keeney inquiries and exchanging helpful emails. the Tamiment Library at New York University and the Harry Ransom Humanities Center Library at the University of Texas at Austin both responded in timely fashion to my requests for information. George F. Simmons sent material about his father, G. Finlay Simmons, Philip Keeney’s nemesis at Montana. I wish to thank my colleagues and students at the University of WisconsinMadison and my patient family for their understanding as I pushed aside other duties to complete this book. a special debt of gratitude is owed to my son, Patrick B. Robbins, for his work on the index.

Louise Robbins, Madison, Wisconsin, 2008

Library history is a small and fledgling discipline. the people in the United States who call themselves library historians can be counted on the fingers of fewer than ten hands. We are spread throughout the country . . .

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