During its first two decades the Hogg Foundation, under the deft leadership of Robert Sutherland, was able to participate in, and influence, public policy debates without being drawn into partisan political activity or being associated with a particular ideological side. Politicians and political appointees had, at times, voiced criticisms of mental health generally, and in particular its associated academic disciplines. But in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the foundation would become the target of political attacks.
These came as a consequence of the emergence of an anti-mental health movement that was an offshoot of the Second Red Scare, a short but intense period of panic about Communists and “fellow travelers” that supposedly had infiltrated public and private organizations in American society. Powerful national officials such as Richard Nixon and Joseph McCarthy mounted well-publicized investigations of federal agencies, while the House Un-American Activities Committee held high-profile hearings investigating Communist subversion in the motion picture industry. Meanwhile, at the state and local levels, investigations targeted public schools, colleges and universities, and even public libraries for “reducator” teachers or materials that could be deemed critical of American politics and society.
By the late 1950s, the Red Scare had begun to subside in intensity, but in its wake organizations sprang up on the political fringes that continued and expanded on its activities. Some of these organizations were national in scope, such as the John Birch Society, while others were regional or even statewide or local in focus.
In his famous 1964 essay, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” historian Richard Hofstadter identified this movement’s chief enemies: shadowy, vaguely defined conspiracies of perceived elites, associated with established cultural, social, or political institutions.
Led by academic experts, large universities, private philanthropies and government agencies, mental health would prove to be an ideal target for the movement. At the vanguard of the attack in the late 1950s was Matt Cvetic, a former agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who had spent nine years during the 1940s working undercover in the American Communist Party. His experiences became the subject of a series of articles in the Saturday Evening Post and in the 1951 motion picture "I Was A Communist for the FBI."
In a 1959 article published in the American Mercury magazine, Cvetic recounted that during his undercover work, he learned of the existence of a “professional unit” in the Communist Party composed of “psychiatrists, psychologists, medical doctors and social, health and welfare workers.” Members of this unit, he warned, were working as “thought control agents… within the mental health and welfare programs of our nation.”
Cvetic’s warnings were circulated in Texas by a loose-knit group of conservative activists led by Dan Smoot, another former FBI agent based in Dallas who left the agency in 1951 to become a political activist. Starting in the mid-1950s, Smoot began publishing a weekly newsletter, The Dan Smoot Report, and hosting a weekly talk radio program. At its peak circulation, Smoot’s newsletter had more than 30,000 subscribers.
One of Smoot’s first major campaigns concerned a federal bill, the Alaska Mental Health Act of 1956, that attempted to put aside 1 million acres of federal land and provide funds for the establishment of mental health clinics and hospitals in the then-territory of Alaska. Smoot and other conservative activists labeled this law the “Siberia Bill” and alleged that it was a conspiracy to establish prison camps where psychiatrists would engage in “brainwashing” American citizens. They also denounced philanthropic foundations that supported such activities, such as the Ford Foundation, as having been infiltrated with subversives.
In Texas, conservative activists nearly succeeded in getting a bill passed by the Legislature that would have removed the state requirement that all public schools maintain guidance counseling programs, which they viewed as a “guise for mental health programs” and “the strangle-hold of progressive educationalists in the state of Texas.”
The project that would attract attention to the Hogg Foundation was the Texas Cooperative Youth Study, a survey of nearly 13,000 high school students in Texas, conducted by a team of about 30 researchers. The survey protocol was developed by Wayne Holtzman and Bernice Milburn Moore, both Hogg Foundation researchers; and Carson McGuire, a University of Texas professor of human relations whose area of expertise was adolescent development.
Based on a psychological attitude scales model, the survey’s questions were broken into 14 categories measuring young people’s feelings about American society, schoolteachers, parents, and peers. Additionally, the scales attempted to reveal personal characteristics such as authoritarianism, conformity, level of self-esteem, and resentment of “dependency” upon adults.
Perhaps the fiercest opposition to the survey emerged in Houston, where a version was conducted during the spring of 1959 with the approval of the Houston Independent School District (HISD).
The Houston Youth Study, as the survey was called, did not have unanimous support. The HISD school board was divided over the study, with bitter opposition to it coming from the faction of the board drawn from the “Minute Women," an ultra-conservative, anti-communist group that had controlled the board for much of the 1950s, mounting purges of “subversive” teachers and textbooks.
By the time of the Houston Youth Study, the board also included its first African American member, Hattie Mae White, and had a large enough moderate contingent that it was willing to grapple with issues such as school desegregation and other "modern" challenges to the status quo. The backdrop thus was one of political division, with one side closely attuned to anything that smacked of “radical” or “subversive” activity.
A survey questionnaire circulated among high school students that included questions about sex, race relations, social class, adult authority, and patriotism more than fit the subversive bill. In addition, the survey’s authorship evoked several conservative bogeymen: the outside agitator, the academic expert, and the philanthropic foundation. The official sponsors of the Houston Youth Study were the American Institute of Research (AIR) housed at the University of Pittsburgh, the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, and the Child Welfare Section of the Houston Community Council.
Much of the survey proved uncontroversial, even to those looking for something to criticize. The Hogg-authored Youth Attitude Scales section, however, gave ample fodder to the critics. It asked students to agree or disagree with a series of statements, a sample of which appears below:
Most teachers are too rigid and narrow-minded.
A person should insist on his rights no matter what.
In spite of what some people say, life for the average person is getting worse, not better.
We ought to worry about our own country and let the rest of the world take care of itself.
Housekeeping in our house is disorderly.
My parents rarely go to church.
I am never able to discuss problems confidentially with either of my parents.
The possible implications of such questions aroused angry objections, particularly to a perceived invasion of privacy. “It seems that no family skeleton is safe from the sociologists anymore,” said an editorial in the Houston Chronicle.
Even more explosive were the questions about racial and ethnic prejudice included in the Youth Attitude Scales section. These entries asked students to describe their feelings toward “Anglos and Latins,” “Negroes,” the elderly, and people with mental illness or with disabilities.
Opposition to the Houston Youth Study reached a boiling point in June 1959, when some parents organized against the release of the test data. They appeared at a televised session of the school board, where they joined conservative members in denouncing the survey and demanding the destruction of its results.
Finally, the Houston Youth Study’s local chairperson bowed to pressure by burning the test data in front of reporters, an act that was later likened to a “book-burning” by one child welfare expert. Conservatives, for their part, decried the survey as “an evil and subversive thing,” with one newsletter dubbing the Hogg Foundation “an institution noted for its assistance to left-wing movements.”
The Houston Youth Study affair shined a spotlight on the Hogg Foundation for anti-mental health activists. In March 1961, amid a push to legislate against guidance counseling programs, state Sen. Dorsey B. Hardeman of San Angelo, who had been critical of mental health activity previously, complained about questionnaires sent home with students “at the behest of tax-exempt foundations, organizations and self-styled researchers” that sought “information about delicate and highly personal private family matters.”
One newsletter listed the supporters of guidance counseling in language that evoked not only far-right opposition to mental health but also criticisms of private foundations:
[T]he foggy advocates of federal control, the socialists, the do-gooders, and especially the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health – that perversion of a great Texas family tradition through the ill-advised, tax-exempt use of its own fortune. This meddlesome, misguided outfit, long aggressive in sinister mental health intrusions into private affairs, is pushing seminars at chosen colleges throughout the state… with six-week courses for pseudo-psychiatrists, hand-picked in accord with U.S. Office of Education “criteria,” and financed individually by federal grants.
Soon after, in April 1961, conservative commentator Dan Smoot launched an attack on the Hogg Foundation by name, blaming it for the “psychoanalysis of children and guidance of their future careers.” He also “singled out for intensive treatment” the foundation’s role in the Houston Youth Study. In the Houston area, Smoot’s audience included Ima Hogg, members of the Board of Regents, and members of the Mental Health Association of Houston, several of whom contacted director Sutherland to express alarm.
The episode led to a meeting the following spring with the UT Board of Regents at Ima’s home in Houston, where Sutherland would reassure members about the foundation’s activities. The foundation also sought guidance on the controversy from its National Advisory Council at its June 1961 meeting, which held an open-ended discussion about the political pitfalls confronting mental health research, particularly at universities.
The group concluded that the foundation would need to exercise more caution in administering such surveys, because of “the line that Dan Smoot … and the John Birch Society and the Minute Women have taken, that any kind of social science study or activity, like counseling, psychiatry or research which has personal questions about your family life, is invading privacy, the next step is brain washing, and that’s preparatory to implanting Communistic ideals.”
The problem confronting the foundation was that “in every Texas community and college now there are these people who would seize any statement, say from a questionnaire or from an interview procedure, take it back to their parents, who may be members of the John Birch Society.” Bernice Moore worried that mental health proponents might “start to withdraw from the field of mental health and retreat literally into the generally safe area of mental illness.”
In fact no such retreat took place. There was a very brief chilling effect on mental health research, but the broad cultural trend toward a growing acceptance of the ideas of mental health was too powerful. During the next decade the foundation would actually expand its program, aided by the development of a coherent regional network of foundations, an infusion of new financial resources, and a push from The University of Texas to make research more of a priority.
In 1965 the foundation published Tomorrow’s Parents, a book-length report based on the survey results. It was not a barn-burner, but it included observations that bore out, to some degree, the fears of the survey's critics that it was part of a larger turn against "traditional" values. There were data that suggested that not only were children with two working parents faring as well as those in families headed by a male breadwinner, the highest functioning teenagers came from families in which both parents had achieved high levels of education and occupational status. And it cited racial discrimination, particularly school segregation, as substantially responsible for the attitudes of African American and Mexican American teenagers, who generally expressed pessimistic expectations for adulthood, negative views of society, and suspicions of adult authority.