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Elizabeth Bentley. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-109688).

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Bentley, Elizabeth Terrill (01 January 1908–03 December 1963), Communist party activist and government witness, was born in New Milford, Connecticut, the daughter of Charles Prentiss Bentley, a newspaper editor and department store manager, and Mary Burrill, a schoolteacher. After growing up in small towns in Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania, Bentley enrolled in Vassar College and in 1930 received an undergraduate degree in English. While at Vassar, she became involved in a variety of Socialist causes but did not demonstrate any interest in more radical left-wing ideas. For two years following graduation, she taught languages at the Foxcroft School in Middleburg, Virginia, but left in 1932 for Columbia University, where she earned her M.A. in Italian in 1935. While working on her graduate degree, she accepted a fellowship that took her to the University of Florence for the 1933–1934 academic year....

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Bresci, Gaetano (11 November 1869–22 May 1901), silk weaver and regicide, was born in Coiano, Italy, the son of Gaspero Bresci, a peasant/artisan, and Maddalena Godi. At age eleven Bresci was apprenticed to learn the art of silk weaving; he later attended a Sunday school to acquire a specialized trade. While still a youth, Gaetano participated in an anarchist group. First arrested for disturbing the peace in 1892, he was subsequently confined to the penal island of Lampedusa for more than a year for his role in organizing a strike. Now identified as a “dangerous anarchist,” Bresci had difficulty securing employment....

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Childs, Morris (10 June 1902–02 June 1991), Communist official and American intelligence double agent, was born Moishe Chilovsky in Kiev, Ukraine, the son of Joseph Chilovsky, a cobbler, and Anna Chilovsky. Joseph Chilovsky, a Jew, fled Tsarist oppression, arriving in America in 1910; he sent for the rest of his family late the next year. (In 1926 the spelling of their name was Americanized, and Morris became a naturalized citizen the following year.) In 1916 Morris went to work as an apprentice in his father's business; then he became a milkman. In 1919 he joined the Communist party in Chicago. Twice arrested for participating in street demonstrations, he soon became a protégé of future party leader ...

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Roy Cohn Right, with Joseph McCarthy during the Army-McCarthy hearings. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-114995).

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Cohn, Roy (20 February 1927–02 August 1986), anti-Communist crusader, powerbroker, and attorney, was born Roy Marcus Cohn in New York City, the son of Al Cohn, a state judge and Democratic party figure, and Dora Marcus. Dora’s father, Sam Marcus, had founded the Bank of United States, which served a largely Jewish, immigrant clientele. The bank failed during the Great Depression, and the trial of Dora’s brother Bernie Marcus for fraud was one of the formative influences of Roy’s childhood. Al Cohn was the son of a pushcart peddler, had attended law school at night, and used his political influence in the Bronx, as well as Dora’s money, to gain a position as a state trial court judge and later a seat on the intermediate state appellate court. Roy was educated at the Horace Mann School. He had an undistinguished career as an undergraduate at Columbia College and was only admitted to Columbia Law School because of the dearth of students caused by World War II and his father’s political influence. Roy did, however, finish both college and law school in three and a half years and, at age twenty, was too young to enter the bar. He spent a year as a clerk/typist for the U.S. attorney for New York and was promoted to assistant U.S. attorney after his twenty-first birthday....

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Cvetic, Matthew C. (04 March 1909–26 July 1962), anti-Communist and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) "confidential informant", anti-Communist and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) “confidential informant,” was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Frank Cvetic and Barbara (maiden name unknown), who had emigrated from a Slovenian village in 1890. His father, after some travail, earned a comfortable living as a small businessman; his ventures included renting out a former hotel and running gas stations. Cvetic graduated from St. Mary’s parochial school, spent two years at St. Vincent’s College Preparatory School, and in 1927 completed a two-year course of study at Curry Business College in Pittsburgh. During the early 1930s he rounded out his education with mail-order courses in penology from the Seattle-based International School of Criminology....

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Digges, Thomas Attwood (04 July 1742–06 December 1821), gentleman, confidential agent, ne'er-do-well, and novelist, gentleman, confidential agent, ne’er-do-well, and novelist, was born in Warburton, Maryland, the son of William Digges and Ann Attwood, the owners of “Warburton Manor.” Digges was sent abroad to be educated. Family tradition holds that he attended Oxford University, but his Catholic faith and the absence of his name in university records make this unlikely. In 1767, after being disowned by his family for reasons that are not known, Digges purportedly went to live in Portugal, where he stayed until 1773 or 1774. In a subsequent letter to ...

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Massing, Hede Tune (1899–08 March 1981), Communist spy and later Federal Bureau of Investigation informant, was born to a Polish-Austrian couple. Hede’s mother was the daughter of a prominent Polish rabbi, while her father was a circus acrobatic rider. When Hede was a young girl, the family moved to the United States and lived in Massachusetts and New York City. Massing’s father tried to start a catering business but failed....

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Patterson, William L. (27 August 1891–05 March 1980), writer, attorney, and leader of the American Communist party, was born William Lorenzo Patterson in San Francisco, California, the son of James Edward Patterson, a ship’s cook and dentist, and Mary Galt, a domestic. After his father left the family to become a missionary as a Seventh-day Adventist, his mother worked to support the family. Failure to pay the rent resulted in numerous evictions, but Patterson managed to attend Tamalpais High School in California by working first as a newsboy and later as a racetrack hand. He graduated from high school in 1911 and studied to be a mining engineer at the University of California, Berkeley, but had to drop out because he could not afford tuition. No scholarships were available, and he objected to Berkeley’s compulsory military training. Later Patterson refused to participate in World War I because he felt it was being fought for a democratic tradition that did not extend to blacks. He was arrested and held for five days in Oakland for declaring it a “white man’s war.”...

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Sacco, Nicola (22 April 1891–23 August 1927), and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (11 June 1888–23 August 1927), Italian anarchists convicted of murder in the celebrated Sacco-Vanzetti trial, were born, respectively, in Torremaggiore, Italy, and Villafalletto, Italy. Sacco was the son of Michele Sacco, a peasant landowner and merchant, and Angela Mosmacotelli. (Sacco’s given name was Ferdinando; he adopted the name Nicola in 1917 to honor an older brother who had died.) Vanzetti was the son of Giovan Battista Vanzetti, a peasant landowner, and Giovanna Nivello. Both Sacco and Vanzetti emigrated to the United States in 1908. Sacco found steady work as an edge-trimmer in shoe factories in Milford and Stoughton, Massachusetts. He married Rosina Zambelli in 1912; they had two children, the second born during Sacco’s imprisonment. Vanzetti, whose lonely private life was mitigated by the pleasure he found in books, endured long periods of unemployment or toiled at menial jobs before becoming a fish peddler in the spring of 1919. What Sacco and Vanzetti shared in common during these years was a deep commitment to anarchism....

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van Heijenoort, Jean (23 July 1912–30 March 1986), logician, historian, and one-time revolutionary, was born Jean Louis Maxime van Heijenoort in Creil, France, the only child of Jean (Jan) Théodore Didier van Heijenoort, an émigré from Delft, Holland, who worked as an artisan, and Charlotte Hélène Balagny, a native of the region. After his father’s death at the beginning of World War I, Jean, who was only two, lived with his aunt while his mother worked as a domestic in a hotel. He grew up next to battlefields in wartime and in harsh postwar circumstances. As an adult he spoke of the profound effects of his father’s death and the deep unhappiness of his childhood. Education was his consolation. Recognized as brilliant by his primary school teachers in Creil, van Heijenoort was encouraged to take the scholarship examinations for the district secondary school in Clermont de l’Oise. Awarded a complete scholarship, from the age of eleven to eighteen he lived as a boarding student at the Collège of Clermont. After the unusual accomplishment of a double baccalaureate in philosophy and mathematics, he went on to the prestigious Lycée Saint Louis in Paris, where he specialized in mathematics....

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See Sacco, Nicola

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Villa, Pancho (05 June 1878–20 July 1923), Mexican revolutionary leader, was born Doroteo Arango in Río Grande, state of Durango, the son of Agustín Arango and Micaela Arámbula, tenant farmers. After his father’s death (or disappearance), Villa’s family moved to Rancho Gogojito, about thirty-five miles north of Durango City. There they worked as sharecroppers for the wealthy López Negrete family....

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Pancho Villa Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-108595).