Scope and Content
Terms of Access
Howard Costigan (1904-1985) was a long-time political organizer, researcher and writer. He was noted mostly for his work as co-founder and executive secretary of the Communist-dominated Washington Commonwealth Federation, and then later as a fervent anti-communist in both Washington and California.
Born and raised in Seattle, Costigan later attended high school in Centralia, and then went to Whitman College. He worked briefly as a high school teacher in Vancouver, but did not commit to a career until he discovered politics. In 1934, he helped organize the Commonwealth Builders, serving as its executive secretary and editor of the organization newspaper. A year later he organized the convention at which the Washington Commonwealth Federation was created, and also served as its executive secretary. He was known as an exceptional orator, particularly before large crowds, and he combined that ability with keen organizational skills to help the WCF become an influential force in Democratic Party politics.
At the same time, Costigan began working as a radio commentator for KIRO radio, writing and broadcasting political analyses, and interviewing local, national and international politicians. He continued in the radio business until 1946, with his broadcasts carried by both the CBS and Mutual radio networks.
Costigan joined the Communist Party in 1936, but later split with both the Party and the Washington Commonwealth Federation after the Soviets signed the Non-Aggression Pact with the Nazis in 1939. He long referred to the incident as the one which turned him into an outspoken opponent of Communism.
In 1944, Costigan ran in the Democratic primary for the Congressional seat given up by Warren Magnuson, but was defeated by the eventual winner, Washington Commonwealth Federation President Hugh DeLacy. Later that year, Governor Monrad Wallgren appointed him director of publicity for the Division of Progress and Industry Development and executive secretary of the Governor's Advisory Commission. He resigned from those positions in 1946 to again challenge DeLacy in the Democratic primary, this time focusing on DeLacy's Communist Party connections. Although he lost to DeLacy by a narrow margin, Costigan's attacks on DeLacy's Communist leanings eventually caused DeLacy to lose the general election.
Early in 1947, Costigan began working as a paid researcher and consultant to the Committee on Un-American Activities in Washington State (Canwell Committee). After several witnesses testified about Costigan's own Communist Party membership, he was compelled to clear his name before the committee as well. Costigan's first wife, Isabel (Harley), whom he had married in 1936, also appeared before the committee. The backlash from their former associates, as well as the general public, stressed their marriage to the breaking point. Costigan left his family in April 1948, moved to Los Angeles, and eventually divorced Isabel. He had been working as the regional director for the United Nations Appeal for Children in Seattle, and he continued working for the campaign in California. After leaving that job, he served from 1948 to 1949 as executive secretary for the Labor League of Hollywood Voters, a film industry political group whose chairman was Ronald Reagan. He also was director of publicity for the Hollywood Film Council in 1948, and worked for the Democratic State Central Committee in 1948 and 1949.
Between 1948 and 1954, Costigan continued his involvement in various political and labor issues as a researcher and publicist. From 1950 to 1954, he was administrative assistant to Roy Brewer, who served in the multiple roles of Hollywood Film Council president, president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and Moving Picture Machine Operators, and vice-chairman of the Council Against Communist Aggression.
After 1955, he worked primarily as an independent publicist, researcher, consultant, and writer in the labor and political fields. He was often sought for his inside knowledge of labor organizations, including their connections with the Communist Party. Among his clients was the House Committee on Un-American Activities, for whom he acted as a consultant and researcher on Communist activities in Hollywood. Because of the adverse publicity generated by his testimony before the Canwell Committee, he generally did his work behind the scenes. In 1955, however, he was compelled to testify at a hearing in Seattle looking into the Communist-dominated Washington Pension Union.
Costigan moved to Fresno, California in 1970. He served as a volunteer in Henry Jackson's 1972 presidential campaign, and was the coordinator of Jackson's 1976 campaign for the 17th Congressional District in California, as well. He also involved himself in local Fresno politics, serving as a consultant and researcher for local political groups, such as the Fresno Community Development Commission.
In the late 1970s, he began researching a book about his life, particularly during his years in the Washington Commonwealth Federation. His second wife, Barbara, assisted him in this work, and continued it after his death on October 7, 1985. The book was never finished.
Arranged in two series:
Scope and Content
Although this collection contains material from 1933 to 1989, the bulk of it documents Costigan's activities after he left Seattle in 1948. The interviews which Barbara Costigan conducted with several of Costigan's former associates relate, for the most part, to the Washington Commonwealth Federation years. Monroe Sweetland's interview documents Costigan's assistance in organizing the Oregon Commonwealth Federation in the early 1940s. The general correspondence series primarily documents Costigan's activities in the 1930s and 1940s, particularly his 1944 Congressional campaign. Many of the letters were photocopied at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.
Terms of Access
Access to archival recordings: Due to the fragility of archival tape recordings, potential users may be required to arrange for transfer to digital format before the material can be accessed. Please contact Special Collections for further information.
Creator's literary rights transferred to the University of Washington Libraries.
The bulk of the files were transferred to the Libraries in March 1991 by Charles Costigan for the Barbara Costigan estate. Papers from Accession No. 4262-002 were transferred to the Libraries by Arnold Hansen, a trustee of Mrs. Costigan's estate in Venice, California in April 1991.
The papers originally came as two accessions. Accession 4262-001 contained the bulk of the material, and the subsequent Accession No. 4262-002 consisted of correspondence and some subject files which Barbara Costigan used for her research. These two accessions were merged and arranged together in 1992. Most of the boxes contained chronologically arranged folders, labeled in two-month intervals (i.e. January/February 1933, March/April 1933, etc.). There was a variety of material in these folders, including correspondence, writings by Costigan and others, ephemera, minutes, publications, notes and clippings. Some of this material has been dispersed into other folders, such as correspondence, clippings, and research notes. Folders which were empty have been removed.
It should be noted that although the Speeches and Writings series contain the majority of Costigan's writings, those that were in the Research Files have been left there and flagged accordingly.
For an account of Howard and Isabel Costigan's life together, see her unpublished reminiscence in the Eugene Dennett Papers (Accession No.3917-002, box 10, folder 17).
|Last modified: August 19, 2011|