History Nebraska Blog

Senator Wherry's 1950 campaign to fire gay federal employees

By David L. Bristow, Editor


Elected to the US Senate in 1942 (by defeating George Norris), Kenneth Wherry of Pawnee City briefly became one of the most prominent Republicans in the Senate before his death in 1951. By the late 1940s he was warning of “Godless subversion” by Russian Communists, and claiming that “alien-minded doctrines” influenced President Truman’s administration.

As minority floor leader in 1950, Wherry called for a full Senate investigation into what he called “moral perverts” in federal employment. Wherry said that homosexuality was “not a local police problem, but one of national importance, affecting national security.” He claimed that gay employees would be vulnerable to blackmail by Soviet agents.

Wherry estimated that 10 percent of State Department employees were gay, and spread a rumor that Soviet leader Josef Stalin had obtained a list of US homosexuals from the Nazis. Wherry even published a report that claimed to prove a link between gays and Communists, based on testimony about “perverts” attending Communist meetings. But neither Wherry nor anyone else provided evidence of actual Soviet blackmail of gay employees.

Nevertheless, thousands of federal employees lost their jobs in the 1950s after being accused of homosexuality during what is now known as the Lavender Scare.


Read more about Wherry in Nebraska History Magazine (PDF).


(Photo: “Wherry family hears election returns on election night, 1942, at their home, Pawnee City,” Nov. 8, 1942. History Nebraska RG3559-0-5)

See also:

Actor Robert Taylor testifies before House Committee on Un-American Activities, 1947

Senator Joseph McCarthy attacks President Truman on Omaha radio, 1951



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