Seattle’s Homegrown Communist Leader


Many years ago I gazed at the visage of Eugene Dennis, head of the U.S. Communist Party, on Time Magazine’s famous cover.  The accompanying text mentioned that Dennis was a former Seattleite, so I took a closer look.

Washington State’s colorful radical past (and to some extent, present) has long been observed.  The independent, feisty voters of our state have fostered extraordinary labor activity, like the Wobblies, and strident political organizations such as the Washington Commonwealth Federation.  These and other left-leaning activities were supported by a galaxy of personalities such as Anna Louise Strong, a former student at Seattle’s Queen Anne High School, and bandleader and Lieutenant Governor Vic Meyers.  Dennis, on the other hand, was a shadowy character.

In 1945, following the Second World War, when anti-Soviet feeling in the U.S. was burgeoning, a young man named Eugene Dennis succeeded Earl Browder as leader of the U.S. Communist Party.  His origins were, at first, obscure.  Dennis was born in 1905 to Francis and Nora Waldron of Seattle.  Nora died when Eugene was a lad, and his father died a few years later at Sedro Wooley’s Northern State Hospital for the Insane.  Graduating from Seattle’s Franklin High School in 1923, Dennis briefly attended the University of Washington. 

Using the name Waldron, he claimed a number of things: marriage to a woman named Regina Karasick in 1928 (apparently while she was the wife of another man); service as an able-bodied seaman aboard commercial vessels. He changed the date and place of his birth several times.  Throughout this confusing period he became active in both the Seattle and Los Angeles branches of the Communist Party.

In December 1930, Eugene Dennis obtained a U.S. passport by forgery, claiming to be Paul Walsh of Austin, Pennsylvania.  His next few years were spent abroad, roaming from Europe to South Africa, and spending time at Lenin University studying the Soviet Union’s new government.

After returning to the U.S. in 1935, Dennis helped organize the Wisconsin Communist Party, while rising in the national party’s affairs.  By 1945, he arrived at the top.  Five years later his face was on the cover of Time magazine.  Around this time, he was sentenced to prison for planning seditious acts against the United States. His strange path and activities ended as public fear rose during the Sen. Joseph McCarthy anti-Communist era.

Junius Rochester
Junius Rochester
Junius Rochester, whose family has shaped the city for many generations, is an award-winning Northwest historian and author of numerous books about Seattle and other places.


  1. This artcle seems to have ended only part way through the story. What eventually became of Eugene Dennis. Did he just evaporate during the McCarthy era?

  2. Hey Junius…Do continue the saga of this strange fellow. How long was he in prison? Did he later go to the Soviet Union or did he remain here in the U.S. or somewhere else in the West?


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