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Stanford Report, January 26, 2000

Ella Wolfe dies at 103; organized Bertram Wolfe’s papers

Ella Goldberg Wolfe, who helped her husband Bertram and others found the American Communist Party, died Jan. 8 in her Palo Alto home. By the time she died at age 103, she had lived a dramatic life of political intrigue, travel and scholarship in three centuries. She spent much of the last 20 years organizing her and her husband's papers at the Hoover Institution Archives.

"She was in the archives every day until she could no longer drive her car," said Elena Danielson, Hoover archivist. "After that, she sent clippings for the files with others."

Known on campus for her great storytelling and hosting of Faculty Club parties with famous figures of the 20th century, Wolfe joined the Stanford community in the 1960s when her husband became a Hoover fellow. He died in 1977.

Born in Ukraine and raised in Brooklyn, Ella married Bertram at age 18. The young socialists opposed World War I, and later Bert and John Reed wrote the manifesto for the "left wing" that soon became the American Communist Party. Ella's role was mainly as an unpaid aide and editor for her husband in his activities as a labor organizer and pamphleteer, said Darra Goldstein, a professor of Russian history at Williams College who became friends of the Wolfes when she was earning a doctorate at Stanford. The Wolfes lived underground and abroad to avoid arrest following red scares and in 1928 went to Moscow, where Bert blundered into a public clash with Stalin. He and Ella spent six months under house arrest, and Bert turned increasingly anti-Communist. But Ella remained a Party member for several years and provided Spanish and English language training for Soviet agents in Mexico, until she was formally asked to denounce her husband as "a traitor and an enemy of the Soviet Union." In Mexico, she also became close friends with artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and with Leon Trotsky.

After returning to the United States in the early 1940s, Ella earned a master's degree in Spanish literature at Columbia and then taught Spanish in public schools and at Hunter College for many years.

After Bert's death, Ella organized their papers in the Hoover Archives. "She was the best literary executor one could imagine, helping get his books back into print," said Hoover Fellow Robert Hessen, author of Breaking with Communism: The Intellectual Odyssey of Bertram D. Wolfe. She was frequently interviewed for documentaries, he said.

The Wolfe collection contains extensive correspondence of both Wolfes with scholars, activists and artists, Danielson said. "One example is a typically flamboyant letter from Mexican artist Frida Kahlo addressed to Elochka and sealed with a lipstick kiss." The collection also contains documentation on the history and politics of the Soviet Union and Mexico.

Memorial contributions may be made in Ella Wolfe's name to Neighbors Abroad for Oaxaca, Mexico Orphanage, Palo Alto Cultural Center, 1313 Newell Road, Palo Alto, CA 94303. SR