Two doctors who were activists for peace.
ROYALSTON, Mass. — Every time I read about a monument being erected to honor soldiers, I remember conversations I’ve had with friends about the need we feel for a monument of some sort to acknowledge those of us who were soldiers of a different sort — marching against war, specifically the Vietnam War.
Most followers of The Rag Blog are aware of this anti-war movement, a central pillar of the legendary “Sixties,” and this article is a memorial tribute to two activists, both of whom were also medical doctors. Both died recently, and linking them in this article is part of my own process of mourning for them.
They are Gene Bishop, M.D. (1947-2020), and Herman Goldfarb, M.D. (1927-2019).
Their deaths have impacted me because I had long-lasting friendships with both.
Their deaths have impacted me because I had long-lasting and important friendships with both. Herman was also my cousin, and my relationship with him began when I was a child. I met Gene more than a half-century ago when we were both active in New Left circles.
Though these two doctors never crossed paths and were unaware of each other, I was struck by the fact that a 20-year gap in their ages didn’t matter much when it came to their devotion to peace and their compassionate professional and political work as left-wing doctors serving communities in need.
Herman, who was a member of the Communist Party (CP) starting in his youth in the 1940s, represents the activism and values of the Old Left; while Gene belonged to the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and was an archetypal New Leftist.
My relationship with Gene began in the 1960s when both of us were involved in the underground press movement. Gene wrote for the Old Mole, a publication based in Cambridge, Mass., where she had been a Radcliffe student. I was on the staff of Liberation News Service (LNS), which started in Washington, D.C., and then moved to New York City. (Several Rag Blog staffers have their own unique connections to LNS, and I had the pleasure of joining them at the Rag Reunion in 2016.)
A year after graduation from Radcliffe, Gene married Dicky Cluster who was her colleague in SDS and the Old Mole. Then, as part of their New Left pathway, Gene and Dicky went on the first Venceremos Brigade as volunteer sugarcane cutters in Cuba and wrote about their experiences for LNS. Their relationship lasted about three years.
Gene decided to pursue a career in medicine, choosing to become an internist.
Gene decided to pursue a career in medicine and was accepted to the Stony Brook University Medical School on Long Island, N.Y., graduating in 1976. She chose to become an internist (primary care physician) and completed her residency at Cambridge City Hospital in Massachusetts. Board-certified in internal medicine, she settled in Philadelphia and served patients there for nearly 40 years. Her second husband, Andy Stone, M.D., has worked as a psychiatrist, recently helping veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They had one child, Sarah Sky Bishop-Stone.
Gene’s funeral at Mishkan Shalom Synagogue was attended by 300 people, an indication of her impact on others. One of the main points made at this event was her role as an educator, including the steady stream of entries in the Caring Bridge website established for people who have a serious illness and want to keep in touch with a large number of friends and acquaintances. Essentially, though it’s hard to come right out and say it, her Caring Bridge entries were the narrative of an individual headed for an almost certain death in the near future. She discussed her medical condition as well as her mental state, her engagement in writing projects and current politics, with an honest evaluation of her ups and downs. She kept at these Caring Bridge entries right up to the last week or so, when her husband and daughter made the final posts.
I reached out to four individuals who knew Gene to share their thoughts.
I reached out to four individuals who knew Gene to share their thoughts, as follows:
Lucy Candib, M.D.:
One of the things I will always remember about Gene is that she was always ahead of everyone else: pulling diverse women together to establish a free women’s health clinic in Somerville over the course of a couple years, succeeding in the early ’70s. She also walked faster than anyone else I ever traveled with. We went to Europe together one summer and she was 10 paces ahead of me all the time. I was always running to catch up. Likewise, she saw things coming politically sooner than other people and was always on target in identifying threats to women, low income people and people of color. One of the most astute political people I will ever know. I will miss her enormously.
When I met Gene Bishop she was either a first year or second year student at Radcliffe. As you probably know, in those days Harvard maintained a separate college for women. By design, it accepted far fewer female students than Harvard did male. They lived in their own dorms, had their own graduation and were not allowed to use all of the libraries that were open to men.
Gene became involved in SDS. Early on, she was part of the first collectives of woman and was an early feminist — forcing many of us men to confront the sexism that was as endemic to SDS as it was to the larger society. When we formed the Old Mole, our new left underground newspaper, she was essential to its publication for two years and was a key leader in the women’s collective at the Old Mole.
Gene was a person of commitment and powerful if muted passion. She was acutely aware of the unequal treatment of women and determined to change it in every aspect of her life. After she went to Cuba on that first Venceremos Brigade, our work took us in different directions and then of course she went off to med school and we largely lost touch. I was delighted to see her last year for the first time in many years — and am very sad to learn she has died.
Carmen Febo de San Miguel, M.D.:
I met Gene in the late 1970s when she joined Hahnemann Family Medicine Residency Program as attending physician. She had recently arrived to Philadelphia joining our program and very importantly for me, joining the physicians at the Spring Garden Family Health Services Center where I was acting as Medical Director. The Health Center, associated with the Family Medicine Residency program where I had recently completed my training, provided primary care to a poor multi-ethnic community that primarily consisted of poor whites, African-Americans, and Puerto Ricans and other Latinos, as well as being a teaching site for residents in the program.
Gene was a breath of fresh air. To receive another female physician to our faculty, but one with such strong convictions for high quality of care to all, for her understanding, knowledge and experience of feminism and health care for women, was horizon-widening for me. I had graduated from medical school at the University of Puerto Rico, and although my heart and inclinations were in the right place, Gene’s clearer experience and verticality of purpose provided a mold that helped me shape my own understanding and career path into the future.
Furthermore, Gene introduced me to women’s music, including Holly Near, the Philadelphia based Anna Crucis Choir, and many other memorable experiences I would not have gotten to know. But I can also claim that I introduced her to Puerto Rico. Visiting Puerto Rico together was very special for me, as I think it was for Gene.
Barbara Rothkrug, RN:
When I left Liberation News Service in early 1971, I moved to Boston where the women’s movement was in full swing. I moved in with Gene, who, with a group of friends, was organizing a health center run by women in two storefronts in Somerville, Massachusetts. (Gene had quit the Old Mole and gotten a job as a pulmonary function technician at Boston City Hospital). The center was to have all women staff, including doctors and mental health professionals. Everyone who volunteered there became a doctor or nurse, including me. So I owe my career as a nurse to Gene and the women’s health center.
Gene became a life-long friend, even though we lived far apart. She could put into words what I was feeling even when I could not. Even when she was terminally ill, she thought of other people’s needs and tried to help out. Her openness about her own feelings was amazing and unusual. She continued her fight for better health care, dragging herself to conferences and demonstrations when she could.
More than a doctor, Gene’s role as an educator and writer remained central.
More than a doctor, Gene’s role as an educator and writer remained central, as she wrote articles for medical journals, some of them related to her own declining health. She had received radiation treatment for lymphoma when she was 18, and that was identified as the cause of her lung cancer. Her last major piece of writing went to the readers of Philadelphia’s daily newspaper, The Inquirer, on February 18, 2020. It was updated on line when she died. It was entitled “Radiation cured her cancer 55 years ago. Then it ended her life.” Here’s the link: https://www.inquirer.com/health/lung-cancer-hodgkin-lymphoma-radiation-survivor-20200218.html
Gene loved the outdoors, especially hiking, and like so many New Leftists, eventually developed an interest in environmental politics. She wrote: “In 1979, 14 years after my treatment, the worst domestic nuclear power accident in U.S. history occurred at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania. I was more than sympathetic to the nuclear disarmament movement. And although I understood that nuclear war and my radiation treatment were considerably different, I did begin to wonder if the treatment could have had unexpected consequences.”
The politics that filled the life of Herman Goldfarb reflects a different era, but included many of the same values. This is the obituary that was prepared by Herman’s children and published in the local newspapers:
Herman was born on June 29, 1927, in the Bronx to first generation Jewish immigrants from Russia, Rose and Irving Goldfarb. Being raised during the Depression shaped the rest of his life and solidified his social activism and commitment to civil rights. He fought for these beliefs throughout his life, from his early days as a union organizer, through the ’60s and ’70s when he protested the Vietnam war.
As a staff doctor at Community General Hospital in Monticello, N.Y., he picketed in solidarity with the hospital workers when they went on strike in the 80s. As recently as two months ago, he was outside Planned Parenthood, showing his support for reproductive rights.
He was a brilliant man whose deep curiosity and scientific wonder led to a lifetime of learning and deep appreciation for the natural world. He began his career as a chemical engineer, but luckily for many residents of Sullivan County, became a doctor, moved to Monticello and began his long career giving medical help, advice, and love to all his patients. His political convictions had him following world affairs until the end. He felt he had done all he wanted in life, and his only regret was that he couldn’t be here to see how it all turns out.
The repressive politics of the McCarthy era influenced Herman’s life in many ways.
The repressive politics of the McCarthy era influenced Herman’s life in many ways, because he was in fact a Communist and all Communists were targets — with many in party leadership ending up in jail or in exile.
Herman’s decision to go back to school to become a medical doctor was a direct result of the McCarthy era and its demand for loyalty oaths. He had difficulty holding down a job as a chemical engineer. He got his medical degree from the Albert Einstein School of Medicine following by a residency at Montefiore Hospital in The Bronx, N.Y. He was an internist and a pulmonologist.
Herman was warm and loving to me as I was growing up, and he visited our home often, always bringing gifts that were meant to improve my intellect. He once told me that he brought girlfriends to meet my parents because he wanted their approval.
As I matured, he shared more of his political biography with me. He joined the CP as a youth and was very proud of his participation in rallies and a student strike at City College of New York (CCNY) in the late 1940s. A Wikipedia page for “Knickerbocker Case” tells the story about the strike, part of a campaign against Professor William E. Knickerbocker because of his alleged anti-Semitism. The article notes, “CCNY alumni continued to commemorate the 1949 strike, which for many students marked the beginning of their political involvement in progressive causes and in civil rights.” Herman, age 22 at the time, was one of them.
During the McCarthy period, when Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were arrested, tried, convicted and then executed in the electric chair for allegedly providing the Soviet Union the “secret of the atomic bomb,” Herman teamed up with other scientists in an effort to prove that there was no such “secret,” given what was available already in scientific journals. Obviously, this effort was to no avail and the Rosenbergs were executed. The Rosenberg case was a traumatic event for America, but especially for CP members.
He sometimes voiced criticism of the Party leadership. He told me that he won a generous scholarship to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), but the Party wanted him to go to CCNY to be among the working class. Herman had flaws, as humans do. He definitely was a typical macho man, and this trait led to his divorce. His machismo made me anxious when I decided to come out to him as a gay man. I was so relieved, and forever grateful, when he immediately expressed his love and support — and educated himself about homosexuality.
Calumny is the word that came to mind as I was mulling over plans to write this article.
Calumny is the word that came to mind as I was mulling over plans to write this article. Here’s the definition from dictionary.com: “the making of false and defamatory statements about someone in order to damage their reputation.”
Both Old Left and New Left have been subject to despicable examples of calumny, especially in regard to the Vietnam War and the counter-culture, but also earlier in regard to Communists. Fine human beings like Gene and Herman are a testament to the injustice of these defamatory statements.
It’s true that Communist Party loyalists were badly misinformed and perhaps foolish in their admiration of Stalin, except perhaps for seeing the Soviet Union as an essential wartime ally against the Nazis and Fascists. Some Old Leftists, followers of Norman Thomas (disliked by the Communists), were wiser on that score. We New Leftists had our own flaws, but the negative characterizations about both Old Left and New Left have taken up a lot of ink. It takes some work, in this arena, to emphasize the positive, and that’s what The Rag Blog’s frequent history articles strive to accomplish.
I wrote the following in my autobiography, Left, Gay & Green: A Writer’s Life:
People in the labor movement joined the Communist Party because of the party’s strong commitment, both ideologically and in practical terms, to workers’ rights. Furthermore, the CP took a strong stand against anti-Semitism and against the racist Jim Crow laws in the American South. The party held a strong position, at least in theory, on equality for women, and I first heard the term ‘male chauvinist’ as a child when my mother used it to describe the bad behavior and attitude of some men she knew, though I don‘t think she leveled that charge at my father. Without success, the CP advocated for socialized medicine, but in the same era, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal Congress adopted some of the proposals pushed by the CP, most notably the Social Security system. The CP grew to at least fifty thousand members in the 1930s, but by the 1950s the numbers had dwindled to fewer than ten thousand. My parents remained among the steadfast few.
As for the New Left, its members are maligned in many ways, but none of the anti-war activists I have known, including Gene and Herman, ever spit at a soldier returning from Vietnam, and yet that ugly myth endures. Check out this book: The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory and the Legacy of Vietnam by Vietnam veteran and sociology professor Jerry Lembcke, published in 1998.
The hard work of the peace movement, including the teach-ins on so many campuses, and reaching out to GIs via coffee shops and special periodicals, not to mention the huge mass actions, are unappreciated.
We’ve been disrespected in a way that simply obliterates the reality of kind, compassionate thoughtful people like Gene Bishop and Herman Goldfarb.
The psychologist Bettelheim was nasty in attacking the young people of the Sixties.
The renowned and influential psychologist Bruno Bettelheim (1903-1990) was particularly nasty in attacking the young people of the Sixties in his speeches and writings. A 1970 New York Times article stated,
For millions of Americans who are understandably nervous about the radical young, the Bettelheim view of what ails them seems both timely and important: Many of the hippies, militants, Yippies and assorted fringe groups of the New Left, he believes, are emotionally sick…. What is even more disturbing to Bettelheim is that an influential segment of the adult world has elevated this sickness to the status of a “youth culture,” glorifying what should properly be looked upon as a pathology.
Many articles in later years accused our generation of choosing the bourgeois life, or “selling out.” An anonymous writer in American Dissident took aim at the youth of the sixties with this:
They wanted to change the world, but they simply changed ideas instead. Today they want to change jobs, cars or TV sets. That’s all. They were separatists, hippies, maoists, organic foodies, feminists, peace and love, marxist-leninists, and finally new wave. They became young or old yuppies full of horseshit.
The writer created a list of famous “sellouts” including Abbie Hoffman, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Tom Hayden, Jane Fonda, Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Dennis Hopper, Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder and more.
Particularly offensive to me was his description of Ginsberg, a devoted pacifist, for “becoming, a tenured professor and worried not of ideals but of his own paltry fame and place in the established-order literary canon.”
The piece concluded:
The counterculture, as it was called, was really nothing but a lightly disguised arm of corporate America dressed in paisley, smelling of patchouli oil and incense, yapping in hippie jargon, while selling, selling, selling, always selling.
Well, few alumni of the 1960s protests actually became wealthy, and the amazing good work that Gene and Herman did all through their lives was never motivated by greed. In fact, greed, selfishness, violence, cowardice, and prejudice were the aspects of society they fought to the end.
Allen Young worked for Liberation News Service in Washington, D.C., and New York City, from 1967 to 1970. He has been an activist-writer in the New Left and gay liberation movements, including a few items published in The Rag Blog. Since 1973, he has lived in a rural community in North Central Massachusetts. Retired since 1999, he was a reporter and assistant editor of the Athol (Mass.) Daily News, and director of community relations for the Athol Memorial Hospital. He is author or editor of 15 books, including his 2018 autobiography, Left, Gay & Green; A Writer’s Life — and a review of this book can be found in the Rag Blog archives.
- Read more articles by and about Allen Young on The Rag Blog.