Ungovernor, 1916 - Ludwig Erwin Alfred Katterfeld

Ludwig Erwin Alfred Katterfeld ran as the Socialist candidate for Washington State Governor in 1916 on his journey to becoming an international Communist figure and a man who had views so dangerous he became a guest of Uncle Sam's Crowbar Hotel during the first Red Scare. He was in the Evergreen State for only a brief time. But what a time it was.

He was born July 15, 1881 in Strasbourg, when that city was under German rule. His Katterfeld ancestors had served as pastors for several generations, but his father was a high school teacher. His parents, Traugott Heinrich Karl Alfred Katterfeld (1850-1891) and Adelheide Wilhelmina (Karpinsky) Katterfeld (1850-1884) both died at a young age.

According to the 1920 U.S. census, Ludwig came to the United States in 1893, two years following the death of his father. The orphan was small, with dark hair and eyes, and he was very bright. When he graduated from high school in 1898 in Cloud County, Kansas, he was first in his class of 23 students.

Ludwig E. Katterfeld appears to have drifted around a bit during the first decade of the 20th century. By his own account he was "selling stereoscopic views in Douglas, Arizona. That was 1907, I think ..." and already active as a Socialist. Sales work seemed to always supplement his political activity. He also attended Washburn College in Topeka around this time period and majored in sociology. OK, now get set for a major trivia fest:

Washburn College was also the alma mater of Ungovernor Frink. Just so you know. A later grad was Clifford Dorwin Cunningham. C.D. Cunningham later attended the UW Law School, graduated in 1909, and then settled in Centralia. He was the father of choreographer Merce Cunningham, who attended high school with my Uncle David. Pretty exciting, eh? C.D. was also one of the prosecutors in the Centralia Massacre trial. In the excellent book Wobbly War (1987), John McClelland wrote about this interesting Katterfeld-Cunningham connection: "C.D. Cunningham recalled that one of his university classmates, Ludwig Katterfeld, running for governor on the Socialist ticket, came to town and spoke in the hall. Katterfeld remained Cunningham's one radical friend even after he went on to become a leading Communist activist and served a term in prison, like many Wobblies, after being convicted under laws that made it illegal to voice views defined as subversive."

Ludwig married Berta Pearl Horn in Topeka [another source says Chicago], Oct. 10, 1910. They would have five children, born all over the country as the political winds blew. Their first years were spent in Illinois. While there, Katterfeld served as the head of the Socialist Party's Lyceum Bureau. By 1914 they were living in Everett, Washington. Their daughter Louise was born in Everett Jan. 14, 1916.

Everett was a Socialist hotspot. Anna Agnes Maley, the 1912 Socialist Ungovernor, had been based there and placed second in votes in Snohomish County. The city was home to The Northwest Worker, a major Socialist newspaper. Labor activity was building steam. It all had to come a head.

It would appear Katterfeld arrived in the spring of 1914 with his wife and two small children in order to fill the office of State Secretary of the Socialist Party in Washington. He organized, lectured, wrote columns. After his second year was up, he devoted his energy to running for Governor. It looked promising. After all, Maley had polled an amazing 12% in 1912. But there were at least four factors at work against Katterfeld.

First, Gov. Lister, the incumbent Democrat was not unpopular. The major parties had managed to co-opt some of the issues that had been deemed radical only a short time before. Direct primary elections, women getting the right to vote, the recognition of unions as a legitimate economic force, and so on.

Second, the Socialist Party in Washington State had been taken over by the hardcore "Red" element shortly after Maley's run. This group felt more immediate and urgent measures needed to be taken, and they had little faith in the evolutionary process of elections. Mainstream voters were frightened away.

Third, "Comrade Katterfeld" was not running to win. Here's an account from The Socialist World of a speech he made during the 1916 campaign: "A fair-sized audience greeted him and heard one of the best lecturers that has ever come this way. We consider it one of the strongest, if not the strongest, presentation of the Socialist plan to which we have ever listened. Every sentence was crowded full of meaning. It was educational, entertaining and inspirational. If the great state of Washington gets this man for governor, she will get a good one for once." Sounds like great press. So what's the problem? This. The speech was given in the town of Clifton-- in Colorado!

Fourth, like most other third party candidates, he was ignored by the non-Socialist press. For example, Katterfeld made a speech in Olympia on August 20, 1916 as part of his gubernatorial campaign. Oly was home to several newspapers, Republican and Democrat. Only one paper covered the event, and here is the entire article as presented by the Olympia Chronicle: "A Socialist picnic was held at the Priest Point Park last Sunday and the Socialist candidate for governor made a speech." Yup. That's all there is. Katterfeld was not even named. This piece of news was squeezed in following a bit about a local teacher being sick and before a sentence about someone buying a new wagon.

An incident known as the Everett Massacre took place just two days before the election, right in Katterfeld's town. A small army of Wobblies and deputized citizens engaged in a shooting battle. When the dust settled, almost 50 people on both sides were wounded and the death toll could've been as high as 20, mostly Wobblies. Katterfeld does not appear to have had any role in this incident, but it probably didn't help his campaign.

On election day L.E. Katterfeld placed 3rd out of six, with 21,167 votes (5.61%). His third place finish was consistent in every county.

His post-Washington State years were very eventful and worth more attention than the scant description I am providing. There is a lot of information about him out there, but it is very scattered.

By 1918 he was back in Dighton, Kansas and a member of the Socialist Party National Executive Committee. On Sept. 12 of that year he registered for the draft and gave his occupation as "Farmer & Lecturer."

Although still a Socialist by the end of World War I, Katterfeld was using terms like "Communist Socialism" and "revolutionary Socialism." Based in Cleveland, he became, along with other disgruntled Socialists, a founding member of the Communist Labor Party of America in 1919. One of his colleagues was John Reed, author of Ten Days That Shook the World. Ludwig moved to Brooklyn, N.Y. by the end of the year to assume his role as an "Organization Director." Then in May, 1920, the CLP merged with the rival Communist Party of America and formed the United Communist Party of America. Ludwig served as a member of the Central Executive Committee. By 1923 it had morphed into the Workers Party of America, and Ludwig continued to serve as Committee member.

In 1922 Katterfeld went to Moscow as an American Communist Party representative and delegate. While there he used the name "J. Carr." In one portrait of the 7 American delegates to the 4th Congress of the Comintern, Katterfeld can be seen in the upper right hand corner. His sleepy, almost whimsical expression looks very out of place among the other earnest visages of the true believers. But at the end of that year he had to rush back to the United States. It was time report for prison.

In Jan. 1920, Ludwig was caught in a Red Scare sweep that sent 20 members of the CLP to prison, including millionaire William Bross Lloyd. They were charged with conspiring to overthrow the government. Clarence Darrow acted as their defense. Although allowed to be free on bail for awhile, Ludwig was sentenced to 1-5 years in prison plus a $2000 fine. He served time in Joliet, Ill., 1923-1924.

Given the speed at which the Communists were changing party names and direction, by the time Ludwig came out of prison in 1924, he found himself operating in a party he didn't recognize. As Katterfeld said in a 1956 interview, "And then when you're out of circulation for a year, you lose track of things. It's so hard to catch up." He worked at first as the Daily Worker agent for New York, but then in 1927 he started a new magazine, Evolution.

Evolution was published on an irregular basis from 1927 to 1938. It was the pro-evolution response to the 1925 Scopes trial. As he became more involved with the magazine he drifted away from politics. By 1929 he was expelled from the Communist Party due to his lack of committment and his unwillingness to hand over his magazine to Party control.

Time published a profile of Katterfeld and Evolution in their June 28, 1937 issue. "One effect of the Scopes trial was to instill a burning determination to combat ignorance and bigotry in a wispy, grey, mild-mannered man named Ludwig Erwin Katterfeld." There was no mention of his Communist past, although his Socialist activity was briefly covered. But, Time added, "Now his crusade for scientific truth absorbs him entirely and he takes no active interest in politics, although he hates the German Nazis."

Ludwig was tracked down in 1956 and interviewed. He was asked if he went back into the Socialist Party after being tossed out of the Communist Party. "No," he answered, "Somehow I'm friendly with all the parties now. I'm not excited about any one of them. I wish them all good luck, including the Communist Party."

He lived to the age of 93. He died Dec. 11, 1974 in Hempstead, Nassau County, Long Island, N.Y. Interesting to note he was the earliest Ungovernor I could've possibly interviewed, as I was in college that month and year. He lived through two world wars and both Red Scares following those wars. It is a loss to history that this unusual and articulate man did not leave an autobiography.


great bio

thanks so much for posting this. ludwig katterfeld was my great-grandfather, aka "grandpa dutch." it is too bad there is no autobiography - or any biography really. he had such a wild life. i appreciate your taking the time to compile all this info!


Thank you for your comment. I would love to hear more about this fascinating political figure, particularly about his experiences in Washington State. If you have more info you can PM me through OlyBlog (using the "My Inbox" option), or share it openly through the comments section. Glad you enjoyed the post! Please let me know if I screwed up on any data. Best, stevenl