Nancy Macdonald’s book Homage to the Spanish Exiles, on the refugees of the the Spanish civil war, is the story of a vocation—a calling, such as came to figures in religious history. It was a surprise to read in it that the organization she founded, Spanish Refugee Aid, got started only in 1952; one had had the impression that Nancy Macdonald and a small committee in the Union Square neighborhood had “always” been helping Spaniards. That is, the hundreds of thousands of Republicans left over, as it were, from the Spanish civil war when it ended in 1939 with Franco’s victory, turning what was a trickle into a tide of refugees that poured over the border into south-western France. I remember our first leaflet—“Forgotten People”—written by Dwight Macdonald but with many editorial suggestions from the rest of us, who wanted to do something to help, and I would have dated it much earlier, perhaps 1948. I am mixing Spanish Refugee Aid up, evidently, with the package fund of Dwight’s magazine, politics, which it grew out of and which Nancy had done most of the office work for.
The politics clothes barrel (Dwight insisted on the small p) was famous in our circles of the Forties and early Fifties: old clothes were collected from sympathizers by Nancy and her helpers for mailing (after due cleaning) to needy European intellectuals. But anyone who wanted a suit of clothes or a jacket could buy one from the barrel, and the money—more efficiently—be sent in its place to Europe. The barrel’s contents could be inspected in the politics office or in the Macdonald apartment.
There was a time, as I recall, when Dwight dressed almost exclusively from the politics barrel, choosing various plaids, stripes, and checks he found there that suited his Scotch taste. I remember in particular a suit donated by C. Wright Mills, which Dwight was greatly taken with—a perfect fit and without a sign of wear. I see it as a three-piece gray tweed, belted in the back like a Norfolk jacket. But I may be confusing things, and maybe it was not even Dwight but another of our contributors who bought the C. Wright Mills suit and wore it with pride. There were women’s clothes in the barrel, too—I certainly gave quite a few—but for some reason there was less demand for them than for the old suits, shirts, jackets, and ties of male intellectuals.
In any case, that was long before Spanish Refugee Aid, though already, of course, some Spanish refugees were among the recipients of funds, food, medicine, clothing collected by Nancy for politics. Two things happened in 1952: the magazine, which had stopped publication in the winter of 1949–1950 but still dreamed of resurrection, definitively ceased to exist (hence no more barrel from 1951 on), and Nancy, still aid-oriented, decided to concentrate on the Spanish victims of Franco. With Spanish Refugee Aid launched …