Commonwealth College Fortnightly

Founded by socialist education reformers, Commonwealth College in Mena, Arkansas, published hundreds of issues of its newspaper, the Fortnightly, from 1926 to 1938. This digital collection provides fully searchable access to more than 200 issues. 

Commonwealth College in Mena, Arkansas, published hundreds of issues of its newspaper, the Fortnightly, from 1926 to 1938. This digital collection provides fully searchable access to more than 200 issues, allowing researchers to utilize the most complete record of activity at Arkansas’s historic radical labor school.

Founded by the socialist education reformers, William E. Zeuch, Kate Richards O’Hare, and Frank O’Hare, the college began as an extension of the Newllano cooperative community near Leesville, Louisiana, in 1923. It relocated to the mountains of Polk County, Arkansas the next year. The college and labor school became the focus of statewide and national scrutiny for its social and political stances before it finally closed its doors in 1940.

For more history about Commonwealth College, please see the article by William H. Cobb available on the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture.

Commonwealth College’s original mission was to produce educated leaders for the growing labor movement. The college became more involved in radical labor activism after the leadership was taken over by Lucien Koch, a leader of student-staff revolt. Over the course of the 1930s, Commonwealth became more outwardly affiliated with the Socialist Party, and members of the community were more politically radical, and they became Communist Party members and operatives. After the Southern Tenant Farmers Union formed in northeastern Arkansas in 1934, Commonwealth quickly aligned itself with the rapidly growing union of tens of thousands of sharecroppers and tenant farmers which also included Socialists in leadership positions. Political factionalizing and rifts related to the Communist Party in both the STFU and at Commonwealth caused disruption and reorganization at the school, and the STFU formally severed ties in 1938. After struggling on for nearly two more years, legal harassment and fines levied by local and state officials eventually led to Commonwealth closing its doors, with all of its property being sold.

The Commonwealth College Fortnightly was issued at Commonwealth College in Mena, Arkansas from volume 2, number 1 (January 1, 1926) through volume 14, number 5 (March 15,1938). The digital copies of the Fortnightly provided here represent all of the copies that can still be located. The Fortnightly offers a close look at the community life and activities of Commonwealth. Issues include mentions of special visitors, reports on national and international labor and political developments, and updates on the teachers and groups associated with the school.

three female and two male students sit at a table

two women pull a cart while a third rides in the cart

students and teacher or librarian look at books inside library

Please consult the Commonwealth College research guide for more information about the unique history of Commonwealth College and to learn about the variety of archives and published material on the school in Special Collections.

Two issues could not be located when the filming and digitization began: volume 2, number 14 (July 15, 1926) and volume 8, number 5 (May 1, 1932). The initial digitization of the Fortnightly was made possible by Professor Stephen A. Smith, Department of Communication, University of Arkansas.

We gratefully acknowledge assistance from the following libraries for copies of issues not in our collection:

  • Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI (especially William LeFevre)
  • Annenberg Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA (especially Daniel Traister and David McKnight)

Project and Technical Notes

The University Libraries project team was composed of Lori Birrell, Head of Special Collections; Joshua Youngblood, Project Curator; Deborah E. Kulczak, Head of Technical Services and Database Maintenance; Martha Parker, Digital Services Librarian; and Alyssa Willis, Cataloging Librarian. 

Images were processed by Digital Services personnel, including the Digital Services Coordinator, Lee A. Holt, Dexter Fairweather, Ryan Goodwin, Wendy Mc Lean, and Rosali Sahu. Image optimization was performed using Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Acrobat; CONTENTdm digital asset management software from OCLC was used to create metadata, using Dublin Core standards, Library of Congress Name Authorities, the Art and Architectural Thesaurus, and the University of Arkansas Libraries CONTENTdm Cookbook. Optical character recognition (OCR) was added using ABBYY FineReader.

Dylan Hurd and Beth Juhl from Web Services contributed to the webpage design. The project was completed October 31, 2017.