Chambers’ Crisis

In February 1949, while he was being interviewed daily by the FBI in preparation for his appearance at Alger Hiss’s perjury trial, Whittaker Chambers learned that Hiss’s investigators had received reports about Chambers’ sexual history. In response, Chambers reluctantly gave at least two statements to the FBI on the subject, one handwritten, another oral and transcribed by FBI agents. The latter was not signed, and neither statement was disclosed to the defense, even though there was a court order that the prosecution turn over all of Chambers’ signed statements. It remains unclear if Chambers’ homosexuality figured in his motive for his charges against Hiss. The statements would have supported the testimony of Dr. Carl Binger, who testified about Chambers’ personality for the defense and whose theories were ridiculed by prosecutor Thomas Murphy. Both the FBI and Chambers were aware that, given American society’s lack of tolerance for homosexuality in those days, had the statement been revealed publicly, his reputation and career as a journalist for Time magazine would have been irreparably harmed. What follows is an excerpt from Chambers’ handwritten statement to the FBI:

“Alger Hiss’s defense obviously intends to press the charge that I have had homosexual relations with certain individuals. With the resumption of pre-trial deposition, it is necesary to face this issue since my answer or refusal to answer certain questions must have a direct bearing on the case. I am for stating the facts. They are as follows:

“The cause of separation between my father and my mother, which I have described in my statement, was chiefly due to my father’s active homosexualism.

“As a boy, I was aware that something peculiar was involved, and I even knew the name of the other participant. But the nature of homosexualism remained secret to me. Nevertheless, I undoubtedly inherited this tendency from my father. It was no doubt further intensified by the domination of our home by my mother, who taught us that sex is an evil.

“Yet I did not know what homosexualism meant until I was more [than] 30 years old. Until then, some of my friendships with men were too intense but they were completely innocent. My relations with women were slow to develop, but were normal.”


“Sometime in either 1933 or 1934, I met a young fellow on the street in New York City. Since I was more or less footloose and fancy-free, I took him to a hotel, the name of which I cannot now recall. During the course of our stay at the hotel that night, I had my first homosexual experience. It was a revelation to me. Because it had been repressed so long, it was all the more violent when once set free. It set off a chain reaction in me which was almost impossible to control. Since that time, and continuing up to the year 1938, I engaged in numerous homosexual activities, both in New York and Washington. I actively sought out the opportunities for homosexual relationships. I recall that incidents of this nature took place in Hotel Annapolis and the Hotel Pennsylvania in Washington, D.C. I registered in these hotels under assumed names which I cannot now recall. I would describe my homosexual activity as being in the most elementary form.”

“In 1938, I managed to break myself of my homosexual tendencies. This does not mean that I am completely immune to such stimuli. It does mean that my self-control is complete and that for years I have lived a blameless and devoted life as husband and father. It will be noted that three things of some great importance happened during the year 1938. First my cessation of my homosexual activities, my final break with the Communist Party, and my embracing for the first time, religion. I do not believe that the cessation of my homosexual activities and my break with the Communist Party were in any way connected with each other.”

“I tell it now, only because in this case I stand for truth. Having testified mercilessly against others, it has become my function to testify mercilessly against myself.”

“I have said before that I am consciously destroying myself. This is not from love of self-destruction, but because only if we are consciously prepared to destroy ourselves, in the struggle, can we fight the thing, can the thing we are fighting be destroyed.”

The following was written by FBI Special Agent Edward Scheidt at the conclusion of Chambers’ statement:

“It is pointed out to the Bureau, that Chambers has never heretofore made this part of his life known. It was first told to agents in the Bureau on February 16, 1949. In view of this it is suggested that in so far as any dissemination of this information, outside the Bureau, is concerned, that it be treated in a strictly confidential manner.”