Voices of the Bay

Living History

Bristol’s Nancy Hood reflects on growing up in a Communist family


A class assignment on family history for her daughter 20 years ago propelled Nancy Hood of Bristol to re-examine her own complex childhood. Her parents, Otis and Fran, were active members of the American Communist Party during the height of McCarthyism. The family experienced numerous repercussions from Otis’ very public role as the New England Chair and his election campaigns for public office, including Governor of Massachusetts.

For Nancy, a trained singer, it was only natural she would create
I’ve Got a Song: A Living History Of The McCarthy Era. The program, which has been performed around the country, incorporates music, narration, and a priceless collection of memorabilia capturing the family’s very public life as communists. With accompaniment and narration by Warren musician Barry Brown, it will be presented at Bristol’s Rogers Free Library in the Herreshoff Room on Sunday, May 19 at 2pm.

Nancy received her master’s in social work from Boston College and a bachelor’s in music from Boston University’s College of Fine Arts. A psychotherapist who specializes in trauma, she is retired from Roger Williams University Counseling Center.

"When the Depression hit, Dad initially had work, but many of his siblings didn’t. His parents had died and left nine children. He helped support the younger ones. When his jobs ran out, seeing the suffering of his family and people around him is what radicalized him. The Communist party was trying to get support for public relief. He got interested and was convinced this was the answer, and got involved.

When I was eight, Dad was arrested twice. The books in our house were confiscated and he was put behind bars. He was arrested again when I was ten. I lived with fear that he would be sentenced, and that my mother would also be arrested. I was very aware of the Rosenberg case (American citizens Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed after being convicted of conspiracy for espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union) and very much lived with a fear of this happening to my father.

The FBI followed us everywhere – they would come to our house when my parents weren’t home and try to get in. There was a third grade teacher who was working for the FBI that would ask me and my sister questions. When I got off the bus and walked home, a group of young boys would call me names. As I passed their houses and said hello to their mothers, they would not acknowledge me and turned around.

As an adolescent, I began questioning some of the things my dad believed in, and we had our disagreements about certain things.

There is a lot of good that the Communist party did, and there are things I disagree with. Unfortunately, people believe what the Soviet Union had and what Russia and China have is Communism. They’ve given Communism a bad name. I admire that my parents stood by their beliefs and put their lives on the line for what they believed in."