Jane Hodes, lifelong activist, founder of Niebyl-Proctor Library

Jane E. Hodes, a longtime Communist Party member and activist for peace, social and economic justice, died June 6 at the Oakland, Calif. retirement home where she had lived for many years. She was 90 years old.

Hodes was among a number of young people born into privileged families in the early 20th century who dedicated their lives to the struggle for world peace and a more just, humane economic and social system.

Born Aug. 25, 1918 in New York City, Hodes was the daughter of Walter E. Sachs, who headed the investment banking firm Goldman Sachs, and Emanie Nahm Sachs, whose short stories and novels depicting the efforts of early 20th century women to forge independent identities were widely published at the time, and who later achieved success as a painter. Walter Sachs was a founder of the NAACP, its first treasurer and chair of its finance committee.

As a child, Hodes attended New York City’s Todhunter School, where Eleanor Roosevelt taught for a time. As a Radcliffe College student, she worked with progressive youth organizations such as the American Youth Congress, and wrote an honors thesis, “The Soviet Union in the League of Nations.” She later earned a Masters in Education from Columbia University Teachers College.

Hodes liked to recall a very wet day when she and other young people visited President Franklin Roosevelt, hoping to discuss shared goals. However, Roosevelt quickly ended the session, suggesting ― as she later told the story ― that the visitors “go home and dry your feet and leave the governing to me.” After advisors including the First Lady let him know he’d made a mistake, the young people were invited back for an hours-long evening discussion with Eleanor Roosevelt.

Hodes graduated from Radcliffe in 1940, and soon after, married her first husband, Dr. Robert Hodes, a neurophysiologist. During the post World War II McCarthy period, Dr. Hodes in 1953 was fired from his professorship at Tulane University because of his left-wing political views. The young couple and their three children spent the next six years overseas, five of them in China, where Jane Hodes edited English-language publications, taught English and broadcast over English-language radio.

The family returned to the U.S. in 1959. In the years that followed, Jane Hodes worked with International Publishers and Imported Publications as a sales representative, traveling in New England and later in California until the early 1980s.

Following Robert Hodes’ death in 1966, Jane Hodes married longtime Communist leader, educator and union organizer Aaron Cohen in 1979. The couple moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1982. Aaron Cohen died in 2003, at age 95.

Hodes and Aaron Cohen founded the Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library for Social Research in Oakland, Calif. in 1987, and she served as the library’s first executive director.

Jane Hodes is survived by her three children, William Hodes, Nancy Hodes and Peter Hodes, and by three grandchildren. A memorial celebration is planned later in the summer, details to be announced.