Divorcee Who Wed Hiss
Played Dominant Role
In His Spectacular Rise



In the sixth article of a series of the life of Alger Hiss, James L. Kilgallen tells how Hiss met and married his wife, Priscilla.)

By James L. Kilgallen
International News Service


NEW YORK --- Priscilla Fansler, a slim, petite Quaker girl with a saucy, upturned nose and a college background, played a dominant role in the career of Alger Hiss.

A primly-attractive girl with a strong mind, she was --and is-- a big influence in Hiss' life..

She was a divorcee when Hiss married her in Washington, D.C., on December 13, 1929, after his graduation from Harvard Law school. She was liberal-minded and early in their married life, joined the Socialist party in New York City.

The charge of espionage which later enveloped Hiss when the government accused him of being a Communist and a spy splattered Priscilla, too -- at both Hiss trials.

The government charged that Priscilla typed copies of secret State department documents on an old-fashioned Woodstock typewriter given to her years before by her father She denied the charge. Then U.S. Court of Appeals, when it unanimously upheld Hiss's conviction last week, specifically mentioned the damning evidence of this typewriter.

Hiss, according to Whittaker Chambers, made a practice of bringing the State department documents to his home in Washington on specified occasions when Chambers was to be on hand to get them.

Chambers testified he would take the original documents or copies to Baltimore to be photographed. He would return them late the same night so Hiss could restore them to the State department files. The microfilms, Chambers said, were passed on to the Soviet spy apparatus.

Priscilla's first marriage in 1925 to Thayer Hobson, New York publisher, lasted only two years. They separated and Priscilla was given custody of their child, Timothy, born to them in 1926.

She was determined to make her second marriage click and apparently it has. Her loyalty to Hiss never has wavered.

Priscilla Fansler was a year or two older than Hiss. She was born in Evanston, Illinois, a fashionable suburb of Chicago, the daughter of Lawrence Fansler, a successful insurance executive.

When she was very young, the Fanslers moved to Paoli, Pa., a socially elegant "main line" town not far from Philadelphia.

She was given a good education. Her folks had money. She had physical vitality, intelligence and charm. She displayed a keen interest in world events and changing political conditions.

She met Hiss in 1924, the year she was graduated from Bryn Mawr with an arts degree. The meeting occurred on an ocean liner, "The New Amsterdam," which was ploughing its way toward Europe.

Hiss, then a student at Johns Hopkins, and played an active part in arranging this third-class college trip for students eager to see what Europe was like.

Just how Priscilla and Alger met--whether causally on deck at shuffleboard of under a low hung mid-ocean moon--has not been disclosed. But Jesse Slingluf, Hiss's "closest college chum," says he assumes they were formally introduced.

The romance did not develop immediately. It wasn't love a first sight. Hiss, at the time, wasn't thinking of marriage.

When the ship docked in England, Hiss hastened to Stratford-on-Avon to meet his chum, Slingluf, who had preceded him to England on another boat.

Hiss and Slingluf spent the next month and a half visiting London, Paris and northern France. His showed much interest in the art galleries, libraries and historic spots.

Priscilla, meanwhile, returned from Europe and took an office position on Time magazine in New York, then a fledgling publication.

A year later, she met and married Thayer Hobson. When that marriage went on the rocks in 1927, Priscilla decided to go to Yale University for some post-graduate work. Alger had returned to his studies at Harvard. They corresponded and romance blossomed.

Priscilla and Alger were married in December 1929, in Hiss's apartment in Washington. It was a quiet wedding, witnessed by a small group of Hiss's close friends and college chums.

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Fall Colors at Bryn Mawr College: Senior row back to Pem Arch Photo by Kimberly Blessing

Soon after the marriage, Hiss gave up playing golf and tennis with his college pals and spent virtually all his spare time with Priscilla.

He was an amateur ornithologist and the young couple used to take walks along the canal near their home and study the birds.

His was working at his first job, that of confidential secretary in Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Justice Holmes was failing. Near the end, while the elderly white haired jurist lay in bed, his eyes closed, Hiss would read him novels and poetry.

When Holmes died he left his beautiful silver-encased Queen Anne mirror to Alger--a possession Hiss still treasures.

The Hisses moved to Boston, where Hiss joined the law firm of Choate, Hall and Stewart. He practiced law in Boston for two years.

Then the Hisses came to New York. Alger became an associate attorney in the law firm of Cotton and Franklin, a position he held from April, 1932 until May, 1933. They rented an apartment near Columbia University, where Priscilla enrolled for some courses.

Priscilla and Alger were soon drawn into the intellectual ferment prevalent at this time. The "depression" was a hot topic of discussion in university circles. Friends of this period say Priscilla was heard to express pronounced views on economic conditions. She became to be regarded as a "radical." When she voted in 1932, she registered as a Socialist.

Hiss himself had an opportunity to re-establish an old friendship with Lee Pressman, one of his classmates at Harvard. Pressman was then with the law firm of Chadbourne, Stanchfield and Levy.

But Pressman didn't stay long in New York. He moved on to Washington, where he became well known as a powerful leftist in New Deal circles.

Hiss followed Pressman to Washington where, in May, 1933, Hiss became assistant general counsel in the Department of Agriculture. It was his first government job, and both he and Priscilla were happy in their new environment in Washington.

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