Biographies/Kenneth Waldron Doolittle

Tags: Battle of Gandesa Hospital Workers Union Union Organizer Member Of Communist Party

Researcher: Mohammed Islam, Stuyvesant '22

Kenneth Waldron Doolittle was born on March 10, 1903, in Schenectady, New York. He was single at the time and a seaman. He sailed on the Berengaria and arrived in Spain on September 21, 1937. During the war, he was injured twice and also reported missing in action once. He then returned to the United States on December 31, 1938, and died in January 1978.

Doolittle was described to be "arch and dismissive". He was also known to be a communist. His ideals attracted attention from the FBI and he was later blacklisted due to his suspicious actions, such as his CPUSA membership.

Kenneth Waldron Doolittle's father, Van Ness Doolittle, died when Kenneth was only four or five years old. Van Ness was an orphan who came from a background of English religious dissidents who settled in America during the 1600s. His father was an elementary school teacher and a letter carrier. After his father's death, his mother, Anna, put Kenneth into the Troy Male Catholic Orphanage.

Anna had to work harder to care for those around her and so she started picking hops, which are green flower-shaped plants, in the fields, which was not seen as a respectable job for women. Kenneth helped with the farming, such as the times he worked on his uncle Clarence’s farm. Anna decided to remarry William Bryant, an African-American chef who she met during a job. He asked that Kenneth come back to his home.

Doolittle had a sister and two half-brothers. However, he was closest to his step-dad who he called “Pop”. They, unfortunately, had to move a lot, causing Doolittle to only finish school up to the sixth grade. When he was 14, Anna passed away from the Spanish flu during the time of the epidemic. He then went to sea at age 16 when a problem occurred on his uncle’s farm. During his trip, he was exposed to Marxism. A shipmate had given him a copy of Das Kapital, written by Karl Marx. This would lead Doolittle to become a lifetime social activist. He found his wife Mary while unionizing a New York shoe factory. He organized the 119 Hospital Workers Union with her and two friends, Endicott and Johnson, and then became a delegate there as well.

Doolittle was very anti-fascist. So, he obviously joined the fight in Spain during the Civil War. He served in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and was one of the few to return to America. He was behind fascist lines for ten days. During his time there, he was wounded during the Gandesa retreat.

The Battle of Gandesa took place in 1938. After winning in Caspe, the Nationalists made their way towards Catalonia, reaching Gandesa. The XV International Brigade was holding down Gandeasa when the Nationalists attacked. They put up a fight of three days, but it eventually fell to the Nationalists. Although being defeated, the battle gave time for the XV Brigade time to regroup and gather supplies.

He then made it across the Ebro River by floating on a raft he made out of reeds. He was later admitted to a hospital in Barcelona, where he was infected and had an allergic reaction to horse serum, causing him to stay at the hospital longer.

Years pass, and Doolittle still kept in touch with the veterans he had fought with. One habit his daughters recall him doing was singing, which they said he had a great voice for, the song "Viva la Quince Brigada", especially the chorus which went "Rumbala, rumbala, rumbala!". They also recall him storing artifacts and documents from his past in a box.


“Alice Neel: The Art of Not Sitting Pretty.” Google Books. Google. Accessed June 16, 2022.

Ink, Social. “Doolittle, Kenneth Waldron.” The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, August 1, 2020.