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Fisher Fountain honors WWU president who was accused of being soft on communists

Fisher Fountain in Western Washington University's Red Square.
Fisher Fountain in Western Washington University's Red Square. THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

If you ask people where Fisher Fountain is located at Western Washington University, many might respond, "Oh, you mean the fountain in Red Square?"

The implication is they aren't sure of the fountain's name. I suspect even more people have no idea who Fisher was.

I'm glad you asked. The fountain memorializes Charles Fisher, Western's president from 1923 to 1939. He was president when the college struggled with the Great Depression, when teacher education became more than a quickie diploma, and when a library and physical education building were built.

But Fisher is best remembered as the president who lost his job after being accused of being soft on un-American students, professors and campus speakers. Western's trustees dismissed the accusations, but later relented to pressure from the governor and gave Fisher his pink slip.

In 1968, four years after Fisher died, the fountain was dedicated. Nearly 300 people - alumni, faculty members, family, friends - donated to make it happen.

During the ceremony, campus President Charles Flora made no specific reference to Fisher's departure, but he described Fisher as a man of "strong convictions which he expressed with frankness and vigor," and as someone with "a passion for free and unhampered discussion of controversial issues."

Later, in his 1991 book about his years at Western, Flora called Fisher a "good man badly treated in this place."

The irony that the fountain sits in Red Square isn't lost on people familiar with Fisher's story. Irony can bring a bemused smile, but in the 1930s, allegations that someone was "red" weren't a laughing matter.

Reach Dean Kahn at dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com or 360-715-2291.

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