Among the loveliest and oldest houses in Provincetown is this classic full Cape, built around 1790, with elegant Federal-style details like a fanlight over the front door. From 1925 to 1968, the property was owned by the fearless Robenia F. Anthony (1879-1968), a longtime school teacher in Springfield and a national director of Progressive Citizens of America, which broke with the Democratic Party in 1948 over concerns that President Truman’s policy of containing the Soviet Union was the real threat to world peace.
In 1953, during the zenith of McCarthyism, the 74-year-old Anthony — who had retired five years earlier from teaching — refused repeatedly to tell a Senate Judiciary Committee inquiry on subversive activities in the educational system whether she had been involved with the Communist Party. “I have helped hundreds of pupils to become responsible citizens and to think and base their conclusions on adequate facts and then to act on those conclusions,” she told the internal security subcommittee.
I have tried to be an honest thinker and a worker for civil liberties, academic and political freedom. … When I invoke the Fifth Amendment, I do it to protect myself and other guiltless people from incrimination and even the possibility of future harassing prosecution. Thus, after a long and honorable life as a good teacher, I find myself questioned here in the investigation of a school system with which I have had no connection for almost five years. I just say, ‘Why?’
Her statement was greeted by applause, according to the Senate transcript. Herbert A. Philbrick, a celebrated F.B.I. mole, later declared of Anthony at the Senate hearing: “She was able to achieve considerable success for the Communist Party because she appeared to be simply another very nice old lady.”
Anthony had a longtime — friendship? relationship? — with the artist Angèle E. (Cormack) Myrer (1896-1970). The details elude me at this writing, but here are three salient points: Myrer’s first child, born in 1917, was named Robenia. Myrer was among the heirs-at-law of Mary I. Sears who deeded 60 Commercial Street to Anthony in 1925.¹ Twenty-six years later, Anthony added Myrer back on to the deed for No. 60.²
Myrer had been a student of Blanche Lazzell, alongside Ferol Warthen, with whom she had a two-artist show in 1956 at the Smithsonian’s Division of Graphic Arts, according to a short biography on the Bakker Project website. Myrer survived Anthony by two years, after which 60 Commercial Street came into the hands of her husband, Raymond L. Myrer (1893-1988), who gave it in turn to their daughter, Robenia Myrer Smith (1917-2009), a hand weaver and textile designer — “the consideration for this deed being love and affection.”³
Smith sold the house in 1976 to Robert J. Foy, a top administrator at Lowell State College, later the University of Lowell and now UMass Lowell. He continues to live there, as does Joseph A. Connolly. Besides the aesthetic pleasure that 60 Commercial Street imparts, there was in recent years the added delight of a table full of fresh-cut flowers and vegetables on summer days, prices as marked. Passers-by could leave money in a little honor box and walk off with a pretty bouquet, or the beginnings of a very tasty salad. The stand was the work of Nancy Poucher, who lived in the rear cottage. “Though the garden is a lot of work,” she told me in 2014: “I get great pleasure from the daily reminder of how people are honest and good. There is much more over-payment than under-payment.”
For a view of the rear cottage, please see 60 Commercial Street.
¶ Last updated on 30 June 2018. ¶ Image by and courtesy of David Jarrett.
The fanlight at the front door, pictured in 2008, speaks of the building’s 18th-century origins. Passersby used to be able to pick up fresh flowers and vegetables from a street-front stand, shown in 2013. Both photos by David W. Dunlap.
¹ Myrer et alia to Anthony, 10 June 1925, Barnstable County Registry of Deeds, Book 418, Page 259.
² Anthony to Anthony et alia, 25 May 1951, Barnstable County Registry of Deeds, Book 784, Page 74.
³ Myrer to Smith, 24 September 1971, Barnstable County Registry of Deeds, Book 1532, Page 318.
For further reading online
“Angèle Myrer,” by the Bakker Project, under Artists.
Hearings Before the Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws (Subversive Influence in the Educational Process), 26 March 1953, Google Books, Page 684.