As a current Brandeis student, it’s likely that one of your friends or family members sent you a TikTok video recently mentioning how Brandeis University has taught three out of the 11 women who have ever been on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Most Wanted List. I know I was sent it about three times actually, one for every Brandeisian on the list! Jokes aside about Brandeis needing to increase its number of rebellious—or criminal—women, this Women’s History Month let’s learn about and celebrate the radical women who shaped Brandeis’ presence in the mind of the FBI.
Two of the three women on the list from Brandeis were involved in the same offense that caused them to be added. Susan Edith Saxe ’70 was placed on the list in October 1970 and remained on the list until she was arrested five years later. Saxe and her roommate Katherine Ann Power, who was a senior at the time of their offense, were prominent activists on the Brandeis campus from the late 1960s to the early 1970s. Power was romantically involved with Stanley Raye Bond, an ex-convict and student enrolled at Brandeis who connected the two women with two other ex-cons, William Gilday and Robert Valeri. This group of five was united by anti-war sentiments and radical progressive beliefs. Bond’s connections with the Black Panther Party served as a reason for their criminal activity. The group acted out the armed robbery of a bank and the robbery of a National Guard armory in plans to arm the Black Panther Party and, supposedly, overthrow the government.
After the bank robbery, their partner William Gilday shot a responding police officer who subsequently died from his wounds. The three men were arrested shortly after, while Saxe was a fugitive for five years and Power managed to remain a fugitive going by the names “Mae Kelly” and “Alice Louise Metzinger” until 1993 when she turned herself in. Power commented on her crimes that year stating, “the illegal acts I committed arose not from any desire for personal gain but from a deep philosophical and spiritual commitment that if a wrong exists, one must take active steps to stop it, regardless of the consequences to oneself in comfort or security.” Susan Edith Saxe similarly mentioned how she had deeply held radical beliefs, saying that she is a “lifelong radical activist, intersectional in outlook since back in the day.”
The other Brandeisian woman who made it on the FBI’s Most Wanted List is Angela Davis ’65. She was placed on the list prior to Saxe and Power, preceding them by a few months. Davis was also connected to anti-war and anti-racism efforts and was placed on the Most Wanted List in 1970 for her alleged involvement in the August 1970 Marin County Civic Center Attack. This attack was in response to the “Soledad brothers,” three Black men who were accused of killing a prison guard at Soledad Prison in California. Their alleged murder of the guard was supposedly in retaliation to the murders of three other Black inmates by prison staff three days prior. Angela Davis was a supporter of the Soledad brothers, allegedly arming Johnathan Jackson, a brother of one of the accused. Jackson held up a courtroom at the Marin County Civic Center, attempting to free the three men while taking multiple people as hostages, including the judge. Judge Harold Haley and the three accused inmates were killed in the event, with other individuals injured.
Davis was charged with the murder, kidnapping and conspiracy for allegedly aiding and abetting this crime by purchasing firearms that were used in the shooting. Two months after being placed on the Most Wanted List, she was captured and called a “dangerous terrorist,” by President Richard Nixon. For over a year, Davis awaited her trial in prison. In 1972, she was acquitted of all charges by an all-white jury. Angela Davis remains a powerful political activist and prison abolitionist today.
While none of these women are still named on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, their names mark Brandeis as a school that’s slightly known for them. Brandeis’ connections to radical political ideology, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s, seem to be a large part of why our university is over-represented on the list, and why maybe we will remain that way.