Penn Kimball

Penn Townsend Kimball II (October 12, 1915 – November 8, 2013) was an American journalist and college professor at Columbia University, most notable for suing the American government in the mid 1980s after his discovery that the FBI and CIA considered him and his wife a security risk.

Education and career

Kimball was one of three siblings, born to a middle-class family in New Britain, Connecticut. His father was an executive for a household goods manufacturer, his mother was a former elementary school teacher, and his older brother George E. Kimball went on to become a noted quantum chemist and operations researcher who also taught at Columbia University.[1] Kimball was named after his grandfather, Penn Townsend Kimball, who had moved from Massachusetts to Chicago;[2] Kimball's family moved from Chicago to New Britain before he was born.[1] Kimball went to Lawrenceville School, graduated from Princeton University in 1937, and spent a year at Balliol College, Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, earning a master's degree in politics and economics.[3] He served in the Pacific as a Marine in World War II, becoming a captain.

His journalism career began in New York during the 1940s. During that era, he worked for numerous magazines and newspapers including The New Republic and the New York Times. He was an aide to governors Chester Bowles of Connecticut and W. Averell Harriman of New York.[4] While still studying for a doctorate at Columbia University, he was hired as a journalism professor there in 1958.[5] In the 1970s he worked with Edward Logue on urban renewal and wrote a report on the South Bronx, Areas of Strength, Areas of Opportunity. He was also an election consultant to the CBS network and a producer/writer for Omnibus. He retired from Columbia in 1985,[6] after which he completed his a doctorate in political science from Columbia and became a fellow of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.[3][5][7]

Security file and legal case

In 1977, after requesting his file under the Freedom of Information Act, Kimball discovered that the federal government had regarded him and his wife as a security risk on suspicion of Communist sympathies since the file was opened when he took the Foreign Service examination 30 years before, and that the information in his file was based on unsubstantiated anonymous reports.[4] In 1984, Kimball filed a $10 million lawsuit against the federal government. His name was officially cleared in 1987 after the assistance of Senator Lowell P. Weicker of Connecticut and Kimball's agreement to drop the lawsuit.[4][6][7]


Kimball published several books, including

  • The Disconnected (Columbia University Press, 1973), about institutionalized exclusion of the minority poor from the U.S. electoral system.[8]
  • The File (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983) about his security file.[9] Frontline aired a documentary based on The File, "The Secret File", on April 14, 1987.[6][10]
  • ‘Keep Hope Alive!’: Super Tuesday and Jesse Jackson’s 1988 Campaign for the Presidency (University Press of America, 1991).
  • Downsizing the News: Network Cutbacks in the Nation’s Capital (Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1994).[11]


  1. ^ a b Magee, John F. (2011). "George E. Kimball". Profiles in Operations Research. International Series in Operations Research & Management Science. 147. Springer. pp. 123–141. doi:10.1007/978-1-4419-6281-2_8.
  2. ^ Morrison, Leonard Allison; Sharples, Stephen Paschall (1897). History of the Kimball family in America from 1634 to 1897 and of its ancestors the Kemballs or Kemboldes of England : with an account of the Kembles of Boston, Massachusetts, Vol. II. Damrell & Upham.
  3. ^ a b "Penn Kimball dies". Martha's Vineyard Times. November 9, 2013. Archived from the original on November 11, 2013.
  4. ^ a b c Weber, Bruce (November 12, 2013). "Penn Kimball, Journalist Who Sued U.S., Dies at 98". The New York Times.
  5. ^ a b Boylan, James R. (2003). Pulitzer's School: Columbia University's School of Journalism, 1903–2003. Columbia University Press. pp. 141–142. ISBN 9780231130905. .
  6. ^ a b c Schudel, Matt (November 9, 2013). "Penn Kimball, journalist and teacher, dies at 98". The Washington Post.
  7. ^ a b "Journalist and Professor Penn Kimball Was Longtime Chilmark Resident". Vineyard Gazette. November 10, 2013.
  8. ^ Bilush, Jewel (January 1973). "The Disconnected by Penn Kimball". National Civic Review. 62 (1): 55–56. doi:10.1002/ncr.4100620113.
  9. ^ Powers, Thomas (December 11, 1983). "Ordeal by Hearsay: The File by Penn Kimball". The New York Times.
  10. ^ "Frontline: Programs by Year: 1987". PBS. Retrieved December 9, 2013.
  11. ^ Stepp, Carl Sessions (June 1, 1994), "Downsizing the News: Network Cutbacks in the Nation's Capital", American Journalism Review, archived from the original on September 24, 2015 (subscription required).

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