How Anita Hill’s Witnesses’ Stories Did Not Add Up: Ellen Wells

Ellen Wells: the witness who did not give any advice…until she did

One of the reasons that the American people did not believe Anita Hill is that they did not believe her corroborating witnesses. We have covered the credibility problems with Susan Hoerchner, Joel Paul and John Carr. Ellen Wells is cut from the same cloth.

When Ellen Wells approached the Senate Judiciary Committee, Hill had no recollection of telling Wells about Thomas’ alleged harassment. Wells, however, claimed that Hill told her in 1982 that “she considered Judge Thomas’ behavior toward her in the office to be inappropriate.” Although Hill did not provide her with details, Wells believed the conduct was “sexual in nature” and did not ask for further information.

Wells claimed that Hill never asked for any advice, and she offered none, but Hill had a very different recollection (once she remembered having spoken to Wells, of course). Hill testified during the hearings that she and Wells discussed what she should do about the harassment. And, in her memoirs six years later, Hill said she and Wells had even discussed whether Hill should change her perfume. The trouble with that example, of course, is that Wells gave the perfume example during the hearings as a thought that might run through the mind of a victim of sexual harassment. But Wells was always very clear that she had no such conversation with Hill.

One would expect a close friend to ask questions and give advice when faced with the kind of allegations that Hill made. Although Wells claimed to be just such a friend, she denied ever having asked such questions or given such advice. And Hill, who had not even remembered sharing this closely guarded secret with Wells, suddenly remembered far more detailed conversations than Wells. If a corroborating witness is supposed to bolster the reliability of one’s claims, Wells’ testimony was singularly unsuccessful in that endeavor.