Oral History Interview with
As an electronic publication of the Truman Library, users should note that features of the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview, such as pagination and indexing, could not be replicated for this online version of the Vernice Anderson transcript.
Opened May, 1974
Oral History Interview with
HESS: Miss Anderson, to begin with will you give me a little of your background?
ANDERSON: Yes, I would be glad to. First let me say that I am delighted to have this opportunity to speak with you and to tell you something about my association with President Truman for whom I have the deepest admiration and respect. He was truly one of our great Presidents.
Attached is an excerpt from Who's Who of American Women containing information regarding my background. In addition let me say that both my parents were teachers and that my grandparents were sturdy Midwestern pioneers. My maternal grandfather
surveyed Nebraska when it was granted statehood. My paternal grandfather moved his family on his doctor's advice for health reasons from Ohio to South Dakota. His homestead there was later taken by the U.S. Government for use as an Indian reservation, whereupon he moved to Nebraska where my parents lived and my brothers and I were born. We attended public schools in Long Pine and Ainsworth, Nebraska, and my older brother Vincent, and I attended the University of Nebraska.
I was first associated with President Truman in the White House in 1946-1947 when I was secretary to Mr. Edwin A. Locke, Jr., one of the President's Special Assistants. (Prior to that time I had worked briefly during World War II in the office of the Chief of Staff of the Air Force.) When Mr. Locke completed his assignment at the White House and returned to New York to resume his affiliation with the Chase National Bank as vice president, I transferred to the Department of State.
I remember President Truman saying, when I told him of my plans and bid him farewell, that he had started his career at the bottom in the merchandising business in Kansas City and worked up, finally reaching the White House. In contrast, I started at the White House, and had no place to go but down! (Fortunately, I do not consider this to have been the case for me.)
I spent six exciting years in the Department of State from 1947 to 1953. My initial assignment there was as Administrative Assistant to Mr. Garrison Norton, who was appointed the first Assistant Secretary of State for Transportation and Communication in March 1947. Mr. Norton's resignation was accepted by President Truman in 1948 at the same time the President nominated Dr. Philip C. Jessup as U.S. Ambassador-at-Large. (Ambassador Jessup later told me that, in the first interview Secretary Dean Acheson had with President Truman after being told he was to be
appointed Secretary of State, the President said one of the first things he wanted Secretary Acheson to do was to find some way of persuading Dr. Jessup to remain in the service of his country.)
The Washington Post, which was on Mr. Norton's desk the morning he informed me of his resignation plans, carried the announcement of Ambassador Jessup's nomination. Regarding my future, Mr. Norton suggested we inquire of Mr. Dean Rusk (who at that time was also an Assistant Secretary) as to the possibility of my joining Ambassador Jessup's staff. Mr. Rusk subsequently informed us that Ambassador Jessup was not bringing any staff to Washington from the U.S. Mission to the United Nations at 2 Park Avenue, New York, where he had served for several years.
So, in the spring of 1949, I was fortunate indeed in being selected by Ambassador Jessup to serve as his Personal Assistant. I continued in that position until the end of President Truman's
administration, when all of us who had worked closely with him and Secretary Acheson left "The" Department.
It was a rare privilege, a challenging and most rewarding experience, to have been associated with Ambassador Jessup and Secretary Acheson during that exciting period. Ambassador Jessup is a renowned international lawyer and statesman. He spent the major portion of his professional life as Hamilton Fish Professor of Law and Diplomacy at Columbia University, into which activity he interspersed a number of short and occasionally several long, periods of public service. (As we traveled the world, he was always gratified to find former foreign students serving in responsible positions in their own countries.) In 1960, Ambassador Jessup was elected a judge in the International Court of Justice (World Court) by a unanimous vote of the United Nations General Assembly. To my knowledge, he has been the only person ever
selected unanimously to serve on the World Court in The Hague. (I feel very fortunate in having as friends Ambassador and Mrs. Jessup, a delightful, beautiful lady, who has been of immeasurable assistance to him in his demanding career. I still see them on their too infrequent visits to Washington.)
In 1953 I came to the National Science Foundation as Administrative Assistant to the Director of the Foundation and as Secretary to the National Science Board. I am now Executive Secretary of the Board, the twenty-five member policymaking body of the Foundation.
HESS: All right, moving back to the time that you were in the White House working for Mr. Locke, what comes to mind when you look back on those days? Who in the White House did you work with? What assignments do you recall working on with Mr. Locke?
ANDERSON: My brief White House tour was a fascinating interlude in my life. Having been a political science major at the University of Nebraska, I was intensely interested and impressed with an inside glimpse of the White House. At that time the White House staff was very small and personal. When the President could disengage himself, on Thursday afternoons we closed our offices and watched a movie in the White House Auditorium then located in the East Wing. We were privileged also to attend the President's press conferences. Such sessions, held at that time in the President's Oval Office, were especially exciting experiences. In addition, we saw many of the distinguished visitors who came and went from the President's office. We were invited to many of the social events. We were truly his personal-official family.
The gentleman to whom I am beholden for the privilege of working in the White House is my
very special friend, Mr. Samuel D. McIlwain. In 1946 Sam was on the staff of Mr. George E. Allen, another Presidential Special Assistant. Sam is now a member of the Washington law firm of Clifford, Warnke, Glass, McIlwain, and Finney. Sam and his vivacious wife, Clarice, have been dear friends of my family for some thirty years.
My very first assignment the morning I entered on duty in the White House was to deliver a memorandum from Mr. Locke to Mr. Matthew J. Connelly, who was at the time the President's Appointments Secretary. It was in the middle of the morning for me, something like 10:30 am. but Mr. Connelly was breakfasting from a tray sent up from the Mess operated by the Navy in the basement of the West Wing. He graciously offered to order bacon and eggs for me, but I had long since had my cereal! Over coffee he told me something of the duties of his office and introduced me to Miss Roberta Barrows, his efficient
secretary, and others including Mr. William J. Hopkins, for whom I have great regard and whom I still contact occasionally for information on legislative matters in the White House.
In due time I met and enjoyed working with a number of other members of the President's staff. At that time Mr. Charles G. Ross was Press Secretary. I knew quite well the people who worked in his office, particularly Mrs. Kathleen Harney who was a dear friend of mine for many years before she passed away in 1970. Kathleen organized and maintained the Presidential statement archives. Within a matter of seconds, she could produce a Presidential quotation from a speech, letter, or message on subject. We frequently conducted business and saw socially the people in the Chief of Staff's office, including Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy (USN), and especially his secretary, Miss Dorothy Ringquist. Mr. Locke also often consulted Mr.
John R. Steelman. One of my closest friends was his secretary, Mrs. Francis Morris (Donahoe). Other principal assistants to the President, as I am sure the records show, were Mr. William Hassett (who signed my farewell and transfer letter), and the Counsels, Mr. Clark M. Clifford and Mr. Charles Murphy.
I shared the secretarial duties in Mr. Locke's office with another young lady, Miss E. Eloise Mills, his senior secretary. Mr. Locke asked Eloise and me to serve as his informal representatives with various offices in the White House. My "liaison assignments" were the Press Office and Mr. Steelman's Office.
The White House social functions we attended were true delights. I remember one time going through the receiving line wearing a new pair of shoes with sling back heels. The right shoe fell off just as I was being greeted by the President, whereupon an aide had to stop the receiving line
until Cinderella recovered her shoe, an event which amused the President!
One of Mr. Locke's special assignments was to clear for the President's signature the numerous reorganization plans which were then (as even now) being formulated by the departments and agencies for submission to the Congress. I remember neither the number of them nor the agencies involved, but I vividly remember the long hours of negotiation with interested parties and the untold revisions each underwent before it was finalized for the President's signature. All this work was centered in Mr. Locke's office, and I remember how precise the documentation and the language had to be in each plan.
Mr. Locke was also the liaison with the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) headed at that time by Judge James M. Landis (former Dean of the Law School, Harvard University). This period was immediately after World War II when Pan Am (Pan
American World Airways, Inc.) had done so much pioneering in building airports in far away places and in putting American planes into operation around the world for the first time. The CAB, after careful review of all petitioners, recommended the allocation of international routes to the various competing American companies for the President's formal approval. All submissions to the White House passed over Mr. Locke's desk. We worked closely with the CAB officials and sometimes airline and aviation people. Of them all, I found Mr. Juan Trippe, then president of Pan Am, to be the most interesting and imaginative.
HESS: Mr. Locke had had a mission to China, had he not?
ANDERSON: Yes, thank you for reminding me of that. He had been a member of the Presidential missions to China, headed by Mr. Donald M. Nelson, which had performed an invaluable service to that great nation during a very critical time. (Mr. Locke's colleagues
said Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek had great respect for him; Mr. Locke in turn affectionately and reverently called the General "The Imo.")
All records of the China missions were sent to the White House in Mr. Locke's custody, to be prepared under his supervision for final transmission to the Truman Administration archives. The historians Mr. Locke engaged from Harvard University spent months working on the vast collection of documents, with the assistance of Mr. Robert Kerr, who had also been associated with the War Production Board and the China missions. I do not recall whether Mr. Kerr had been in China, but he certainly was familiar with the activities of the missions. I remember what a task it was to put the files in order, because the majority of documents filed by the Chinese clerks were under "T" for "The . . ."
Mr. Locke had a great sense of history and was most careful that an accurate record be made
of this activity. To the best of our abilities, his desires were realized. I hope that today those records are a part of the Independence Library and now available to scholars in another important era of American-Chinese relations.
HESS: And at the time that you were at the White House did you get to know Rose Conway?
ANDERSON: Yes, Miss Conway was exceptionally gracious and helpful to me, particularly considering the fact that I was a very junior member of the staff. She frequently invited me to lunch with her, which I considered to be a great honor. On these occasions she shared with me fascinating accounts of historic or humorous events involving very important, and some not so important, people whom she had come to know during her long association with the President. She was most helpful when we sought her advice on a thorny problem or when we made inquiry of her regarding a document in process.
Rose will be long remembered for her patience with the junior staff!
Since Rose returned to Independence with the Trumans, I have had occasion to call upon her from time to time, as a dear friend. In my present position I have asked several official favors of her, to which she has responded in her usual gracious manner.
HESS: When you moved to the State Department, you worked in 1947 and 1948 with Mr. Norton, is that correct?