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William K. Divers Oral History Interview, December 18, 1969

Oral History Interview with
William K. Divers

Member of the staff of the Federal Emergency Public Works Administration, 1933-37; member of the legal staff of the U.S. Housing Authority, 1938; regional director of fifteen midwest states, U.S. Housing Authority, 1939-40; assistant general counsel and special assistant to the director of the defense housing division, Federal Works Agency, 1941; regional representative of the National Housing Agency, 1942-43; special assistant to the National Housing Expeditor, 1946; assistant administrator of the National Housing Agency, 1947; chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, 1947-53, and member, 1953-54.

Washington, D.C.
December 18, 1969
By Jerry N. Hess

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Divers Oral History Transcripts]

This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened September 1971
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Divers Oral History Transcripts]


Oral History Interview with
William K. Divers

Washington, D.C.
December 18, 1969
By Jerry N. Hess


HESS: Mr. Divers, would you tell me a little bit about your background; where were you born, where were you raised, and what are some of the positions that you have held?

DIVERS: Well, I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on April 12th, 1905. I attended a Catholic parochial grade school and then went on to a public high school there in Cincinnati and on to the University of Cincinnati where I took one year of engineering and then a year


of liberal arts and went on into law school. In law school I obtained my bachelor of laws degree in 1928, which has subsequently been converted into a juris doctor degree and began the practice of law. I attended some afternoon and evening courses at the law school and in 1930 I was awarded the degree of master of laws.

I might mention one little episode which may have had some effect on my later appointments. When I graduated from law school, I think I was the only one in my class who did not join the Young Republican Party in Cincinnati. The Republicans were dominant at that time in the local politics and young Democrats had little prospects of getting any political notice or appointments of any kind. However, my father, from Missouri, was a lifelong Democrat and I had been raised as one and I did not turn traitor and run down to


join the Young Republicans even though it was the financially feasible thing to do at the time.

HESS: One question on Cincinnati at this time; To what degree did Robert Taft exercise political control over his home town?

DIVERS: I don't think that he had any great amount of political control at that time. This was just about the time that the charter movement started in Cincinnati and a group of independents in which his brother, Charlie Taft, was prominent, really took over control of the city and got rid of the so called political machine or the Hynicka machine which had been dominant for fifteen or twenty years or longer in the city government.

HESS: What do you recall of Robert Taft at this time?


DIVERS: Well, Robert Taft was a very prominent lawyer, probably the most successful lawyer in Cincinnati and his law firm as I recall was called Taft, Hollister, Stettinius & Taft. I didn't know him socially although I knew his wife. His wife, Martha, was prominent in housing circles even in those days; she had a great interest in housing for families with low income and I'd run into her and met her at meetings and so on and so forth. And in addition to that, his brother was a publisher of the Cincinnati Enquirer at that time. Had a beautiful home down opposite Lytle Park in Cincinnati and I had the occasion to visit there socially from time to time and did know some of the Tafts--Taft family.

HESS: Did Robert Taft have any interest in public housing or in housing at that time?

DIVERS: No. I think that his interest was later


than that and that it was a result of his wife's interest really and her knowledge of it that she influenced his thinking in the field. Taft, Senator Taft, Robert Taft, was a very objective and unemotional man. I remember trying a case against him and he was --of course, he was very prominent at the time and I was just a young lawyer fresh out of school and Robert Taft tried to win the case for his client by voting fractional shares of stock; by dividing the shares of stock which represented his clients' interest into fractions; and I was ready for him and voted my clients' hares fractionally and, as a result, we came out in a draw and we compromised, or, we had to come to a settlement which was agreeable to both of our clients so that that was my first and only brush with him. Incidentally, I met his father, William Howard Taft. The . . .


HESS: When did you meet him?

DIVERS: The law school which I attended was in a new building which was called the Alphonso Taft Hall and William Howard Taft was present for its dedication. He was a--well I guess that this being the Christmas season, I'd say that he probably was closer to Santa Claus than anybody else in terms of his physique, and his ruddy complexion, and his wonderful sense of humor. It was difficult to hear what he said because he was so busy chuckling to himself over his own witticisms. But he was just a delightful man and it was--it's really nice as I look back to think that I had the pleasure of meeting him. Incidentally, although I was Democrat for many years, I did vote for Robert Taft when he ran for Senator in Ohio because I admixed the man and even though he was kind of cold and unemotional I


felt that he could represent the interests of the people of the State of Ohio better than his opponent. As a matter of fact, when Z was appointed chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, both Taft and Senator John Bricker, who was the other Ohio Senator and also Republican, both of them endorsed my appointment so that with an appointment by President Truman and endorsements from Taft and Bricker I had little to worry about when it came to confirmation.

HESS: Very good.

Just one question on Cincinnati: Looking back on those years, what are the major changes, what do you see as the major changes in Cincinnati from the present day to the days when you were growing up?

DIVERS: You mean changes in Cincinnati or changes in


HESS: Changes in Cincinnati.

DIVERS: Changes in Cincinnati. I don't know, I don't think that I could say much. As a matter of fact, I would think, I don't see anything different in Cincinnati than in other border cities of comparable size. I haven't been back there too much in recent years, but they have all the problems of the core city. The problems of the disintegration of the older sections of the city, and something of a flight to the suburbs by the upper income and middle income groups so that I think I'd be much better qualified to talk about how Cincinnati was then, or how conditions were then, or what it was like to live in the city in 1910 or '15 or '20.

HESS: All right, let's just take a few minutes on that. How was it in those days? What were conditions like in those days?


DIVERS: Well, people today don't realize a lot of the advantages that we have today. It is true that life in 1910, 1915, 1920 was more simple than it is today, less complicated, but still we didn't have a lot of advantages that we have today, things that people don't even think about today. I might mention just a few of them; some of the advantages we had then and some of the disadvantages. In terms of advantages, our public transportation systems were probably lots better than they are today and we had daily delivery at the door of milk, eggs, cream, cottage cheese, and so on and so forth, and also of bakery goods. I remember that we used to have sweet rolls delivered to our house every morning before breakfast, and we ate early. But we'd have--we had a small family. There was just my


mother, and my father and myself, but we'd have six sweet rolls delivered to the house every morning about 5:30 and it was nice to have these with our coffee at breakfast time.

It was also the era of neighborhood stores when there would be a small shopping center, just several small stores, within walking distance of almost every family that lived in the neighborhood. At that time we lived in Norwood, Ohio, which is a separate city, it's entirely surrounded by Cincinnati. And we lived in a house, and outside of the fact that we had coal heat then, which is not nearly so convenient or comfortable as the gas heat that a lot of people enjoy today, the house was comfortable, and it was clean, we,--although Norwood was a factory center, I don't remember any air pollution or anything of that kind from the factories that were present at


that time. But we also had a lot of disadvantages One thing that I am reminded of is clothes. People wore the same weight clothes all year around, and then there was no air conditioning. It was thought highly improper to go without a jacket, and as a result, at least in the offices and the white collar group you might say, it was very uncomfortable in the summertime, the heavy shirt and a heavy suit and a hat. Believe me when you went to a dinner or a luncheon or something of that kind, and you had to sit there with the sweat dripping down the side of your head, you can really appreciate the lightweight clothes, and lightweight shirts, and the air conditioning that we have today. I don't know what effect that this had statistically but I suspect that my own personal production has probably