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Newton Bishop Drury Oral History Interview, Part III

Oral History Interview with
Newton Bishop Drury

Director, National Park Service, 1940-51.

Berkeley, California
University of California
University of California Bancroft Library/Berkeley
Regional Oral History Office

1972 by The Regents of the University of California

Part III

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Newton Bishop Drury Parts]

This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview donated to the Harry S. Truman Library. The reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word, although some editing was done.

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

All uses of this manuscript are covered by a legal agreement between the Regents of the University of California and Newton B. Drury, dated October 18, 1972. The manuscript is thereby made available for research purposes. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to The Bancroft Library of the University of California at Berkeley. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of The Bancroft Library of the University of California at Berkeley.

Requests for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the Regional Oral History Office, 486 Library, and should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.The legal agreement with Newton B. Drury requires that he be notified of the request and allowed thirty days in which to respond.

Opened 1972
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Newton Bishop Drury Parts]


Oral History Interview with
Newton Bishop Drury


Berkeley, California
University of California
University of California Bancroft Library/Berkeley
Regional Oral History Office

1972 by The Regents of the University of California

Part III



The Initiation
The Appointment

FRY: How would you suggest we approach this rather large subject of your experiences in the national parks?

DRURY: Well, it is as you imply a large order. The great problem is that sometimes the person who's immersed in the everyday affairs of an organization like the National Park Service can't see the woods for the trees. I take it that the purpose of these interviews is not in any way to develop an exhaustive treatise on an institution like the national parks or the state parks, but to give collateral matter that perhaps in the more conventional types of records such as books and magazine articles, even correspondence, might be missed.

FRY: Plus the advantage of this being from a unique point of view, that of the drafter himself.

DRURY: [Laughing] The person who had to bear all the slings and arrows of both good and outrageous fortune.

FRY: Would you like to start at the very beginning of your national park career by telling us how you found out about your appointment?

DRURY: Perhaps I ought to mention when we begin to express my relationships to the National Park Service that in 1933 Secretary Ickes to my surprise offered me the position of Director of National Parks. This was done on the recommendation of the advisory committee that he had appointed at the time when Horace Albright indicated that he wished to resign to go into private business. One of the members of that committee,


DRURY: and I think the chairman, was Dr. John C. Merriam, who was also president of the Save-the-Redwoods League. A number of others with whom I was connected through the Save-the-Redwoods program and state parks were also on it. One was Dr. Harold Bryant who for many years was chief of interpretation in the national parks. I wouldn't say that it was exactly a stacked committee, but it wasn't an unfavorable one. I felt complimented at the time, but after studying the whole situation in California I decided that I could render my best service by remaining in California where the situation had not yet reached its climax; so I declined the appointment with thanks. There's a lot more to it than that but that's the essence of it.

You can understand my surprise therefore when seven years later, in 1940, Dr. Merriam and others intimated to me that Arnold Cammerer, who had been appointed director and had served seven years, was in a difficult position so far as his health was concerned and had to take it easy; and that they were considering me again as his successor, My first intimation of it was meeting on the street in Berkeley Professor Joel Hildebrand who'd just been to Washington and seen Harold L. Ickes. Out of a clear sky Joel said to me that when I was going to Washington shortly Harold Ickes wanted me to see him. Well, I was first going to New York and to Baltimore to meet with the ladies of the Garden Club of America and then I had an engagement to go to Washington and spent the weekend with Dr. and Mrs. John C. Merriam. When I arrived there I found a message from Harold L. Ickes. By that time I knew pretty well what he wanted but of


DRURY: course I maintained the fiction of being duly surprised when I called him.

FRY: The office had been vacant for quite a few months at this time, I believe.

DRURY: I remember that just before I went over to talk with Secretary Ickes I had luncheon at the Cosmos Club with John C. Merriam and Dr. Waldo Leland, who was quite active in conservation matters and was later chairman of the National Park Advisory Board. Well, I was utterly green, didn't know my way around Washington, so after luncheon Dr. Leland kindly walked up the street with me and pointed out the Interior Building. Ten and a half years later when I was in some difficulties I told Dr. Leland that if he hadn't done that for me that day perhaps I never would have found the Interior Building and it would have spared me a lot of trouble. [Laughter]

Anyhow, I had a very pleasant talk with Secretary Ickes and told him I'd let him know within a few days, that I was favorably inclined towards taking the position; I didn't expect to impose any conditions but that I did want certain things understood that I was sure he would agree to, and that it would be worth my while to put in the time on it. I sent him a list of those things and I'll give that to you when I find it.(Appendix) He readily agreed to them although he said, as I have said, that of course nobody takes a government appointment conditionally

The announcement of my appointment was made a little prematurely. I'd come back to California and was about to send in my acceptance of the appointment. I was up in Yosemite with John C. Merriam and


DRURY: his son Lawrence C. Merriam, who at that time was superintendent of Yosemite. We were at Glacier Point. There was a radio loudspeaker in one of the camps up there, and over that loudspeaker we heard that I had been appointed Director of National Parks, which was as much of a surprise to me as it was to a lot of other people. In other words, Secretary Ickes evidently got a little impatient and thought he’d force the issue.

FRY: When Ickes talked to you that day did he give you his evaluation of the state of the national parks at that time at all?

DRURY: Not in any detail, no. We just talked in very general terms about conservation generally and about parks. He was very friendly and kind in his remarks to me, as he always had been during the time he was in office. I told him that I was a little surprised because of the well-known fact that lightning never strikes twice in the same place and I never expected to have him offer me the position again. At the time I was sworn in he made a little speech, and all I said in reply was "I thank the Secretary for his persistence and his patience in regard to myself."

We had many discussions from time to time about basic principles in national parks, and he was kind enough to say that he thought that I could give an element of inspiration to the program that it needed.

FRY: Have you read Ickes’ diary?

DRURY: I've read portions of it, of the first volume. How many volumes have been issued, do you know?

FRY: Three. He and Roosevelt apparently couldn't come to agreement on a director. He suggested Bob Moses twice to Roosevelt and was turned down twice.


DRURY: Yes, he told me when I went to Washington that he had offered it to Bob Moses. Moses was one of the most brilliant men in public life, but I think it would have been a sad day for the national parks if he'd ever been Director of the Park Service. He was a far abler man than most of us ever could be, but he was the promotional type--that is, from my cantankerous viewpoint. I told him that. I said, "I'm a great admirer of Moses, and of his ideology--he's a right-winger and an anti-bureaucrat; but nevertheless I think his ideas about development particularly in the states would have been bad for the national parks." As far as I was concerned, by the time I left Washington my view was that it would have been a happy day for me if he had appointed Moses instead.

FRY: I believe Roosevelt had the reaction, according to Ickes, that he felt that Moses simply couldn't be controlled. Ickes had said that they needed some new blood, with a fresh viewpoint.

DRURY: He wrote me some very nice letters about what we'd done in California, and I guess he was impressed by the fact that seven years before I considered the California work more important than the directorship, which I thought it was at that time.

FRY: Was Bob Moses actually offered this and turned it down, or did Roosevelt never permit Ickes to ask him?

DRURY: I don't know.

FRY: What did your family think about going back to Washington?

DRURY: My wife and I were in New York when I had this call for an interview with Harold L. Ickes. We discussed


DRURY: it then, and finally we more or less cavalierly decided it would be a good idea and an interesting experience during which I might be able to contribute something if we went there for a year or two. Then after I took the job the war came on. It was a fascinating challenge, quite rewarding in satisfaction.

FRY: After the announcement of your new post, do you remember any particular "first official act"?

DRURY: I telegraphed my acceptance and appreciation, and shortly thereafter went to Washington. Almost immediately I had to plunge into things like, for one thing, the dedication of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which was quite an interesting experience. I was just barely there when they hustled me off down to North Carolina. Secretary Ickes presided and President Franklin D. Roosevelt made the chief speech. In my new capacity I had to sort of take the position that I had a lot more knowledge than I really had.

There must have been eight or ten thousand people down there at Newfound Gap, miles from anywhere, and one of the most dramatic happenings was right in the midst of this ceremony with all of these people sitting there silently while the speaking was going on. It happened that the Appalachian Trail--which is like our Sierra Trail, the main hiking and packing artery in the Appalachians--ran through Newfound Gap. Suddenly two hikers with their back packs, evidently having been in the wilderness for a week or two, came up over a rise and to their surprise were confronted with 10,000 people [Laughter]. The audience was a little surprised, too.

About the only part I had in the dedication of


DRURY: the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was a decision on an issue that the superintendent of the park at least thought was all-fired important; Superintendent Ross Aiken had hired a brass band, evidently local talent, and they were not very good. The Secretary was a little irrascible that day anyhow; it was pretty hot and the situation was a little complicated and finally Ickes said to Aiken, "Now don't you let that band play again, under any circumstances." Just before we adjourned, Aiken turned to me and he said, "I have this order from the Secretary not to have the band play again. On the other hand, you said we were going to sing the Star-Spangled Banner. What shall I do?"

"Well," I said, "I think I can take the responsibility for having the band play the Star-Spangled Banner, which I did. So my sole exercise of authority that day was countermanding an order by Secretary Ickes. We both laughed about it afterwards.

Working Conditions of the Job

FRY: Your term of office, spanning the war years as it did, did not lack in challenges, did it?

DRURY: The difficulty was that almost immediately we began to edge into World War II, and very soon Secretary Ickes was absorbed with wartime tasks, particularly as the Director of Public Works and in the conservation of resources like rubber and oil, helium, that sort of thing, so that none of the bureau chiefs had the kind of normal touch with the Secretary of the Interior that we would have had if we weren't in the war. That was one factor.


DRURY: The second factor was that early in 1942 we were notified that to save office and building space for the government some of the non-combative agencies like the National Park Service were to be decentralized and the headquarter office moved to Chicago. Well, of course we had a lot of hearings on that and we resisted it and there was considerable local opposition to moving any of the old-line bureaus, but it ended up with our moving to Chicago that summer. This was a very expensive thing for the government; they saved v