Oral History Interview with
Participant in Harry S. Truman's first campaign for the Senate, 1934, and Senator Truman's personal secretary, 1935-45.
Mildred Lee Dryden (Mrs. William J.)
September 26, 1963
by James R. Fuchs
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
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. ) 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 May, 1964
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
Mildred Lee Dryden (Mrs. William J.)
September 26, 1963
by James R. Fuchs
MR. FUCHS: Mrs. Dryden, when did you first become acquainted with Harry S. Truman?
MRS. DRYDEN: I wouldn't be able to tell you that because I've known him, I suppose, ever since I can remember; I am from Independence.
FUCHS: You knew him long before he came into politics, or became county judge?
DRYDEN: I knew him when he was first county judge. I knew him through my father.
FUCHS: I see.
DRYDEN: My father was in politics and that is the way I happened to know him.
FUCHS: Was your father a lawyer?
DRYDEN: No, no. He was just interested in politics. He didn't even hold a political job of any kind. As a matter of fact, he was leader of one of the wards in Independence -- Democratic ward.
FUCHS: Did he belong to the Pendergast organization?
FUCHS: He was of the "Goat" faction?
DRYDEN: Yes, very much so.
FUCHS: When did you become associated with Mr. Truman?
DRYDEN: When did he file for the Senate -- it would be in 1934.
DRYDEN: I went to work for him just the day or the day after he filed for the Senate, and I think that was in the spring, some time in May. I thought it was going to last about six weeks and I was just going to be in the campaign. As a matter fact, I'd never been in a campaign; I didn't know what in the world I was supposed to do. When I started out I was the only one he had at first and we had headquarters across the street from the courthouse in a
little pace called Puckett's Vegetable Stand and I was in there by myself several weeks. Then they opened up headquarters in Kansas City, at 12th and Oak. Then, of course, we had a lot of other people there.
FUCHS: Who were some of them?
DRYDEN: That is where I met Fred Canfil and, well, to tell you the truth, I don't remember any of the other names. But, of course, I wasn't associated with them after the campaign and after he won the nomination. I didn't see those people any more. They were just people from Kansas City who worked in the headquarters. I think most of them were volunteers but we had a few paid employees. But, my association with Fred Canfil went on from that time -- I knew him up until the time he died. But the other people I just don't remember.
FUCHS: There have been several accounts which stated that you worked as a secretary for Mr. Truman as county judge.
DRYDEN: That is wrong, because I didn't. He was county judge when he filed for the Senate, of course, and had been for a number of years. After he won the nomination, there was an interim. The primary was in August and then I
worked in the general election until November. At that time I went to work for the county auditor. It was just sort of a fill-in job for me. That is when I knew I was coming to Washington, so I worked for the county auditor, Fred Mayer, up until the first of January -- I came up here the third of January. I was the first one up here and I think the President came the next day. I came on the train and I don't remember how Mr. and Mrs. Truman traveled -- maybe they drove. We had our office at 248 Senate Office Building. It was a small office, but we were quite fortunate. Another senator, I believe he was a Republican, had been defeated and we were able to get his suite of rooms down the hall -- Room 240.
FUCHS: Mr. Messall had actually been employed prior to January?
DRYDEN: No, not for Mr. Truman. He was with Congressman Lee, of the 7th District, prior to that time.
FUCHS: I thought perhaps that the account was straight that Mr. Truman had made a verbal agreement.
FUCHS: He did have a verbal agreement prior to January 3rd when you came in...
DRYDEN: Just as soon as he was elected he immediately started looking for a secretary, but Mr. Messall did not actually go on the payroll until January; none of us did.
FUCHS: Then it's not true that you had previously worked for Mr. Truman as his secretary. My understanding of these accounts was that through the years you had been a secretary to him as a county judge; I just want to clarify the record on this.
DRYDEN: No, that is wrong because I wasn't connected with him at all until he filed for the Senate in May, '34.
FUCHS: Could you give me a small autobiographical sketch of yourself, your background, where you were born and worked before you came into Mr. Truman's employ?
DRYDEN: I wasn't working when I went to work for him. I had worked before at the Pantages Theatre in Kansas City -- I've only had three jobs.
FUCHS: You were born in Independence?
DRYDEN: Yes. I worked down on film row for a short time for Educational Films and then I went with the theatre, and I was with them until they closed the theatre.
FUCHS: Did you have secretarial training in Kansas City?
DRYDEN: Yes, just about two years, I guess, before I went to work for him.
FUCHS: You went to one of the business colleges in Kansas City?
DRYDEN: Yes. The Dickinson Secretarial School.
FUCHS: Did you ever hear him speak of going to a business college?
DRYDEN: No. I don't know that he did; he might have, but I wouldn't know about that. He went to law school.
FUCHS: Yes. Did he ever talk about his experiences there?
DRYDEN: No. I don't remember that he ever talked about it at all. There wouldn't be any occasion. As a matter of fact, I think he sort of planned when he came to Washington to continue his study of law, but he was so busy he didnt have time for it.
FUCHS: He did mention that?
DRYDEN: I don't remember that he ever mentioned it to me personally, but it was sort of talked about that he -- I think, perhaps, I even read it in the paper or something. That's about all I remember about it.
FUCHS: Your maiden name was Latimer, wasn't it?
FUCHS: Are you related to "Honey" Latimer?
DRYDEN: Yes, I'm about a third cousin.
FUCHS: I see. I know that Mr. Truman has bought motor cars from Honey when he was in the Dodge Motor Car business.
DRYDEN: He used to buy them from my cousin before that -- my first cousin, Charles Haines, who has the Haines-Hodges agency for the Buick now. At that time it was Chrysler.
FUCHS: Then he switched. Well, he did have Chryslers, of course, and he did buy some Dodges from Honey. But he was just a third cousin of yours.
DRYDEN: Just a third cousin. I only have one first cousin and that is Charles Haines.
FUCHS: I see. This first headquarters in Kansas City, you say that was across from a vegetable stand?
DRYDEN: No, that is wrong; it was in Independence.
FUCHS: In Independence, excuse me.
DRYDEN: It had been Pucketts Vegetable Stand. It was all open in front, no doors or else they were wide doors and they would have them open so the whole front of the store was completely exposed. Of course, that was in the summer. The first week I was there I didn't see Mr. Truman. He was out making speeches and I sort of dreaded having him come in because I didn't know what all the work was going to entail and I didn't have many visitors -- some of the men from the courthouse would come over, because we'd just started; we were not in operation at all. I just spent most of the days waiting for someone to come in. I was all alone. That lasted two or three weeks, I guess and then, of course, they were organized, and knew what they were going to do so they opened headquarters in Kansas City. We had several floors there. There was a women's division, entirely separate from ours. It was the Democratic Women's organization in Kansas City
and they had their own floor. Our headquarters were actually where Mr. Truman was. The Women's Division didn't have anything to do with our work. During that time, I actually worked for Fred Canfil because Mr. Truman would be out of town all the time. He would come back and forth but I took dictation from Fred Canfil most of the time.
FUCHS: What was Canfil's title?
DRYDEN: I suppose he didn't have any title. I can't think what it would be...
FUCHS: Was he considered the campaign manager?
DRYDEN: He was the campaign manager at the headquarters.
FUCHS: What type of an individual was he? What were your first impressions of Fred Canfil?
DRYDEN: He was a character all by himself. It would be hard to describe him. He was very loud and blustery and most people when they first met him would be a little afraid of him. But that was just all a front; he wasn't that way at all after you knew him. I was always very fond of Mr. Canfil, very fond. It's too bad he is gone, because
he could tell you a lot of things. I have had the impression from reading different things (I hope I'm not being too outspoken about this), a lot of people who claimed to know Mr. Truman quite well didn't know him nearly as well as they said they did. Now that is really -- I guess I should say that off the record, but I guess that happens with every person in public life, especially a President or someone important. All of a sudden people know him real well, however, Mr. Canfil did know him well.
FUCHS: Yes. Well, that's a very interesting observation. I wish you could say such things on the record and then if you want to you can put them off the record for any period of time, but I think this has a certain amount of importance.
DRYDEN: That has always amazed me. It seemed to me right after he was President people were just climbing all over each other to get an interview to tell what they knew about him, and actually the exaggerated a great deal.
FUCHS: Who were some of these that you recall?
DRYDEN: Oh, my goodness, I'm not going to tell you. I'm not
going to tell you that.
FUCHS: Well, that would be interesting. Someday the historians...
DRYDEN: I'd make a lot of enemies if I told that.
FUCHS: But that wouldn't necessarily have to be known. You could close that until fifty years after you're dead, if you wish. In other words, if you know certain people that say they knew Fred Canfil and they maybe did harm to Fred Canfil's reputation, why, you'd be doing him a favor by someday opening this and saying that this individual didn't really know Fred Canfil.
DRYDEN: At that particular time, I will say this, Mr. Canfil suddenly came on the scene in 1934, but he had known Mr. Truman a good many years before that. I think it started probably when they were in the war together, the First World War.
FUCHS: Was he in Mr. Truman's battery?
DRYDEN: I think not; no, he wasn't, because most of the men in the battery didn't know him. When we opened our headquarters all of a sudden Mr. Canfil just sort of appeared
on the scene. People used to say little mean things about him. It was just because they were jealous of him; they wanted to be in his spot because he did a magnificent job for Mr. Truman.
FUCHS: Was he sometimes referred to as "Major" Canfil?
DRYDEN: Yes, he was a Major.
FUCHS: Was he in the Reserve Corps?
DRYDEN: I think he was, yes.
FUCHS: Did you ever see him in uniform?
DRYDEN: Did I ever see him in uniform? No. I don't remember that I ever saw him in uniform.
FUCHS: I just wondered if he had participated in the Reserves with Mr. Truman.
DRYDEN: Well now, he might have. That part I wouldn't be able to tell you. I don't know.
FUCHS: Any particular anecdotes that you remember about Mr. Canfil and Mr. Truman in the campaign there that stand out in your memory, that would be of interest or add a little
footnote to history?
DRYDEN: I remember one thing, it has nothing to do with Mr. Truman, but Mr. Canfil would be so busy, and he'd have all the mail to dictate, and I'd be at the courthouse and he'd come out there -- this is the Independence courthouse; we have two courthouses, you know, which is quite unusual in the County Seat. He would come out to Independence, and on the way back to Kansas City he'd dictate to me. I remember that quite well; it made me feel right important.
FUCHS: Why would you have been out to the courthouse in Independence?
DRYDEN: Now you know, that is a funny thing; I cannot remember why I was out there.
FUCHS: This was during the campaign?
DRYDEN: This must have been after the primary that I did that. I don't mean that I did it every day, but occasionally we'd be out there and on the way back to town -- it was sort of like a movie, you know, like these impossible things you see in the movie where the girl or woman is taking dictation under impossible circumstances, well, that's the way it was.
FUCHS: You took shorthand and you'd do it in the car while you were driving back?
DRYDEN: Just a few times. But that sort of stayed in my memory.
FUCHS: Do you recall Fred Canfil doing a lot of driving for Mr. Truman?
DRYDEN: Yes, he used to drive quite a bit for him, back and forth.
FUCHS: Do you recall him taking Mr. Truman around to various towns in the campaign? Or who did Mr. Truman's driving, perhaps I should put it that way? Did he drive himself, or...
DRYDEN: I don't know about that. Mr. Canfil used to do quite a bit of it but I think that would be, perhaps, over the weekend, when we didn't have our office open, say maybe they would go out for Saturday evening or something. Bu