Oral History Interview with
Served as a volunteer in the Women's Division
of the Democratic National Committee, 1944; Executive Secretary of the
DNC, 1945-47; Associate Director, 1947-48; Executive Director, 1949-50;
and as Vice Chairman, 1950-56.
January 16, 1969
By Jerry N. Hess
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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
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 It may not be published in full except by permission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 January, 1972
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
January 16, 1969
By Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Mrs. Edwards, when did you first become interested in politics?
EDWARDS: I think I was always interested in politics, but I wasn't active
in politics because I worked for a Republican newspaper, I was always
a Democrat so it would have been a little difficult for me to have been
an active political worker, but I think that my great interest in politics
started with Franklin Roosevelt's first administration.
HESS: When did you first become associated with the Democratic National
EDWARDS: When I volunteered to work in the 1944 convention.
HESS: Can you tell me about that?
EDWARDS: I had left Chicago in 1942 when I married Herbert Edwards, who
was working for the Department of State, and I moved down to Washington.
I had had quite a long career as a newspaperwoman, and I expected just
to settle down and be a housewife. My son by a previous marriage was killed
late in December of 1943. He was just nineteen years old, was in the Air
Corps, and I decided then that I would have to do something to occupy
my mind and time fully. So I was looking around for things to do and I
was thinking of going with UNRRA, in fact I was offered a position with
UNRRA which was just starting up at that time. My husband was very much
against my taking it, because he said the red tape of Government and I
would never get along. A very close friend of mine from Chicago days,
who then lived in Washington, was a volunteer at the Democratic National
Committee, and she kept telling me that I ought to work for the Democrats.
I would say, "Perhaps I will," but I kept putting it off. Then the Republicans
held their convention in Chicago, ahead of the Democratic convention,
and Clare Boothe Luce made a speech at the Republican convention, to which
my husband and I listened on the radio in our living room (we then lived
in Maryland). I became so infuriated that I paced up and down the room
saying: "Now, I know what I'm going to do. I'm going to volunteer to work
for the Democrats tomorrow morning,"
and I did.
Mrs. Luce attempted to speak for "G.I. Jim." The implication was that
if the boys who had been killed in the Second World War could come back
they would say to vote against Roosevelt. I thought this was the
lowest thing I ever heard of any politician doing. She couldn't speak
for my son.
And so I went down to Democratic headquarters the next morning and volunteered
to work if they wanted me, and they did. They seemed to be very glad to
have me because I offered to work for nothing. They sat me down, had me
writing--not speeches, I didn't start out writing speeches--I wrote biographies
and news releases, things of that sort for about two weeks.
Then the Democratic convention came along. It was going to be held in
Chicago, and the people at the committee said, "Oh, we wish we could take
you out to the convention," because after all I had only been away from
Chicago a short time so I knew all the newspaper people out there. But
they said, "We have no money. We've allocated every penny we have for
travel, but if you would come out, we'd be so happy."
So I said, "O.K., I'll come." I went and paid all
my own expenses. And
I really worked very hard all during that convention. It was very amusing
because they didn't even give me a ticket to get into the hall, and the
only way I ever got inside the hall was that my former boss, Colonel [Robert]
McCormick, had a box and he invited me to use the box whenever I wanted
it. I was so delighted that no columnist ever picked that up, because
I thought it would look very peculiar. Here I was volunteering for the
Democratic National Committee, and sitting in Colonel McCormick's box
during the sessions.
HESS: That would be a little strange.
EDWARDS: But luckily none of the columnists ever saw it, or wrote anything
HESS: When did you first meet Mr. Truman?
EDWARDS: I met him then in Chicago after he was nominated. There was
a reception, as I remember, for him and Mrs. Truman and Margaret at the
Blackstone, and I met him then, but just very casually. Then I met him
during the campaign. In those days they used to move the headquarters
to New York. I came back after the convention and settled down in Washington
and the committee moved up to the Biltmore in New York, and
me one night and said, "We really have to have you up here, but we can't
afford to pay you."
And I said, "I'm terribly sorry, but I can't afford to come and live
in New York for two or three months and pay all my own expenses."
And they said, "We11 give you a room at the Biltmore. Could you do it
I said, "Yes, I could manage to feed myself."
It worked out very well because my husband in his work at the State Department
had to go to New York quite a lot, so it wasn't as if I were leaving him
neglected in Washington. So I went up and many times I never put my nose
outside the Biltmore for five or six days at a time, because the office
was there, and I was staying there.
HESS: What were your duties during that period?
EDWARDS: I was working in the public relations department of the Women's
Division, and I started out writing news releases, biographies, but pretty
soon I was writing speeches for various and sundry people.
You remember--you're too young so probably you don't--but in '44 it was
very hard to travel; to go by plane you had to have a priority and train
difficult, too. So, not that I would have been doing any traveling
anyway, but we were very dependent upon radio, and that's what I ended
up doing for the Women's Division. I can't tell you--I used to know but
I've forgotten, it's been so many years ago--how many hundreds of platters
that we sent out. There were certain speeches that were very effective.
For instance, Dorothy Thompson had made a speech that was wonderfully
effective, and there were others. And I ended up in charge of all that.
And many a time I would leave the Biltmore at 11 o'clock at night with
my secretary and we would walk across to the American Express office,
which was just nearby, carrying great armloads of these platters and mail
them out, because they were used in meetings all over the country. And
then I wrote quite a number of speeches. I met the vice presidential candidate,
Mr. Truman, at that time. He came to the Biltmore one day.
I'll tell you an amusing story about that: Of course, I was not an experienced
political speechwriter, but I was a trained writer, and had earned my
living writing for a good many years. I always ended every speech with
"Elect Roosevelt and Truman." It seems for quite
a while some people on
the staff wanted to get up the nerve to tell me that I didn't. need to
mention the Vice President, so finally one of them did tell me. She said,
"India, you don't really have to mention Senator Truman. It's enough to
I said, "I never heard anything to crazy in my life. I shall continue
to mention Mr. Truman in every speech I write. The person who gives
it can change it if he or she wants to, but I think the Vice President
who is being elected this year will very probably be the President eventually."
You had only to look at Roosevelt's face to know that the ravages of the
office and illness and time had taken a great toll. Somebody told me--I
don't know whether this is true or not--but someone is supposed to have
told Senator Truman that I was the one who insisted that his name be included
in every speech that we sent out.
HESS: Where were you on election night in 1944? Were you at the Biltmore?
HESS: Do you recall anything of interest that may have taken place that
EDWARDS: Well, I don't remember anything particularly
that election, because we were all so certain of victory; everybody was.
I don't think that any Democrat thought for one minute that Dewey was
going to win that year. We were all sure that Roosevelt and Truman would
be elected. But it was a different story in 1948.
HESS: In 1944 were you surprised when Senator Truman was selected as
the Democratic nominee for Vice President?
EDWARDS: Well, I wasn't surprised, because I had not been involved enough
in politics to really have any idea about it. I wasn't surprised, also,
because I knew something about his record as chairman of the Truman Committee,
and to me, he was a very fine Senator. But remember, I was outside the
establishment, as it were, at that time.
HESS: Just as an opinion, how much influence do you think that Mr. Truman's
chairmanship of that committee had on his receiving the Democratic nomination?
EDWARDS: Well, I would suppose, and this is only my judgment, which is
really not worth very much because I know too little about it, but I would
suppose that Mr. Truman's nomination was largely dependent on Bob Hannegan's
work and his--what shall I say--finagling
has such a bad sound, and I
don't mean it that way--but I think Bob Hannegan was responsible for his
nomination. But I think that President Roosevelt was willing to accept
Truman because of the fine work he had done as chairman of the committee.
That would be my own evaluation of it.
HESS: What do you recall of Mr. Hannegan's maneuvering?
EDWARDS: I wasn't close enough to know very much of what was going on,
but that was what I understood, that Bob Hannegan had been the one who
pushed for Truman when somebody wasn't acceptable. I've sort of forgotten
what the details were. It had to be cleared with--who was it--Sidney Hillman.
But I would feel certain that it was because of Senator Truman's reputation
that President Roosevelt was willing to have him as Vice President, because
I don't think Roosevelt knew him very well. I'm quite sure about that.
HESS: Moving on in time, what were your thoughts when you heard of the
death of President Roosevelt?
EDWARDS: Well, of course, I was devastated, as everybody was. It was
a terrible thing, but I don't think that anybody could say it was unexpected
because certainly when he returned from Yalta he was a very ill man.
had only been at the National Committee a few weeks when President Roosevelt
died. We were getting ready for a Jefferson-Jackson dinner, and I was
doing some work on that. Fannie Hurst, the authoress, was to speak briefly
at that dinner so I was going over Fannie's speech in the late afternoon
when word came in that the President had died. I walked up and down the
committee hall--we were in the Mayflower at that time, and all of our
offices were on one corridor, and I was shocked at the way people were
carrying on. Most of them were weeping and wailing and acting as if the
world had come to an end. Of course, I was so new with the committee,
and although I admired President Roosevelt tremendously, I didn't have
the same feeling that the others had. I didn't feel that the Democratic
Party was going to fall to pieces nor the country. I remember I put my
head in office after office and said, "Stop this, stop this crying," because
they really were, literally, weeping, and sobbing and carrying on, and
saying, "Oh, what's to become of the country; what will we do?"
And I said, "We have a Vice President, and I know President Roosevelt
wouldn't have allowed him to be
Vice President if he hadn't felt that
he was capable," because Franklin Roosevelt was smart enough to know that
he was an ill man. I'm sure it was only becau