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India Edwards Oral History Interview, November 10, 1975

Oral History Interview with
India Edwards

Associate Director, Women's Division, Democratic National Committee, 1947-48; Executive Director, Women's Division, Democratic National Committee, 1948-50; Vice-chairman, Democratic National Committee, 1950-56; Consultant, Department of Labor, 1964-66.

Austin, Texas
November 10, 1975
by Patricia Zelman

[ | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript |List of Subjects Discussed| Additional Edwards 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 October, 1977
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript |List of Subjects Discussed| Additional Edwards Oral History Transcripts]


Oral History Interview with
India Edwards

Austin, Texas
November 10, 1975
by Patricia Zelman


ZELMAN: I've read that you were responsible for President Truman's appointing our first woman ambassador and for making the treasurer...

EDWARDS: Oh, he made a great many appointments, and Roosevelt had made some, but of course Roosevelt had Eleanor at his elbow at the time which was a big help, but Truman had never known any professional women and I really flatter myself, but he probably wouldn't have made any if it hadn't been I happened to be director of the Women's Division of the Democratic National Committee and worked very


hard in the 1948 campaign and was practically the only person who thought he was going to be elected, and so when it was over, why he was terribly good to me and always willing to consider any woman's name that I took to him. He was really a--on his own he wouldn't ever have thought about it, but he always said there's no sex in brains; you bring me a woman who's qualified and I'll consider her, and he did. He considered a woman for the Supreme Court, but the other Justices wouldn't have her.

ZELMAN: Who was the woman?

EDWARDS: Florence Allen, whom Franklin Roosevelt had appointed, was the first woman appointed to the district court, the Federal bench, and so he was--I persuaded him.

ZELMAN: You raised his consciousness?


EDWARDS: Yes. But of course what you're interested in is Johnson. I'm sure he appointed more women than Truman did, but it wasn't as surprising for him to appoint them because he knew lots of professional women, and, in a way, Lady Bird herself was, having studied at the school of journalism, you know, more or less a professional. Johnson was very interested in giving women an opportunity.

ZELMAN: From reading his papers, I sense a real commitment. Do you think this was something new for a President?

EDWARDS: No, no--new with him?

ZELMAN: No, new for a President to have concern about using the Government as a showcase in the employment of women?

EDWARDS: No, because Truman had it. I mean, after I gave it to him! But Truman had a very smart


wife. Bess Truman is one of the best educated, loveliest women I've ever known in my life. Most people didn't realize that because she's so reticent, kept to herself, never gave an interview or anything like that. But he was well aware of the capabilities of women. I never could have sold him on the idea that we needed women in Government if it hadn't been that he had a smart wife. And of course Roosevelt was the first President to recognize that women were important. And he did. And that was also because he had a smart wife.

ZELMAN: Whom, I imagine, gave him some pressure.


ZELMAN: Did you talk with President Johnson very often about women appointments?



ZELMAN: I've seen in the White House files so often the notation "check this with India Edwards." How did they check with you?

EDWARDS: They'd call me and ask me.

ZELMAN: Who would call you?

EDWARDS: Well, Liz would often be the one to call--let me think who else--oh, various young men on the staff. I can't remember what their names were. And nothing like as much as I was consulted by the Truman administration because there I was vice chairman of the National Committee and director of the Women's Division. With Johnson I had no official job with his administration, and the appointments he made of women were made--most of them--in the early days, and I wasn't doing anything official then. But they knew, and he knew, that I knew a lot of women and had ideas about them.


ZELMAN: Did you send recommendations to him?

EDWARDS: I never sent any recommendations to anybody. I believe in recommending a particular woman for a particular job, and I attributed my success with Truman to the fact that I never went in with a bunch of women's names and said, "These are women who ought to be appointed," because I didn't believe that he wanted a woman who was not qualified, and the trouble is that a lot of women who have worked hard in the party see no reason why they shouldn't get some big appointment when they nave no qualification whatsoever for it. And the only time I suggested anybody--I did write Lyndon a letter right after he was elected and I said that there were two things I certainly hoped he was going to do. One was to reorganize the Government so that there would not be so much duplication of effort in the different


departments, and that he would continue what Truman had started, the appointment of a lot of women, because Kennedy had done nothing. I mean, Kennedy, he just didn't...he never thought of a woman as anything but a sex object.

ZELMAN: You know he created the Commission on the Status of Women, I've heard, at the insistence of Esther Peterson.

EDWARDS: I'm sure it was at the instigation of somebody, because he never would have done it. A reporter in Washington, a woman who ran a news service, told me that she went to--I don't know if it was Kenny O'Donnell, one of the Irish Mafia--and she said, "How can any President appoint a commission on the status of women and not have India Edwards on it, since she's done more for women than any other woman in the United States?" And he said, "India Edwards will never be appointed to anything while John


Kennedy is in the White House."

ZELMAN: Why would he say that?

EDWARDS: Because I had been co-chairman of the Committee to Elect Lyndon Johnson, to get Johnson the nomination, and I had brought up Kennedy's illness. Kennedy and I remained friends always, but his Irish Mafia hated me. And Bobby. So that was why. So I was never on that committee. But I can assure you, I think I had more to do with the women Johnson appointed than the Commission had, because I did recommend a lot of women that he appointed.

ZELMAN: Could you tell me a few?

EDWARDS: Katherine Elkins White, whom they appointed Ambassador to Denmark, and, oh my goodness, it's been so long ago I can't remember--Barbara Bolling, what did they appoint her to? I


can't remember.

ZELMAN: Neither can I.

EDWARDS: And there were various people that...

ZELMAN: Well, I know that you had a lot to do with recommending and approving appointments. Do you think there were other people reminding the President about women? Liz Carpenter wrote in Ruffles and Flourishes that one day President Johnson came to her and said, "Anna Rosenberg Hoffman tells me we need more women in Government." Do you suppose she came to see him, and were there others you know of...

EDWARDS: I would think that there were probably a lot of women who were interested. Now Anna Rosenberg was a great friend of mine.

ZELMAN: From the Truman years?

EDWARDS: Yes. President Truman had one of his


aides call me on the phone one day, when General Marshall was Secretary of Defense, and he said, "General Marshall wants to appoint Anna Rosenberg as Assistant Secretary of Defense, and President Truman wants to know if that meets your approval."

I said, "Oh, very definitely. I would be delighted."

And this aide said, "Does she have the capability for doing that job?"

And I said, "Indeed she does,"--it was to be for Manpower--"she would be the one I would pick."

So I feel sure that Anna was always interested in women, so that if she went to see LBJ, I'm sure she would tell him that. And I'm sure there were many other women, like Katie Louchheim, who was mentioned this morning. I'm sure Katie was recommending people. I'm sure all of us who were interested


were. Like I say, I never gave anybody a list of women that I thought were qualified. I just had the feeling that you get the woman for the job, match them up, and do it quickly.

ZELMAN: When you were in the Department of Labor did you work in the Department or just consult?

EDWARDS: No, I had an office in the Department of Labor, and I worked full-time. I didn't have to; being a consultant I could have worked two hours a day.

ZELMAN: You were a consultant on youth employment?

EDWARDS: On youth employment. I worked full-time. They were planning the poverty program at that time. I worked to a very large degree helping to plan the Neighborhood Youth Corps, which was under the sponsorship of the Labor Department.

ZELMAN: Now I have read that the NYC did a very good


job of including girls in its...

EDWARDS: Neighborhood Youth Corps is the only part of the poverty program that amounts to anything.

ZELMAN: The Job Corps never really brought women in...

EDWARDS: Well, they had a Women's Job Corps, and they had a very good woman at the head of it, but it cost so much money to train one person in the Job Corps. We didn't really have very many men in there.

ZELMAN: I've read so much about Daniel Moynihan putting the emphasis on educating Negro males.


ZELMAN: And forget about the women.



ZELMAN: And I know Edith Green in the Congress wrote into the Job Corps bill the provision for training women.

EDWARDS: I talked to Edith about that.

ZELMAN: You did? Tell me about that.

EDWARDS: It was the first director for the Women's Job Corps--I can't remember her name...

ZELMAN: Dr. Jeanne Noble?

EDWARDS: Yes. Jeanne Noble and I talked to Edith Green about it because I thought it was terribly unfair, and of course Jeanne was awfully upset about it. They were given nothing. So Edith became very interested, and they did create a--but they never gave them very much money. Then Jeanne left, went back to New York University.


Then, oh, Washington, what's her name?

ZELMAN: Benetta.

EDWARDS: Yes. Benetta Washington took over. Her husband was the mayor of Washington. Benetta is a brilliant woman and I don't know whether she devoted full-time to it or not. I don't know whether it was a big enough job to need anybody full-time. But I know Benetta gave it whatever was necessary because she's that sort of a person. And Benetta would probably not agree with me. She would probably feel that it was a success. But I felt it was a complete and total failure from the very start; it never stood a chance. The men's Job Corps was a failure. It never stood a chance.

ZELMAN: Why do you think this was so? Because it was so expensive?


EDWARDS: Oh, they played a numbers game with it. The important thing in the estimate of Sargent Shriver and the young Ph.D.'s who were in there helping him--the poverty program did a great deal for a lot of young Ph.D.'s who had just gotten their degrees--and they planned the programs, and they knew no more about--I used to sit in the meetings and nearly die at their inexperience and their absolute refusal to want to even consult with anybody who'd had any experience--and they would say--I'm all in favor of young people with new ideas and new insights, and all, but sometimes you have to be practical. And I remember sitting in a meeting with these young men. I would go representing the Secretary of Labor at these meetings, and I remember meeting with four or five of these young men, and they worked for the OEO. They were planning various


things, parts of the OEO. I said something to the effect, "Of course, the first thing you will do when you go into a city to organize anything, is to get in touch with the mayor." Oh, indeed not. They weren't going to have anything to do with the mayor.

ZELMAN: You feel that was the downfall of the whole community action...

EDWARDS: I said, "Well, young men, you can't do a thing in a city like Chicago unless you have Dick Daley helping you. There may be cities where you can go in and operate without it, but not very many. None that I can think of.

ZELMAN: Not for very long, anyway.

EDWARDS: No! I said, "You've got to have the mayor and the city council. At least you've got to consult them." And I said, "In the end you may


have to fight them in order to get anything done, but you've got to start out by observing protocol." But they didn't do it.

ZELMAN: I wond