Oral History Interview with
Oscar R. Ewing
Attorney, Hughes, Hubbard & Ewing, New York, New York,
and predecessor firms, 1919-1947; Assistant Chairman of the Democratic
National Committee, 1940-42; Vice Chairman, 1942-47; Special Assistant
to the U.S. Attorney General, 1942 and again in 1947; Acting Chairman
of the Democratic National Committee, 1946; Administrator of the Federal
Security Agency, 1947-53; and organizer and member of an unofficial political
policy group during the Truman administration, 1947-52.
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
April 29, 1969
by J. R. Fuchs
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview
Transcript | Additional Ewing 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
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 It may not be published in full except by permission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 July 1971
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices
and Restrictions | Interview Transcript
| Additional Ewing Oral History Transcripts]
Oral History Interview with
Oscar R. Ewing
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
April 29, 1969
by J. R. Fuchs
FUCHS: Mr. Ewing, I wonder if you would mind beginning with a statement
of your background, when and where you were born, your education and anything
else that you think might be of interest to history.
EWING: Well, I was born in Greensburg, Indiana on March 8, 1889. My father
was a merchant. His name was George M. Ewing and he was one of fifteen
children. His father and mother had migrated from Kentucky to Indiana
The Ewing family, so far as we know their story, began in about 1665.
A William Ewing, who had been born in that year near Stirling Castle,
Scotland, as a young man migrated to Londonderry, Ireland, where he was
married to a Scottish girl living in Ireland. We know that this William
Ewing fought in the battle of Londonderry, which I think was about 1689.
In about 1725 , two or three of the sons of William Ewing migrated together
to America. One of these sons was Joshua Ewing, who settled in Cecil County,
Joshua Ewing had a number of sons and daughters. One of these was my
ancestor, Captain Patrick Ewing. The youngest son of Joshua Ewing was
Nathaniel Ewing. He was the grandfather of Adlai Ewing Stevenson, who
was Vice President of the United States from 1893 to 1897 and the great,
great grandfather of Adlai Ewing Stevenson who was the Democratic candidate
for President in 1952 and 1956.
My ancestor, Captain Patrick Ewing, lived in Cecil County, Maryland and
was a soldier in the Revolution. The story is that he was commissary general
under Washington when his army was at Valley Forge. I used to boast a
good deal about that until I realized that the American Army at Valley
Forge had nearly starved to death, so I stopped bragging about this ancestor.
Captain Patrick Ewing had a large number of children. The son through
whom I trace my ancestry was named Putnam Ewing. He married a Jane McClellan
from the adjoining county, Chester County, Pennsylvania. Jane McClellan
Ewing was, by tradition, a woman of great beauty and fine intellect. In
our family it was for a long time thought that she was closely related
to General George B. McClellan, a commander of the Union Army of the Potomac
in the Civil War. I mentioned
this to General McClellan's son, the former
Mayor of New York, George B. McClellan, Jr., when I sat beside him at
a lunch back in the 1920s. He said the relationship must be rather remote.
He explained that originally there were three McClellan brothers who had
migrated from Ireland to America. One settled in Maine, one in Connecticut
and one in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Mayor McClellan said that his
branch of the family was descended from the brother who settled in Connecticut
while Jane McClellan Ewing, being from Chester County, Pennsylvania, was
undoubtedly descended from the brother who had settled in that county.
Putnam Ewing and his wife had two sons born in Maryland. One of these
was my grandfather, Patrick Ewing, born July 28, 1803. Shortly after his
birth the family migrated to Bath County, Kentucky, where Patrick grew
to manhood amidst nine brothers and sisters.
On September 5, 1826 Patrick was married to Lydia Morgan. About a year
after their marriage they migrated to Decatur County, Indiana where they
Lydia Morgan Ewing had an interesting family background. Edward Morgan,
his wife and two children, shortly after 1700 , crossed the Atlantic Ocean
from Wales and settled near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The older child
was a son, David, who
was grandmother Lydia Morgan's ancestor. The other
child was a daughter, Sarah, who in 1720 married Squire Boone and was
the mother of Daniel Boone.
In "Annals of North Carolina" (Petree, 1804), Squire Boone is reported
to have stated that his wife had another brother, Daniel, who was one
of the great American generals in the Revolutionary War. In the first
battle of Saratoga, as a colonel commanding a regiment of sharpshooters,
Daniel Morgan had ordered his men to pick out the Redcoats wearing epaulets
(officers). As a result so many of Burgoyne's officers were killed that
he could not handle his troops adequately during the second Saratoga battle,
which contributed much to that great American victory in October 1777.
Subsequently, Daniel Morgan retired from the army being piqued by the
promotion of certain officers over him whom he felt less deserving.
After the fall of Charleston, South Carolina on May 12, 1780, Congress
passed a resolution calling on Morgan to join the Southern Army then commanded
by General Horatio Gates under whom Morgan had served at Saratoga. At
Gates' urging Congress made Morgan a Brigadier General and he was made
head of a Special Service. After Gates' defeat in the battle of Camden,
South Carolina, August 16, 1780, he was
replaced as Commander of the Southern
Army by Nathaniel Green. Greene gave Morgan an independent command and
with these troops he battled a British force under Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton
at Cowpens, South Carolina on January 17, 1781 and won one of the most
brilliant American victories of the Revolution. Out of some 1,100 men
the British losses were 600 prisoners and over 200 killed and wounded
while the American losses were 72 killed and wounded out of less than
As before stated, my grandfather Patrick Ewing and his wife, Lydia Morgan
Ewing, migrated from Kentucky to Indiana in 1826. Grandfather had walked
from Bath County, Kentucky to Cincinnati where he crossed the Ohio River,
then from Cincinnati out to Decatur County, Indiana and there he entered
80 acres of Government land. He paid a dollar and a quarter an acre. He
chose this particular land because a half uncle, David Douglas, had already
entered an adjoining tract of land. David Douglas was a farmer and a part-time
FUCHS: Is that near a settlement with a name?
EWING: Yes, it was quite near Greensburg, Indiana, about five miles west
of Greensburg, and was very good black land. Having chosen his land Grandfather
started on a return
trip going first to Brookville, Indiana, where the
Government land office was located and there paid his $100, and formally
entered the land. From Brookville Grandfather walked back to Cincinnati,
re-crossed the Ohio River and walked back to Bath County. A Bath County
neighbor loaned him a horse for the trip back to Indiana. Grandmother
rode the horse holding one child. Grandfather led the horse. These were,
as I calculated, about a hundred and sixty-five mile trips. They got back
to Decatur County, Indiana somewhat late in the fall so that Grandfather
only had time to build a three-sided log cabin before winter really set
in. The family spent that first winter in that three-sided log cabin with
the south side open and exposed to the sun. In the spring, Grandfather
rode the horse back to Bath County and then walked back to his new land
in Decatur County.
Grandfather and Grandmother had fifteen children. Every one of them lived
to have children of their own. At one time I had fifty-four first cousins,
two on my mother's side and fifty-two on the Ewing side.
FUCHS: Isn't that amazing?
EWING: Yes, it is. My father was one of the younger sons. He was the
twelfth child. He left the farm rather early
and went into Greensburg
and became a merchant. He had a farm, also, a little way out from Greensburg;
and he continued as a merchant. It was sort of a general grocery store
and hardware and almost everything. Then he sold that out when I was quite
young and went into farmer's supply business. That continued until his
FUCHS: Did you live on the farm any?
EWING: No. Father and mother had gone to housekeeping in a little house
in Greensburg that her father had given them, and that's been in the family
ever since. My sister lives in it now. I was born in that house and so
FUCHS: Who did your father marry?
EWING: Father married Jeanette Ross. She was a local girl in Greensburg
and really a very superior woman. She had had one year at Western College,
in Oxford, Ohio, and was really a woman of fine literary tastes and just
a thoroughly fine person.
FUCHS: You say that was Western College?
EWING: The Western College, that was a ladies college at Oxford, Ohio.
FUCHS: Where Miami University is now?
EWING: Yes, yes.
FUCHS: Is Western still there?
EWING: It's still there, yes.
I personally had a very happy boyhood in a small midwestern town doing
the usual things that a kid does. I attended the public schools in Greensburg
through high school. In high school I took part in the usual school activities,
particularly debating. I never was very much for athletics. I never had
any particular competency there. I was president of my senior class in
high school. From there I went on to Indiana University entering the freshman
class in 1906. I joined the Beta Theta Pi Fraternity and lived in the
Beta house for the four years I was at I. U.
I became rather active in college politics and in my junior year I ran
for president of my class and was elected, and again in my senior year
I ran for president of my class and was elected. I understand that I am
the only student in the history of Indiana University who has been elected
president of both his junior and senior classes. I had a very happy time
at the University. I was valedictorian of my class and this was an unexpected
honor because I simply
assumed that many of my classmates had better academic
records than mine. However, when the faculty named me valedictorian I
asked no questions.
FUCHS: You graduated in what year?
EWING: I graduated in 1910. Then...
FUCHS: What did you major in?
EWING: I majored in philosophy.
FUCHS: Did you take that as a good background for your going into law
or did you think of that as good background for politics, or how did you
decide on philosophy?
EWING: Well, it so happened that one of the best and most interesting
professors was head of the philosophy department. I think it was in my
second year that I took a general course in philosophy under Professor
Lindley and he was so interesting that I--I mean he made the whole subject
so interesting, that I decided to major in it. I was very glad that I
had done so because the whole trend at that time and even today is, toward
scientific courses which involve analysis, breaking down, analyzing this
and that and the other. Whereas philosophy, its main purpose is synthesis,
trying to put
things together and make sense out of them, getting the
meaning of the whole rather than breaking down the parts and concentrating
on those. Synthesis is needed so much, I don't say more than analysis,
but there is much less emphasis put on it and I think it is equally needed.
After I graduated from college at Indiana University in 1910, I determined
to go to Harvard Law School. I had always known, since I was a youngster,
that I wanted to be a lawyer.
FUCHS: What influenced your thinking that way, do you recall?
EWING: Well, I had two uncles and three cousins who had been lawyers
and one of these uncles particularly was almost my idol. He was wonderfully
nice to me and I was extremely fond of him, so much so that I named my
first son for him, James Ewing.
FUCHS: Was he in Greensburg?
EWING: He was in Greensburg. He'd been a judge of the Circuit Court there
and really influenced me very much. I had taken one or two law courses
at Indiana University, which I was allowed to do, and apply the credits
to my A.B. degree. I wanted to go on to Harvard. My father was very much
opposed to this. He didn't feel that he could afford it. He also
that I could do like my uncles and cousins had done and that was read
law in some lawyer's office; that they had been quite successful and there
was no reason why I couldn't get my legal education in the same way.
FUCHS: I suppose there was no law school in Indiana at the time?
EWING: Yes, oh, yes there was a law school at Indiana University, but
I don't think there was any question but that at that time Harvard Law
School was the best in the country. I thought that if I was to go to a
law school I might just as well go to the best. My father said he would
not help me financially, and so I got a job taking subscriptions for the
Saturday Evening Post and the Ladies Home Journal. My sister
helped with that. As a result, I saved up about four hundred dollars that
summer. This was enough to get me started in Cambridge where I also got
a job waiting table in Randall Hall. In the meantime, my father had agreed
to go on my note at the bank for what I would have to borrow to see me
FUCHS: Was it difficult to gain admittance to Harvard Law School at that
EWING: No, at that time if you had an A.B. degree Harvard Law School
would admit you. Oh, I think one had to stand reasonably well in college
but I had been valedictorian of my class, so I had no problem on that
score. The first year in law school I did pretty well and made an A grade,
so that made me eligible to be an editor of the Harvard Law Review.
In the fall of my second year I was made a member of the Choate Club.
If my memory is correct, each fall the club took in five second year men
who were graduates of Harvard College, five of Yale, five of Princeton
and five all-American, that is graduates of any other colleges. Besides
monthly meetings at which a third year man would read a scholarly paper,
the club had two big dinners a year, one in the fall and another in the
spring. At the first dinner I attended I was the only member not dressed
in a tuxedo. Naturally, I felt uncomfortable. Then, just before the Christmas
vacation, Jim Dennis, one of my classmates who lived in Morristown, New
Jersey., invited me to spend the vacation with him. I wanted very much
to accept but I knew a tuxedo was essential, so I went ahead and bought
one at Brooks Brothers in New York. Well, when my father heard that it
made him so mad that he said he
was not going on my note anymore.
Shortly after my return to Cambridge after Christmas the mid-term bill
arrived and I didn't have the money to pay it. Several people in Greensburg
had offered to help me if I needed it. But when I needed help one of them
had died, another had lost his job and the others all had excuses. I was
in a desperate situation. I had explored every source of a loan that I
could think of and in my desperation I went into Dean Thayer, and asked
him if the Law School had any loan funds that were available.
I had got to know Dean Thayer early in my first year at the Law School
by reason of a peculiar combination of circumstances. I had been admitted
to the bar in Indiana on my twenty-first birthday, in March before I graduated
from Indiana University and...
FUCHS: You had been admitted to the bar?
EWING: Yes, in Indiana at that time the only qualifications required
for admission was that the applicant be twenty-one years old and of good
moral character. So I was admitted merely on a motion. About a month after
I first arrived in Cambridge in the fall of 1910 I got a telegram from
the Democratic county chairman in Decatur County
that the man that they
had nominated for Prosecuting Attorney in Decatur County had had to resign.
He had been accused of some trivial crime--I think it was rape. So the
Democrats decided that he wouldn't be a very good candidate and they wanted
to nominate me for his place on the ticket. I didn't know what to do,
it was a pretty flattering offer, it would mean $1,000 or $1,200 a year
which was big money in those days in a county seat. I went in to ask Dean
Thayer for his advice as to what I should do. Apparently it was rather
unusual for a first year law student to be offered the nomination as a
prosecuting attorney but nevertheless Dean Thayer said he would advise
me to stay in law school. He said, "If I didn't believe in a law school
education I wouldn't have given up the practice myself to become Dean."
And so I followed his advice and refused the nomination.
FUCHS: What was his first name?
EWING: Ezra Ripley Thayer. So when I went back to him to ask if any loan
funds were available he knew something of my background. When I told him
what a bind I was in, he wanted to know how much I needed. I said, "Two
hundred and twenty-five dollars for my mid-term bill." And I
saw him take
his checkbook and then he handed me a check for two hundred and twenty-five
dollars. I said, "Dean Thayer, I didn't come in here to borrow money from
He said, "I know, that's all right." He said, "I'm glad to do it." Then
he added: "Do you think if I took over the indebtedness at the bank that
your father's already obligated on, it would relieve his mind?"
I said, "Yes, I'm sure it would, but you're not going to do it because
he's hooked for that and he's going to stay hooked."
"Well," he said, "if you ever need any more, don't hesitate to come back."
And the next year I did have to borrow another hundred dollars. So that
made my indebtedness to him three hundred and twenty-five dollars. I gave
him a note for it and he said to pay it back whenever I was able. Unfortunately,
he had a bad breakdown in 1915. While the first Mrs. Ewing and I were
on our honeymoon that fall, I read in the paper that he had committed
suicide. He had found that he had cancer of the throat and it was inoperative.
Apparently he suffered terribly and no one can blame him for what he did.
When I read of his death I wrote to Mrs. Thayer a letter of condolence
and also referred to my indebtedness.
I said I knew that they would want
to settle the estate and if she would have her attorney calculate the
interest and let me know the amount, I would arrange to take care of it.
Well, she wrote back the most beautiful letter I almost ever received.
She said that Dean Thayer was so fond of me that she wanted that indebtedness
to be her contribution to the new Ewing menage. She did it in such a way
that it would have been rude not to have accepted. But over the years
the debt was on my conscience. So, a number of years ago, I don't know
how long ago, I set up a loan fund at Harvard in memory of Dean Thayer,
and altogether I've given it something over a hundred thousand dollars.
FUCHS: Very interesting.
EWING: Well I...
FUCHS: Was she still living when you did that?
EWING: She was still living when I started it; I don't think she's living
now. I just felt that I owed it and I owed very much to Harvard Law School.
FUCHS: I would like to go back just a bit. Did you have brothers and
EWING: One sister still living and...
FUCHS: I see.
EWING: Another who had died before I was born.
FUCHS: I believe when you were quite young you had some political experiences.
I think that I've read that you gave a speech as early as your eleventh
EWING: Yes. Well, really that wasn't a very creditable performance. One
of my uncles who had a farm was going to have a Democratic pole raising
in the campaign of 1900. They would raise a hickory pole, you know, for
Old Hickory Andrew Jackson and my uncle wanted me to make the speech.
I tried to commit to memory a speech my mother had written for me. When
I got up and was declaiming it, I got about half way through and forgot
the rest. I don't know that it contributed to the defeat of Mr. Bryan
in 1900 but I know that it didn't help him any.
FUCHS: You were already a strong Democrat.
EWING: Yes. The Ewing family, on the whole were very strong Democrats.
You see my Grandfather Ewing, when he left Kentucky, left five brothers
behind and every one of them
served in the Confederate Army. When the
heat and emotion of the Civil War came along in Indiana there was a lot
of bitterness and anyone who was a Democrat was castigated and viewed
with suspicion. I think that experience hardened all the Ewings against
the Republican Party. And that feeling has persisted down through succeeding
generations. In my own youth, people would come up to me and say, "How
can any intelligent person be a Democrat?" Well, it would make me so mad
that I couldn't be a Republican.
FUCHS: Then I believe you had another political experience attending
one of the conventions?
EWING: Yes. That was in 1904, when the World's Fair was going on at St.
Louis and the Democratic National Convention was held there. By that time
I was fifteen years old and really very much interested in politics. So,
two of my friends, boys about my age, and I, we all went--supposedly to
the fair. I went to the fair one day and attended the Democratic National
Convention five days. That year the Democrats nominated Alton B. Parker
for President. After I got back to Greensburg, there were so few supporters
of Parker that they couldn't get enough Democrats to fill the committee
offices; so they had elected me secretary of the
county committee in Decatur
County. That was a very, very interesting experience and a liberal education
for politics at the grass roots. We had no money and would have to pass
the hat when we needed to buy postcards to notify the county committee
of a meeting. But I learned to carry a poll book and do the chores of
politics in that way.
FUCHS: What was the population approximately of the town or village,
and of the county? Do you recall?
EWING: Well, at that time it was probably around four thousand in Greensburg
and I dare say that the county was, oh, probably twelve thousand, something
FUCHS: Do you think this was the experience that caused them to offer
you the nomination for county prosecuting attorney?
EWING: I dare say it was. I had worked with the organization and I knew
all the other workers. Yes, I have no doubt it had something to do with
FUCHS: Were there any other political experiences that you recall prior
to your graduation from Harvard Law?
EWING: No, because I made up my mind then that I would not spend much
time on politics until I had become established
as a lawyer and was financially
independent. I don't think anyone should go into politics and give it
all his time until he has got to the point where he's independent financially.
It is only then that you can be completely free of the pressures of politics
and can tell anybody to go to hell.
FUCHS: Before we went back aways, you were commenting about the advantages
of graduating from Harvard Law School in those days.
EWING: Well, at that time I think, 1910 , when I was considering where
to go, I think that Harvard was the pre-eminent law school of the country.
Today, there are other very, very fine law schools; Yale and some of the
midwestern schools are top-notch. So that going to Harvard isn't anywhere
nearly as important today as it was in those days, although I still think
it's probably the best law school in the country.
FUCHS: I believe that you had some interesting classmates at Indiana
EWING: Yes. Well, the two most prominent were not classmates but they
were fraternity brothers of mine. When I was a
senior Paul McNutt was
a freshman. He was also a Beta and his first year I saw a great deal of
him since we lived in the same house. I liked him very much and admired
him. He was a very handsome man, a good student, a hard worker, and I
got to know him very well. Then Wendell Willkie was in Paul's graduating
class but he was not taken into the fraternity until his senior year.
That meant that I had graduated three years before he joined the fraternity.
I entered Indiana University in 1906 and he entered in 1909. Both Paul
and Wendell entered in the fall of 1909. But Wendell wasn't taken into
the fraternity until 1912, the fall of 1912.
FUCHS: The enrollment was large enough by then that you wouldn't necessarily
have known him then even if he was there.
EWING: That is true. I did not know him at all in college. He had a sister
and a brother who were contemporaries of mine and I did know them because
they were a class ahead of me or maybe two classes, but at least I got
to know them. But I didn't know Wendell in college. I got to know him
very well later in New York.
FUCHS: What about prominent classmates at Harvard Law?
EWING: Well, I had a lot of them there, because I think truly the class
of 1913 at the law school probably was one of the best classes of all
time for the prominence of its graduates. Bob Taft was in our class; he
was president of the Law Review in my last year on it. Charles
Evans Hughes, Jr. was president of the Law Review my first year
on it. Then we had Jim Kem who practiced law in Kansas City and was later
United States Senator from Missouri. Owen Brewster of Maine, was Governor
of Maine and Senator for a long while--he was a member of our class. We
had a large number of judges. Harold Stevens was judge of the United States
Circuit Court of the District of Columbia. I think he was chief justice,
if I'm not mistaken, for part of his time. I can't think of the others
but there were quite a few that made really great names for themselves.
FUCHS: Do you recall any incidents, humorous or otherwise involving any
of these people, Taft or Hughes, Jr., that might be of interest as a little
footnote? What were your impressions of Taft when he was in law school?
EWING: Well, I was a great admirer of Bob Taft. He was a brilliant man,
and when you got to know him you found him
to be really a very warm person.
He didn't have that public image but he was really a very warm person
and we were very good friends. When I was nominated by President Truman
as Federal Security Administrator, Bob at that time was the Republican
leader of the Senate and the Republicans controlled both the House and
the Senate. Bob took me in and introduced me to the Finance Committee
which passed on my nomination and urged my nomination. He couldn't have
been nicer. Later I did a thing that offended him and I have always regretted
it deeply. Bob was running for re-election to the Senate in 1950 and Mike
DiSalle was his Democratic opponent. Mike asked me to make a speech for
him in Toledo and I told him I would. So, I had someone on my staff, I
forget who it was, draft a speech for me. When I read the draft I found
it was bitter and full of personal attacks. So I completely rewrote the
speech and tried to take out everything that was personal or that could
possibly be offensive. None the less Bob was greatly offended by the speech.
He introduced it in the Congressional Record as an example of a
carpetbagger's speech. I was a carpetbagger coming from New York out to
Ohio to make a speech against him. Well, I knew there was nothing that I
could say. I always felt we had a right to our political differences.
I wouldn't for the world have said anything personal against him but there
was apparently something to which he took offense and I regretted it.
But there was no use even apologizing because...
FUCHS: Did you review the speech to see if you could possibly isolate
what it was?
EWING: Oh, yes, I went over it again even afterwards because I was very
much upset by his reaction.
FUCHS: Wasn't there some other gentleman there that said that he concurred
with you that you didn't think Taft had any reason for...
EWING: Yes, that happened at one of our class reunions later on. Paul
Alexander, also of the law school class of 1913, was judge of the Juvenile
Court in Toledo. We were both attending our class reunion in 1953 and
were raising money for a memorial for Bob Taft to be located right across
the street on the vacant lot north of the Capitol and west of the Old
Senate Office Building.
FUCHS: Is this the carillon?
EWING: It's a...
FUCHS: Bell tower.
EWING: No, no, it's a--oh, what do they call those things that...
FUCHS: The only thing I can think of is pyramid. I was thinking they
erected a bell tower in his honor, but I must be thinking of someone else.
EWING: Well, whatever its name it was the memorial for Bob Taft that
we were raising money for, and in the course of a discussion I told my
classmates about this unfortunate experience I'd had of unintentionally
offending Bob. Judge Alexander of the Juvenile Court in Toledo and a member
of our class, spoke up and he said, "Why, Jack, I heard you make that
speech and I can't recall a single thing that I could think would be offensive
FUCHS: Do you think maybe it was just that as a former classmate he felt
that you shouldn't say anything?
EWING: Probably, he probably felt that way, but after all he certainly
knew I was a Democrat because he had recommended my appointment to the
Senate Finance Committee. And he knew I had been appointed Federal Security
Administrator by a Democratic President.
FUCHS: You think he was thinskinned politically?
EWING: No, I don't know. We had been such good friends that I think the
fact that I had spoken for his adversary would perhaps hurt him. I didn't
mean to. Some people are that way and some people are very much influenced
by those things.
When I was Vice Chairman of the Democratic National Committee I was still
a partner in my New York law firm of Hughes, Hubbard and Ewing. The senior
partner of that firm was Charles Evans Hughes, Jr. Apparently one of our
clients, I never knew which one, took great offense at my being active
in Democratic politics. This man went to Charlie Hughes and told him that
their company was going to take their business away from the firm unless
they completely took my name out of the firm name and eliminated me from
the partnership. I thought Charlie's answer was a marvelous one. He said,
"Well, Mr. So-and-So, we would hate very much to lose your business, because
your company is a good client, but you know, we here in this office only
have one thing to sell, and that's our legal talent. Our political views
are not for sale." I don't know whether the man left with his business
or not, but that was the answer that he got.
FUCHS: What were your relations with Senator Taft after this incident?
EWING: I don't think I ever saw him after that. I'm pretty sure I didn't.
FUCHS: You think that any of the subsequent legislation that came under
the purview of Congress, more or less through the aegis of the Federal
Security Administration might have been opposed by him and a little bit
more vehemently on account of this incident?
EWING: I have no reason whatever to think so. Actually, I think he had
taken all of his positions on welfare legislation before I ever was in
FUCHS: To go back, after you graduated from the Harvard Law School in
1913 what were your first moves then?
EWING: My first year out of law school I taught in the University of
Iowa Law School. I greatly enjoyed this experience although I learned
much more than my pupils did. My faculty associates were friendly, attractive
men with whom it was a pleasure to work. Nevertheless, although I had
intended to teach for at least two years,
before the end of the first
year I was restless to get into active law practice, and hence I declined
reappointment. My father thought my decision was very foolish. At that
time teaching law had been given an added aura by reason of President
Taft accepting a professorship at the Yale Law School at the end of his
term as President in 1913. My father was greatly impressed by this and
also by the fact that I was giving up a salary of $1800 for nine months
work, much of which would be applied to my bank loans on which he was
In the fall of 1914 I went to Indianapolis and accepted a clerkship in
the office of Whitcomb, Dowden and Stout at $50 a month. That firm passed
on the title of real estate on which the Prudential Insurance Company
were making mortgage loans. I did much of this work and also assisted
the senior partner in trial work. After about a year I joined up with
Carl Wyle and Charles Jewett (a former Mayor of Indianapolis), in the
firm of Wyle, Jewett and Ewing. The inclusion in the firm name of my own
was not because I was a partner. I was really on my own. I just had a
desk in the office and got what business I could, which was not much.
FUCHS: What year did you marry, sir?
EWING: I was married to Helen E. Dennis on November 4, 1915. Her home
was in Morristown, New Jersey and she was a sister of a classmate at Harvard.
Of course, Mrs. Ewing's father had to help us out financially at first.
He was a director of the Pennsylvania Lines West of Pittsburgh. About
a year after Helen and I were married I was offered the position of Assistant
Counsel of the Vandalia Railroad Company, a subsidiary of the Pennsylvania
Lines West of Pittsburgh. My salary was to be $3600 a year. This meant
moving to St. Louis which we did in the spring of '16. We remained in
St. Louis for about a year when I was made Assistant Counsel of the Pennsylvania
Lines West of Pittsburgh and moved to Pittsburgh. About this time World
War I began and I again got restless, feeling that I ought to get into
the service. By that time I had a wife and a child, but nevertheless I
wanted to get into uniform, and Helen encouraged me to do it. So I went
into the Army. I was given a First Lieutenant's commission and was made
a Contracting Officer of Aircraft Production. Later I was promoted to
the rank of Captain. Another Captain and I were the two officers who made
most of the contracts for American aircraft in World War I.
FUCHS: Where were you stationed?
EWING: In Washington.
FUCHS: What building were you in at that time, do you recall?
EWING: Yes. The building is still standing. It is one of those little
temporary buildings designated by the letter "D". Even after I was Federal
Security Administrator that building was standing right across from the
Federal Security Agency's building. One of the columnists said that he
knew that I was a "red" because the only three old World War I buildings
still standing near our building were building "R", building "E" and building
FUCHS: But they did tear down some more of those tempos, didn't they?
EWING: Oh, yes.
FUCHS: I believe I saw some place that you wanted to go into welfare
work at one time.
EWING: Yes, that was when I was in St. Louis. Well, first I got a taste
of it in Indianapolis. When I was living
there I became a voluntary probation
officer of the Juvenile Court and that taught me a lot. The first boy
that was assigned to me was a bright kid from a good family. His father
was an engineer on one of the railroads and his mother was a very nice
person. He had stolen a bicycle. It had just been a boy's prank and he
was soon straightened out. The second boy was a rather overgrown young
man. I suppose he was sixteen or seventeen. He was overgrown, had adenoids
and just wasn't too bright. He lived in a very poor house. His mother
was slovenly, "rushed the growler," if you know what I mean by that.