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
May 2, 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 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 July 1971
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
Oscar R. Ewing
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
May 2, 1969
by J. R. Fuchs
FUCHS: Mr. Ewing, I thought that we would go ahead with a few more matters concerning your administration of the Federal Security Agency and might start by asking about an attack on you by Representative Daniel A. Reed, a Republican from New York who, I believe, demanded that Mr. Truman recall you from a London Health Conference. Do you recall anything about that, sir?
EWING: Yes, I had gone to England and a number of other places in Europe to get firsthand information about how their health services were functioning and how well they were succeeding. In London I learned that the Medical Society of Muncie, Indiana had been sending money to a group over there that was opposing the British health service. At a press conference I was asked questions about it and I said that I thought it was no business of the Medical Society in Muncie, Indiana to be taking sides on the medical problems of Britain. That apparently stirred up some controversy. Lord Horder, who was the physician to King George VI, who was on the throne at that time, got into the controversy
in some way. I don't recall the details because the incident wasn't very important. After I returned home I learned that Representative Reed had demanded my recall but I don't think I even knew of it until I got back home.
FUCHS: What year was that, sir?
EWING: I think that was late in '48 or early in '49.
FUCHS: I see. The Social Security Act of 1950 was generally accorded to have been one major Fair Deal accomplishment, and I believe you appeared as a witness before committee hearings in regard to that. Do you recall anything of that situation?
EWING: That was the bill where we were able to get Social Security benefits extended to people who were permanently and totally disabled. That was something that was very much needed. If a man died who was sixty-five or over leaving surviving dependents, those dependents would get certain benefits. But if he were twenty-five and became permanently and totally disabled there were no benefits payable to him or to his dependents, yet the man was economically dead, just as much as if he had been buried
in the ground. We felt the law should be amended so that people who became totally and permanently disabled could draw benefits, and if they died their dependents should get certain benefits, too.
FUCHS: I believe that the state relief boards were against this rather strongly. Do you recall anything of that and how did you overcome this opposition?
EWING: I don't recall.
FUCHS: In 1948 you worked out an agreement, I believe, in which Gallinger Hospital in Washington, the municipal hospital, would be open to Negro doctors and that they would be accepted for residency or internship. Do you recall anything about how this came about? And the implementation of it?
EWING: Oh, yes. At that time there were only two Negro medical schools in the United States, one of which was Howard University in Washington and that was within the bailiwick of the Federal Security Agency. Shortly after I became Administrator, it was brought to my attention rather vividly that there was a great shortage of doctors in the United States and a necessity to find
ways and means to get more of them. But I was particularly concerned when I learned that there was really an acute shortage of Negro doctors. There were various counties in the South where there was not a single Negro doctor and on the whole Negroes got short shrift from the white doctors. For instance, examples were given me where Negro workmen would go to a doctor for a shot of some kind and the doctor would give him the shot right through his work overalls.
I conferred with Dr. Mordecai Johnson, the president of Howard University, and also with the dean of the medical school at Howard to find out if there was anything that we might do to increase the output of Negro doctors by Howard University. Dr. Johnson told me that the output of graduate doctors of Howard Medical School was severely limited by a rule of the American Medical Association, that required a medical school to have a certain number of clinical hospital beds for each student. He said that in Washington the only teaching hospital for Howard medical students was Freedman's Hospital, which was also under my jurisdiction. It wasn't a large hospital so the result was that Howard Medical School could only educate the number of students for which Freedman's Hospital
could supply the required number of clinical beds. Dr. Johnson added that in Gallinger Hospital, the great municipal hospital in the District of Columbia, the teaching privileges were only given to Georgetown University Medical School and the George Washington Medical School. Gallinger did not extend teaching privileges to Howard professors. Well, I thought that was something I might do something about. So, I first got in touch with the commissioners of the District of Columbia. They were the governing body of the city, and they recognized the problem but seemed reluctant to do anything unless I could get the two universities, that is George Washington and Georgetown Medical Schools, to agree to some change. I then discussed the problem with the presidents of the two universities. I got the most cordial cooperation from both of them and also from the dean of the medical school of George Washington, but the dean of Georgetown was very much opposed to allowing Howard medical professors having teaching privileges in Gallinger.
EWING: No, they weren't internships. It was a question of
whether or not Howard professors could take their students into Gallinger and the patients there could be used for clinical teaching.
FUCHS: Was not the privilege of interning there also involved?
EWING: It was. It was involved but it was more important to get this privilege for medical professors at Howard University to take their students into the hospital in order to have clinical cases to show their students. It's an essential part of teaching in a medical school. And, as I say, the dean of Georgetown was very much opposed to it.
EWING: He just didn't want Negroes in the school, it was a pure racist attitude.
FUCHS: In the hospital?
EWING: Yes, I mean in the hospital. So, I went back to Father Guthrie, the President of Georgetown, and had no trouble whatsoever with him. I simply said, "Father, this is a religious medical school. It is a medical
school run by a church. The dean of your medical school is opposed to allowing Howard professors bringing their medical students into Gallinger Hospital for teaching purposes. I just don't see how a Christian organization can take that position."
"Well," he said, "I don't either." And he straightened that out in no time so the Howard University Medical School was given the teaching privileges.
There was also a question of how the patients would be assigned. The dean of the Georgetown Medical School argued that no white patient would consent to having a Negro doctor. I took the position that that was up to the patient, and not up to the dean of the medical school to decide in advance that the patient wouldn't want a Negro doctor. I asked what system they were then using in assigning patients between Georgetown and George Washington Medical Schools. I was told that number one was assigned to George Washington, number two to Georgetown and so on, alternately.
"Well," I said, "why don't you just include Howard as number three?"
That was finally agreed to and they had no trouble. I learned afterwards that there were a few white patients
who did not want a Negro doctor and some Negro patients who didn't want a white doctor. And it balanced out all right. So, it's been a great help to Howard University. I think they were able to increase their graduating class from seventy-five to a hundred. That figure sticks in my mind, but it could be something different.
FUCHS: Now, do you know that Negro interns were accepted in 1948 at Gallinger Hospital?
EWING: When you pin it down to 1948, I would say no, for the simple reason that even after Howard got this right to take their medical students into Gallinger, Howard made a very cautious approach. They started by taking over services only in subjects where they had really topnotch teachers. There were a few areas, I don't remember what they were, I just say pediatrics for example, I don't know that that was it, where they would be weak and they didn't take on that service until they got their own house in order and had a strong faculty in the particular subject. I'm not sure just at what point they began taking interns but it did come I'm sure.