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Perry R. Hardin Oral History Interview

 

Oral History Interview with
Perry R. Hardin

 

Clerk in the file room of the White House, 1945-1952.

Independence, Missouri
May 8, 1991
by Niel M. Johnson

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]

 


Notice
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.

RESTRICTIONS
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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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, 1992
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]

 



Oral History Interview with
Perry R. Hardin

 

Independence, Missouri
May 8, 1991
by Niel M. Johnson

 

[1]

JOHNSON: Mr. Hardin, I'm going to start out just by asking you where and when you were born, who your parents are.

HARDIN: I was born on March 4, 1928 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. My mother's name was Adelle Hardin, and my father's name was Lafayette Hampton Hardin.

JOHNSON: Do you have any brothers and sisters?

HARDIN: I had four older brothers and three older sisters.

JOHNSON: You're the youngest.

HARDIN: I am the youngest in the family.

JOHNSON: I've said this before, but it seems like I've been interviewing the youngest son or daughter more often than not.

 

[2]

HARDIN: I have one brother who is living and I have two sisters who are living.

JOHNSON: So you were educated in Tuscaloosa?

HARDIN: Educated in high school in Tuscaloosa. I finished high school just as I had turned 16 years of age. I went to two summer schools so I could finish high school earlier, and that was during World War II. At that time the high school was really an eleven year school. So I finished high school in ten years by way of going to summer school two years. I had a sister working in Washington, D.C. at the time.

JOHNSON: What year are we talking about?

HARDIN: This is in 1944 that I graduated from high school. I had visited my sister in Washington, D.C. when I was in junior high school and it was my desire to come back and work in Washington, D.C., and take all the Civil Service examinations, or something I thought I could pass.

So, when I graduated from high school in May of '44 I immediately got on a train and headed out for Washington in June of '44. Arriving in Washington, I took several examinations for Civil Service work. Clerical was my highest score; I believe I scored 94 or 98, something in that range, and I chose to apply as a

 

[3]

Civil Service clerk. The Secretary of Agriculture's department employed me. That was my first job with Civil Service.

I was employed there in the Secretary's file room for six months, from June until December of '44.

JOHNSON: Was that [Claude] Wickard who was Secretary of Agriculture at that point?

HARDIN: I think he was the Secretary of Agriculture at that time; I'm not positive. I would have to look that up. My supervisor called me into his office one day and said they had an opening in the White House for a file clerk. He said that he would like to recommend me to be detailed to the White House, if I was interested. Of course, my eyes probably got large as saucers. And it meant a grade promotion all the way up to Grade 3 -- probably around $1,200 or $1,400 a year.

So I was detailed to the White House in January, around January 3 of '45, if I remember correctly. When you got on detail to the White House, they keep you on, I guess, a certain amount of probation period. They've got to decide if they want to keep you or not, or send you back to the agency that you came from. So, they picked me up on the White House payroll probably after six months, to the best of my recollection.

JOHNSON: On detail for six months.

 

[4]

HARDIN: That's right, and then they considered that I was no longer detailed to the White House. After the probation period, I was transferred to the White House payroll.

JOHNSON: Who did you report to when you came to the White House for the first time?

HARDIN: My supervisor was Joseph Nash, but, of course, the executive clerk was William Hopkins. Mr. [Clarence E.] Ingling interviewed me for employment in the file room, and then Mr. Joseph Nash interviewed me for employment in the file room. They accepted me, and training began at that time in January of '45. Now, Franklin Roosevelt was President at this time, because his last inauguration, I think, was January 20 of '45, on the South Portico of the White House. He did not go to the Capitol Building for his last inauguration.

JOHNSON: You had already been detailed, right?

HARDIN: I was there.

JOHNSON: What was the date that you were detailed to the White House?

HARDIN: I think it was January 3 of '45, and President Roosevelt was inaugurated January 20, '45. We all witnessed the inauguration from the grounds, the south

 

[5]

grounds of the White House. That's where he and Vice President Truman took their oaths.

JOHNSON: Was that the first time you saw Harry Truman?

HARDIN: The first time I ever remember seeing him and the first time that I remember seeing President Roosevelt. Roosevelt at that time was very ill. I'm not positive, but I think it was Chief Justice [Harlan F.] Stone who administered the oath of office.

JOHNSON: That's right.

HARDIN: President Roosevelt was so ill at the time that I remember that they had to literally pick him up, pick his chair up, to face the Justice for his oath of office. He was very ill.

JOHNSON: Where were you standing, do you remember?

HARDIN: I was standing down on the grounds along with everyone else, on the south grounds.

JOHNSON: Were all of you White House people grouped together in the same group?

HARDIN: Right. The staff was grouped together. They issued invitations for different groups to be in different locations on the south grounds. I was assigned to the staff group. But we did have a very

 

[6]

good vantage point for the inauguration, because this was not an inauguration of a President as we know it today.

JOHNSON: Right.

HARDIN: Due to President Roosevelt's illness, I'm sure. And possibly the war going on had something to do with it.

JOHNSON: Yes, that was one of the reasons they cited for that. It's a memorable experience seeing that. And then you had to go back to work. Or did they give you the day off?

HARDIN: That was a holiday. We did not work, that's right. At that time when I was first employed I had to make several trips over to the East Executive Office, and I had to go by what was then a swimming pool, indoor pool. It had louvered shutters along the walkway there, and I recall I heard some splashing going on. I stopped and peeped through the little shutters there, and all of a sudden I heard this voice behind me say, "Hey boy, move on." I looked around, and I found out that was a Secret Service agent who was standing somewhere in the vicinity of the Rose Garden. It was President Roosevelt who was in the pool at the time.

JOHNSON: You see on this layout, here's a swimming pool.

 

[7]

This is attached to the West Wing. It shows it here, I guess, on the first floor.

HARDIN: Yes, it was right on the first floor. The President's office was over in here. And here's the walkway right here.

JOHNSON: Yes, there's the Portico.

HARDIN: And I was coming from over here, from the elevator . . .

JOHNSON: You were coming from the west side.

HARDIN: Took the elevator up to the first -- the ground level -- and was walking across ground level.

JOHNSON: So you were walking east there.

HARDIN: Right.

JOHNSON: Past the pool.

HARDIN: Really, my business on the east side at that time was just to have some further paper work accomplished, as the best I recall.

JOHNSON: Where was it that they first stationed you in the White House. Where was your work area? Here's Hassett's office, down here in the corner, in that southwest corner of the West Wing, first floor. But

 

[8]

were you in the basement, did you say?

HARDIN: I was in the basement.

JOHNSON: You said you were under the Oval Office?

HARDIN: Well, approximately under the Oval Office.

JOHNSON: Now, the Oval Office was over here.

HARDIN: No, it would be under this area here.

JOHNSON: Under [Matthew] Connelly's office perhaps?

HARDIN: Right. Perhaps right here.

JOHNSON: Now, here's the Chief Clerk.

HARDIN: Hopkins was upstairs.

JOHNSON: He was right above you then?

HARDIN: This is on ground level here; we were under the ground level.

JOHNSON: Right.

HARDIN: We entered our office from the West Executive Avenue.

JOHNSON: That west entrance.

HARDIN: West Executive Avenue entrance. We stepped down a few steps after going in there. My office was

 

[9]

approximately in this location.

JOHNSON: Right under the Appointment's Secretary, under Connelly's office.

HARDIN: Right.

JOHNSON: That was a file room?

HARDIN: That was a file room from here up to here.

JOHNSON: Okay, under the Fish Room.

HARDIN: The messengers had a room, and duplicating rooms were over here on that same level that we were on.

JOHNSON: Down below in the basement.

HARDIN: Down below in the basement.

JOHNSON: That would be toward the west side there.

HARDIN: That is correct.

JOHNSON: Okay, you can keep that as a souvenir, and you might just keep that handy.

HARDIN: Thank you. I do not have a floor plan.

JOHNSON: This was in Life magazine, in the December 13, 1948, issue. Well, perhaps I should keep one handy here too for reference. Okay, so that's where you started work. Would you just briefly describe what

 

[10]

kind of duties you had? What were your responsibilities there?

HARDIN: Well, my first job was in the alphabetical files; any information that was cross-indexed, it would be underscored and then we would have to file it under that. If they were writing about apples, they would underscore the word "apple." Then make a copy for the name, and any topic they were speaking about.

JOHNSON: Did they call it the White House Central Files? Is that a term they used at the time? White House Central Files?

HARDIN: I believe that's correct.

JOHNSON: This would have been the General File, what we call the General File now?

HARDIN: The General File, alphabetical by name.

JOHNSON: And then sometimes by subject, but mainly by name.

HARDIN: Now, they made a record, the clerks, the clerk-typists in the office that I was in; they would record the topic or the name and then they would mimeograph a certain number of copies and we would file them. If they wanted any information about apples, and if someone had written in about apples, we'd look up apples. If we had the person's name, and if they said

 

[11]

they had written to the President before, then they would look up the name; of course, starting with the name first. But we did have subject matter involved with that too.

JOHNSON: I notice in that file that sometimes they would abstract, or summarize, the content of the letter.

HARDIN: Right. They would summarize that.

JOHNSON: And then they'd say the letter went to the War Department or State Department, or wherever.

HARDIN: Right, and then they would reply to the person writing the letter, telling them they were referring this letter to the War Department or Agriculture Department, depending on what the subject matter was.

JOHNSON: A record would be there in that General File, alphabetical file. Do you remember who did some of that abstracting, some of the summarizing of those letters? Do you have any idea who was doing that?

HARDIN: Miss [Edna] Rosenberg was in charge of the people who were doing the abstract work for the alphabetical files.

JOHNSON: All the mail that came to the White House came first to this file room, is that right?

 

[12]

HARDIN: To the mail room.

JOHNSON: To the mail room. All right, then who would start the sorting of it?

HARDIN: The mail clerks in the mail room would do that sorting and decide where it should go from that point.

JOHNSON: When you say where it should go, you're talking about . . .

HARDIN: Within the office.

JOHNSON: Oh, you mean within the mail room?

HARDIN: Within the file room. The mail clerks would make the determination of what to do with the correspondence first.

JOHNSON: For instance, what if it was something that was to go to the President's Personal File, or to the Official File, or even to the President's Secretary's Files -- that is what apparently went to Rose Conway, and she handled it personally. You're aware of the President's Secretary's Files [PSF], that went to Rose Conway and she put that in a special area?

HARDIN: Right, the President's Personal File, which we called PPF.

JOHNSON: But that was part of the White House Central

 

[13]

Files, and the PSF was not considered part of the White House Central Files.

HARDIN: That's right. Not everyone had access to personal mail. That decision was made by, I think, Rose Conway. But I do not know that. All I know is what I received later. She had to have made the determination what to release to us and what not to release to us.

JOHNSON: But somebody down in the mail room, if they were getting all the mail there, they would have to decide whether to open it, or . . .

HARDIN: They would have routed it . . .

JOHNSON: Would they open up every piece o