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Mrs. Walter (Shirley Key) Hehmeyer Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Mrs. Walter (Shirley Key) Hehmeyer

Former receptionist for the Truman Committee and secretary to Associate Chief Counsel Charles Patrick Clark and later secretary to Chief Counsel Hugh Fulton, 1941-43.

Memphis, Tennessee
April 16, 1969
by J. R. Fuchs

[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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 December, 1970
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

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

 



Oral History Interview with
Mrs. Walter (Shirley Key) Hehmeyer

 

Memphis, Tennessee
April 16, 1969
by J. R. Fuchs

[1]

FUCHS: Mrs. Hehmeyer, I wonder if you would start out by telling a little of your background. You might give us your maiden name and any other particulars. I don't want to ask you for your age, but where you were born, I guess would be all right. We'd like your age.

HEHMEYER: Well, I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, and I was the seventh person hired on the Truman Committee. There was just Charles Patrick Clark, and Matt Connelly, and Peter Ansberry, and I'm trying to think of -- it was such a small staff.

[2]

A girl named Marge Ebey was the other secretary. And I was hired as Charlie Clark's receptionist and secretary to work in room 317. The only other room the Committee had at that point was downstairs in the basement of the Old Senate Office Building.

FUCHS: How did you happen to come to be in Washington?

HEHMEYER: I lived in Washington, I moved to Washington when I was twelve years old and I grew up in Washington. I went to Western High School in Georgetown, and then I went to George Washington University, and then I went to Temple Business School. And after I had been to business school I had a job in the Interior Department, and one day Marge Ebey called me on the phone and asked me if I would be interested in coming down to work for a committee that was just being formed in the Senate under the direction of Senator Truman and that's how I heard about the job.

[3]

FUCHS: How did you happen to know Marge Ebey?

HEHMEYER: She was just a friend of mine I had known in high school.

FUCHS: I see.

HEHMEYER: She has since remarried and I don't know her name now. I went down and talked to Mr. Clark and he hired me and that started the big adventure of the Truman Committee. Of course, Hugh Fulton was there at that time as the Chief Counsel. I didn't meet him for awhile, because he was out of town when I first arrived. My main job was to greet people when they came in and take them around the Senate Office Building and show them how to get to the different offices. Take them to Senator Truman's office. Then the stenographic pool grew to be quite large, I guess there must have been twenty-five girls; and eventually I was put in charge of

[4]

the stenographic staff. And after I had had that job for, oh, perhaps nine months, Mr. Hugh Fulton came down one day and asked me if I would be interested in becoming his secretary, and I very much was, and took that job. And that was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. I couldn't have done it without the girl that worked in the office with me, her name was Marion Toomey. Her father had been a law professor at Georgetown University and Marion herself was a lawyer, which was very unusual at that time because there weren't as many girls going to law school then as there are now. Marion was an enormous help to me. I took shorthand but I had no confidence that I could do Hugh Fulton's work, because he had had a legal secretary working for him that had come to Washington with him from Cravath, deGersdoff, Swain, and Wood, a law firm in New York.

[5]

FUCHS: Who was that?

HEHMEYER: I don't recall her name. His office, incidentally, was up on the fourth floor and I just didn't have the occasion to go up there to talk to her too much. I just didn't know her too well.

FUCHS: And you took her place?

HEHMEYER: I took her place.

FUCHS: Why did she leave?

HEHMEYER: I think that she went back to New York City. As I recall that's the reason that she went back. But Marion, instead of taking straight shorthand, worked a stenotype machine. So, the first few weeks I was there when Mr. Fulton would dictate, Marion -- his office was just one large room and our section of the office was separated from his section with bookcases. They were rather tall,

[6]

five and a half feet I'd say -- but Marion would sit on the other side of these bookcases and take in stenotype what I was taking in shorthand, which was very kind of her; so that when Hugh Fulton stopped I would race out there and transcribe and Marion could then check my work with what she had taken. I don't know if you could find another friend like that anymore.

FUCHS: Did Hugh Fulton know what you were doing?

HEHMEYER: No, never. Never.

FUCHS: She was then in part a secretary and in part a staff investigator?

HEHMEYER: Yes, she was, and a lovely girl. She married and has several children and I -- unfortunately this all came up so suddenly I don't have time to -- I just can't recall her married name. But she was a fine person. Of course, as the weeks went on

[7]

I became more confident and she didn’t have to help me so much. A lot of it was lack of confidence.

FUCHS: What was your name then?

HEHMEYER: Shirley Key.

FUCHS: Now Miss Toomey was on the staff from May '41 to October '44, according to our records. Do you recall any particular investigations that she served on?

HEHMEYER: No, I don't. I was just a legal secretary and a secretary to Mr. Hugh Fulton, and also still a receptionist. A lot of people came to room 449 before they would go down to the hearing room -- to the caucus room. And I would receive them and, again, if they wanted a cup of coffee, take them to the Senate restaurant and see that they were made comfortable and put at ease before they went before the Truman Committee hearings.

[8]

FUCHS: Who were some of the people that you...

HEHMEYER: Well, I recall one interesting case was with Henry J. Kaiser. He had come in the office and sat there very nicely and quietly, and I finally said, "Well, I'm sure Mr. Fulton will be ready to see you shortly, but would you put your name on this card and I'll take it in to him." Again, just around the bookcase I would show him a card so that he could hurry up whatever interview he was engaged in. So he wrote his name on this card "Henry J. Kaiser." I thought that was so funny. He had been so nice about waiting. But there were many others. There was Forrestal, from the Navy and there was Mr. Andrew Higgins from New Orleans, the shipbuilder, and -- I can't recall that -- anyone that was going before the Truman Committee usually came to these rooms first, just for a short briefing and to put them at ease.

FUCHS: This was his procedure to generally talk with

[9]

those who were going to be...

HEHMEYER: I can't say that they always came, but I think that as a general procedure they did, just as an introduction; of course, not always, but a lot of times they did.

FUCHS: Did many of the other Committee members, Senators come into Fulton's office?

HEHMEYER: Yes, they did. Oh, I remember so well, Senator [Mon C.] Wallgren would come in. He was such a nice Senator from the State of Washington. Senator [James M.] Mead would come in and Senator Tom Connally would wander in every now and then; and, of course, Senator Truman didn't come in too often because Hugh Fulton would go to his office, they were on the phone all the time. Senator Truman was always so polite on the phone. Never demanding and very courteous always. I'm trying to think of some of the other Senators -- Senator [Harley M.]

[10]

Kilgore would come in and out, from West Virginia.

FUCHS: Do you recall anything in particular -- any anecdotes about any of these Senators?

HEHMEYER: No, not really. The whole atmosphere was one of -- well, it was a very serious committee because they were investigating the war effort, but I was very young at the time so that I didn't recognize all the seriousness of it, and instead it took on a very glamorous atmosphere. I thought being around all of these glamorous people was exciting and it was, because they were powerful people that you would read about them quoted in the newspaper every day and then they would wander in and out of the office. And then, also, it was a tremendously stimulating experience to work for Hugh Fulton because he was a very smart man. At the time I thought he was an old man and I think that he was thirty-five or thirty-six. And -- but he would come to the office

[11]

at -- sometimes 4 o'clock in the morning, and often at five, and never later than seven. He was a very early riser and worker.

FUCHS: What were your hours?

HEHMEYER: Oh, Marion and I got there, as I recall we got there at 8:30 and stayed until 5:00. I think that's correct.

FUCHS: So he was generally there when you got there.

HEHMEYER: Oh, always.

FUCHS: I see.

HEHMEYER: He worked very early in the morning and then he worked late hours in the evening. He was an extremely hard worker. He took time off on the weekends; I know someone once questioned about the fact that he would leave sometimes on Thursday to go to New Jersey where he had his farm in Flemington.

[12]

But he had to have some time with Mrs. Fulton and he said that he couldn't see that -- he wasn't one to go from 8:30 to 5:00 and say that the job had to be done from 8:30 to 5:00. If he wanted to do it at 4:30 in the morning, he would do it then and take off what time he felt that it was necessary to spend with Mrs. Fulton. I often had the feeling that she wasn't happy in Washington because the Committee took so much of his time, and then all of the Washington social life -- Jessie was a retiring person and shy, and she loved their farm in Flemington and loved all their friends. She was very hospitable to all of the people on the Truman Committee and entertained them many times, but she just never really seemed happy in Washington. She and Hugh Fulton were on the campaign with Truman and Mrs. Truman in 1948, I guess it was. She was very unhappy then.

FUCHS: Who was?

[13]

HEHMEYER: Mrs. Fulton.

FUCHS: '48 presidential or the '44 vice-presidential campaign?

HEHMEYER: Well, I'm not real clear, maybe it was the 1944 vice-presidential campaign, perhaps that was it. I believe -- that probably was, but she came back very unhappy because she felt -- sometimes she felt that maybe Hugh was being used, his -- that he wasn't being recognized for the brain that he was. She was very loyal to him. But this is something that happens in Washington over and over and over and I'm sure the more sophisticated people are the more they adjust to it, and now through the years the wives have become more educated to what Washington is all about and I don't imagine they have these feelings.

FUCHS: Where did they live in Washington?

[14]

HEHMEYER: They lived in an apartment on Sixteenth Street. I've forgotten the exact address. It was a small apartment, it was a lovely apartment. Jessie had exquisite taste and their farm she had decorated so beautifully.

FUCHS: You visited the farm?

HEHMEYER: Yes, oh yes. They entertained so many of us, they'd have us up there for the weekend. They had no children so they were very generous about -- they had built a home on that farm, I guess in about 1936 or '37. Apparently it was a lovely home and it burned and it burned to the ground because they only had a volunteer fire department in Flemington, New Jersey. And when the fire department arrived they didn't have any of the facilities to put the fire out. After the house burned to the ground, Jessie and Hugh were two very crestfallen people. We didn't know them then,

[15]

but we -- they told us about it. Well, sort of as a present to Jessie, Hugh decided that the foundation of that home could be used to make a lovely swimming pool. So when he first came to work for the Truman Committee he was engaged in this process of having, over the distance by mail and by telephone, and the telephone service to Flemington was just terrible, getting this pool built. And finally they did and, again, in 1941, there weren't too many people with private swimming pools. Do you think? I don't think so.

FUCHS: No, I doubt if there were.

HEHMEYER: There weren't many in Washington, particularly in a remote area. Of course, Flemington, New Jersey is not far from Bucks County; it's beautiful country. So, Hugh thought to make Jessie happy they would start rebuilding the farm. And this is what they did, and she threw her whole heart

[16]

into this.

Yesterday morning on television there was a -- or maybe it was this morning, pictures of the needlework that Mary Martin had done and that Mrs. Richard Rogers had done, and a lot of other famous ladies. Well, Jessie Fulton was doing this back in 1941 and all through the war years she did needlework and crewel work. Beautiful knitting and hand work of all kinds, she made beautiful draperies. She was interested in these things, and when she traveled to Europe she always came back with interesting pieces of material you know and different things of this sort. She was very artistic and very talented. And when she was in Washington again she would make herself busy with these sort of things. But the social side of Washington was totally unappealing to her.

FUCHS: Where was she from originally, now?

[17]

HEHMEYER: She was from New York. She was from Staten Island.

FUCHS: Staten Island.

HEHMEYER: Yes, and grew up there. And Hugh Fulton was from the state of Michigan I believe.

FUCHS: They met in New York?

HEHMEYER: They met in Staten Island, As I recall, she said that when he went to work for the law firm that I mentioned before -- it's such a long name -- Cravath I'll call it, he rented a room from them and that's how they met, and then they got married and were a very close couple.

FUCHS: Is she still living?

HEHMEYER: Yes she is. And I heard from Jessie up until just about three years ago and then we sort of lost touch. At that time she was having pictures taken so that she could sell their place

[18]

in Flemington and perhaps they did, I just don't know, But Hugh Fulton hi