Oral History Interview with
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened June, 1983
November 9, 1982
by Niel Johnson
JOHNSON: I want to begin, Mr. Kayle, by asking you when and where you were born, and what your parents' names were.
KAYLE: I was born in Utica, New York on July 17, 1922. My mother was Emma Wineburgh Kowalsky, and my father was Harry S. Kowalsky.
JOHNSON: That is Polish?
KAYLE: No, that's a Jewish name; it's not Polish. My parents were Russian Jews.
JOHNSON: What schools did you attend?
KAYLE: I went to public schools in Utica, New York.
That led to my going to Hamilton College for my undergraduate degree, since the college was about 12 miles from Utica, and I had a scholarship there.
JOHNSON: So you graduated from high school in Utica?
KAYLE: In 1939; the Utica Free Academy. Then I started at Hamilton in the fall of 1939.
JOHNSON: But the Free Academy was the public...
KAYLE: Yes, it was the public high school in Utica.
JOHNSON: How big a city is Utica?
KAYLE: Well, Utica is about 90 to 100 thousand. It's probably one of the few cities today that's losing population all the while. It was a knitting mill city and lost a lot of the industry to the South.
JOHNSON: Could I ask you what your father's occupation was?
KAYLE: Yes, my father at his death was an insurance salesman. Prior to that he had been in a number
of businesses, including the scrap iron and steel business, where he was very successful, but he lost a great deal of his wealth before he died. He died at a young age; he was just 49 and I was about 14 years old. He died in 1937.
JOHNSON: You lived through a good part of the Depression, didn't you?
KAYLE: Yes. I was too young to remember the good years, but I would say that in the bulk of my time with my parents we weren't poor. However, money was not easily available, and I remember working on weekends and doing things of that nature to get my own allowance money, pretty early in the game.
JOHNSON: Did you commute from home to college?
KAYLE: In my first semester at Hamilton College I commuted. They made an exception for me because my father had died, and my mother was not well; she was ill. I really had to be home with my sister to take care of my mother. So the college
stretched their rules. It was a small liberal arts college -- there were about 450 students in the whole college -- and they stressed life on campus. But they made that exception for me for a half year. I lived on campus for the balance of 3 ½ years.
JOHNSON: So that allowed you to take more of a part in extracurricular activities?
KAYLE: Oh yes. It's a great school. Also, it was a wealthy school and if you wanted to get work you could find it. There's a direct correlation between Hamilton College, and my experience and what happened there, and my later career. I can almost trace a path directly to the job on the White House staff.
JOHNSON: Well, we want to be sure and get to that. How about your experience of the Depression? Did that have something to do with it?
KAYLE: Well, no. I would say that my experience
required me to be "on my own" from an early age. When I went to school it was up to me to get the most out of my education, and, indeed, to see that my education would be available. Then there was my subsequent time in service, and in law school on the G1 bill of rights. I think I had to work so hard to get my formal education that it gave me an attitude about life which made a great deal of sense in my ending up on Truman's staff.
Again some things happened on the way which are interesting about that point, and how things have changed from my day on Truman's staff and what's happening in Washington today. But my attitude about what was worthwhile in life was conditioned by my having had to "get where I got" on my own, so to speak.
JOHNSON: Was your father involved at all with local politics?
JOHNSON: What was his attitude towards President Roosevelt?
KAYLE: Well, you know, that's interesting. I hadn't thought much about that. I don't have any definite impressions, other than to know that we were a part of that class that felt the Depression very much and we had to be oriented towards a liberal philosophy. But politics was not discussed a great deal in my home. I wouldn't say that my family influenced me that much on politics. It's interesting; when the family had money, in the scrap iron and steel business, I would say because they had money, they were probably Republicans in their attitude --that is the moneyed part of the family. Even when my dad had money I imagine he probably felt that the Republican Party was where the moneyed people ought to be going.
JOHNSON: Hamilton College -- was that more or less Republican?
KAYLE: Oh yes, a bastion of conservatism, no question about it.
JOHNSON: So you didn't learn liberalism necessarily at Hamilton?
KAYLE: Not necessarily at Hamilton. However, it is a liberal school in terms of its faculty selection. I can think of a couple of professors who were helpful in giving me a broad approach to things; there was no provincial attitude imposed by the school. Michael Halperin was an international figure in economics and Michael gave me the feeling that there was a lot more in the world than what I knew in Utica. Tom LeDuc, my history professor, who's been out to the Library here and is at Oberlin now, also was helpful in giving me a much broader viewpoint. I knew from Hamilton that my eventual career would not be spent in Utica, or in the local scene. I aspired to do something more.
JOHNSON: What was your major at Hamilton?
KAYLE: Political science and economics. It was interesting. My first year I started out as a pre-dental student. Why? Because I had one uncle who was a professional man, a dentist, in Chicago. Actually he didn't encourage me to go into dentistry. I don't think he was happy with it, but he was "Uncle Doc" Sam. But after the difficulties I had with chemistry and biology in maintaining an A average, since I knew I had to do as well as I could, I didn't like it. I had to work too hard at it. But I loved debating. Public speaking was a great thing at Hamilton. I was on the debating team, et cetera, and I was at home in history and political science and economics. So I became pre-law. I never regretted that because that's where my talents lay.
JOHNSON: Did they have political clubs?
KAYLE: Not political clubs, but we did have mock
assemblies. I remember going to a number of other campuses. The United Nations was not in being then, you know, but there were the League of Nations concepts and training in terms of international cooperative efforts. I was very active in that. Politics -- not really. We didn't have political clubs because I was in a haven of conservatism. And as a scholarship student and as one working his way through, in my day you were just damn glad to be there. You weren't about to rock any boats.
JOHNSON: But there was an international mindfulness, at least among the faculty...
JOHNSON: ...and some of the students, especially in the political science and history majors, suppose.
KAYLE: Absolutely. I mean good free thinking, but not a great deal of good liberal thinking.
JOHNSON: At least they were anti-isolationists?
KAYLE: Oh, yes, definitely. That's true. I have warm feelings about Hamilton. I just finished a four-year term as a member of the Board of Trustees, which to me was a most gratifying experience. And I am still very close to the college. I think of the fact that I could start as a commuter, on a scholarship, and being Jewish -- which was not easy from a social standpoint -- and finally to be on the Board. Incidentally, on that whole social problem of being Jewish, it was like having a "yellow ticket." You weren't invited into the fraternities which were key elements in campus life. I became the president of a number of student organizations, and I was Phi Beta Kappa my junior year, so I had a record they would like to have associated with a member of the fraternities. But at that point I would not have considered joining a fraternity, were I to be asked. The point that I want to make is that after the
war, that whole framework changed, and the anti-Semitism, which still does exist, I suppose, to some extent is no longer a major factor. A couple of the Jewish kids are presidents of their fraternitie