Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the Louchheim oral history interview.
Opened January, 1975
Oral History Interview with
September 27, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess
LOUCHHEIM: This is an up to date biography including the pictures.
HESS: Thank you very much. We will place it in the appendix. All right, to begin this morning, Mrs. Louchheim, what are your earliest recollections of Mr. Truman?
LOUCHHEIM: My earliest recollections quite naturally are through stories in the media, when he was chosen to be Vice President at the last FDR convention, 1944. I was not active in the same sense that I became later in politics. However, I was an avid devotee of politics having come to Washington in the New Deal days. I was also an avid reader of various newspapers and journals. And I was very much interested in
Mr. Truman, but they were not direct recollections.
HESS: Just what did you know about him at the time that he was selected as vice presidential nominee of the Democratic Party in 1944?
LOUCHHEIM: In order to answer this question properly I think we should begin with the unfortunate and misleading aura that surrounded Mr. Truman as the vice presidential nominee in '44. A great many people were led to believe that his selection was what is now often referred to as a very -- well, perhaps the word should be "political," in the worst sense, maneuver on the part of Franklin Roosevelt to get the support that he would need from the regular politicians, the people in those days who were proud to call themselves pros -- the people who were big city leaders. And the best thing I can do at this moment is point to the current -- survivors, shall I say, of this lost breed, and Mayor [Richard J.] Daley comes to mind at once. But they were the people who really controlled the Democratic Party because they could get out a vote. And it was known that Harry Truman was very, very good news to them; which immediately made him very, very
bad news to all the intellectual liberals. Although not as famous at that time as they have become, they were nevertheless a clique, and a very talkative and articulate and literate group. They wrote; they made speeches; they went to dinners; and they spread the gospel that Harry Truman was nothing but a "ward heeler politician." So that...
HESS: Would it be fair to say that the politicians were supporting Mr. Truman and the intellectuals Mr. [Henry A.] Wallace?
LOUCHHEIM: Yes possibly. I'm not sure...
HESS: The intellectuals lost out.
LOUCHHEIM: Yes. I'm not sure when we come to '48 whether that's the way it came out, but that may have been the case in '44. I never knew Henry Wallace. My connections at that time, as I have stated in my political memoir By the Political Sea were strictly limited to membership on a 1940 finance committee. I was very happy to have this opportunity to return to my native New York City; to try to collect some money for Franklin Roosevelt. Subsequently, I did see President Roosevelt at receptions and on the day
of the inaugural luncheon, which was not a very large affair in 1941. Subsequently I never saw him, nor did I have any contact with the White House -- except, as I said they gave large receptions from time to time to which my husband and I were invited. I don't think, therefore, that I ever saw Mr. Truman vis-a-vis until the '48 convention.
HESS: Mr. Truman had been Chairman of the Committee for the Investigation of the National Defense Program that became known, of course, as the Truman Committee during the war. What weight would you place on his handling of that committee to his receiving the nomination in 1944? How instrumental was that?
LOUCHHEIM: I think it was enormously instrumental and very effective in securing the nomination for him. He had received national prominence and conducted himself with great dignity, and more than just ordinary acumen. He was not the sort of person who was handed his questions. He knew spontaneously what he was going to ask his witness as the investigation went along. I must also guard my reactions, because unless I went back into some very incomplete records, which as we
discussed earlier are very unsatisfactory, I would have to say that -- because I was absorbed in a war job, I did very little but read up on the first international effort with which I was connected, namely, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. But I do think Mr. Truman's investigation of the National Defense Program played a large role in his selection. I have never seen anybody who rose, you might say from complete oblivion, from nobody knowing about him to become President of the United States.
HESS: What were your thoughts and impressions when you heard of the death of President Roosevelt?
LOUCHHEIM: I was working in the office in the Dupont Circle Building. I was shocked and all of us were very disturbed. We gathered in little groups. My office was down the hall from the general counsel's office (a man from New York, called Abe [Abraham] Feller, who subsequently went to the UN and had a very bad time and committed suicide). Gathered in Feller's office were a group of so-called liberals, they were wringing their hands and saying now -- what's going to happen to us -- that was the attitude. And I must say that I
doubt whether at that time I was a very independent thinker, I was part of a group of people and it was pretty hard to get away from their line of thought. I was very seldom exposed to any other, and I felt more or less the same way. We were worshipers of the New Deal; we came down with the New Deal. My husband was the thirteenth employee on the roll of the Securities and Exchange Commission. We were so thoroughly mesmerized by the Roosevelt presence -- the legend -- his style.
LOUCHHEIM: That's right.
HESS: I don't know if the word had been coined back then.
LOUCHHEIM: I don't think it had. I think that's a recent...
HESS: That's a "Kennedy" word isn't it?
LOUCHHEIM: Yes. I think he made it popular and well-known. But I feel that was not fair. For instance today we would be staggered if anything would happen to Mr. [Richard M.] Nixon. We're thoroughly familiar with Mr. [Spiro T.] Agnew. We know whether we like him or whether
we don't like him. But we didn't know anything about Mr. Truman -- really. We only knew this unhappy legend that he was a routine political compromise choice in order to get rid of Henry Wallace and to put somebody in who would help the ticket. After all this was the fourth time and Roosevelt needed help.
HESS: What kind of job did you think Mr. Truman would do?
LOUCHHEIM: Well, until the summer of '45 I had no impression of Mr. Truman. Shall we go backwards and forwards quickly? Here we are talking about Roosevelt's death in '44 and I would like...
HESS: That's '45.
HESS: April '45.
LOUCHHEIM: I'm glad you corrected me, '45. Then I would like to project myself to July of '45, when I first saw Mr. Truman climbing the stairs at SHAEF Headquarters in Frankfurt where I was stationed. He was walking along side of General [Dwight D.] Eisenhower. You may recall that I said something about them in my book,
the fiery little man and this very handsome, tall -- rather overwhelming presence of the general in full military regalia. But I got the very strong impression that day that this -- Mr. Truman was a man -- whom no one was ever going to tell what to do, who was going to be very feisty, and his own man, and I was thoroughly -- pleasantly, agreeably surprised.
HESS: All right. And you were a delegate from the District of Columbia to the 1948 Democratic National Convention that was held in Philadelphia. What do you recall of the events? Perhaps we can start with the formation of the delegation.
LOUCHHEIM: The formation of the delegation was due to Joe [Joseph L., Jr.] Rauh. I had been an active participant in voluntary activities at the national level, because the Democratic National Committee was located in Washington. I had never taken an active role in local politics. In fact, I was walking along the street one day when a woman (Helen Fuller) stopped me -- incidentally I read she died yesterday in the paper -- "Are you going to be a delegate?" And I said, "Is there a delegate from the District of Columbia?"
And she said, "Of course there is. Why don't you file?" Well, because of the friendship with Joe Rauh I was asked to file, and I was asked to file by a group of four insurgents, one of whom was Mrs. Ernest Lindley, Joe Rauh, myself and I believe, the fourth was Tilford Dudley. We were going to try to win four spots on the delegation, from a man named Melvin Hildreth, who was then the national committeman. And I had just gotten to know something about him through my friendship with Mrs. Harriman, Mrs. J. Borden Harriman. Mrs. Harriman had been the national committeewoman, associated with the committee since the twenties when she first came to Washington. She had a very low opinion of all of the members of the District Committee; the man who ran it was the numbers racket king in Washington. So when Joe Rauh asked me to become a delegate along with the others I immediately agreed. The way we ran afoul of Mr. Hildreth was very simple; he was a puppet controlled by these other people. When we went to ask him whether we should pay our filing fee with certified checks he said, "That would not be necessary." So we paid a rather large sum of money I remember -- $250.00 to file as delegates, and then received a formal
notice saying we could not be admitted as delegates because we had not given a certified check. It was the old army trick. You do what they tell you to, and then they tell you did wrong. This, perhaps we should delete the word army, I don't know why but its a well-known political trick. Subsequently Joe Rauh decided to take the case to court. I was at a luncheon when he reached me and I ran to the phone to call my husband, who was at the Securities and Exchange Commission. My husband requested permission for me to join in the suit from the general counsel and the SEC denied it, they said my husband was a government servant and I could not, in effect file a complaint against Mr. Truman. Apparently the only person that one could file a complaint against was someone who was the head of the party, or rather his surrogates