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Dillon S. Myer Oral History Interview, Chap I-IV

Oral History Interview with
Dillon S. Myer

Director, War Relocation Authority, 1942-46; Commissioner, Federal Public Housing Administration, 1946-47; president, Institute of Inter-American Affairs, 1947-50; Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1950-53.

Berkeley, California
July 7, 1970
by the University of California Bancroft Library/Berkeley Regional Oral History Office (Helen S. Pryor interviewer)

Chapters I through IV

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Dillon S. Myer Chapters]

This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview donated to the Harry S. Truman Library. The reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word, although some editing was done.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

All uses of this manuscript are covered by a legal agreement between the Regents of the University of California and Dillon S. Myer and Jenness Wirt Myer, dated July 7, 1970. The manuscript is thereby made available for research purposes. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to Dillon S. Myer and Jenness Wirt Myer until January 1, 1980. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of the Bancroft Library of the University of California.

Requests for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the Regional Oral History Office, 486 Library, and should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user. The legal agreement with Dillon S. Myer and Jenness Wirt Myer requires that they be notified of the request and allowed thirty days in which to respond.

Opened July, 1970
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Dillon S. Myer Chapters]


Oral History Interview with
Dillon S. Myer


Berkeley, California
July 7, 1970
by the University of California Bancroft Library/Berkeley Regional Oral History Office (Helen S. Pryor interviewer)

Chapters I through IV




DSM: I was born and reared on a typical corn belt farm of 135 acres in central Ohio in a family of four; one older brother and two younger sisters. My pre-college days lay entirely within the horse and buggy era and before automobiles and tractors were generally used. Consequently communication was not easy between communities.

One of my very earliest memories has to do with a visit that we made to some relatives of my father, by the name of Myer, in the northern part of Licking County. It was a large county, and I must have been only two years old, possibly three.

During that visit I wandered away from the family and out into the yard where some bee hives were located. Being quite young and inexperienced I didn’t know what bee hives were. It seems that I picked up a corn cob and was beating on the hives, and the bees, of course, swarmed around me and stung me rather badly. One of the older girls in the family, when she sensed what was going on, picked me up and carried me out of the range of the bees. Another sister ran into the garden, pulled up some green onions, brought them back, cut them up, and put the green onions on the stings which helped to alleviate the soreness. I suppose it had something to do with stopping the poison. I have found, throughout the years, that this is an antidote for bee stings. This experience was so vivid that it happens to be, I think, the first thing that I can recall.

I can still remember what those bee hives looked like. They were painted white, and they were just about my height because I think they had put what we know as supers on top of some of the hives. As


a consequence when I think of bee hives, I think of that kind of bee hive that I saw at that stage. It was a square bee hive.

I learned from that experience that onions were a good antidote for bee stings. Years later, when my youngest daughter was about five, we had moved to Palls Church, Virginia, and I was working out in the yard one nice sunny day and had mowed the yard. I sat down to talk to somebody when she came rushing out and plopped down beside me, putting both hands on the grass as she sat down, and she put one hand right down on a honey bee. I had my knife in my pocket and I immediately pulled up a wild onion, which was easy to do because we had lots of them, and cut one in two and put it on the palm of her hand, which had been stung, and said "Close your hand and hold it for a little bit," which she did. As a consequence she had no after effects from the bee sting.

There are two other early memories that may be interesting. One of them had to do with the cutting of my curls. In those days little boys, as well as little girls, wore curls until they were at least four or five years old. I don’t remember a great deal about mine except that I do remember that I was told to go and look at my curls in the looking glass for the last time. And crazily enough I remember getting a chair and moving it in front of the looking glass, which I had to do because I wasn’t tall enough to see in the glass otherwise, and took a last look at my curls before they were whacked off.

The other incident was not one that I like to recall. Nevertheless it was an incident of some importance in my younger days. My Father was preparing to plant potatoes in the spring of the year and he found that he did not have enough seed potatoes to plant the ground that he had in mind; so he asked my brother and me to go to a neighbor’s, who lived at least three quarters of a mile away, and ask him if we could borrow a few seed potatoes to finish out the job. My brother was eight years old and I was five. So we hied across the fields.


When we arrived at Mr. Bert Neel’s place Mrs. Neel said she was sorry but that Mr. Neel wasn’t there just then, but he would be back after a little bit and why didn’t we go with Minnie, her daughter, down to see the deer which Mr. Neel had brought back from a hunting trip and had put into a deer lot that he had built. Of course, this was very intriguing. So we spent some time watching the deer and playing about until Mr. Neel returned.

We finally got the potatoes and took them home. When we arrived home we found my Father in a rage because he had been waiting for quite some time. He had told us to hurry and we had not hurried. So he cut a peach switch and gave us both a switching.

It just so happens that I had on my first pair of little boy short pants which my Mother had made with her own hands. They were a beautiful blue and to get a switching the first time I wore these pants was bad business as far as Mother was concerned. I remember very distinctly that she wept some tears which, I think, was the only time in her life that she wept when I was punished.

When I was five, my brother, of course, had already been in school for some time, having started at age six. I was very much interested in learning to read. So my Father, who at times had great patience, taught me to read in the first reader, McGuffy's First Reader as a matter of fact.

So by the time I started school, at age six, I was able to avoid the so-called chart class, which they had in those days. I remember taking very great pleasure during the first years in school in watching the chart class stand up in front of the chart with the teacher with a pointer, spelling out C-A-T, R-A-T, D-O-G, and all the simple words, and thinking I was awfully glad I hadn’t had to go through that.


The Country School

DSM: We went to a one-room country school which was at least a mile, probably one and one half miles, from home. We walked to school and home again each school day except in times of very bad weather. Occasionally in the wintertime, if we had a blizzard or a heavy snow and the snow was deep, Dad would take us on horseback with the two of us riding behind him. He would drop us off and then maybe come for us in the afternoon if the storm continued.

A little later on he decided it wasn’t necessary for him to go so when we got old enough he allowed us to ride old "Queen" which was one of our driving horses. He put a blanket on her, strapped it on and we two would ride to school where we would tie the reins up, turn her loose, and she would go home, which of course was easier than walking in heavy snow when the snow was hard to plod through.

One of my earliest memories, in my first few weeks of school, was the fact that we had a lady teacher by the name of Lottie Horn who lived just across the road from the school; a very lovely person. One morning I felt that I needed to go very badly to what we would call the bathroom nowadays, the toilet, and I held up my hand. She very sweetly said "We will have recess in a few minutes. I think you can wait." Well, I couldn’t wait. As a consequence I flooded the area and she sent me home for a change of clothes. She was very contrite and I never had any problem after that when I held up my hand.

We had Miss Horn for a period of a couple of years. Then we had a man teacher, by the name of Mac Mossman, who only lasted a year. Unfortunately, I turned out to be teachers pet under Mac Mossman which embarrassed me no end because I didn’t care for him and none of the students did. He was always saying something that embarrassed me such


as "Would a good little boy put some coal in the stove?" or something of that kind.

One of the things that I remember about Mac Mossman was that he chewed scrap tobacco. He kept his tobacco in the coal house and the door was just behind the teacher s desk. One noon, when he had gone away temporarily, a bunch of us boys got into the coal house, found his tobacco and scattered it all over the coal so that he would have had to pick it up bit by bit. We also found some switches which he had cut for use on the older boys if they got out of hand. We ringed those with a knife so that if he did use them they would break into pieces.

HP: Did fellow students kid you about being "the good little boy?"

DSM: Oh sure. That is what irked me. I didn’t mind being the good little boy but I didn’t like being kidde