Oral History Interview with
Administrative Assistant, Farm Security Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1937-46; Foreign Affairs Specialist, U.S. Department of State, 1946-63.
Henry F. Nichol
March 15, 1973
by Richard D, McKinzie
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
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. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 February, 1978
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
Henry F. Nichol
March 15, 1973
by Richard D, McKinzie
MCKINZIE: I'd like to ask, Mr. Nichol, how you decided to choose a career in Government in the first place?
NICHOL: I was born in Charleston, South Carolina and was raised in Wilmington, North Carolina. I went to Davidson College in North Carolina. After finishing college I didn't have a job. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. So I landed in Washington in 1933 during the depression, and just happened to get a Government
job in the Home Owners' Loan Corporation.
MCKINZIE: Did you think at that time you'd make it a career?
NICHOL: No. I wasn't quite sure at that time. I was undecided as to just what I wanted to do, and I took the Government career because that happened to be the first thing available that looked fairly promising.
MCKINZIE: How did you happen to get out of the Home Owners' Loan Corporation? I understand you transferred jobs in about 1937.
NICHOL: Well after being there about three or four years I was offered a better job in the Department of Agriculture -- the Farm Security Administration.
MCKINZIE: Did you have any particular background for that job?
NICHOL: No. I just think I happened to do a fairly good job for the person I was working with in the Home Owners' Loan Corporation. He transferred to the Farm Security Administration and later asked me to come over there with him.
MCKINZIE: Well, then, you kept that all through the war?
NICHOL: I was in the Navy most of the time during the war and was assigned to the Office of Naval Intelligence.
MCKINZIE: None of your work in the Farm Security Administration had any bearing on matters which would have concerned the State Department, and therefore, that was not an entree into the State Department in 1946?
NICHOL: That's right. The Farm Security work was dealing with farmers -- helping them out from a
financial standpoint, and it was entirely domestic.
MCKINZIE: It must have been a major career decision, then, to go over to the State Department in 1946, was it not, or did you just consider it an adventure?
NICHOL: I'd say it was a major decision at that time: I had been interested all through my college career in international affairs, and I would say the State Department work was more in line with what I'd always wanted than the Home Owners' Loan Corporation or the Department of Agriculture.
MCKINZIE: When you started in, you obviously had to start at a fairly lowish level in the Department of State. What kind of duties did you have when you first went there? Do you recall getting used to the new job?
NICHOL: Yes, my duties were essentially the same at the beginning as they were during the succeeding years, although of course, my responsibilities were increased. As a foreign affairs officer I planned and coordinated U.S. participation in international conferences, advised on size and composition of U.S. delegations, and prepared positions with respect to the items on the agenda of the meeting. A few years later I was head of one of the sections there in the Division of International Conferences.
MCKINZIE: Do you happen to recall the very first one you had to work on?
NICHOL: The first conference I believe was a meeting on -- it's hard for me to remember the name -- I believe it was the International Meeting on Marine Radio Aids to Navigation in New London, Connecticut. That was when radar was just beginning. I remember there was a lot of
discussion about the use of radar and its international implications.
MCKINZIE: How does one begin to arrange a delegation for an international conference? Is there a procedure that the State Department had at that time which they more or less kept through these Truman years? That is to say were the arrangements for all of them about the same only with a different subject sort of plugged in to them?
NICHOL: Yes. There was a definite procedure that we followed in arranging for conferences. My job was mainly to get the delegation together, and to do that I had to contact the various other offices in the Department of State and other agencies throughout the whole Government who were interested in the subject matter of the conferences. They would usually nominate delegates, one or
more. One of my jobs was to cut down the number to a reasonable number, because we had a very limited budget which restricted the number that we could send to a conference. Then in addition to the Government delegates I frequently had to go to organizations outside the Government to arrange for representation. The labor unions, the chambers of commerce, big business -- the whole range of nongovernmental interests had to be contacted sometimes, to arrange for proper representation from the United States.
MCKINZIE: Was it clear to you who made the designation for these outside people, that is, within the State Department somebody had to say that you were going to have a representative from labor, or from civic organizations? Who made those kinds of decisions -- one of the Assistant Secretaries?
NICHOL: They'd be made by the office in the State Department that was responsible for the subject matter of the conference in collaboration with the Office of International Conferences in which I worked. And then that framework or general pattern of the delegation would usually be approved by an Assistant Secretary of State. The actual membership on the delegation would always be approved by an Assistant Secretary of State. For the more important conferences the delegation would be approved by the Secretary and sometimes by the President himself -- President Truman.
MCKINZIE: It was you who went out to the AFL or the League of Women Voters, or whatever organization, and actually worked with them in getting someone to attend the conferences that were set up.
NICHOL: Yes. The job brought me in contact with the whole range of Government offices and, as I say,
outside the government, too. So, it was a very interesting job from that standpoint. I met a lot of people.
MCKINZIE: From 1946, when you started that sort of thing, and through, say 1952, the end of the Truman administration, could you as sort of frequent attender of these conferences note any difference in the tone of them as events unfolded. When you'd go to these conferences did you remember them being sort of a mirror of international affairs or were these conferences pretty much removed, as far as you were impressed at the time, from the course of the cold war?
NICHOL: Well, I would say the conferences in which I participated were more or less removed from the course of the cold war. The conferences that I was involved in were the economic, scientific, and cultural conferences. It wasn't until
after I had been in Geneva for about a year that I became involved in some of the political conferences.
Now, of course, the nonpolitical conferences mirrored to a certain extent the progress of events and the history of the times, Any international meeting can be influenced by the political events that are going on. Scientific conferences, for example, sometimes have some real hot political issues. Representation from the Communists countries, can become a very hot issue. So you can't remove international politics from a conference regardless of the subject.
MCKINZIE: Once you got these delegation lists put together were you then responsible for getting that delegation to the meeting site, and at what point did you give up your responsibility to the committee which was responsible for the agenda of the meeting and that sort of thing?
NICHOL: Well, I would work all along with the substantive office in the State Department which had responsibility for the conference. One of my assignments was to prepare a letter of instructions signed by the Secretary of State to the chairman of the delegation. Those instructions had a lot of standard paragraphs in them, but they were also different for each conference. The actual job of getting the delegates to the conference was mostly the job of the administrative division. Sometimes I helped out on that and when serving as Secretary of the delegation would accompany the delegation to the conference.
MCKINZIE: How did it happen that you were so frequently appointed as Secretary of the delegation?
NICHOL: Well, that was one of the responsibilities of the Office of International Conferences -- to provide a Secretary of Delegation on the larger
or more important conferences. Sometimes the Secretary would be appointed from other parts of the State Department, but in most cases from the Office of International Conferences.
MCKINZIE: In the course of dealing with all of these agencies of Government, and I assume sooner or later you dealt with most of them, were State Department re