Oral History Interview with
Attorney, U.S. Department of Labor, 1939-43, Assistant Solicitor, 1943-45,
William S. Tyson
Solicitor of Labor, 1945-53.
October 6, 1977
by James R. Fuchs
[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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 July, 1979
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
William S. Tyson
October 6, 1977
by James R. Fuchs
FUCHS: Would you begin by giving a little background, perhaps noting where and when you were born, and something about your education?
TYSON: I was born in Greenville, North Carolina in 1903, and my education was at the University of North Carolina . I began the practice of law in Greenville, North Carolina and was prosecuting attorney there for several years before I came to Washington with my Congressman, who was Lindsay Warren.
FUCHS: You came with him?
TYSON: He was my Congressman and he asked me to come up here to be on his staff. We had our office where the majority leader has his office now, right in the Capitol. I didn't stay but about a year and a half, two years, and then I went back into private practice of law until I came to the Labor Department in October 1939. I actually went with them in North Carolina, but came to Washington in January '43, I believe it was.
FUCHS: In the period '39 to '43 you were actually in North Carolina, then, but with the Labor Department?
TYSON: Yes, I was. I went with the Labor Department in 1939 in Charlotte, and I stayed there less than a year. Then they transferred me to Raleigh, North Carolina, which is the capital. They took over the enforcement of the wage and hour law in North Carolina, and I was transferred
from Charlotte to handle the legal phases of the wage and hour enforcement in Raleigh, North Carolina; and then from Raleigh they asked me to come up here. That was in October 1942, I believe, and I stayed with the Labor Department in Washington from October 1942 until March 1953.
FUCHS: You came into the Labor Department in Washington as Assistant Solicitor?
TYSON: No. When I went with the Labor Department in 1942 I was with the Office of the Solicitor, on the staff, answering questions on interpretations of labor laws. I was made Assistant Solicitor about a year after that.
FUCHS: I believe your Who's Who article says in 1943.
TYSON: Something like that, I can't remember. I was made Solicitor in, I think it was July 1945,
but because of a long filibuster I think my confirmation was held up until January or February.
FUCHS: Was that a presidential appointment?
TYSON: Yes, it was.
FUCHS: You weren't under Civil Service then?
TYSON: I was under Civil Service when I came to the Labor Department in 1939 and I stayed under Civil Service until I was made Solicitor in '45.
FUCHS: The Solicitor's job was never Civil Service?
FUCHS: That was held at the pleasure of the President then?
TYSON: Yes, that is correct. But Judge [Lewis B.] Schwellenbach recommended my appointment to
Truman, and I think that was in July, if I'm not mistaken.
FUCHS: Do you have any recommendations of Madame [Frances] Perkins?
TYSON: Oh, yes, I served under her from that date until she resigned.
FUCHS: How did you view her as a Secretary of Labor?
TYSON: I thought very highly of her and I thought the common judgment about her ability was in error. What she did I think she did very well.
FUCHS: Then Judge Schwellenbach was appointed as Secretary of Labor. Had you known him prior to that time?
TYSON: No, I had not.
FUCHS: How did you feel about him?
TYSON: Well, I was on the staff then of the Office
of the Solicitor. I served under him before I was made Solicitor.
FUCHS: Who was your predecessor as Solicitor?
TYSON: My predecessor as Solicitor was Douglas Maggs, but in the meantime there was an Acting Solicitor named Irving Levy . He got out before I was made Solicitor. He was never actually made Solicitor, but he was in acting position there for several months.
FUCHS: Why was that?
TYSON: I can't remember the circumstances of that now.
There was another Solicitor in there named Warner Gardner, and Maggs was the next one to succeed him in the title. Gardner's still living, by the way, and he's a private lawyer in Washington.
FUCHS: Where did Maggs come from?
TYSON: Maggs was actually a professor of law at Duke University, and he was made Solicitor after Gardner got out. It may have been during that period that Levy was acting for a short period of time. Then Levy went to the Justice Department and Maggs became Solicitor.
FUCHS: Why did Maggs leave?
TYSON: I can’t answer that directly. It had to do with something that he wanted in connection with the Government that he wasn't given. I don't know what it was; I can't remember.
FUCHS: Did he recommend you for the job, or how did you come to be given the appointment?
TYSON: When Maggs came in as Solicitor there was another man in there who was Associate Solicitor. His name was Archibald Cox. Schwellenbach brought a man with him who was a District Attorney in the State of Washington and he asked this man,
who was a lawyer, to look at the Department and recommend who should be made Solicitor. I was in New York doing business for our New York office. I got a call from this man, this District Attorney that was looking over the Department, and he said the Secretary had decided that he wanted to make me Solicitor of the Department of Labor and would I be interested. And I said, "Well, I don't know."
He said, "Well, you'd better come back to Washington and talk to the Secretary," and I did.
I came back that afternoon and talked with the Secretary the next day, and he told me he wanted to offer me the job if I wanted it; that he had talked to Truman about it and that Truman would appoint me. I said, "Okay." I decided to take it. When I decided to take it Cox became pretty well infuriated and resigned, I think. Anyway that's the way it happened.
I didn't know anything about it until they called me in New York.
You asked me did Maggs recommend me? No, it wasn't Maggs that recommended me, it was the District Attorney that Schwellenbach had brought with him from the State of Washington.
FUCHS: I believe the Solicitor's job is generally held during the incumbency of a President or while a particular party is in, is that not right? Did you feel that if the other party came in that you would probably be out?
TYSON: Well, it's political. I had not been a political appointee in Civil Service as Acting Solicitor, but when I agreed to become Solicitor I had to become a political appointee and also I placed myself in the position that when the President changed I would necessarily offer my resignation. I did and it was accepted.
I remember I got out on March the 9th., 1953, and that was right after Eisenhower came in.
FUCHS: You had quite a long career with the Department.
TYSON: Yes. I was there from 1939, in North Carolina, to March of '53, which was about fourteen years.
FUCHS: When Madame Perkins was Secretary there was no Under Secretary, but she had an Assistant Secretary who was D. W. Tracy, did you know him?
TYSON: Oh yes, Dan Tracy. He was president of a labor union, but I can't remember which one it was now.
One thing I forgot to tell you. I told you I came to Washington with my Congressman. That was in the early thirties, but after that I went to Columbia, South Carolina . I wanted to get back into law practice, and became one of the counsels to the Federal Land Bank of Columbia,
and I stayed there about a year and a quarter, I think. Then I went back to my home town and opened a law office there. It was from there that I went back to the Labor Department, but in the earlier days I was practicing law in my home town, from 1935 approximately to 1939.
FUCHS: Did you ever regret those years in the Government? Did you think that it was a fruitful experience?
TYSON: No, I did not regret it. As a matter of fact, I enjoyed it and considered very valuable the contacts and experiences that I had. I felt it was necessary to resign after President Truman got out. I had no clients to give me a law practice and I had two children in college. That was a pretty severe financial strain on me, but I was fortunate in that when I opened my law office I was able to get more clients than I could handle
in the first year. The people I had known throughout the United States during my experience in the Labor Department were highly beneficial in meeting people and in getting clients, you might say. So, I felt that my practice in the Labor Department had been very helpful.
FUCHS: How did you view the reorganization that Secretary Schwellenbach instituted in the Department? Did you feel it was long overdue or did you feel that was just a new man trying to make his mark?
TYSON: Well, I was so busy I didn't give too much attention to that. I thought that he was right in trying to get other bureaus moved into the Labor Department,