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Robert K. Walsh Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview
with
Robert K. Walsh

Reporter for the Providence (Rhode Island) Journal, 1928-46,
and for the Washington, D.C. Evening Star, 1946-69.

October 12, 1970
by Jerry N. Hess

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]

 


Notice
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.

As an electronic publication of the Truman Library, users should note that features of the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview, such as pagination and indexing, could not be replicated for this online version of the Robert K. Walsh transcript.

RESTRICTIONS
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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 January, 1972
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]

 



Oral History Interview with
Robert K. Walsh

 

Washington, DC
October 12, 1970
by Jerry N. Hess

[1]

HESS: All right, Mr. Walsh, to begin, would you give me a little of your personal background: Where were you born, where were you educated, and tell me a little bit about your early newspaper career.

WALSH: I was born in McAlester, Oklahoma, November 1, 1903. My parents, mother and father, were both natives of St. Louis; in fact, all my relatives are from St. Louis, and that has been more or less our family home. I went to public schools in McAlester. Then I went to St. Louis University and graduated there in 1924, got an A.B. degree and went immediately into the newspaper business, in the old St. Louis Star.

HESS: What year was that?

WALSH: That was 1924. I was on the Star just a few months--the Star is no longer in existence. I went up to Springfield, Illinois for about a year on the Illinois

 

[2]

State Journal, the morning paper there, worked there, and then I came back to St. Louis on the Globe Democrat. This covered a period of almost three years, about a year in each place. Then I had an opportunity to go to New York City. It was not even newspaper business, it was a publicity business, a religious organization, The Society for the Propagation of Faith, the national headquarters, a Catholic organization. They put out a magazine and various publicity publications, and I was the editor.

Then after about two or two and a half years at that, I wanted to get back into the newspaper business, not that I disagreed with it, but I wanted to get back into the newspaper business because I liked that better than publicity. So this was in 1928. That was my first experience in the East, first time I'd ever been East when I left Missouri in 1926. I didn't know any newspapers. I applied to several New York papers, but I really didn't have too much experience when you got down to it, and they kept putting me off: "Come back in six months and we might have something," the New York Times and some of the others. The upshot was that I applied to several papers in New England and in New York State and I had an offer right away from the Providence

 

[3]

Journal, Providence, Rhode Island. I went up and I got the job there. And it was surprising in those days, this was in '28, just before the depression, and within a week or two after I went to work for the Journal, I had an offer for an interview from a Hartford paper and a Boston paper. Jobs weren't plentiful, but they did need people right after the 1928 election.

So I went up to Providence, having never been in New England in my life, and I thought, "Well, I'll stay there for maybe six months or a year, and then get back to New York, or maybe even go back to St. Louis." I always liked St. Louis. The ambition in those days in St. Louis was to get on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, you know, because it was a great crusading paper, it's a great newspaper. The Globe Democrat is a good paper.

Well, the upshot of the New England thing was that I stayed there for seventeen years. I worked on the Journal for seventeen years. I had met my wife there and had married her there. In February 1944 I was sent down here to Washington. They have an afternoon paper, the Journal is the morning paper and the Evening Bulletin is the afternoon paper published by

 

[4]

the same company in Providence. There was another man named Fred Collins, we were in the bureau down here. I came here in February of '44, and was with the Journal until April 1946. There again, it wasn't that I didn't want to go back to Providence, but I had an opportunity, just by a stroke of luck, to get a job on the Washington Star. They had a vacancy at that time. I went on the Star in April of 1946, and I retired from the Star just about the beginning of 1969. They have an automatic retirement age at 65, although I still do continue with the Star I've been much busier than I thought I would be, in reviewing books and Sunday articles, I've got two or three right here. So that is my newspaper experience in a nutshell.

My experience here in Washington included the Providence Journal. The Journal is a different operation, of course. You cover Rhode Island, it's a New England story paper, but I used to go over to the White House for the Journal very regularly, almost every day when Eben Ayers was there, or before that, when Steve Early, the President's Press Secretary would have a briefing every morning, as they still do, or every afternoon, and I made a point to be over there every day.

HESS: Did you attend any of Roosevelt's press conferences during that time?

 

[5]

WALSH: Yes, he had a few, yes. The day I met Roosevelt, there was a press conference. I came down in February and I think--that was in the middle of the week, Tuesday or Wednesday I remember--and he had one on Thursday or Friday. Well, within two days I went over to the press conference. I happened to be accredited.

In those days, they had a ceremony for new men who came in for the first time. The Press Secretary, after it was over, would take them up and introduce them to the President. Of course, Roosevelt was sitting down behind the desk.

HESS: In the Oval Room.

WALSH: In the Oval Room, in the White House west extension where the President's office is. Roosevelt shook hands very cordially, all the charm, he really had it, there's no question about it. I had been forewarned he always pretty well knew who was coming, and he knew something about the geographical or political or personal situation in every state in the country.

So he said to me, "Well, Mr. Walsh, welcome to Washington? How is Quonset Point coming along?"

They were building the big naval base up there at Quonset Point, I think it was pretty well completed

 

[6]

at that time. He knew just all about Rhode Island. So that's when I first met Roosevelt.

Then, I think the next time I saw him was not too long after, it must have been early in March, they had the White House Correspondents Association, they used to--still do--have an annual dinner, and the President was there.

Let me see how many others: That was in '44 and I don't know that he had many press conferences during the election campaign of '44. He must have. I looked through my scrapbook and I can't find any record of having written a story, but that doesn't mean that I wasn't there. He may have had some. I do recall that I went to two or three at least, before the election in '44. I did see him several times before he died. I saw him at the inauguration on the back portico of the White House.

HESS: And you drove to Chicago in 1944 for the convention?

WALSH: Yes.

HESS: What do you recall about that?

WALSH: Well, I recall quite a bit about it. I was working for the Providence Journal, and our main concern was to watch the Rhode Island delegation. They were for Truman for Vice President, so that was my chief concern

 

[7]

there, although I did not even see Truman there except when he accepted the nomination in a speech at the final session.

HESS: What do you recall of the attempt to keep Henry Wallace from getting the vice-presidential nomination?

WALSH: I recall it rather round about. I was looking through my clippings here, and found a story I wrote pretty much on the basis of an interview or talk with Robert Hannegan, Bob Hannegan, whom I knew in St. Louis. He was a graduate of St. Louis University. When I was a student out there he was a football player. He was a very good football player. When I came here I went down to see him. He had become Democratic National Chairman, as I recall, that year, wasn't it '44?

HESS: When he got the post, I'm not sure, but he was chairman during the very important events of the 1944 election.

WALSH: And another man I knew, now these of course, I'm dropping names, because I actually knew them, I knew Bob Hannegan personally, and I knew J. Howard McGrath, who was from Rhode Island. He had been Governor of Rhode Island. My wife knew him since childhood, and I knew him for about twenty-five years, twenty years before I came here, fifteen years. So on the basis of

 

[8]

talks I had with Hannegan and McGrath in about May 1944--I'd been there only about three or four months then--I remember writing a story for the Providence Journal that they were pushing Harry Truman for Vice President. They told me that there was a move to dump Wallace, that's what it amounted to. They weren't so much involved in that--well, they were--were involved, of course, but their idea was that if Wallace was dropped, they were going to get Truman in. They were going to do their darndest to get him in.

HESS: What seemed to be the tenor of their thoughts, was if for Mr. Truman, or was it more anti-Wallace?

WALSH: Well, in Hannegan's case, it was certainly for Truman, because he was from Missouri and he knew him, of course. Now Truman was--this story will refresh my memory too--Truman had made a speech at the Democratic State Convention in Missouri in April or May of 1944, and it made quite an impression. The Vice Presidency wasn't mentioned, Truman himself didn't say anything about it, but Hannegan said, "That's one of the best speeches he's ever made, locally, in Missouri, and it increased his stature quite a bit." But even at that time, I remember distinctly that there were rumors around of reports that Truman was being mentioned.

 

[9]

You were always getting lists of possible nominees--you know, the move to drop Wallace was over a long period of time, quite a period of time. I don't know the inside of it all--I don't know whether Roosevelt intended to or wanted to, but I rather suspect that he did. Of course, as things came out, he was supposed to have offered it to [James] Byrnes, wasn't it? Not offered it, but Byrnes was turned down, wasn't it Byrnes?

HESS: Byrnes had the impression in a talk with Roosevelt that he had Roosevelt's support. That was his impression.

WALSH: A lot of people get impressions like that when they talk to a President.

HESS: And then also William 0. Douglas, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas was mentioned.

There was a very famous Truman-Douglas letter that was given to Robert Hannegan, and he had that with him when Mr. Roosevelt went through town on his way to the West Coast on board the train. Did Mr. Hannegan ever tell you anything about the Truman-Douglas letter?

WALSH: No, but I heard that, well, it was later, by hindsight, later. He went aboard the Roosevelt

 

[10]

train in the railroad yards in Chicago, but I had no personal knowledge of that, wasn't in on it anyway, and Bob Hannegan never mentioned it later even. As a matter of fact, I don't think I ever asked him. Roosevelt had been elected again and I suppose nobody followed it up until Truman became President, but I certainly never did ask him.

After a while, I didn't see Hannegan too much. Of course, he became Postmaster General, he was national chairman and then he became Postmaster General, and I was down at his swearing in. Then he died. He served several years, though, at that.

HESS: He did.

WALSH: I saw him--I go to St. Matthew's Cathedral here and he used to come there, and I'd just say hello to him, but I don't think I was ever in his office more than once or twice after he became...

HESS: He was replaced by Jesse M. Donaldson, but he was Postmaster General for quite some time.

WALSH: Yes he was. He was there for several years.

HESS: One question we should cover before we move on since you were in the newspaper field in Missouri quite early, did you recall anything about Mr. Truman at the time that you were in Missouri?

 

[11]

WALSH: No, no. You must remember in the Missouri days I was pretty much of a cub reporter, but even there I was always interested in politics.

HESS: You were in St. Louis at the time?

WALSH: Yes, from '24 to almost the end of '26, in newspaper work for two and a half years, and I never remember Truman being mentioned. Of course, I heard of the Pendergast organization.

HESS: What did you hear?

WALSH: Well, it naturally wasn't very good.

HESS: What was your impression in St. Louis of what was going on in Kansas City, of the political climate of Kansas City?

WALSH: Pretty bad, pretty bad. There again, it's not a personal prejudice. It was probably a local prejudice. There was always that rivalry between St. Louis and Kansas City, and I had been to Kansas City only a few times, I've been there many times since, but I didn't know too much.

I had no particular interest in Kansas City. I thought it was just another city. There was a machine there, and it was rather unsavory, the stuff we heard about it, but I had no direct connection with it, no knowledge of it.

 

[12]

As a matter of fact, I had more of an interest of what was going on in Chicago as a result of the year I spent in Springfield. That was one of the most interesting years of all. It increased my appreciation of Lincoln, and also decreased my appreciation of the Chicago crowd, the state organization. And of course, it wasn't Democra