Niles, David K. Papers

Dates: 1909-1983; Bulk Date Span: 1933-1952

Administrative Assistant to the President, 1942-1951

The papers of David K. Niles relate to his career of government service in the White House as Administrative Assistant to Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman from 1942 to 1951. They include correspondence, newspaper clippings, invitations, memoranda, reports, and speeches concerning Niles's work with Jewish affairs, the Democratic Party, and civil rights. The collection also has a large amount of material documenting Niles's activities before he joined the White House staff, his involvement in Democratic and Progressive Party politics, and his tenure as an official with the Works Progress Administration.

[Administrative Information | Biographical Sketch | Collection Description | Series Descriptions | Folder Title List]


Size: 14.4 linear feet (about 28,800 pages).
Access: Open, with the exception of a few documents that are closed because they contain classified national security information.
Copyright: Abram L. Sachar, as trustee of Niles's estate, donated Niles's literary property rights in any of his unpublished writings in this collection to the United States government. Documents created by U.S. government officials in the course of their official duties are in the public domain. Copyright interest in other writings in this collection is assumed to remain with the authors of the documents or their heirs.
Processed by: Harry Clark, Jr., C. Warren Ohrvall, and Erwin J. Mueller (1968-1976); Carol Briley, Sharie Simon, and Janice Davis (2003).

[ Top of the page | Administrative Information | Biographical Sketch | Collection Description | Series Descriptions | Folder Title List ]


1890 (November 26)


Born, Boston, Massachusetts (some sources say in 1888 or 1892)



Associate Director, and later Director, of Boston's Ford Hall Forum



Director of American Business Census in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for the Department of Commerce



Consultant and later Director of Information, Works Progress Administration



Assistant Administrator, Works Progress Administration



Special Assistant to the Secretary of Commerce



Head Consultant, Office of Production Management; Head Consultant, War Production Board; Principal Adviser, War Production Board



Administrative Assistant to the President



Received Medal for Merit from the President

1952 (September 28)


Died, Boston, Massachusetts

[ Top of the page | Administrative Information | Biographical Sketch | Collection Description | Series Descriptions | Folder Title List ]


The David K. Niles Papers relate to his service as Administrative Assistant to the President during the administrations of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, from August 1, 1942 to May 31, 1951. Of particular interest in the collection are materials concerning minority affairs, civil rights, and the establishment of the state of Israel. The Niles Papers also contain information about Niles's life and career before he joined the White House staff and his involvement in various political campaigns.

The Niles Papers are divided into eight series and multiple subseries. The first series, the Personal Correspondence File, contains letters, notes, invitations, flyers, telegrams, newspaper clippings, brochures, cards, broadcast excerpts, agendas, lists, and financial records. Most of this material is personal and routine in nature. However, the series does include a copy of Congressman Fred Bradley's April 1, 1943 speech attacking Niles for having communist connections. This charge was based in part on Niles's earlier career as Director of the Ford Hall Forum in Boston, and his close connections with such individuals as Harry Hopkins and Felix Frankfurter. Also of interest are condolence letters written to Niles in April 1945, expressing sorrow over the death of President Roosevelt.

The next series, the Political File, contains seven subseries: Congressional Elections; Democratic Party; General Politics; Massachusetts Politics; National Progressive League; Political Favors; and Progressive Party and the Progressive Movement. The Political File is comprised of letters, notes, press releases, reports, newspaper clippings, magazine articles, memoranda, speeches, telegrams, flyers, campaign literature, political biographies, voting records of Congressmen, political platforms, political polls, speeches, radio addresses, and election analyses. Niles had close ties to Democratic Party politics, and this series documents his relationships with many prominent New Dealers. The Democratic Party subseries includes campaign literature from the 1936 campaign and letters congratulating Niles on his exhaustive work during the 1940 campaign. (In 1940, Niles headed the National Committee of Independent Voters for Roosevelt and Wallace.) The Political Favors subseries provides documentation of individuals seeking political patronage. The Progressive Party and the Progressive Movement subseries documents Niles's associations with such Progressive stalwarts as Senator Robert M. LaFollette, Jr. and Senator Burton K. Wheeler. Niles was Director of both the Progressive League for Alfred E. Smith and the Progressive Committee for Joseph B. Ely (Democratic candidate for reelection as Governor of Massachusetts in 1932).

The Works Progress Administration File, the largest series in the collection, is comprised of six subseries: Job Files; Internal Affairs; Invitations; Job Requests-Political Favors; Job Requests-General; and Political Affairs. The series includes letters, memoranda, reports, newspaper clippings, invitations, press releases, and other items. This material documents Niles's activities as an official with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) from 1936 to 1939, requests for employment with the WPA, and the activities of WPA Administrator Harry L. Hopkins. Included in the series is a substantial amount of correspondence with Hopkins and James Roosevelt (the President's son and secretary), as well as a significant amount of material that predates Niles's employment with the WPA in 1936. The first subseries, Job Files, contains information about specific individuals who were seeking employment or reinstatement with the WPA, and about WPA jobs in the town of Norwood, Massachusetts. The Internal Affairs subseries contains information about the administration of the WPA and the agencies that preceded it, the Civil Works Administration and the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. The Invitations subseries includes messages inviting Hopkins and other officials to appear at various public events. The Job Requests-Political Favors subseries documents the efforts of political figures to obtain New Deal jobs for their supporters. In contrast, the Job Requests-General subseries mostly pertains to requests for WPA jobs from citizens without special political influence. The last subseries, Political Affairs, contains correspondence from prominent politicians and others detailing various issues, problems, and complaints. Included in this subseries is correspondence from Governor Herbert Lehman of New York, Governor Philip La Follette of Wisconsin, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia of New York City, Senator Sherman Minton of Indiana, Senator Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi, and Congressman Jerry Voorhis of California.

The fourth series, Administrative Files, contains three subseries: Major Administrative Affairs, Minor Administrative Affairs, and Personal Administrative Affairs. This series includes letters, memoranda, reports, opinion poll results, press releases, invitations, newspaper clippings, telegrams, speeches, transcripts of telephone conversations, and other items, dating mostly from Niles's years of government service, from 1936 to 1951, at the WPA, the Department of Commerce, the Office of Production Management, the War Production Board, and the White House. The first subseries, Major Administrative Affairs, documents such issues as the "court-packing" controversy during Roosevelt's second term, the struggle among Senators for patronage in the selection of Bureau of the Census employees, the effect of World War II on commerce, the voting behavior of various groups, and the dismissal of General Douglas MacArthur. The Minor Administrative Affairs subseries includes information concerning the Presidential Inaugurations of 1945 and 1949, and a wide variety of other subjects. The Personal Administrative Affairs subseries includes friendly messages to Niles from such people as President Truman, Margaret Truman, Dean Acheson, and Fred Vinson.

The Civil Rights and Minorities File has two subseries. The first, Civil Rights and Negro Affairs, documents Niles's contacts with civil rights organizations such as the NAACP and with African American leaders such as Walter White and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. As an important civil rights advocate within the Truman White House, Niles helped bring about the creation of the President's Committee on Civil Rights and the desegregation of the armed forces. The second subseries, Jewish Affairs, documents his contacts with American Jewish leaders and groups, as well as his role in shaping U.S. policy toward Palestine and Israel. The Civil Rights and Minorities File contains reports, correspondence (including hate mail), newspaper clippings, memoranda, and other items, mostly relating to Niles's official role as a liaison between the White House and minority groups. The series also contains some material that predates his appointment as Administrative Assistant to the President in 1942.

The next series, the Displaced Persons and Immigration File, contains letters, memoranda, telegrams, press releases, reports, and other items. Some of this material documents Niles's efforts in behalf of individuals who were seeking to escape from Europe to the United States before the outbreak of World War II. The series also contains information concerning refugee problems, the status of displaced persons after the war, Jewish immigration to Palestine, and the efforts of the Truman administration to obtain new immigration legislation from Congress.

The Israel File is the seventh series in the collection. It includes letters, reports, memoranda, opinion poll results, telegrams, newspaper clippings, and press releases. Most of this material concerns U.S. policy toward Palestine and Israel after World War II. Niles was involved in the Zionist movement and in such issues as Jewish immigration, the proposed partition of Palestine, U.S. diplomatic recognition of the new state of Israel, and U.S. relations with Israel after 1948. This series also documents anti-Semitic attacks on Niles for his alleged Communist connections.

The last series, the General File, contains correspondence, memoranda, reports, printed material, and other items relating to various aspects of Niles's life and career in government. Included is information about his long association with the Ford Hall Forum in Boston; his extensive correspondence with Felix Frankfurter; FBI reports sent to him by J. Edgar Hoover; and further material relating to his charitable and political activities, his work with the WPA, and his involvement in the early history of Israel. The General File also contains some useful biographical information about Niles.

After Niles died in 1952, his papers were given to Dr. Abram L. Sachar, the president of Brandeis University (an institution Niles had helped to establish.) Dr. Sachar and his staff arranged and organized the papers, some of which he used in his book, The Redemption of the Unwanted: From the Liberation of the Death Camps to the Founding of Israel (New York: St. Martin's, 1983). In 1985, Dr. Sachar, in his legal capacity as trustee of the Niles estate, donated the papers to the Truman Library. A collection of Niles Papers at Brandeis University consists mostly of photocopies of original documents that are now at the Truman Library.

More information regarding David K. Niles can be found in the papers of Harry S. Truman (especially in the Official File, the President's Personal File, and the President's Secretary's Files.) These same series also contain more information about Israel and civil rights during the Truman administration. Concerning U.S. policy toward Palestine and Israel, some other relevant collections at the Truman Library include the papers of A. J. Granoff, Bernard Bernstein, Philleo Nash, Clark M. Clifford, Edward Jacobson, and George M. Elsey. The papers of Nash, Clifford, and Elsey are also important sources of information on civil rights and minority relations during the Truman years, as are the records of the President's Committee on Civil Rights and the President's Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services (both in Record Group 220). The Library's oral history interviews with Granoff, Nash, Clifford, Elsey,