Oral History Interview with
Stenographer-typist, Hoover White House; Secretary to appointments secretaries of Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower.
June 11, 1987
by Niel M. Johnson
[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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 September, 1988
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
Oral History Interview with
June 11, 1987
by Niel M. Johnson
JOHNSON: I'm going to start out, Miss Barrows, by asking you if you would
tell us when and where you were born and what your parents' names were.
BARROWS: I was born in Waynesville, Pulaski County, Missouri, on April
30, 1900. My mother was Louella Mitchell Barrows. She was born on a farm
in adjoining Laclede County. My father's name was William Joseph Barrows,
and he was born in Laclede County, in Lebanon, Missouri.
JOHNSON: So they're Missourians.
BARROWS: But that had nothing to do with Mr. Truman; he only knew me
as a White House employee.
JOHNSON: Did you go to school there then?
BARROWS: No. I came here when I was six years old.
JOHNSON: You came to Washington?
BARROWS: Washington, D.C.
My father came in 1901, with our Congressman whose name I do not recall.
He first worked in the Census Bureau, and later in the Wilson administration
he was deputy to the Postmaster General.
JOHNSON: So he was in the Census Bureau and then the Post Office.
BARROWS: Yes. And I lived on Capitol Hill, in a big three story house.
JOHNSON: Near the Capitol Building?
BARROWS: We were eight blocks from the Capitol Building.
JOHNSON: Do you remember the address?
BARROWS: 907 Massachusetts Avenue, N.E. I lived there until 1951.
JOHNSON: You lived in that same building until 1951, from the age of
BARROWS: No. At first we rented, a few blocks away, but the house wasn't
quite large enough, so we bought the Massachusetts Avenue house. I don't
recall the year they bought it. I was still in grade school; I do remember
JOHNSON: So you went to elementary schools here?
BARROWS: I went to elementary school and high school, Central High School,
which is now Cordozo. It was called Old Central High School, but it doesn't
exist under that name. I went two years to Felix Mahoney's School of Fine
and Applied Arts, which has gone, long since. Then my father died and
I went to business school and learned to be a stenographer.
JOHNSON: What school was that?
BARROWS: I went to two. The first one was the Washington School for Secretaries,
and the second one was the Temple. I think that's correct.
BARROWS: One of them is still in existence; I think the first one.
JOHNSON: This was after you got your high school diploma?
BARROWS: Yes. I then went to art school. After father's death, I had
to go to work. I did work first at Suffrage headquarters, where my mother
was active. That was where the Supreme Court Building now stands. It was
called the National Woman's Party, and was run by the women who had picketed
the White House in the First World War. One of them happened to have been
my French teacher. My mother used to go there but, of course, she didn't
have the time to really do anything but fold envelopes and stuff them,
that kind of thing. Women had the vote by then. At that time they had
what they called the Bill of Rights, trying to get it through Congress.
It was sponsored by, of all people, Senators [Kenneth D.] McKellar and
Cordell Hull, both of Tennessee. When my father died I went to work for
the National Woman's Party at a very small salary. I liked it.
JOHNSON: What year would this be?
BARROWS: 1922; that's my recollection.
JOHNSON: Your father died in 1922?
BARROWS: In June of 1922. Then I went to business school.
JOHNSON: Then you went to business school, and lived with your mother?
BARROWS: Yes, I lived at home. I could walk up to Suffrage headquarters.
It's too bad they razed that building. I'm positive that now they would
not have been allowed to, because it was the old Capitol. When the British
burned the Capitol, they [Americans] used that as the capitol building.
And the Supreme Court met there. In my childhood, it consisted of three
gray, slate-colored enormous mansions, which were boarding homes. Washington
didn't have many apartments at that time. And then the National Woman's
Party bought it, but I don't know when. I think in 1923 it was razed and
the Supreme Court was built. But during the Civil War it was a Federal
prison, and when Lincoln was assassinated, all of the culprits except
Booth were quickly dumped into it. Even as a girl, when we'd go downstairs
in the basement to get flags and things for big parades, you could still
see the remains of the cells left from the Civil War.
JOHNSON: That was where those implicated in the assassination were held?
BARROWS: Yes. Even before, during the Civil War, it was a Union prison,
and only for officers, usually Confederate naval officers.
JOHNSON: Were you an only child?
BARROWS: No. My mother had five daughters and two sons. Only one son
JOHNSON: So you are one of six...
BARROWS: I'm the baby.
JOHNSON: Oh, you're the youngest.
BARROWS: The only one left, the afterthought.
JOHNSON: Did any of your brothers go into Government, Federal service?
BARROWS: No, they did not. My oldest sister and my brother were married
about a year before we came here. The rest of them came to Washington
and were married here. When we moved here they were young too.
JOHNSON: You're the only survivor now.
BARROWS: The last one died three years ago. They were all married; I'm
the only single one.
JOHNSON: After your father died, you began work then as a...
BARROWS: I took the Civil Service exam after working for the National
Woman's Party. I don't know why -- I didn't enjoy business school. I wanted
to be an artist. It's just as well, I'm sure.
JOHNSON: But you were still able to do it as a hobby weren't you?
BARROWS: In other words, what happened to me was never my own doing.
I was dragged, screaming as it were. So then I took the Civil Service
Examination. I went to work in a small office called the Intelligence
Unit of the Bureau of Internal Revenue. The Intelligence Unit was new
then, and it was an investigatory unit. It was ridiculous; it not only
investigated people's income tax, it investigated their personal morals.
They also enforced the Prohibition Act. I was young enough to enjoy that
too. I worked there for about six years during Mr. Coolidge's administration,
and I traveled some. They'd take me on trips. That was before the FBI
was put under Civil Service. Edgar Hoover -- I remember him when he was
young -- was head of it. We interviewed bootleggers when they'd catch
them. It was all a big joke really. We'd take their deposition; they’d
go to jail for a day or two and come out and start in again.
JOHNSON: So you had to type transcripts of those interviews -- you had
to record and...
BARROWS: I took it in shorthand. I had taken speedwriting. I would go
to Savannah. There in Savannah were the "rum runners," as they
called them then, going by boat between the Carribean islands and Cuba,
to Georgia, and Florida. I've forgotten how many trips I made down there.
There was one chap, I've forgotten his name, Willie somebody.
JOHNSON: To take depositions?
BARROWS: Yes. He was the Al Capone of the South.
JOHNSON: Now what year did you start work for the Intelligence Unit?
JOHNSON: So you've had a long career with the Federal Government.
BARROWS: Yes, I really have.
JOHNSON: How long did that job last?
BARROWS: Well, that lasted about four years until I went over to the
Board of Tax Appeals, as it was called then. It's now called the United
States Tax Court. It was then downtown in the Earle Building.
JOHNSON: What year was that?
BARROWS: I don't know, in the late 1920s. A friend of mine told me of
this wonderful place to work in which each judge had two law clerks; I
think there were twelve judges. Each judge had a secretary, and then the
law clerks shared a secretary. They paid good salaries, and in the summertime
the judges -- most were men of wealth -- would go to their summer homes.
Life was pretty soft. That's really why I went there.
JOHNSON: So you started working there then.
BARROWS: Well, I knew the head judge.
JOHNSON: Talking about going to the summer homes and so on, what kind
BARROWS: I didn't get to that point. I never saw a summer home.
JOHNSON: What kind of vacations, and what kind of pay did they give in
BARROWS: Let's see, I got about $2,300 a year. I went in in February
of 1929. I was in New York in '28 working for the Intelligence Unit taking
depositions. I had my mother come up, and A1 Smith was the candidate against
Hoover that year. Of course, we were for A1 Smith. I do remember where
I was and what happened there. I had applied for the other job, and when
I came home I got it. I went to work for the Tax Board in February of
I loved the Tax Board. It was a court, but hadn't been named a court.
In July the Chief Judge, who was an old friend from other days, called
me into his office and said, "I have to tell you this; the White
House, under Mr. Hoover, doesn't have enough help. Heretofore
the White House only had male help, but the girls who came in with Hoover
and have been with him for years in his career, are just about exhausted.
They've sent out a man to the Civil Service and they've looked up records,
and they looked at yours and they've told me you have to be released and
sent over for an interview." I said, "Oh, please, couldn't you
get someone else?" "No," he replied, "because you're
the last girl we employed. I'll tell you, I'll promise you this, if you
don't like it, stay three months and I'll make someone else go."
Nobody wanted to go.
JOHNSON: No one wanted to go to the White House?
BARROWS: No, you have no idea. The White House was a nice place I'm sure,
but no women worked there.
JOHNSON: Is that right?
JOHNSON: All male secretaries in there?
BARROWS: I think there was always a female social secretary on the distaff
side, but never on the President's side in the West Wing.
JOHNSON: This judge that you were working for, what was his name?
BARROWS: Benjamin Littleton.
BARROWS: From Tennessee, a Republican.
JOHNSON: So now you're in with the Republicans.
BARROWS: East Tennessee. Politics made very little difference in the
Government then, none at all. You know, if you read the papers they always
say, "Washington, before World War II, was a little southern town."
Well, I never lived in a little southern town to remember, but I guess
it was. We were not impressed with the White House. You might come in
from lunch and say, "Oh, I just saw the President and "Mrs.
Whoseit' come out and take a ride," or something. "Oh, you did!"
And that would be it. Mr. Coolidge took a walk every day after his nap.
I can at least remember two instances when I was walking on F Street looking
into windows at clothes, and bumped into Mr. Coolidge and the Secret Service.
JOHNSON: Is that right?
BARROWS: Right with the crowd. Everybody paused.
JOHNSON: Did he have just one or two Secret Service men with him?
BARROWS: Yes. Two I think; I don't know.
JOHNSON: But you would literally bump into him on the sidewalk?
BARROWS: Everybody would stop and smile, and he'd bow. He liked to walk
and he loved to look in store windows; I understand he selected his wife's
JOHNSON: Did you tour the White House? Did you ever tour the White House
BARROWS: I suppose I must have; we always had a lot of visitors.
JOHNSON: So you did go up to the White House to work for Hoover then?
BARROWS: I went over and we interviewed in the lobby. I told the Civil
Service scout that I preferred not to
come if he could possibly find someone else. That was the Fourth of July
JOHNSON: In '29.
BARROWS: In '29, and I can remember how hopeful I was that I wouldn't
have to go, after having rather begged off to the gentleman at the White
House as politely as I could. But when I got to work the Monday after
the holiday, I was called in again by the Chief Judge and he said, "You're
it, you have to go. But I'll still give you my promise. I'll have you
relieved in three months if you want to come back." He didn't blame
me. So I went. I worked first in a room in the West Wing. I presume it
would be called a basement, but the windows were level with the sidewalk
-- very comfortable.
JOHNSON: In the West Wing.
BARROWS: Yes. At that time only this room and the file room were on that
JOHNSON: When the President went from the living quarters to the oval
office in the West Wing, would you see him go by?
BARROWS: Not from that location.
JOHNSON: Okay. So who did you work for? Who was your immediate supervisor?
BARROWS: I’m trying to think. I guess whoever sent for me. I presume
now we would all it a stenographic pool. Mr. Hoover had a press secretary
for the first time. He had a legislative secretary, who was an ex-Congressman
from the Middlewest, for the first time. And he had an all around, very
close secretary, who ran the White House.
JOHNSON: Do you remember her name?
BARROWS: Him. These were all “hims.” His name was Larry Richey.
He really was a Italian, and the name had been anglicized I’ve been
told. He had been with Mr. Hoover for many, many years in his career.
Of course, Mr. Hoover was a very rich man. He had been with him in England
where he had lived most of his adult business life. The Hoovers lived
in England just out of London. And he, Mr. Richey, was the boss.
JOHNSON: What kind of correspondence did you handle, or
did you handle correspondence?
BARROWS: Well, I took dictation from the first person to send for me;
I wouldn't be sure. Oh, he had one other man, a speechwriter, French Strother.
He had been Doubleday Publishers, and he was a Democrat. Oddly, enough,
I believe he was from Missouri too.
JOHNSON: What kind of work did you have to do then?
BARROWS: Well, I can't remember exactly, mostly correspondence. You would
be sent for. Also, that first summer, each girl was assigned a night,
and mine was Thursday. You got off at 1 o'clock, and did what you pleased.
Then you came back to the White House after dinner, and you went to the
main mansion and you sat in what was then called the Social Room down
in the basement. In the daylight it was the Social office where all the
invitations and such were handled. You read a book; did anything you liked
until the President went to bed. Luckily for most of us, the President
retired fairly early. That was the main reason we were hired I think,
as he often attended to his mail in the evenings.
JOHNSON: In other words, you started to work about what
time in the morning?
BARROWS: At nine.
JOHNSON: At nine and then at 1 o'clock you left.
BARROWS: Now that was just one day a week.
JOHNSON: And then you'd come back about dinner time, and stay until he
went to bed?
BARROWS: And stay until he went to bed; you were to be there if he called
JOHNSON: And that was one day a week.
BARROWS: And my day was Thursday.
JOHNSON: What about the other days? What were the hours?
BARROWS: The odds were that you would be sent for sometime during the
day by one of those upstairs secretaries, the gentlemen that I mentioned.
JOHNSON: But your regular working day was what hours?
BARROWS: Nine to 5:00.
JOHNSON: Did you type up speeches? Do you remember doing
anything like that?
BARROWS: No, not then.
JOHNSON: This was all correspondence?
BARROWS: Yes. It was July, when the President sent for me the first time,
on the evening shift. I think in all he never sent for anybody more than
three times, and I happened to have been called twice. And it was an ordeal.
He had the reputation of being a charmer, but he hid it well. He was
timid with women I understand.
JOHNSON: Did you take dictation?
BARROWS: Yes, shaking in every bone. He chewed a cigar – unlit
-- and he never looked at you.
JOHNSON: Is that right?
BARROWS: And I never could hear him.
JOHNSON: And he's chomping on this cigar while he was talking, while
he was dictating?
BARROWS: It was pretty awful. He was trying to put you at ease, I understand,
and it was too bad.
JOHNSON: Did you have to ask him once in a while to stop and...
BARROWS: I had to have help. I would go to the three girls who had come
in with him and been with him for years. I presume when he dictated to
any of them he wasn’t self-conscious. I don’t know.
JOHNSON: So he was kind of shy, you are saying?
BARROWS: Of women, shy of women. So I was told, because I wondered why
anybody in the world would do that.
JOHNSON: So he dictated at least three or four letters to you?
BARROWS: At Christmas 1929, the girls who had come in with him, went
home for Christmas. I was the only person there then that worked a great
deal for the people upstairs, and they knew me. They were awfully nice
to me. So they brought me upstairs, put me in Mr. Richey’s outer
room by myself. The President was right across the hall. They’ve
remodeled the offices since. So I had to cover the President for Christmas.
It was awful.
JOHNSON: Wow. Now, are you talking about the Oval Office when you say
BARROWS: I was across the hall from the Oval Office. The Oval Office
was in the middle. On the left was the Cabinet room, and on the right
was the appointments secretary's office. There was a hall about 12 feet
wide where I sat in one room, and back of that Mr. Richey, the boss, had
his office. I mean that's where I landed at Christmas. So that was my
beginning up the ladder...
JOHNSON: Did it have a room number?
BARROWS: Oh, no. Very informal.
JOHNSON: Down the hall was the Press Secretary's office?
BARROWS: I was about 12 feet from the President's door.
JOHNSON: About 12 feet is all. Right next to the Press Secretary's office?
BARROWS: No, next to the big boss, Mr. Richey's office. This was just
for Christmastime. So I worked during the holiday for Mr. Richey, all
I could. I liked him a lot,
and he was quite dear to help me. I would stumble into the President's
office when he rang, which was seldom, and somehow I got through it. From
then on, I became better known, and they didn't send me back downstairs.
Where did I go? I can't tell you exactly. I landed in the legislative
secretary's office; his name was Walter Newton and he was awfully nice.
He had what seemed to me then a very old secretary; I'm sure she must
have been 40! She was very kind to me.
JOHNSON: What was her name?
BARROWS: Potter, Mrs. Potter, a widow, a newspaperman's widow. I believe
they were from Minnesota. I stayed in that office. George Akerson was
the Press Secretary; he was from Minneapolis. He sort of liked me and
the first thing you know, he wanted me. There was a little rumpus, but
I landed there. In the meantime, I got a little fed up with it all, and
went back to Judge Littleton. And I said, "I want to come back. Can't
you possibly, you promised." He said, "Well, just before you
came in, Larry Richey phoned me and said I was not under any circumstances
to release you." And he said, "We have to always oblige the
I told you, I was dragged screaming. It was pretty hard hours, and by
this time things were getting near the Depression. Also, on Christmas
Eve 1929 the West Wing burned down, the outer walls only remained.
JOHNSON: Oh, you remember a fire there. Do you remember the fire?
BARROWS: I remember that Christmas holiday, working for the President;
oh I was loaded with "loot" -- they were so nice to me, candy,
etc. I was being envied, but I was not happy. Before they sent me home
in the White House car, I put my head in Mr. Newton's door, because I
liked him a lot, to say "Happy Christmas." And I thought, "How
can they stand this heat?" It was in that fireplace, that the fire
started. Then, when I woke up the next morning, the papers were full of
it. So we moved over to what is now called the EOB, but was then the State,
War and Navy Building, occupied by those departments. There was a big
beautiful office called General Pershing's quarters, which he occupied
not at all, and it faced the burned-out White House office. That room
was given the President, and we were alloted adjoining rooms; not the
first day, however.
JOHNSON: That would be after the fire?
BARROWS: After the fire we worked in the White House proper, on the second
floor, for three days and fell over each other. It was awkward.
JOHNSON: You mean in the main quarters, not in the White House wings?
BARROWS: Right where the bedrooms are. The President had his office in
a bedroom converted to a study.
JOHNSON: Oh, the study became the Oval Office, so to speak.
BARROWS: Well, his study in the living quarters.
BARROWS: We were in the corridors, and in the bedrooms; what a mess!
Somehow they straightened things out. We worked in the State, War and
Navy Building until the spring of 1930. About May or June, we moved back
to the new West Wing. Bless their soul -- Congress had voted enough money
for an air-conditioning system, the first one to be put in the White House,
and it was delightful. So there we worked, in a new Executive
office, or west wing.
JOHNSON: The first summer they had air-conditioning was the summer of
BARROWS: The first I had ever worked in. I don't know whether the movies
had air-conditioning or not; I can't remember. But it was very nice, and
just right, better than it is now, as a matter of fact.
JOHNSON: A lot happened between 1929 and '30 in your career.
BARROWS: Yes. I went back to work for Mr. Newton then, I think, because
I was there when the Depression came in October 1930. Then there was a
place where Camp David is now, and I with two of the President's girls,
secretaries, used to go up there weekends. He wouldn't be there, but we
JOHNSON: Do you remember their names?
BARROWS: Yes. Only one is living now, though. I think she's living; her
name is Eastman, and the other one's name was McGrath. They were girls
from New York State who had been with Mr. Hoover in his Commerce days.
JOHNSON: You used to go to what now is Camp David?
BARROWS: I believe it's the same place. It has the same entrance, a lovely
place. Mr. Richey owned it jointly with a big Cadillac dealer here in
Washington, a big Republican.
JOHNSON: So you got to go there once in a while then?
BARROWS: Yes. And then he, Mr. Richey, had another place at Indian Head,
Maryland, where the Potomac flows into the Chesapeake Bay. The house was
simple, a lodge. He had caretakers, so we went there [Indian Head site]
sometimes. The girls had a car -- I didn't -- an old Ford, and we would
go down to Indian Head. They were awfully nice women, near my age. They
were so very nice and kind. I enjoyed it a lot. The swimming was excellent.
There was a caretaker and his wife who had quarters there too. They had
a little dog -- those two girls --- and they always took it with them,
and Mr. Richey had a little dog, and they always took him. There were
cats down there too. And there were tame deer up in the hills (at Camp
David site). It was very pleasant.
JOHNSON: What was McGrath's first name?
BARROWS: She was named Myra, and Miss Eastman's name was Dorothy. I think
she's still living here in Washington.
JOHNSON: Were you supposed to be working 40-hour weeks? Was that the
BARROWS: We worked every day in the week, except Saturday afternoons.
And so did the whole Government.
JOHNSON: They worked Saturday mornings in those days?
JOHNSON: And so the Depression has hit...
BARROWS: The President would usually go in the summertime down to Rapidan,
Virginia where he had a fishing lodge. That was, I think, near Chancellorsville,
Virginia, near the battleground.
JOHNSON: I know of Rapidan.
BARROWS: I believe it's quite near the National Park. The battle was
there. I've never been there. As I recall, he had a secretary. Although
Miss McGrath did most of his work, he had another girl named Ann Shankey,
who is dead.
I'll tell you something very amusing.
BARROWS: How little politics mattered, because I told them I was for
A1 Smith, of course. I thought it would help to get me back. Ann Shankey
had been a girlfriend of Jim Farley; they came from the same town, when
she was a young girl. She asked me if I knew him.
Jim Farley became Roosevelt's campaign manager. Ann said, "Oh, I
used to be his girlfriend." Of course, she married someone else.
JOHNSON: Now, you're working still in the White House, in the depths
of the Depression, in 1931, '32.
BARROWS: Then I went again to the Press Secretary, who had no secretary
-- Mr. Akerson. He demanded that I come back to him. So I went back to
him, but I don't know why because he never did any work. Mail would pile
JOHNSON: Didn't do the work very well, you say.
BARROWS: He didn't do any paperwork. I had to write his letters. I guess
that was my fatal mistake.
JOHNSON: You mean you had to write letters in reply to people who were
writing in to the President. You had to ghostwrite letters?
BARROWS: That's when it began.
JOHNSON: So that's when you got your first experience with a Press Secretary?
BARROWS: That was my second experience with him.
JOHNSON: So you came back to him and that lasted how long?
BARROWS: Then he left. Went back to newspapering, and was replaced by
the President with a new secretary whose name was Joslyn.
JOHNSON: His first name was?
BARROWS: The others called him Ted, a little man. He worked for a newspaper
but I've forgotten by now what it was. The girl who had previously worked
for the speechwriter went to work for him. In other words, she took the
job I had held because the speechwriter went back to Doubleday. He resigned
to write a book.
JOHNSON: Oh, I see.
BARROWS: So we got a new speechwriter named George Hastings from New York.
I was assigned to him. They built two rooms on the east side of the West
Wing, against the office wall looking east toward the White House, down
the colonnade, and onto the Rose Garden. It was a lovely little office
-- I was in one room; the speechwriter was in another.
JOHNSON: And this was right by the Oval Office then?
BARROWS: That's right: against it -- an extension.
JOHNSON: And by the Rose Garden?
BARROWS: This square is the building where the Oval office sits, and
when the President went home for lunch or came in or out, or anywhere,
he opened this door and went out on this lovely pillared porch. He came
down here, and here I am, right here; here are our rooms. Here's the colonnade,
here's the Rose Garden, and the President came this way when he went home
for lunch. And every morning he came this same way. He had a dog; the
only good thing about sitting out there was the dog. He had a lot of dogs,
and I loved them.
JOHNSON: Now were these temporary rooms, or were they permanent?
BARROWS: I don't know what they are now. I guess they were redone when
Mrs. Roosevelt moved in.
JOHNSON: Okay, she probably revamped things.
BARROWS: During the Depression, an architect did them all over.
JOHNSON: The rooms?
BARROWS: They moved everything, the oval office, everything, and I don't
know what happened to those two rooms.
JOHNSON: Oh, that's right, he rebuilt it and made it larger in '34, I
BARROWS: So finally I'm in this room working for the speechwriter. Well,
I worked for him maybe for six months.
JOHNSON: Now, he's a Hoover speechwriter.
BARROWS: Yes. Times were getting terrible; they cut our salaries to where
I almost worked for nothing.
JOHNSON: What did they pay you? Do you remember what they paid you?
BARROWS: Well, there was an 8 percent cut. That was for the payroll people.
We were not on the White House payroll; they had no payroll of any size.
Congress was very stingy with them. So we were all paid by the places
we had originally come from, been drafted from. I had been drafted from
the Bureau -- I don't know what they called the Tax Board then. So salaries
in those places were cut 16 percent. I can't imagine it, but luckily I
lived at home and could manage.
JOHNSON: And you had to help pay the rent too didn't you?
BARROWS: Well, it helped. I had two sisters who were still at home. One
had married and divorced, so she was home. And the other one was widowed.
She had married a man in the First World War and he was a good bit older
and he died. So there really were three women at home, four counting my
mother, and we kept a maid so my mother wouldn't have to work. It was
a ten-room house, and she was not young. Anyway, that's the way it was.
The Depression got worse, and worse, and the President then began to go
out on campaign trips. One time I went, by accident. One of the girls
that usually went got sick at the last minute. I had to go home and get
my toothbrush and so forth and hop on the train. It was just an overnight
trip to Cleveland.
JOHNSON: This was in 1932?
BARROWS: In '32. Near the end of the campaign is my recollection. He
drew terribly large crowds at the train.
JOHNSON: Huge crowds he got?
BARROWS: On that one trip, that one overnight trip.
JOHNSON: What was your job?
BARROWS: I helped. I really can't remember -- on the typewriter. There
was one other girl. The other girl that had gotten sick -- I don't know
what she would have done -- but I guess I did what she did. I don't recollect.
At that time I didn't know what to expect from a Presidential campaign.
We got on the train in Washington, had dinner aboard the train and worked
all night. I didn't like that very much, but I had to. Maybe we had an
hour's sleep. Sometime that next day I got a nap, and that next night
I remember the President made a speech in Cleveland, Ohio,
from the back of the train. The crowd was tremendous. Everyone thought
he would be defeated, and I thought, "Well, how can he be?"
As I say, I really didn't know much about it.
JOHNSON: That was the only trip you went on in the '32 campaign?
BARROWS: The only trip, that's right. I had to work at night several
times during that autumn of the '32 campaign, in the White House proper,
with the speechwriters.
JOHNSON: In the mansion now, the living quarters?
BARROWS: In the mansion.
JOHNSON: What room did they use there?
BARROWS: Well, those rooms are changed with each administration. At that
time it was a yellow room. Someone said it had something to do with treaties,
but being in the living quarters I may be mistaken, I really don't know.
JOHNSON: Was it a yellow, a kind of a yellow room?
BARROWS: No, it wasn't a yellow room, in a sense that you would call it
that. It was a beautiful room. But I think it has long since been converted
to something else, because in the Roosevelt years I worked a great deal
in the living quarters, and I don't remember it existing. If I saw it
again, it was something else.
JOHNSON: Did it make any difference to you then whether Hoover was defeated
or not? Of course, he was defeated by Franklin Roosevelt.
BARROWS: At the time I had gotten awfully fond of the people. I really
had; they were awfully nice. So it mattered.
JOHNSON: When the Roosevelts came in, then some of those had to leave,
BARROWS: I got out before Roosevelt came in.
JOHNSON: You left too?
BARROWS: From what I read in the papers at least, it had been a very
dirty campaign; it really had, even I knew that. They not only insinuated,
but printed, that Roosevelt had not had polio, but VD, and had no hesitation
about saying which one. And that's the kind
of thing those old-time campaigns were full of. You know, we think this
Gary Hart thing is dirty, but they were dirtier.
JOHNSON: It was old stuff.
BARROWS: It was my first experience with one, and I thought they were
JOHNSON: Well, the economic situation was so bad that Hoover apparently
had no chance of winning.
BARROWS: Oh, you haven't any idea. You probably weren't even born.
JOHNSON: You saw bread lines and people selling apples and that sort
of thing here?
BARROWS: It was terrible. The worst thing was when the veterans asked
for a bonus.
JOHNSON: Oh yes, the bonus marchers.
BARROWS: From home I rode the street car, and I went right by the Capitol
every day and they were always in the Capitol grounds resting in their
uniforms -- from the First World War. They looked so tired and pitiful.
I lived about six or eight blocks from their makeshift village in southeast
Washington. At the foot of 11th Street, there's a bridge that goes across
the Anacostia River, which is a branch of the Potomac. Over there the
veterans had built their camp, and called it Hooverville.
JOHNSON: Yes, on the Anacostia Flats.
BARROWS: The night they burnt them out was terrible. They came up a hill
by our place, I remember, and our front yard had a retaining wall, brick,
and some of the women were pregnant. Most of the veterans had their wives
with them. They were nice people. We gave them water. It was night. I
don't remember that we fed anyone. I don't know that it turned the whole
city against Hoover, but friends and neighbors who weren't politically
any more conscious than I, were affected. It was a cruel thing to do.
It should have been handled with some compassion.
JOHNSON: That didn't make Hoover look any better did it?
BARROWS: They were called Bolsheviks, and it was said they wanted to
kill the President, and such nonsense. They didn't have enough strength
to kill a mouse.
BARROWS: There used to be an old gentleman -- I never saw him since I
wouldn't be home -- he'd ring the bell. Mother said he was clean. He would
ask if he could recite some poems, Shakespeare, and she'd give him a cup
of coffee and a quarter and sit there and listen while that old gentleman
sat in our parlor and recited. It was that bad. He thanked her. There
was no feeling of having begged. People rang your doorbell at all hours
and asked for a nickel, for a cup of coffee; it wasn't a dime, and it
was a nickel.
JOHNSON: But then you left your job when the Roosevelts came in, just
before they came in, in 1933?
BARROWS: The new President was inaugurated then on the 4th of March 1933.
I told Mr. Richey I had read in the paper of the different people that
were coming and they were bringing a tremendous staff, and I said, "They
won't want any part of me," thinking I could go back to the Tax Court.
But I couldn't. They had filled my job long since; four years had passed,
and they couldn't fire that girl, in all conscience. So they gave me a
job in the Bureau of Internal Revenue, with the Assistant Commissioner,
oh, a beautiful office. Of course, he was a Republican,
and I knew nothing about Presidential appointments as against Civil Service.
JOHNSON: You were Civil Service though, weren't you?
BARROWS: Yes, I was, but I didn't know that the big shots weren't too.
At least I may have known it, but it didn't sink in. I should have known
JOHNSON: Your job was safer than theirs.
BAAROWS: I can't imagine now not knowing that; it couldn't happen now.
But anyway, I was there a week, and he disappeared. Someone else had been
appointed, or would be appointed; they said he had resigned, knowing he
had to. So there I sat with nothing to do, but nobody put me out, and
they paid my salary for about a week. I think I was there about a week,
a very uncomfortable period in my life, not knowing what would happen
There were two gentlemen who had been at the White House since Presidents
McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. They were called Executive Clerks, and
they knew all Government procedures and about how to handle things such
as Congressional bills that came in from the
Capitol. That was their job, taking back and forth the important bills
and papers that the President worked on, and sent to Congress. They didn't
change expression ever. They were very courtly, very dignified and quiet,
and in their day had been very handsome men. We were all scared to death
of them. One of them called me and said, "We would like to have you
come back today." And I said, "I have been reading in the papers
you're working Sundays. I don't want to." And he said, "No,
no. In the first place, you shouldn't have left." I said, "Well,
I really felt I should. Do they know you're asking me, because after all,
they might not want me." He said, "Of course they know I'm asking
So I went back and went to lunch with two girls that had been at the
White House since before I got there. They were the first girls employed
there. When I came back from lunch they sent me up to the Appointments
Secretary, and introduced me to Marvin McIntyre. He said, "I have
an administrative assistant, but no secretary." So the administrative
assistant and I worked back in the room where I had worked for Mr. Akerson.
JOHNSON: So you are back by the Oval Office in the West Wing?
BARROWS: Working for Marvin McIntyre, who had Mr. Akerson's job.
He was a Kentuckyian. He was a newspaperman and had been with Mr. Roosevelt
when Roosevelt was Assistant Secretary of the Navy in the Wilson days.
Steve Early was the Press Secretary, but I had known him because he was
a newspaperman when I worked for the Hoovers, and he would say, "Hello."
Louis Howe had Mr. Richey's job. I suppose he had the job that would be
compared now with Mr. [Donald] Regan's job. From then on you know the
JOHNSON: So you were working for McIntyre at this point.
BARROWS: I was. I worked for him and worked and worked. Our lobby was
full of people, wall to wall, all day long, wanting jobs. There was no
security, not even thought of. People I had gone to grade school with
heard I worked there. I had no power whatsoever, but they'd hear it and
they'd come, girls with dreadful clothing on, holes in their clothes.
We all went broke giving people handouts. The whole staff went broke.
every day, you felt like you had to give people something.
JOHNSON: But these people were lining up where?
BARROWS: They weren't lining up, they were just pushing in. They had
to know somebody to get in, of course.
JOHNSON: Into the White House.
BARROWS: The White House office, in the lobby of the Oval Office.
JOHNSON: And almost begging for something.
BARROWS: Begging for anything, a job. People with college degrees. In
those days a college degree was not an everyday thing like they are now.
It was really an experience.
JOHNSON: How long did you work for McIntyre?
BARROWS: Until he became quite ill with tuberculosis and had to take
time off. That is when General [Edwin M.] Watson was appointed in his
JOHNSON: They called him "Pa" didn't they?
BARROWS: I think it had something to do with his age or his class at West
Point; that's my recollection, but I don't know the story.
JOHNSON: What kind of a person was Watson?
BARROWS: He was a great raconteur.
JOHNSON: Always had stories to tell.
BARROWS: The most wonderful stories I have ever heard, and in this thick,
Southern accent you could cut with a knife. He was named Edwin Martin,
and his people came from Martinsville. Martinsville, Virginia, is named
for his great, great, great somebody, and they were in the tobacco business,
chewing tobacco included. It came in a cannister, a tin, with a picture
of a little boy on a shetland pony, which was General Watson when he was
a little boy. It was called "Little Edwin" chewing tobacco.
That's where their money came from.
JOHNSON: What was your title, job title at this point?
BARROWS: Well, at first I don't know. By the time General Watson came
I think I had climbed to administrative assistant on paper, but we didn't
get very much more
money. I think I got $2,300 a year.
JOHNSON: So you were assistant to Watson, who was the Appointments Secretary?
BARROWS: In 1934 Mrs. Roosevelt pursuaded them to let the building be
remodeled. The President's room was pushed from the middle of the Executive
Office to the east wall of that building but retained its oval form.
JOHNSON: That's when they expanded wasn't it?
BARROWS: After a fashion -- just remodeled.
JOHNSON: So you were located then, after this renovation...
BARROWS: Outside the Oval Office, in the most beautiful room I ever saw
in my life -- perfectly proportioned.
JOHNSON: To the west, or the east?
BARROWS: To the west. I don't know how to express it in feet. Oh, it
was beautiful, French windows looking out on the back grounds and comfortable
chairs around the wall.
JOHNSON: On the west side now of the West Wing?
BARROWS: Actually it was east of where it had been. There was a small
office, where the two executive clerks sat, west of that and next to it,
and then a little office, about the same size, west of that, where the
rest of the Appointments Secretary's help was. You see, when Mr. McIntyre
was Appointments Secretary, I was in a little back room, and the administrative
assistant sat in the big room. The administrative assistant left and became
a lawyer on the outside of the Government. I took his place and had a
desk against the window in the big room. Then there was an enormous desk
they said had belonged to President Taft. It was the biggest desk I had
ever seen in my life. It had two compartments on the far side that I could
have climbed into, I think.
JOHNSON: Now you shared that room with others?
BARROWS: Just General Watson, at the "Taft" desk.
JOHNSON: How long did that last?
BARROWS: All through the Roosevelt time, and through Truman's.
JOHNSON: Through the war, through World War II?
BARROWS: I worked there through the first part of Eisenhower's first
administration and then I left. I had tuberculosis. After the war was
over, in the '50s, somebody discovered a rib separator that simplified
lung surgery. I had that operation, and never went back. I went to work
for Doris Fleeson, whom I had known, a columnist. And I just worked part-time.
JOHNSON: Okay, during the war, you're still doing pretty much the same
kind of work, only...
BARROWS: When Mr. Truman came in...
JOHNSON: Do you remember that day, April 12, 1945 when the President
BARROWS: Yes. I usually went to Warm Springs with Mr. Roosevelt, but
my mother was terminally ill, and I couldn't go that last trip.
JOHNSON: You were home when you heard the news?
BARROWS I had just gotten home. Our neighbor called me and told me that
her radio was on and the President had
died. And the phone rang just as she said it, and I wondered how in the
world I could tell my mother. But the phone rang and I didn't have to
think of that for a minute. It was the White House and they said, "We're
sending a car." So I had to tell her. She was a Missourian, and I
can remember what she said. She said, "it would be an odd thing wouldn't
it, for a Missourian to become President?"
JOHNSON: Had you known Truman?
BARROWS: Only as a Senator, as he'd come to call on President Roosevelt.
He didn't come a great deal until he organized that Committee and became
rather famous, you know. He became a prominent Senator. I imagine I saw
him maybe three times a year. He didn't know I was from Missouri, and
I sure didn't feel I was. I had never even gone to school in Missouri.
JOHNSON: But he did come and you did see him when he came to the White
BARROWS: Yes, and after he was Vice President I saw him. Three or four
times, he claims he came, but I can't remember the visits at all.
I never was in his part of Missouri. We came from the southern part. My
people, my grandparents, were all from Tennessee. My great, great, grandparents
were all from Ireland.
JOHNSON: I see. So you went back to work. Did it change your routines
at all to work for...
BARROWS: I worked with Matt Connelly. Nothing changed. Going to Hyde
Park on the funeral train, it was really like two trains. All of the Roosevelt
people that were invited were in the front section, and in the back section
were Mr. Truman and his entourage. I hardly knew him, by sight even. I
didn't know any of them.
JOHNSON: When did you first meet Mr. Truman, personally? I suppose you
finally did get a chance to...
BARROWS: I don't know. By that time the East Wing had been built, and
Jimmy Byrnes had a big office over there during the war. I've forgotten
his title, but it was important. Judge [Fred M.] Vinson had succeeded
him, and had that job. He had resigned from the Congress to take it. Going
up on the train, he asked me if I would go to work for him. He said, "I
that Truman outfit has a great many people." I said, "I'm sure
of it, and I want to leave the White House anyway. I would like to leave."
He said, "Don't leave. Come with me, and if I leave it, you leave."
I said, "All right, thank you," and that was that.
I think we came back that evening, and the next day I went in to clean
out my desk and be as quiet about it as possible. I didn't barge in. I
went in the little back room, and I looked in the front room at my desk,
and saw Mr. Connelly. I saw him for the first time. I suppose I really
had seen him at the funeral, but wouldn't recognize him to speak to him.
I didn't know him. Steve Early had left the White House to practice public
relations some time before, but when the President died, he came right
back to the White House to handle the whole affair. Steve and Mr. Connelly
were talking. Steve looked up and saw me start back when I saw them there,
and he said, "Come on in Roby." I said, "All right."
I came in and he introduced me, and Mr. Connelly said, "Won't you
sit down?" I sat down. "I just want to explain to you that we
are not making any commitments." I said, "Well, I realize that.
I've already made other arrangements.
I would like to clean out my desk, if you don't mind." He said, "But
I wanted to ask you if you'd be an exception and stay." Oh, I thought,
what will I say. I didn't know what to do, I didn't want to stay. I really
didn't. But I told him about Judge Vinson and so he picked up the phone
and called the Judge. He wasn't Judge then. But two days later he was
Secretary of the Treasury. I don't know how I missed that.
JOHNSON: So you stayed on in the same desk, the same room, instead of...
BARROWS: He was very sweet, very kind, and he said, "You'll have
to tell me everything to do." I said, "Are you going to continue
in the same fashion handling these appointments?" He said, "As
far as I know, but we'll feel our way, and you tell us." As I remember,
the following was the only radical change: Mr. Early had called the press
in for a press conference in the morning. I don't know what time. Charlie
Ross who took Mr. Early's place, as I recall, called them in for a press
conference in the afternoon. That's the only change that I can think of.
My afternoons were usually
pretty quiet as far as people are concerned. The President caught up on
his paperwork then; all Presidents did.
JOHNSON: In other words, Roosevelt had his press conferences in the morning,
and Truman in the afternoon.
BARROWS: That changed later. I had nothing to prepare for Presidential
press conferences. The things that I prepared were for the President's
JOHNSON: But you were secretary to the Appointments Secretary.
BARROWS: That's right, but every afternoon by 3 o'clock I had to have
information ready on legal sheets of next day's callers on the President.
I made a copy for Mr. Ross; the President got the original; Mr. Connelly
and I had ours, and I've forgotten who else, not very many people. They
were highly classified at the time. These were the appointments list for
the next day, but underneath the name I had to tell everything I knew
about them. During the week as we made them, I had to scavenge around,
either on the telephone or
through files, if I didn't know. I had to know their background and what
they were going to talk to the President about.
JOHNSON: Was this the same way under Roosevelt?
BARROWS: This is what I had done and it did not change. So the top sheet
I gave to the President's personal secretary each night.
JOHNSON: On Rose Conway's desk?
BARROWS: On Rose Conway's desk. She gave it to the President. He had
all the background that I could possibly give him.
JOHNSON: On that appointments sheet.
BARROWS: Mr. Ross' secretary came over at 3 o'clock or thereabouts, and
took the first carbon copy which was attached to all the written information
or correspondence from our files, wherever I could find a file, and she
took it to him for his press conference the following day. This was all
the background material.
JOHNSON: Now who would she be?
BARROWS: She would be the secretary to the Press Secretary.
JOHNSON: Do you remember who she was under Mr. Ross?
BARROWS: Under Mr. Ross, her name was Myrtle something, but I've forgotten
her last name.
JOHNSON: Had she worked with Early?
JOHNSON: Watson had died, by the way, hadn't he?
BARROWS: He died about a month before the President.
JOHNSON: You started with McIntyre, and then you worked for Watson. Did
you stay with Watson then right up until about the end of the Roosevelt
BARROWS: He died on the high seas on the way back from Yalta, in February,
before Roosevelt died in April 1945.
JOHNSON: Oh yes, yes.
BARROWS: I had thought he shouldn't have gone. He had a very bad heart.
JOHNSON: And of course the President wasn't feeling too well either at
BARROWS: He died from a stroke.
JOHNSON: How did they compare as bosses, Matt Connelly and Pa Watson?
BARROWS: Well, you couldn't compare them.
JOHNSON: They were just entirely different characters?
BARROWS: They both were extremely amiable men. One was young, handsome;
the other was in his 50s and portly, and had been extremely handsome.
He was very handsome in uniform. Both of them were very tall men, but
Mr. Connelly was Irish and very witty. They had that in common.
JOHNSON: They both were good storytellers?
BARROWS: Yes, they really were. Their stories were miles apart. Well,
their ages were miles apart.
JOHNSON: Well, I forget exactly what Connelly's background was, but...
BARROWS: He went to Boston College I believe. He was an Irish Catholic,
not a very good Catholic, not a very good Catholic at all. I remember
his friends naming him Godfather to their infants. He'd have to go to
a christening, and they claimed every time he went into Trinity Church,
there were thunderstorms and lightning, scared them all to death. One
of his jokes was that the babies were almost always struck by lightning.
BARROWS: Never went into church except for christenings.
JOHNSON: But he was an amiable boss, you say, easy to get along with?
BARROWS: I never saw him lose his temper. That could not be said of the
General; he was quite apt to lose it and when he did, the place fell apart.
He was one of those who very seldom did, but it was really bad, when he
did. He never lost it with me, but I have seen it, and very regrettable
sometimes. It hurt me to see him say things like that to people, but he
could do it. I suppose it's the Army.
JOHNSON: Did your workload change, to speak of, under Connelly?
BARROWS: Well, I had been through the war, and in the war we had fewer
civilian appointments and a great, great many military appointments. At
that time the Pentagon had opened, the State Department had its own building,
and our allies -- General Sir John Dill for instance -- represented England
with a staff. Australia had a General with a staff, and so did Canada
and the whole United Kingdom. Of course, we had nobody from France because
it was occupied, but we saw DeGaulle. He came, and we saw a great deal
of the so-called French Ambassador.
JOHNSON: So your main job was to prepare that daily appointments list?
BARROWS: It wasn't my main job, but it was a...
JOHNSON: But a very important job.
BARROWS: It was a hard job.
JOHNSON: Yes, to get the background. What else did you do then besides...
BARROWS: And the timing was hard because they would want it always before
I could get it ready.
In the mornings we had two phones on each desk; one of Connelly's was
private, and one of mine was private. I had direct lines to the Cabinet
officers' secretaries. For instance, it helped -- remember when Dean Acheson
was Secretary of State, and the Marshall plan in 1947 was being thought
up and worked out, and the airlift to Berlin started and things like that.
Truman came in at a terrible, terrible time. You have no idea how hard
we worked. It was worse than the war in many respects, as far as our hours
JOHNSON: You were under pressure, you felt, day after day?
BARROWS: Europe was in ashes, and Russia was all over the place. Nothing
was happening that had been anticipated apparently, in spite of all the
meetings at Teheran and at Yalta. It was just falling to pieces, and he,
President Truman, with Mr. Acheson and others held it up. They literally
did, and so did General Marshall.
JOHNSON: Did Matt Connelly take all these calls from people who wanted
appointments, or did you take those calls first?
BARROWS: I took about half, and he took about half. And the phone rang
JOHNSON: Did you have to make decisions whether they could come in, or
did you just pass the information on?
BARROWS: I just had to keep them happy.
JOHNSON: And when they were turned down, you had to turn them down diplomatically?
BARROWS: That's why I got sick of my own voice.
JOHNSON: From turning people down and that sort of thing?
BARROWS: Well, not turning down, but keeping them in good humor -- "Yes
Senator, I do know, Senator, indeed I do know." "I don't know
at the moment just how soon we can return it, but Mr. Connelly will certainly
do his best."
JOHNSON: Well, you were a buffer, you were kind of a buffer weren't you?
BARROWS: I really got sick of myself sometimes. You know.
JOHNSON: Yes. You constantly had to kind of adjust and
tailor things I suppose to the situation. Did Matt Connelly compliment
you then on the work you did? He certainly did, you know, in that interview.
BARROWS: Yes, he was always very good to me. Always. At that time I was
getting along; I was older than Mr. Connelly.
JOHNSON: Did he have a problem with favors? You know, he ran into that
BARROWS: I had to go to Kansas City and be a witness, a character witness
in his trial. They were so rude to me on the stand. I don't to this day
know how a judge could let a district attorney talk to women, as he talked
to me. I'm very poor at figures, so one of the girls in the office did
Mr. Connelly's income tax. I didn't.
JOHNSON: This is for Matt Connelly's trial you're talking about?
JOHNSON: And you're called up to be a character witness.
BARROWS: Yes, made me very unhappy, but I did it.
JOHNSON: What did you tell the court, do you remember, basically?
BARROWS: I told them exactly the truth. I had never in my life asked
anyone to give anyone a job, over his signature, nor did he. It was a
White House flat rule; you could not write on a memorandum, say, to the
Secretary of the Treasury, and say so and so and so and so are friends
of mine, would you give him a job, or you must give him a job. You just
said, "This is a case to receive such consideration as you feel it
JOHNSON: Wasn't there something about a shoe company or something in
St. Louis that was...
BARROWS: I think that he was supposed to have let Mr. [Harry J.] Schwimmer,
a man from Kansas City -- I suppose he had worked in the Presidential,
or Senatorial campaigns -- pay for some suits, suits of clothing. And
later on Governor [Sherman] Adams got in the same bind you know, over
a rug, I think, or a coat.
JOHNSON: Do you think that was just mainly a political trial, or was it
a genuine? I mean was there a real problem there, legally?
BARROWS: Schwimmer is supposed to have been given access then to the
Bureau of Internal Revenue officials he wanted to see. He had tax trouble
and I don't even know what business he was in. He was a pretty smooth
worker as I recall. But whatever Mr. Connelly did, he had no idea that
he was doing anything like that, I'm sure of that.
JOHNSON: You mean you are confident that his motives were clear and clean?
BARROWS: He was naive in some ways.
JOHNSON: Matt Connelly was a little naive?
BARROWS: He had a side to him that was a little naive.
JOHNSON: Too trusting, maybe, of certain people?
BARROWS: Trusting everyone. I think he was a poor judge of people. Of
course, the President was plagued with a great many con artists from his
own state. I suppose
all Presidents are, I don't know.
JOHNSON: But you didn't get involved in that except as a witness at the
BARROWS: Oh yes, I did. My hair was red and getting gray. Schwimmer had
brought me a bottle -- evidently I was turning gray (he had black hair)
-- a bottle of tablets that were supposed to help your hair. I think Mr.
Reagan must use them.
JOHNSON: He kept trying to influence you.
BARROWS: And that made me so mad, I didn't even take them. It didn't
do any good.
JOHNSON: Well, did any other ever try to...
BARROWS: Once in a while he would send me flowers, which I left at the
office. I never took a flower home in my life. But he wasn't the only
JOHNSON: Okay, besides flowers, did you ever get favors which you thought
might be trying to influence you?
BARROWS: No, at Christmas you would get presents like purses, candy,
perfume, but they'd be Christmas presents.
And, of course, I knew an awful lot of people at the Capitol at that time.
JOHNSON: Oh, you must have.
BARROWS: I did.
JOHNSON: Did anyone try to take, you think, unfair advantage of your
BARROWS: No, but by implication that I lied about those memos, Mr. Connelly's
memos and phone calls. Of course, I wouldn't know about phone calls to
people in the Bureau of Internal Revenue. I don't remember the problem
but would not have understood it had I known it, and I made it very plain.
JOHNSON: They tried to implicate you in that you say?
BARROWS: No. But when they got this other girl on the stand too, they
twisted things she said. They sent him to prison -- took away his voting
rights and things like that -- I thought it was so unjust, so terrible.
He hadn't done a thing, not really.
JOHNSON: Did you know his family?
BARROWS: He only had a little boy and a wife. A little boy that I guess
now must be pretty well up in years.
JOHNSON: It would be hard on the family, of course. That trial had to
be a hard experience.
BARROWS: Yes, but they were never brought into it in any way. She was
a rather pretty girl, I thought, awfully nice.
JOHNSON: Would she come in once in a while to visit her husband?
BARROWS: Yes. She came in quite often. When those things happened –
appointments -- to prestigious jobs, I think family friends become very
close, through all of that. It's inevitable I'm sure in human nature,
I don't know.
JOHNSON: But as far as you could tell everything was being run on the
straight and narrow?
JOHNSON: And you were under instructions you say?
BARROWS: I was under instructions and so far as I ever saw they were always
carried out. In the very beginning when Mr. Truman came in, I think every
member -- every living member -- of Battery D, including the chaplain
JOHNSON: Father Tiernan.
BARROWS: Yes. Real tall, good looking. He was awfully nice. Everybody
came East. There was one he gave a job to there in the White House, and
JOHNSON: Oh, McKim, Eddie McKim.
BARROWS: Yes. The next day he was gone.
JOHNSON: What was your experience with Edward McKim?
BARROWS: He fixed up a big office over there in the West Wing and borrowed
pictures from the Corcoran Gallery of Art. On the day before he was supposed
to take over, and I don't know what his duties would have been, he didn't
come in. Once in a great while, later on, he would come to Washington,
but not often. There were several of that ilk that hung around, but after
about six months they were all gone. The President had a lot to learn,
he really did, and he knew it.
JOHNSON: Did you ever talk to him personally, President Truman?
BARROWW: Yes, a lot.
JOHNSON: You did?
BARROWS: Oh yes.
JOHNSON: What kind of an impression did he make and what were the occasions?
Do you remember any of the occasions?
BARROWS: Well, let's see, was it twelve years?
JOHNSON: He was there for almost eight years as President.
BARROWS: No, I mean Roosevelt.
JOHNSON: Oh, Roosevelt, yes, that would have been from '33 to '45, twelve
BARROWS: For twelve years we had had an immobilized man in the White
House. His luncheon was brought over every
day. You know these things -- I don't know if they still use them or not
-- but hotels wheel them around for meals. It was brought over by servants,
and his luncheon guests ate at his desk with him.
JOHNSON: In the Oval Office?
BARROWS: Yes. Almost always a man, but Miss [Frances] Perkins might sometimes
come. He seldom ate alone; that was very rare. That went on so long you
never thought much about it. I worked at night a good bit for Mr. Roosevelt,
and I had dinner with him in his study. The same food carrier was wheeled
up for dinner. He always fixed us a drink before dinner -- the awfulest
martinis I've ever tasted. Well, you just got accustomed to it, and the
press never took pictures of him getting off and on trains wearing his
braces. Really, it was a sad sight.
BARROWS: And he was a tremendous man. He was six feet six before he was
About the second day, the first working day, let's say, for President
Truman, when things were fairly
normal again, the door opened and out popped the President. He said, "Good
morning," and I jumped to my feet and said, "Good morning, sir."
And he went on through the room, to my horror, and to the next room, with
no Secret Service, and out into the lobby. By that time the Secret Service
I guess caught on, and they were after him. I don't know where he went.
This happened, of course, several times a day, and several times the next
day and I was a little bobbin, and made a little curtsy. I do remember
that. That was my first contact. He always said, "Hello, how are
you?" He finally came over and said, "Now, look, I know you
respect the office of the President of the United States, but I cannot
sit in that office by myself, between appointments, all day long. I want
to know what is going on; I'm used to the Capitol. And you'll see me every
day, in and out of other people's offices, so I want you from here on
in not to rise." I replied, "I appreciate that; thank you, sir."
We had a telephone office then about as big as this room, telephones
and operators, and the head operator had a desk where she did her paper
Of course, these were the same operators as before. About the second or
third day, one of the Secret Service men came in, which was not unusual.
They'd be off duty, and they'd run in; maybe they'd dated some of the
pretty girls, I don't know. He said, "Miss [Louise L.] Hachmeister,
the President of the United States." She said, "Oh yeah!"
And some girl looked around, and said, "It really is." So for
about five seconds, the White House was cut off from the world. It was
one of our great jokes. He wanted to see it. Oh, he was curious. He didn't
have that long nose for nothing.
JOHNSON: We have a switchboard in our museum collection.
BARROWS: Have you now?
JOHNSON: Well, it was used at the Muehlebach Hotel for the President.
BARROWS: Oh, that's the traveling one?
JOHNSON: I guess.
BARROWS: That may be the one Roosevelt used. We took it with us, north,
south, wherever we went.
JOHNSON: You shared the same office then with Matt Connelly, this same
BARROWS: I was here and he was...
JOHNSON: Just to your right.
BARROWS: Yes, our desks were down at the end of the room against the
wall, where a door opened into the oval office via a short passage. On
one side of the passage was the President's toilet, and on the other side
was that of the Appointments Secretary.
JOHNSON: You would see the President almost every time he came out of
the Oval Office.
BARROWS: Unless he went the other way, to his right, to Rose Conway's
BARROWS: Of course, when he went home, he went the usual route by the
Rose Garden, on his right.
JOHNSON: Okay, he'd go outside and along that colonnade you're talking
BARROWS: By an indoor swimming pool (gone now) and the gardener 's room.
That room where Mr. Connelly and I
sat was so lovely; it is three rooms now. I haven't been in the office
since Lyndon Johnson was President. I just couldn't believe it. Why don't
they use that EOB [Executive Office Building] and knock the inside down,
and make it into a really nice place for the President.
JOHNSON: So you became more relaxed, after that first couple of days,
I suppose. Did the President put you at ease?
BARROWS: Well, it took more than a couple of days. It was so different
you can't imagine.
JOHNSON: Did he ever stop and talk to you about Missouri or ask about
your family or anything like that?
BARROWS: Well, years later. I've forgotten how he knew it. After about
three years, he called me "Miss Roberta." After about three
months, Mr. Roosevelt called me "Robie."
JOHNSON: So "Robie" was your nickname during the Roosevelt
BARROWS: It really is Rob, but they called me Robie. I
kind of felt like God had spoken when Mr. Truman called me "Miss
JOHNSON: That was his way of greeting you.
BARROWS: He did awfully nice little things. Yes, we got to be very comfortable
with each other. I remember the night when I realized the difference,
and missing Mr. Roosevelt's easygoing attitude and the difference in the
background, not that I was ever accustomed to the background of the Roosevelts.
I was not; I am middleclass too. But one night in 1945 they called me
at home -- it was on my birthday in April 1945, and I remember we had
champagne, and I had had a bit -- and the phone rang. It was the White
House and they said, "We're sending a car; the President's calling
a press conference." We knew that Hitler had disappeared. They couldn't
find anybody who was authorized to accept an unconditional surrender.
I don't know why anybody couldn't, but apparently under the laws of countries
you can't. It has to be a certain rank. They found Himmler but Himmler
killed himself, right in front of them. They couldn't find Hitler, but
they felt they had somebody, Admiral something.
JOHNSON: It was Admiral Doenitz.
BARROWS: In the end, but this wasn't Admiral Doenitz. They didn't tell
me that but they said, "There will be a press conference. They can't
find the man who takes it (press conferences), so will you come down?"
And I did. When I arrived there were several other people present, and,
of course, the place was alive with newspapermen.
JOHNSON: What room was this?
BARROWS: My room. The newspapermen were out in the lobby. Oh I had taken
the car and gone by and picked up an extra telephone operator; they wanted
the board covered. She lived in my neighborhood. She said, "What
do you think, peace?" And I said, "I hope so." I was wishing
I hadn't had the champagne; I didn't know if I could take the press conference
or not. But anyway, we got there and we waited and we waited and we waited,
and finally they dismissed the press. They had to tell them they thought
they had Doenitz, is that his name? But they didn't, they had somebody
else. So it was a false alarm. The President came out then -- several
Cabinet members had stayed behind -- and said to me, "Could you find
enough tumblers? We're going to have a drink in my office. Do you mind
looking through the offices?" I said, "No sir." So I went
into the different offices and found enough drinking glasses and washed
them. Then they told me I could go home. They, I suppose, had their bourbon.
Now, in Roosevelt's day, he would have said, "Oh, Missy Grace, Berta,"
or whoever was around, "let's have a drink. To heck with the Cabinet."
He was not a man's man, and he wasn't a woman's man really.
JOHNSON: So you would drink with the President, with Roosevelt. The women
would sit down and have a drink with him.
BARROWS: I never had a drink with Mr. Truman in my life. I remember after
that unexpected victory in Kansas City, we were coming back on the train,
and we were in the club car in the middle of the day coming through farm
country. He and Mrs. Truman were taking a walk, saying hello to everybody.
I didn't know it, and we were all having a drink. I remember how quickly
we put our glasses on the floor, and stood up. And he said, "Oh,
I caught you,
caught you." As far as I know, that was the first time he ever saw
me have a drink.
JOHNSON: You came out in the election of '48; you came out by train to
BARROWS: My mother died in '48 and I had not for some time gone anywhere.
She had been bedfast for several years, and then she died in October 1948.
So I went on the last trip.
JOHNSON: You were at Kiel Auditorium when he gave that last speech?
BARROWS: The very last trip. We went to New York City first. It has now
gone out of style, but then the traditional Madison Square Garden speech
in New York City rounded off the Democratic campaign. We went to Madison
Square; the President spoke, and then took the train. It went through
Hyde Park, and there were the same old porters. I said, "Would you
ring my bell when we go through Hyde Park?" He said, "Yes ma'am,"
and he did. I woke up, and of course, I put the shake up. I couldn't see
anything, but somehow I just thought, "Oh boy, there you lie up in
and this is the end." I never will forget it.
JOHNSON: Did you have to work on that train? Did you have a job that
you had to do?
BARROWS: They were very kind to me. They gave me a drawing room. A lot
of people worked, but I didn't do very much.
JOHNSON: So you were able to relax.
BARROWS: It was sort of a treat. It was awfully nice. When we got to
St. Louis, oh they had worked so hard on the speeches, and the final speech
would be in St. Louis. When we got to St. Louis, we were in the station
at dinner time. We were to get off right after dinner. Clark Clifford,
I believe, told me, "Oh my God, the President has torn up his speech."
And he had.
JOHNSON: But he came off very well, as I recall.
BARROWS: Oh, he made a wonderful speech. My spirits came up from then
JOHNSON: Were you out there in the audience?
BARROWS: No. When I went with President Roosevelt, they took me everywhere.
We sat behind him on the platform.
JOHNSON: You're talking about Roosevelt?
BARROWS: Yes, and also with President Truman.
JOHNSON: You sat behind him on the platform.
BARROWS: Yes, we always did. This expedites moving around a Presidential
party. I'm in some of the old pictures. And then we went on to Kansas
City. It was a deadly evening, oh deadly -- and that suite in the Muehlebach
Hotel. I remember it had a Steinway Grand in it, painted birdseye blue.
I don't know who decorated it. Matt Connelly said, "Can you play?"
and I said not well enough to help. But the most unlikely girl in the
crowd -- I didn't know her very well -- turned out to be quite talented.
She started off with the Missouri Waltz. You have no idea. Everybody was
so relieved not to have to talk. The President's sister was there. So
the party went on, and I went to bed about 2 o'clock. And the telephone
operator -- usually you have them in another room -- called out as I went
by, "I'll call you if anything happens." I said, "Oh, you
needn't bother." She called me about 4 a.m.
JOHNSON: The President hadn't come back yet. He was still at Excelsior
Springs wasn't he?
BARROWS: Yes. I got up. I hadn't taken off all my clothes, and I put
on some top clothes. He came down about 6, I guess, received us all and
shook hands, and we all cried. It was great.
JOHNSON: Did you get acquainted with his sister, Mary Jane that night?
BARROWS: Not really; she's awfully sweet. I always remember a remark
she made. She's quite a little lady. She said, "You know, it doesn't
look good for brother, but perhaps if he's going to have a Republican
Congress, it's just as well."
JOHNSON: So she thought maybe he was going to lose, I suppose.
BARROWS: She was quite a dear.
JOHNSON: But how about you? What was your feeling about it? Did you think
he was definitely going to lose, or were you one of those that felt he
was going to win?
BARROWS: Oh, I don't know.
JOHNSON: Most everybody on the train thought he was going to lose.
BARROWS: Well, all the girls did anyway. I don't mean everybody, since
I don't know what they really thought. There wasn't any money. We had
to really move that train on nickels and quarters, to get him out of the
station. Nobody gave the Democrats anything, not a thing. Two people,
Louis Johnson, and then, I think his name was Ned Bruce of that noted
Maryland family. They were Republicans really, and he was the only Democrat
among them. They'd come in, and we had a safe of which I had the combination.
I had the combination, and I could never remember it. The chief clerk
also had the combination. Sometimes they'd come in with a few hundred
dollars. Imagine, a hundred, not millions, not thousands like now.
JOHNSON: Where was this safe?
BARROWS: In one of those big compartments in that enormous desk of President
JOHNSON: Oh, in the White House.
BARROWS: Right there, Mr. Connelly's desk. Nobody was giving anything.
JOHNSON: How about Edwin Pauley? Wasn't he a donor to the Democrats?
BARROWS: I don't remember; I suppose so. He had plenty of money. I don't
know if he gave us any or not.
JOHNSON: The big businessmen were giving to the Republicans I suppose.
Wasn't that the...
BARROWS: Well, the big businessmen almost always give to the Republicans,
but of course, the PACs [Political Action Committees] have made a difference.
I'm all for the PACs, myself.
JOHNSON: Who was holding down the fort at the White House? Connelly was
on the train, and you were on the train.
BARROWS: Charlie Murphy was on the train.
JOHNSON: Oh yes.
BARROWS: He had helped the Truman Committee when the President was Senator.
I liked him so much. He was on the train, and so was Clark Clifford. I
suppose the military aide was.
JOHNSON: Of course, there wouldn't be any appointments
back at the White House, so you wouldn't have to worry about that.
BARROWS: The White House is a very quiet place when the President's away,
no matter where.
JOHNSON: Who would be sort of in charge back at the White House when
these key people are out on the train?
BARROWS: At the White House itself, I presume the Presidential Secretary,
who stays behind.
JOHNSON: Ross I suppose was out on the train.
BARROWS: Yes he was. Let's see, who would it be. I don't know.
JOHNSON: Possibly an assistant secretary, maybe like Eben Ayers. Did
you know Eben Ayers, Assistant Press Secretary?
BARROWS: I knew him: I don't think anything was ever thought of it or
said. The White House under the Democrats is pleasant, more pleasant,
more relaxed. The Republicans are "up tight," I would say. I
think that describes the officeholders a little bit. But don't you look
TV contra hearings, and in the questioning, you kind of sense the difference?
They're all polite and nice, I don't mean that; they're gentle with the
witnesses, but there's a difference. I can tell it..
JOHNSON: Well, you worked under Hoover.
BARROWS: Well, that's true. I was never in any sense intimate with any
JOHNSON: But you felt there was more of a relaxed atmosphere under the
Democrats than under the Republicans?
BARROW: Oh, there's no question of it. Now I served over a great span
of time, remember that.
BARROWS: And the contact between men and women changed. You have to remember
JOHNSON: Okay, we've got the early days, and we've reached 1948. Do you
remember any other incidents that kind of stand out in your mind during
the Truman Administration?
BARROWS: Well, now I meant to look one incident up for you but I forgot.
I can't now. One time he did a real
sweet thing, I thought, a very thoughtful, kind gesture.
JOHNSON: You say one time he made a very kind gesture?
BARROWS: Well, he always did kind things. I don't know when it began,
but it wasn't in effect (or I don't believe it was) at the very beginning
of my years there. But later on, perhaps the war did it, the world became
more dangerous, maybe that did it. All gifts sent to the President and
his family were x-rayed. The office force grew, and we had spread over
into EOB. I don't know which year.
JOHNSON: In the Truman years they started x-raying.
BARROWS: It spread in the Roosevelt years; began I guess with Mussolini
and Hitler, and the Spanish war. Things got awfully hot. After the '36
campaign, the whole atmosphere of the White House was different, never
the same. There was always this feeling in the air of danger, not just
to us, but throughout the world.
JOHNSON: The extremists, yes.
BARROWS: Well, I guess it was everywhere in the world. The whole world
changed, and so the President's gifts
were all inspected carefully. We never saw them. If a package came in
addressed in care of Mr. Connelly, we wouldn't get it until it was opened,
or maybe not then. Maybe nobody ever got it. But one day I opened a letter
and out fell a little package, about the size of a little pill box. I
opened it -- it was from some John G. Citizen or somebody like that --
and in it were about, so tall, three little pearl knives like men used
JOHNSON: These were about 3/4 of an inch long?
BARROWS: An inch long. It was in the days when women wore charm bracelets,
and they were about the size of those bangles. That's what they were for,
for Margaret and Mrs. Truman, and if the President wanted one, one for
him. They were the cutest things; I adored them. I put it on Mr. Connelly's
desk to go in to the President; we didn't give him all the mail, but some.
I said, "I almost stole this." He opened it, and said, "I
don't blame you." And a day or two later, the President came out
to me and he said, "Give me a penny." I thought, "A penny?"
I said, "Would a car token do, I don't think I have a penny."
"Well, I have to have a penny." So I finally found a penny,
and gave it to him. He held
out his hand, and in it was one of those little knives. I just love it.
I've put it away and I never get it out. I had a charm bracelet like all
the women you know.
JOHNSON: You have it stowed away, this little knife?
BARROWS: Yes. I thought that was very kind. Connelly evidently told him,
JOHNSON: Now this is the one memento that you got from President Truman.
Was it the only memento that you have from Mr. Truman?
BARROWS: Except our Christmas presents. I've forgotten what they were.
I've been here 16 years I guess at this apartment. When I left Maryland,
and the home that I shared with the sisters who were widowed -- it was
a pretty good sized home -- I thought, "Well, I'm going to pack up
all the White House things," and I did and labeled them. I was getting
older -- I was approaching 70 -- and I thought, "If anything happens
to me, at least if there's anything there that the Library doesn't have
especially with the Roosevelt travels, which were extremely numerous,
they are quite
welcome to them." Otherwise my heirs may keep them, or sell them
or do whatever they like with them.
JOHNSON: What were these items?
BARROWS: Pictures, travel schedules, etc.
JOHNSON: Where do you have them stowed away?
BARROWS: Oh, they're downstairs under lock and key. This girl who's coming
tonight, her mother is my only niece, and she writes in her spare time
children's stories. She's married and quite a good writer. She'd be the
one to have them. My nephews too, could have them. They'd be interested,
and are interested.
JOHNSON: When your mother died you moved out of the house.
BARROWS: No, not right away. We did the house over. It's an old house,
Victorian. I hate to tell you what it sold for the other day.
JOHNSON: Wow, I can imagine.
BARROWS: Close to half a million dollars, three hundred and some thousand
dollars. I got $14,000, and my father
gave $7,500 for it. When they gentrified this part of town, they gentrified
JOHNSON: Where did you move to after you left that house?
BARROWS: We moved over here on Porter Street, not too far, about two
blocks, where the subway is, and the house high up on the hill. But it
seemed small to us. I had two widowed sisters then, and one died there.
We had a wonderful back view; we're very fond of animals, and we had I
guess one cat, sometimes had two.
JOHNSON: How did you get to work in those days?
BARROWS: I had a car, after the war. I had a car before the war, but
it was a family car. I had my own car after the war.
JOHNSON: So you drove to work everyday.
BARROWS: Yes, they had a parking place for me, right there at the gate.
JOHNSON: At the gate.
BARROWS: Yes. I had a Plymouth. I got it from Bob Hinkley. He and his
wife had a Plymouth dealership in one of
the Utah cities; they're Mormons. He was a good friend of the President's.
He was Under Secretary of Commerce for a while. By that time, he had bought
ABC Broadcasting Company. He was a good friend of mine.
JOHNSON: Where did people park? Where did the personnel at the White
House park in those days?
BARROWS: I parked on West Executive Avenue. It had been closed from the
beginning of the war on each end. They put up barriers. I think the same
is true on the east side. And they took part of the elipse, and I guess
they still do.
JOHNSON: You had assigned parking places?
BARROWS: Yes. I never paid a great deal of attention, to tell you the
truth, where people parked.
JOHNSON: How about November 1, 1950, when the attempted assassination
took place? Were you, there? Were you around?
BARROWS: We had just come in from lunch.
JOHNSON: You and...
BARROWS: And two -- the chief telephone operator and another woman that
worked there -- I’ve forgotten who it was now. I think it was Bill
Hassett’s secretary. We walked right by the Blair House, as we usually
did; we had gone up on 17th Street to a cafeteria.
I had long hair then. It was a windy day and it had blown, and there
was a nice lavatory on the first floor. I never had time to go downstairs
so they let me use it, although it was for the public. I took it over.
I went in there and took my hair down -- it was in braids -- I took it
down and all of a sudden the lights went out. I wadded it up real quick
and ran out to see what had happened. That shooting had just taken place,
and was still on, and the electrician who was mending wires somewhere
got excited and blew something. That’s all I knew at the time. We
knew the President was safe; that’s all we knew.
JOHNSON: Where were you in relation to the Blair House at this point?
BARROWS: In the Executive Office, cater-cornered and across the street,
JOHNSON: So it was out of sight; Blair House was out of sight to you.
BARROWS: But one of the Executive Clerks walking back from lunch was
right opposite. He threw himself on the ground. By that time the two Executive
Clerks I spoke of had died of old age, and we had two younger ones. It
was one of the younger ones. I don't think the older ones could have done
that. He saw the whole business. I went to the funeral. That's one thing,
Connelly would never do, go to a funeral.
JOHNSON: He didn't?
BARROWS: I even remember when his mother died, in Boston; he was shaken,
and I could tell he didn't want to go home.
JOHNSON: But he did go to the funeral though?
BARROWS: Something about funerals frightened him; it was funny. He had
a "hangup." Anyway, he said to me to take his car and represent
him at the officer's funeral. I said, "I will not do that; you must
go." But he wouldn't go. I said, "You can't do that, the President
will kill you." That's the one time I argued with him.
He said, “Well, I’m not going.” I said, “You will
either go or it will be empty.”
JOHNSON: So you had to go. So you went and represented Matt Connelly?
BARROWS: Here I was in a six passenger car, or however large they are,
all by myself. I felt like an idiot.
JOHNSON: You were treated...
BARROWS: Well, thank goodness, before it started, one of the administrative
assistants who were supposed to be anonymous you know, came and said,
“Are you going to be alone?” I said, “Well, I really
am.” He said, “Well, can I go with you?” And I said,
“Please do.” We didn’t either one of us know the poor
JOHNSON: Leslie Coffelt, the guard.
BARROWS: But Connelly would not go to the funeral. That made twice. On
the other occasion, I didn’t represent him; I just went because
I like the person. The last of the elderly chief executive clerks died,
and the President and Mrs. Truman also attended.
JOHNSON: For whose funeral?
BARROWS: To Mr. Rudolph Forster's funeral; he was at the White House.
JOHNSON: Rudolph Forster?
BARROWS: Yes. He had been there I believe since McKinley. He really ran
the place, a wonderful man. And they all went to the funeral, but Mr.
JOHNSON: Was he the one that preceeded [Maurice J.] Latta?
BARROWS: They were there together.
JOHNSON: Did you know Latta pretty well?
BARROWS: Oh yes, indeed I did.
JOHNSON: What kind of a person was he?
BARROWS: I went to school with one of his sons, to high school. Both
men were very gentle after you knew them. But it took a long time to know
them; it took an awfully long time to know Mr. Forster. And when I did,
we were very intimate, very good friends. Oddly enough, we read the same
novels, the same books.
For this you don't need your recorder on, because it's about Mr. Truman's
family, about Mrs. Truman.
JOHNSON: Well, we'd like to have it, if we can. You can close it.
BARROWS: She was a great novel reader too; I didn't know that. I guess
all women are, of our generation. Anyway, we had one great privilege at
the White House. You can get books from the Congressional Library. I knew
the man in charge of sending the books to the White House. I had known
his mother; I knew him when he was a little boy. We were kids when our
mothers went to suffrage headquarters together. They're from Georgia.
I used to call Legare and give him a list of books I wanted. I'd read
the book review on Sunday. One day he said to me, "I can't get so
and so's book for you; I guess Mrs. Truman has it." I said, "Mrs.
Truman?" And he said, "Yes, she reads a good bit." I said,
"Well, good for her." I was scared to death of Mrs. Truman.
About two weeks later, I got a call from Mrs. Truman. I got plenty of
calls from Mrs. Truman, and they were sharp, about the appointments you
tie the President up on a certain hour" -- that kind of thing. I
was very leary, and wondered, "What have I done now?" She said,
"Miss Barrows, Mr. Legare O'Bere down at the Library tells me that
you and I have the same taste in books. Often, of course, I get them ahead
of you, but I have left word with him that they are to be checked with
you before they're put back on the stack, when I send them back."
Wasn't that nice?
JOHNSON: So you did get phone calls from Bess Truman, and usually her
request was to do what?
BARROWS: About once a month I would get them, "Miss Barrows, I see
you have the President listed thus and so on Tuesday afternoon, June the
something. He cannot do that because and so on, and after this, I wish
when you make anything as late as, say, 2 or 3 in the afternoon, that
you would check with me first."
JOHNSON: Check with her?
BARROWS: Not with her, but with her secretary. But I didn't because there
were times I couldn't. If he wanted the Secretary of State to stay at
2 o'clock, he was going to stay.
JOHNSON: Well sure. But she liked to have certain times reserved for herself
and the President?
BARROWS: She was trying to stop, but the first year or two she kind of
got on my neck. Now I didn't make the appointments anyway.
JOHNSON: But then it became less of a problem later on, you say.
BARROWS: She understood later that he was President, I guess. I don't
JOHNSON: Did you meet her personally? Did you ever get a chance to socialize
at all with Mrs. Truman?
BARROWS: No, I guess not really. I liked her. I got to know her better,
but I couldn't say I socialized with her.
JOHNSON: You knew her appointments secretary, Mrs. [Edith B.] Helm, wasn't
BARROWS: Oh she was a dear. She was a holdover from the Woodrow Wilson
JOHNSON: Is that right, way back.
BARROWS: She and I served on the Inaugural Committee, the last one before
President Roosevelt died. We were the only women on it.
JOHNSON: In January 1945.
BARROWS: They held the inauguration on the back porch of the White House,
BARROWS: And they couldn't let one-thousandths of the people come, who
wanted to. It was a fight!
JOHNSON: I'll bet.
BARROWS: The Chief of Police was on it. The Senate and the House -- oh
there was one big fight. General Watson stuck me with it. I could have
JOHNSON: Did you have anything to do with the '49 inauguration, the big
one in '49?
BARROWS: Oh no, no. No, it was cold that day.
JOHNSON: Yes. A big parade.
BARROWS: Were you there?
JOHNSON: No, but I've sure seen lots of pictures of it. It was a tremendous
BARROWS: That was great fun. My godchild was in high school, I guess,
then. They gave me two tickets at the Capitol, and I had her come down.
Mr. Connelly sent us down ahead of time in his car, and Pennsylvania Avenue
had been roped off and all traffic stopped. She got a great kick out of
it. So did I.
JOHNSON: What did you do when Truman left office?
BARROWS: I knew Eisenhower very well, and I stayed a while but I hated
JOHNSON: Who did you work for?
BARROWS: I worked for a man named Thomas Stephens.
JOHNSON: Well, I recall Hagerty was the Press Secretary.
BARROWS: I had the same job I had previously held. I liked Hagerty very
JOHNSON: But he wasn't his appointments secretary.
BARROWS: Thomas E. Stephens [Special Counsel and Appointments Secretary].
He was supposed to have come in as Counsel. I'll tell how that happened.
Senator Vandenberg's son [Arthur Vandenberg, Jr.] was supposed to be the
appointment's secretary. I had already landed a job, I've forgotten what
it was, maybe with Doris [Fleeson]. I don't remember. But one day when
Mrs. Truman's mother died, while the family was in Independence, just
before the changeover, Governor [Sherman] Adams, whom I only knew from
his pictures, came through with young Mr. Vandenberg. I was the only person
in my room; I guess Connelly went to Missouri with the Trumans. Anyway,
he introduced himself and I spoke to him. I told him of course where everybody
was, although I guess he knew. He said that what he wanted to see was
the President's room, but he asked, "What goes on in this room?"
I told him. He said, "How long have you been here?" I told him.
And Mr. Vandenberg asked what I did, and I told him. He said, "Well,
could we see the President's room?" And I said, "I'm sure you
could. Why don't you just let me see first if there's anybody in the next
room so you won't surprise them. That's the private secretary's room."
There wasn't. So they went on and I didn't see anymore of them.
About a week later, Mr. Connelly got a call from Vandenberg asking if
he could come to see him, and he said, "Yes." Mr. Vandenberg
was very unprepossessing. He came over to my desk and he said, "I
want to ask you a favor." I thought, "Oh, God, he's going to
ask me to stay." And he did. He said, "I know nothing whatsoever
about this. I have never even been in the White House." I thought,
"Well, what are you coming in at all for?" He said, "But
you will stay?" I said, "Yes, I'll stay for a while." So
then I went out of the room, and he talked to Matt Connelly. When I came
back, Matt Connelly said, "He's a funny one, but I told him he would
be lucky if you stayed," or something like that. Of course, he was
a funny one. As you know, he didn't get it.
Tom Stephens was born in Ireland and he was great fun. He came in one
day, and I didn't know him. Mr. Connelly brought him in and said, "Mr.
Stephens is going to be the appointments secretary." Nothing was
ever mentioned out loud about Mr. Vandenberg. He said, "Will you
stay on a little while, at least to help me start?" I said, "of
course, I will if you want me to."
I liked him, and I did. But that was a very uncomfortable time.
JOHNSON: You say you liked Stephens?
BARROWS: Yes, I liked him a lot.
JOHNSON: But you didn’t like the job with the Eisenhowers?
BARROWS: Well, it was different. I had known Eisenhower, I thought, quite
well. You couldn’t help but like him, but he was uncomfortable in
his new role. You know most people who are uncomfortable in their jobs
make other people uncomfortable. I don’t know how to explain it.
JOHNSON: You mean Eisenhower was not able to put you at ease when you
were there. You felt uncomfortable around him?
BARROWS: That’s right. I think the staff people were uncomfortable
who hadn’t been with him in England, probably. He had no organization;
they didn’t know each other. They hated each other and they were
jealous. He had a lot of Democrats with him. Remember the “Democrats
BARROWS: They were the nice people. I mean they were people with whom
you felt comfortable.
JOHNSON: He apparently turned a lot of the responsibility over to Sherman
Adams, didn't he?
BARROWS: He was chief cook and bottle washer, but he didn't have anything
to do with appointments.
JOHNSON: What was your opinion or impression of Adams?
BARROWS: Well, he was a cold fish. Jim Hagerty, being a newspaperman
and an Irishman, was awfully nice. I had known his father. I never had
JOHNSON: How long did you work then for the Eisenhower people?
BARROWS: I worked for the first three years. Nelson Rockefeller came
in; I had known him for a long time. I didn't want to be one of his girls.
I say that quickly because when Roosevelt died, he was one of the first
to offer me a job.
JOHNSON: Rockefeller was?
BARROWS: I was still young.
JOHNSON: You mean in New York?
BARROWS: No, here. He headed a South American program of Roosevelt's.
I remember he came in and put his arm around me the day they brought the
body back. He said, "I want you to know that you have a job with
me. Would you take it?" And I said, "Let me think about it."
JOHNSON: You got acquainted with a lot of important people.
BARROWS: Mr. Stephens and the chairman of the Republican National Committee,
Mr. [Leonard] Hall -- a very nice man -- went on a trip. The understanding
was that the man who was to fill in for Mr. Stephens was to take over
the job, and he wanted to bring his own girl. Nelson Rockefeller had been
after me twice. He was across the street in EOB [Executive Office Building],
and he wanted me to come over there, so I went there. By that time I knew
I had to have a lung operation. So I went over there and worked until
he left, and then I had the operation.
JOHNSON: That would have been about 1957.
BARROWS: In '57. I never went back.
JOHNSON: You didn't go back into Government. What did you do then after
BARROWS: Went to work for Doris Fleeson.
I went down to the Capitol for lunch one day. Jimmy Roosevelt gave a
luncheon; he was a Congressman. I had gone to Europe, after I was well
enough. I've been everywhere in this country, but never to Europe. I came
back and I went to this luncheon. One of those plays about Roosevelt was
showing here, and Jimmy was giving a theater party. The luncheon was part
I saw Doris Fleeson there. She was married to Truman's Secretary of the
Navy. She divorced her first husband. She had just come back from her
honeymoon abroad. At the end of the luncheon I gave her a lift home to
Georgetown; it was on my way home. We had roomed together a lot on Presidential
trains, and we knew each other quite well over the years. And we, I think,
were the same age exactly. She was born the first of May and I on the
30th of April. Anyhow, she said, "What are you doing?" I said,
"Well, I'm enjoying doing
nothing. I just got back from Europe." She said, "Well, I'll
give you a ring." And I said, "Fine."
So sure enough, in about three months I got a ring from Doris and she
said, "My secretary's getting married for the second time. Can you
help me out?" I said, "Well, I'll look around for you. What
kind do you want?" She said, "No, I mean you." And I said,
"Oh no, Doris, I really don't want to." She said, "Well,
will you come for three months and while you're doing it, just come three
days a week, half a day, would that be all right?" I said, "Well,
in that three months we'll look for one." So I went and I stayed
JOHNSON: Three years with Doris Fleeson.
You had met her during these press conferences at the White House?
BARROWS: No, I had met her on the train, on the campaign trips. If I
happened to be the only girl -- once or twice I was -- on a trip, if Mr.
Roosevelt didn't think he would be doing very much work, his regular two
girls, the New Yorkers, would go into New York and see shows and stick
me with the whole thing.
JOHNSON: And that's how you met her then?
BARROWS: We were all so poor, and the Government was so poor, they'd put
me in her drawing room. We were the only two women on the train. At first
it made her furious; we didn't know each other. Her newspaper paid for
the double room. But one night, the first night, she liked the upper berth
and it was all right with me -- I didn't care -- we were reading. She
said, "What are you reading?" And I looked at the title, and
I said, "What are you reading?" It was the same book.
JOHNSON: Is that right?
BARROWS: We became fast friends. I liked her husband too; also her first
husband. He was great fun.
JOHNSON: These press conferences that they had in the Oval Office, did
you have anything to do with them?
BARROWS: Not really; the Press Secretary handled them, those of the President,
usually twice weekly, and his own, once each day and of course he was
always available for questioning during the day. Presidential conferences
(under the two Democratic Presidents, FDR and Truman) followed roughly
this pattern. The fifty or more members of the press assembled in the
lobby of the
West Wing, outside out door, the President’ reception room (where
his visitors waited and Mr. Connelly and I were located). When doors were
propped open they streamed through our room on into the Oval Office where
they gathered around the President (he remained seated).
When the conference was concluded they left by the same route, usually
on a run for telephones, etc. in their press room, off the lobby. I slipped
in if I thought they would be particularly interesting.
In Hyde Park in the summers and at Warm Springs and Key West, they were,
as far as I remember, not scheduled regularly and depended of course on
BARROWS: I just despised summers up there [at Hyde Park]. We had nothing
to do when off duty. I’ve often wondered why we didn’t become
alcoholics, but we didn’t.
JOHNSON: This is during the Roosevelt trips?
BARROWS: Oh yes. Of course, at Warm Springs it was entirely different;
it was lovely.
JOHNSON: You went to Warm Springs?
BARROWS: I just missed the last trip. I have gone back there once, and
I never want to go again. It changed.
JOHNSON: Did you ever go to Key West with the Truman people?
BARROWS: No, Mr. Truman didn't take women on trips.
JOHNSON: Oh, that's right; his wife was about the only one that ever
went down there that was a woman. She went once I think.
BARROWS: It wasn't because of wives; the trips were just different.
JOHNSON: It was kind of a stag party down there or something, wasn't
BARROWS: Well, Mr. Truman was typical of the place he was born and the
time he was born, and Mr. Roosevelt was the "eastern establishment."
I don't think one's better than the other.
Have you read the book The Six Wise Men?
JOHNSON: I know about it. I haven't read it.
BARROWS: It's so good. It is 1947, Mr. Truman's time -- and the organization
and the work that went into the Marshall
plan, and the six men, and all of them I knew well. Oh, it's wonderful.
It is just so readable; it's badly edited, but it's so good.
JOHNSON: I've heard good things about it. It rings true with you?
BARROWS: Oh, it is true. It's just as though they're all out of their
graves. Wonderful men -- and when I listen to this "Contra"
thing I think this can't be happening. It's the funny papers.
JOHNSON: Yes. Truman wouldn't let things go on in the basement of the
White House, that he had no knowledge of, would he?
BARROWS: It couldn't go on. I mean it's arrested development isn't it?
I mean it's like the kind of books kids read.
JOHNSON: It's hard to see progress in what's going on.
BARROWS: It's like a "sitcom" on TV. It's that incredible;
people don't do things like that.
JOHNSON: There was just no conception of that happening,
you're saying, in the Truman period?
BARROWS: It's just as though they stopped growing at 15, playing Boy
Scouts, and cops and robbers. I don't think they could be evil; they don't
seem to have sense enough.
JOHNSON: So things are quite different now from what they were in the
White House when you were there.
BARROWS: It's so crowded. Really I don't know where they put all the
people. I never heard of so many people. But then the world's changed,
too, I have to remember that.
JOHNSON: How about Rose Conway? Did you have frequent contact with her?
BARROWS: Yes, I had daily contact with her. She hadn't been with Mrs.
Truman very long when he became President, and she was a little timid,
or I thought she was, and not friendly at all. It took a long, long time
before she was ever friendly. I wouldn't say she was unfriendly, but I
always had the feeling that it wouldn't take much to make her unfriendly.
I was always very careful; I gave her a wide berth, but she was
all right. I think she was a strange choice though. Did you know her?
JOHNSON: No, I didn't know her.
BARROWS: The girl, whose poor little dumb husband ended up in jail too,
what was her name?
JOHNSON: Another secretary's husband?
BARROWS: Her name was Loretta Young, the same as the movie actress...
Merl Young, he was her husband. He worked in the RFC. They lived somewhere
beyond me, across the Anacostia River. They used to take me home. I had
no car then; it was before I got a car. They were awfully sweet young
people, but not very bright.
JOHNSON: They got caught in the RFC "influence peddling" scandal.
BARROWS: You'd know if you were ever around them that they'd get caught
in something. But that was the difference largely in the administrations.
The people at the top were high calibre, but there were an awful lot of
people that weren't.
JOHNSON: What did you think of Harry Vaughan?
BARROWS: Well, I never knew what to think, and I still don't. I just
don't know. Is he dead?
JOHNSON: Yes, he died sometime back. We have an interview with him.
BARROWS: I never knew what to think. He was very chummy with a very questionable
man here in Washington at first, who had been connected with a murder,
in the Police Department. Washington was a smaller city then. Nobody knew
what to think. I liked him. You couldn't dislike him; he wouldn't let
JOHNSON: What would you consider to be the worst scandal of the Truman
administration? You know, the scandals that he got saddled with in '51
and '52, the 5 percenters and so on, and the Bureau of Internal Revenue.
Do you think the Bureau of Internal Revenue scandal was the worst?
BARROWS: I suppose so.
JOHNSON: Did you know Caudle or any of those people?
BARROWS: No, I didn't, but as to General Vaughan, personally he never
quite jelled with me. I was always quite
cautious; I never knew whether it was instinct or what.
JOHNSON: Was he friendly to you, though? Did he greet you each day when
he saw you, General Vaughan?
BARROWS: Oh yes, he was always friendly. Always friendly. I think he
thought the same about me, though. I think he had a feeling that I wasn't
ever going to be too friendly.
JOHNSON: Well, you were from the Hoover and the Roosevelt periods, so
that may have made a difference.
BARROWS: I guess he had an inferiority complex.
JOHNSON: Well, possibly.
BARROWS: We had that to contend with. I and anyone else that stayed,
I knew we would have that and we did. It took a long time, a long time.
JOHNSON: But generally you were very favorable toward the people that
were brought into the White House, it sounds like, in the Truman period.
You felt pretty favorable toward them?
BARROWS: Well, as a rule in those days, at least. I was lucky, as I say.
JOHNSON: But Matt Connelly, as far as you are concerned, are you saying
that Matt Connelly was an honest person who was caught up in something
that he really didn't intend to happen?
BARROWS: Such a little thing, as a suit of clothes. Good heavens!
And then Governor Adams, what was it?
JOHNSON: The vicuna coat.
Well, I appreciate the time you've given to this interview. It's been
very interesting and informative.
[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
List of Subjects Discussed
Adams, Sherman, 97, 100
Akerson, George, 21, 27-28
Appointments Secretary, duties of, 50-51, 56-57
Assassination attempt on President Truman, 88-89
appointment as administrative assistant to Appointments Secretary, 43
Bonus marchers, in 1930s, 35-37
and Connelly, Matthew, hired by, 48, 49
and Presidential campaign of 1948, final days, 73-78
as stenographer for President Herbert Hoover, 18-19
and Truman, Bess Wallace, 92-94
and Truman, Harry S., 66-67
Bureau of Internal Revenue, Intelligence Unit of, in 1920s, 7-9
Camp David site, 24, 25
Conway, Rose, 51, 108-109
Connelly, Matthew, 48, 98
Coolidge, Calvin, 12, 13
Daily sheets for Presidential appointments, preparation of, 50-51
Early, Stephen, 40, 48, 49
Eastman, Dorothy, 24, 25, 26
Eisenhower, Dwight D., and demeanor as President, 99,
Executive clerks in White House, 38-39
Farley, James, 27
Fleeson, Doris, and Barrows, Roberta, 102-103
Forster, Rudolph, 91
Germany, false report on surrender of, 71, 72
Gifts to the President, inspection of, 82-83
Hachmeister, Louise L., 68
Hagerty, James, 96, 100
Hastings, George, 29
Helm, Edith B., 94, 95
Hinkley, Robert, 86, 87
and campaign of 1932, 32-33
Howe, Louis, 40
and stenographers employed by the White House, 18-19
Iran Contra controversy, 107-108
Joslyn, Ted, 28
Latta, Maurice J., 91
Littleton, Benjamin, 10-12, 14
McGrath, Myra, 24, 25
McIntyre, Marvin, 39-41
McKim, Edward, 64
Murphy, Charles S., 79
National Woman's Party, 4-5
Newton, Walter, 21, 22
O'Bere, Mr. Legare, 92, 93
Oval Office, of the President, 20, 69
Presidential campaign of 1948, financing of, 78
Richey, Larry, 15, 20-21, 25
Rockefeller, Nelson, and Barrows, Roberta, 100-101
Roosevelt, Franklin D., and meals in the White House, 65-66
Roosevelt, James, 102
Ross, Charles G., 50, 51
Schwimmer, Harry J., 59-61
Shankey, Ann, 27
The Six Wise Men (book), 106-107
Stephens, Thomas E., 96, 98-99,
Strother, French, 16
Tiernan, Curtis, 64
Truman, Bess Wallace:
and appointments calendar of the President, influence on, 92-94
Truman, Harry S.:
reading habits of, 92-93
and Barrows, Roberta, gift to, 83-84
Truman, Mary Jane, 77
and White House offices, visits to, 67-68
Vandenberg, Arthur, Jr., 97-98
Vaughan, Harry, 110-111
Vinson, Fred M., 47-48, 49
Watson, Edwin M., 41-42, 52, 53,
air conditioning in, 24
fire in West Wing of, 22-23
West Wing, remodeling of, in 1930s, 43-44
Young, Merl, 109
[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]