Oral History Interview with
William K. Divers
Member of the staff of the Federal Emergency Public Works Administration, 1933-37; member of the legal staff of the U.S. Housing Authority, 1938; regional director of fifteen midwest states, U.S. Housing Authority, 1939-40; assistant general counsel and special assistant to the director of the defense housing division, Federal Works Agency, 1941; regional representative of the National Housing Agency, 1942-43; special assistant to the National Housing Expeditor, 1946; assistant administrator of the National Housing Agency, 1947; chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, 1947-53, and member, 1953-54.
December 18, 1969
By Jerry N. Hess
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Transcript | Additional Divers Oral History
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry
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Opened September 1971
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
William K. Divers
December 18, 1969
By Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Mr. Divers, would you tell me a little bit about your background; where were you born, where were you raised, and what are some of the positions that you have held?
DIVERS: Well, I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on April 12th, 1905. I attended a Catholic parochial grade school and then went on to a public high school there in Cincinnati and on to the University of Cincinnati where I took one year of engineering and then a year
of liberal arts and went on into law school. In law school I obtained my bachelor of laws degree in 1928, which has subsequently been converted into a juris doctor degree and began the practice of law. I attended some afternoon and evening courses at the law school and in 1930 I was awarded the degree of master of laws.
I might mention one little episode which may have had some effect on my later appointments. When I graduated from law school, I think I was the only one in my class who did not join the Young Republican Party in Cincinnati. The Republicans were dominant at that time in the local politics and young Democrats had little prospects of getting any political notice or appointments of any kind. However, my father, from Missouri, was a lifelong Democrat and I had been raised as one and I did not turn traitor and run down to
join the Young Republicans even though it was the financially feasible thing to do at the time.
HESS: One question on Cincinnati at this time; To what degree did Robert Taft exercise political control over his home town?
DIVERS: I don't think that he had any great amount of political control at that time. This was just about the time that the charter movement started in Cincinnati and a group of independents in which his brother, Charlie Taft, was prominent, really took over control of the city and got rid of the so called political machine or the Hynicka machine which had been dominant for fifteen or twenty years or longer in the city government.
HESS: What do you recall of Robert Taft at this time?
DIVERS: Well, Robert Taft was a very prominent lawyer, probably the most successful lawyer in Cincinnati and his law firm as I recall was called Taft, Hollister, Stettinius & Taft. I didn't know him socially although I knew his wife. His wife, Martha, was prominent in housing circles even in those days; she had a great interest in housing for families with low income and I'd run into her and met her at meetings and so on and so forth. And in addition to that, his brother was a publisher of the Cincinnati Enquirer at that time. Had a beautiful home down opposite Lytle Park in Cincinnati and I had the occasion to visit there socially from time to time and did know some of the Tafts--Taft family.
HESS: Did Robert Taft have any interest in public housing or in housing at that time?
DIVERS: No. I think that his interest was later
than that and that it was a result of his wife's interest really and her knowledge of it that she influenced his thinking in the field. Taft, Senator Taft, Robert Taft, was a very objective and unemotional man. I remember trying a case against him and he was --of course, he was very prominent at the time and I was just a young lawyer fresh out of school and Robert Taft tried to win the case for his client by voting fractional shares of stock; by dividing the shares of stock which represented his clients' interest into fractions; and I was ready for him and voted my clients' hares fractionally and, as a result, we came out in a draw and we compromised, or, we had to come to a settlement which was agreeable to both of our clients so that that was my first and only brush with him. Incidentally, I met his father, William Howard Taft. The . . .
HESS: When did you meet him?
DIVERS: The law school which I attended was in a new building which was called the Alphonso Taft Hall and William Howard Taft was present for its dedication. He was a--well I guess that this being the Christmas season, I'd say that he probably was closer to Santa Claus than anybody else in terms of his physique, and his ruddy complexion, and his wonderful sense of humor. It was difficult to hear what he said because he was so busy chuckling to himself over his own witticisms. But he was just a delightful man and it was--it's really nice as I look back to think that I had the pleasure of meeting him. Incidentally, although I was Democrat for many years, I did vote for Robert Taft when he ran for Senator in Ohio because I admixed the man and even though he was kind of cold and unemotional I
felt that he could represent the interests of the people of the State of Ohio better than his opponent. As a matter of fact, when Z was appointed chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, both Taft and Senator John Bricker, who was the other Ohio Senator and also Republican, both of them endorsed my appointment so that with an appointment by President Truman and endorsements from Taft and Bricker I had little to worry about when it came to confirmation.
HESS: Very good.
Just one question on Cincinnati: Looking back on those years, what are the major changes, what do you see as the major changes in Cincinnati from the present day to the days when you were growing up?
DIVERS: You mean changes in Cincinnati or changes in
HESS: Changes in Cincinnati.
DIVERS: Changes in Cincinnati. I don't know, I don't think that I could say much. As a matter of fact, I would think, I don't see anything different in Cincinnati than in other border cities of comparable size. I haven't been back there too much in recent years, but they have all the problems of the core city. The problems of the disintegration of the older sections of the city, and something of a flight to the suburbs by the upper income and middle income groups so that I think I'd be much better qualified to talk about how Cincinnati was then, or how conditions were then, or what it was like to live in the city in 1910 or '15 or '20.
HESS: All right, let's just take a few minutes on that. How was it in those days? What were conditions like in those days?
DIVERS: Well, people today don't realize a lot of the advantages that we have today. It is true that life in 1910, 1915, 1920 was more simple than it is today, less complicated, but still we didn't have a lot of advantages that we have today, things that people don't even think about today. I might mention just a few of them; some of the advantages we had then and some of the disadvantages. In terms of advantages, our public transportation systems were probably lots better than they are today and we had daily delivery at the door of milk, eggs, cream, cottage cheese, and so on and so forth, and also of bakery goods. I remember that we used to have sweet rolls delivered to our house every morning before breakfast, and we ate early. But we'd have--we had a small family. There was just my
mother, and my father and myself, but we'd have six sweet rolls delivered to the house every morning about 5:30 and it was nice to have these with our coffee at breakfast time.
It was also the era of neighborhood stores when there would be a small shopping center, just several small stores, within walking distance of almost every family that lived in the neighborhood. At that time we lived in Norwood, Ohio, which is a separate city, it's entirely surrounded by Cincinnati. And we lived in a house, and outside of the fact that we had coal heat then, which is not nearly so convenient or comfortable as the gas heat that a lot of people enjoy today, the house was comfortable, and it was clean, we,--although Norwood was a factory center, I don't remember any air pollution or anything of that kind from the factories that were present at
that time. But we also had a lot of disadvantages One thing that I am reminded of is clothes. People wore the same weight clothes all year around, and then there was no air conditioning. It was thought highly improper to go without a jacket, and as a result, at least in the offices and the white collar group you might say, it was very uncomfortable in the summertime, the heavy shirt and a heavy suit and a hat. Believe me when you went to a dinner or a luncheon or something of that kind, and you had to sit there with the sweat dripping down the side of your head, you can really appreciate the lightweight clothes, and lightweight shirts, and the air conditioning that we have today. I don't know what effect that this had statistically but I suspect that my own personal production has probably doubled almost by air-conditioning.
HESS: All right, one question, sir. What pastime
did you enjoy the most when you were growing up?
DIVERS: Well, I was you mean personally. I would say that I enjoyed a lot of physical pastimes. I enjoyed playing baseball, I played tennis. We lived just a few doors from a former mayor of Cincinnati, John Mosby, and he had a tennis court in his back yard and was kind enough to let me use it as a boy if I swept, and rolled, and marked the court. And I almost lived there in the summertime. So, I guess you'd say that tennis was my number one activity. I never excelled in tennis although I played on the high school team and also on my fraternity team in college. But I had one very interesting experience and that was I had the opportunity to watch Bill Tilden and Susan Lenglen play. And, as a matter of fact, I was selected to warm up Bill Tilden for one of his matches
at the Tri-City Tennis Club in Hyde Bark at Cincinnati, so that this was when I was in high school and he was looking fox somebody really to bat the ball around with before a match, and picked me. I got to help warm him up a little bit for the . . .
HESS: I saw in the paper last week where he was voted the greatest tennis player of all times. Would you agree with that?
DIVERS: Well, it's very difficult to compare the tennis players from one era to another era. I wouldn't be surprised if today's tennis players might beat Bill Tilden; but, if Bill Tilden had grown up today and today's competition, I think that he probably would have been number one in any era in which he grew up.
I also enjoyed watching the Cincinnati Reds, the baseball team, and used to go out
frequently. I remember it was just fifty years ago that I got excused from school or sneaked out, one of the two, and went out and watched a couple of World Series games. That was the game between the Cincinnati Reds and the infamous Chicago "Black Sox" as they were called, the White Sox, some of whose players found some money under their pillow and threw the game and brought about a great scandal which was only cleared up when Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis was appointed baseball commissioner a year or so later.
HESS: You saw some of the games that were thrown?
DIVERS: I saw a couple of the games that were thrown. Of course, I was only interested in seeing Cincinnati winning and they won. I don't remember who pitched, but Z believe that two pitchers were Slim Sallee, was one of them and Eppa Jeppa Rixie was the other one. Rixie
was the, I think, the first college graduate who ever played professional baseball.
HESS: Who owned the Reds back in those days?
DIVERS: I don't remember but I do recall that, not that year, but a few years later the manager of the Reds was Christie Mathewson. Christie Mathewson was one of the great pitchers of all time, if not the top pitcher, and he played for the New York Giants. He got sick and they diagnosed it as tuberculosis and he was sent up to Saranac Lake, in New York, where he recovered. But by that time, he was too old to pitch and the Cincinnati Reds hired him as a manager. He had a son Christie, Jr. who was my age and Christie, Jr. and I used to go out and watch the ball games in Senior's box frequently during the summer when we weren't playing tennis and I got to know Christie
Mathewson as a result and enjoyed hearing him reminisce about the days when he was top pitcher for the New York Giants.
HESS: And according to your article in the Who's Who, you were assistant prosecuting attorney in 1931 and '32. Was that in Cincinnati?
DIVERS: That was in Cincinnati.. I was assistant prosecuting attorney of Hamilton County, Ohio which is the county which includes Cincinnati.
HESS: Anything interesting come to mind when you look back on that particular job?
DIVERS: Yes, several things. One of them was that this was the years I served, '31 and '32, were just about the bottom years of the 1929 1933 depression, and there were several things happening. There were innovations in terms of public assistance. Prior to 1931 I do not believe there was any--I believe there was no
public assistance of any kind in the United States. People were, who were too poor, or too unfortunate to be able to buy food or buy clothes were taken care of by private charities with one exception and that was the county poor farms which I suppose were public assistance of a sort. But when I spoke of public assistance that meant the kind where there was money paid to individuals to continue to live in their own homes. And our office, the prosecuting attorney's office, represented the county commissioners who were responsible for welfare and relief. And the Governor, who was then Governor White, called the legislature into special session and they enacted legislation which authorized a special tax on utilities and this utilities tax could be anticipated by the counties and they were authorized to borrow in anticipation to the collection of this tax. It was a ten year
tax, and the proceeds were to be used for direct relief payments to the people who were out of work. I might mention at this time that the Federal Government had no role in this at all. This was prior to the days of WPA and PWA and things of that kind. So, whenever municipal bonds or notes are issued, the purchasers, the bond houses, always require the opinion of a recognized authority, a law firm which has the reputation of being qualified to pass on the legality of any new bond issue and sometimes test cases are required in the supreme court of the state before this--before the bonds can be delivered and the money received. The bond dealers in this case required a test case; and first of all the county commissioners who were our clients, my client, were very much disturbed because they wanted to get the money and get it to these people who were out of work just as fast as
they could. So they asked me if I could do anything about it and I told them that if they would sign a note, a 6 percent note, and leave the payee blank and trust me, that I would see if I could sell it for them and they filled it out for six hundred thousand dollars. This was probably illegal and irregular but we didn't have time to tend to the formalities so much in those days, and I prepared all of the necessary closing papers authorizing me to insert the name of the purchaser, a transcript of the proceedings of the county commissioner and so on,and so forth, and got in my car and drove up to Columbus, Ohio and went to the Teacher's State Retirement Fund and saw--the gentleman there in charge of it was a retired schoolteacher whom I knew well and I had done business with him on several occasions; had sold him some other bond issues, and explained the circumstances to him and said, "Well, it so
happens that I'm just looking for a place to put six hundred thousand dollars today."
And he said, "I'll take the note."
So, I sold the note, delivered the note to him, delivered all the papers to him, and took the six hundred thousand dollar check and carried it back to my client in Cincinnati, and in those days it was a reasonably sizeable transaction.
I told you that they wanted to have a test suit and the director of finance at that time was Howard Bevis who later became president of Ohio State University and he had been one of my law school professors, so that when Governor White signed the bill I had asked him if he could get a copy to me as soon as possible because our county had been selected to file a test suit in the Supreme Court of Ohio and he thought the best way to get the information to me was to call me. So he called
me and dictated this long piece of complicated legislation to me and I took it down in longhand and that night the prosecuting Attorney, Bob Gorman, who later ran for Governor of Ohio, and who was later on the Supreme Court of Ohio, he and I sat up until about midnight drawing the papers in this suit and the next day when all the documents were typed up I went up to Columbus, Ohio and filed the case and asked the Supreme Court for an early hearing which they set for about thirty days from then, as I recall. I went back and worked on the brief and filed the brief at the end of that week and this case involved about a ten million dollar issue and so the county thought that it was worthwhile hiring a prominent attorney who had been before the Supreme Court frequently and they hired a man named Cap Dickerson.
Well, the night before this case was to be heard, or the afternoon before, Cap Dickerson
and I drove up to Columbus to be ready for the hearing the next morning and the--we went to the hotel and the next morning we got up and Cap Dickerson had something wrong and he couldn't speak above a whisper and the case was set, the county commissioners were waiting, the bond houses were waiting and there was nothing that could be done except that I had to argue the case; so that the first case that I argued before the Supreme Court of Ohio was this ten million dollar bond issue and . . .
HESS: Starting off on a big one.
DIVERS: . . . But I was--we got a--I had written a brief. I was quite familiar with the case, I was familiar with all the issues and although I was almost spellbound by the--I was scared stiff. The Supreme Court judges were very tolerant and they were able to worm out of me sufficient information that they could approve
the issuance of these bonds. So, that was a very interesting occasion.
HESS: Also in 1931 and '32 prohibition was still in force. Did that cause you any difficulties in Cincinnati and with . . .
DIVERS: I would--well, Cincinnati was a city that had a lot of German population and they were primarily interested in beer and it was easier to make beer in the home than it was to make whiskey or gin or anything of that kind, so that almost everybody, almost all the Germans anyway, including the janitors at our law school, made beer in their homes. I remember that we were--the law students were invited from time to time to visit the janitors' homes and partake of their home brew which was very good. Our family didn't make any because we didn't care for beer. I think that the--we did make--my mother made dandelion wine
which was palatable for our standards, but would probably turn the stomach of any connoisseur. I was not directly responsible for the prosecution of any violators of the prohibition laws; but as a matter of policy, if I wanted to take more than one drink, I went down to Louisville, Kentucky to the Brown Hotel and enjoyed some weekends down there. I would say that prohibition was not as important in Cincinnati as it probably was in some other cities because almost all of the citizens had their own ways of making beer or wine and there weren't too many demands for whiskey or gin.
HESS: Was Louisville, Kentucky more of an open town?
DIVERS: No, but it was just in another state and the if I was put in a position in Ohio of prosecuting somebody, I didn't want to prosecute them for something that I'd done or
that I had contributed to. So . . .
HESS: Just more advantageous for you to leave the state for that.
DIVERS: Yes. I might say incidentally that this--the prosecuting attorney's office--I worked almost exclusively on civil cases rather than criminal cases and acted as the legal advisor for the townships, for some of the county officers, and for the school districts and, of course, each of the school districts from time to time found it necessary, or desirable, to issue and sell some bonds to finance the building of a new school building and I handled the bond issues for them, and not only handled the legal arrangements for the issuance thereof, which are very technical arrangements, incidentally, and the bond counsels are very technical in their requirements. It's something that is almost mathematical in its precision. I mean you can't make a mistake in any
of the steps, you have to follow the letter of the law and if you don't you may have to go back and start all over. Well, it wouldn't be bad except that almost all of these involved an election and if you didn't do the proceedings correctly it might mean that you would have to hold another election and since two-thirds of the electors would probably have to vote in favor of a bond issue, you didn't want to have to go back and do an election again. So, I handled the legal proceedings and the sale. Ordinarily the sale would be to the State Teacher's Retirement Fund, but sometimes it would be to other groups. And this led to my coming to Washington, that's the reason I've gone into it in some detail.
And that time there were only two recognized bond counsels in the State of Ohio, for the State of Ohio. One was a firm in Cleveland and the other was a firm in Cincinnati. In
1933 when the Public Works Administration was created, PWA, it was called the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works, a man named Henry T. Hunt, who was a former mayor of Cincinnati, was appointed general counsel of PWA and he called Cincinnati to see if he could hire a bond attorney and he offered the job to the head of the Cleveland firm and neither one of them wanted to come to Washington or--and both recommended me, which--and they called me and asked if I could come down to Washington and I told them that I not only would come, but I would be delighted to come. I had my own law office at that time but I was young and I don't know, I was only twenty-eight maybe and I was anxious to step out into some new field anyway and unmarried. So I came to Washington.
HESS: Had you ever been to Washington before? Had
you seen the city?
DIVERS: No, I never had. The first time I came here I came about employment with the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works. The man I had an office with in Cincinnati decided to come down with me and he had a new Pierce Arrow sedan and we took turns driving it and came down to Washington, and I believe that we probably made about as good time as you could make nowadays because there was very little traffic at that time and the roads were not nearly as good, but . . .
HESS: Pierce Arrows were good cars.
DIVERS: Pierce Arrows were good cars and we stayed at the Willard Hotel, which is now closed, and I went over to the PWA and they offered me a job and I accepted their offer and came back to the hotel and we had lunch together and started
on back to Cincinnati.
HESS: What were your first impressions of Washington as a town?
DIVERS: Well, it was a beautiful city. I think that the first impression was of the cleanliness and the spaciousness of the city. At that time the population of Washington was about four hundred thousand people, as I recall, that's of greater Washington, Washington and suburbs, and that's--it's now about seven times that size. My office, FWA, was located in the old Interior Building down at 18th & F Street, N.W. and I had an apartment in an apartment house at 22nd & C Street, N.W. which is now the site of the State Department Building; has exactly the same view.
HESS: Did they call it "foggy bottom" back in those days?
DIVERS: Yes, they called it foggy bottom and they had--the gas works was down there, and the brewery. I remember at one time the Potomac overflowed and came up to Pennsylvania Avenue, but to show you . . .
HESS: Where did it overflow, at Watergate?
DIVERS: I think--my recollection was that it overflowed further up the river, that it was up around Key Bridge or someplace up there. It could have been because of an ice jam in the river because I remember also that the Potomac was frozen over a couple of those winters. It was frozen all the way down to where the other river comes into it. Where's that?
DIVERS: The Anacostia river came into the Potomac. To show you how different things were in those days, I had a Buick sedan, 1932 Buick, when I
first came to Washington in '33 and I used to drive instead of walking. I would drive from my apartment up to the office which was a matter of six blocks, and find a parking place right in front of the Interior Building without any difficulty and then come out in the evening and get into the car and drive back six blocks and find a parking place right in front of the door of the apartment house.
HESS: That's one thing that's changed isn't it?
DIVERS: It certainly has and we also had a I shared this apartment with another lawyer from PWA and we had a girl who cleaned some of the apartments there in the building, and she came in every morning, washed our dishes from breakfast and from dinner the night before, made the beds, cleaned the apartment (straightened up the apartment I should say), and she also did our laundry, our shirts, shorts and so on
and so forth I think for two dollars and a half a week, which we divided between the two of us, a dollar and a quarter a week a piece, which is also different from today.
HESS: What were your duties on the legal staff with the Federal Emergency Administration?
DIVERS: Well, my duties were to examine applications from political subdivisions of the state or from states, applications for loans, or for grants, to assist in financing public works. The PWA had a program at first under which they would lend 70 percent of the cost and would make a grant of 30 percent of the cost and there was practically no market for the bonds which were used to finance the 70 percent loan so the Federal Government would buy the bonds and would sell and would give a grant for the other 30 percent. My duties were to see that the political subdivisions had the authority to construct the particular project and that they
had the authority to issue the bonds and that the necessary legal steps had been taken. If the application met the legal requirements, then it was passed along to the engineers and to the financial experts to see whether the engineering requirements were met, whether it was properly designed to accomplish its purpose and so on, and whether the municipality could afford to meet the principal and interest payments on the bonds after they were issued. If the application met these requirements, why, then it was also my duty to prepare a contract between the Federal Government and the political subdivision setting out all the terms under which we would purchase the bonds, and under which we would make the grant. These requirements, the Federal requirements, as usual, were rather voluminous. This was an effort to get the country going again and they had requirements with reference to minimum wages and with reference
to where the people would be recruited and so on and so forth. Then I also had to see that the contract was properly executed and after it was executed that then we would go about purchasing the bonds and see that the bonds were placed in an account where they could the proceeds of the bonds were placed. in an account where they couldn't be used for other purposes and the Government would be protected so that the project would be completed, that the municipalities met the requirements of the Federal Government in connection with the contract and so on so that it was a rather tedious legal undertaking. In that connection I had looked into it some seven or eight years later just as a matter of curiosity to see how the Federal Government had come out with the bonds that they had purchased. At the time that we purchased these bonds there was no market for them, and the bonds almost all, as I recall, carried a coupon rate of about 4 percent and by the time inquired, some seven or eight years later, the bond market was very active, the rate had gone down to around 3 percent and as a result these bonds were all sold at a substantial premium and the Federal Government not only didn't lose any money on them but made
a substantial profit, almost enough to cover the administrative expenses in connection with the purchase of the bonds.
HESS: And you held that position here in town in '33 and '34 and then you went back to Columbus in '35 and '36 and then you came back here in '37, is that correct?
DIVERS: Yes. In '35 the PWA decided that their program was not working fast enough and they changed to a fifty-five forty -five formula under which they would make a 45 percent grant instead of a 30 percent grant and the municipality would only have to borrow 55 instead of 70 percent of the cost. And they also decided to decentralize their offices, and they had had offices in the states before, but the offices had no authority to take any final action on applications. So they didn't decentralize all of the authority, even at that
time, but they decentralized the operations.
I went out as chief counsel for the Public Works Administration in Ohio with an office in Columbus and I had counterparts in the engineering and financial end and we examined the applications and passed on them and did all the legal work there instead of in Washington and it did speed up things considerably. And in addition to that it was much more convenient for the public officials of Ohio because they could come to Columbus much easier than they could come to Washington although I'm not sure they didn't prefer to make the trip to Washington.
HESS: At the taxpayers' expense.
DIVERS: Oh, sure. Well, there weren't so many people coming to Washington in those days and it was a big thing for the county commissioners, or the president of the school board, or
the president of the township, or somebody like that, to get an excuse to make a trip to Washington which could be later charged against the project in which the Government would pay 45 percent of it.
HESS: ,And your next position was as a member of the legal staff of the U.S. Housing Authority in 1938, correct?
HESS: How did you make that transition? How did you make that move?
DIVERS: The Public Works Program was beginning to taper off and it gave signs of being a more or less permanent program of the Federal Government and was beginning to acquire a little age and bureaucracy and I wasn't accustomed to it yet, although I later became accustomed to it, and was looking for
something that was a little more exciting.
I might tell you about our work habits in PWA. We worked from approximately 8:30 in the morning, to about, an average of about 9 o'clock at night. Almost everybody, and this included messengers, stenographers, secretaries, bosses, underlings, we used to work. As a matter of fact, the first raise I .got they told me that I was working double time and that I was entitled to be paid approximately for working two jobs, and it was no great hardship. Many of the people were single or their family hadn't moved here yet and the only exception to this work schedule was payday. At that time we were paid irregularly, and in cash, and once a month. We might be paid on December 15th for November. In those days it was great to have a job but it's also hard to stretch for six weeks between pay checks and when the word came out
that we were to be paid that day, plans were immediately made for a party at the Shoreham Hotel and all of those people who were so inclined, in the legal division, and that would include, oh, maybe fifteen or twenty of the lawyers, and we would all get dates and go up to the Shoreham Hotel, the Blue Room or the predecessor to the Blue Room, and have dinner and drinks and dance. Drinks meant carry your own, bring your own liquor. But as I recall, Barney was there, he was the orchestra leader, he was an institution at the Shoreham and was there for many years and that was--and we would celebrate that night and then we'd go back to our schedule of working about twelve hours a day.
HESS: How did you make the transition from PWA to the Housing Authority? Just looking for more interesting work?
DIVERS: David Krooth was Assistant General Counsel at PWA at that time, as I recall, and he transferred over first to the United States Housing Authority. The United States Housing Act of 1937 had just been published, just been enacted, and Leon Keyserling was selected as general counsel for the USHA. Nathan Straus was the administrator of it, and Keyserling and Krooth asked me if I would come over and join their staff and they explained to me that it would require a cut in pay but that they hoped to restore it sometime in the near future and although I had acquired a wife and a daughter in the meantime, why, the work looked interesting and challenging and so I went over to the United States Housing Authority where I did work which was not too much different than it was at PWA. In other words, it was limited to housing projects, whereas I had been working
on ones involving school buildings, libraries, sewer systems, water works, and so on. This was limited to housing projects. The formula was different because the United States would do a hundred percent financing in effect, but the procedure was not substantially different. In other words, it required an application from the municipality and a contract with the Government and supervision to see that there was compliance with all the requirements of the Government contract; all the requirements which the Congress had set up, and that's what I did for the next few years.
HESS: Let's take a few minutes to discuss the three men that you mentioned; Mr, Krooth, Mr. Keyserling, and Mr. Straus. What type of men were they? Let's take them one at a time, Just what type of men were they?
DIVERS: Well, Nathan Straus was the administrator
and he had been very successful in the hotel supply business, the supply of material, of equipment, that is used in hotels and hotel kitchens and so on and so forth. As a matter of fact, I'm not sure but what he may not have been with the predecessor of this company that's had [Justice William 0.] Douglas as a consultant and that bought a casino recently.
DIVERS: Yes, I think so. There aren't too many of these companies in this field. I mean that it's a they specialize in hotel equipment. He had--Straus was wealthy. He took this job as a public service in the public interest. He did not need the money and he spent more money than he got in salary, I'm sure. He was from New York and was intensely interested in the problems in the slums of New York. His personality was such, he was pretty much
accustomed to having his own way. He was not accustomed--he was accustomed to giving orders, he was not accustomed to compromising, he was not accustomed to exchanging pleasantries with people except socially, I mean that businesswise he was not. He was generous, he was thoughtful, he was a .good family man and he had a lot of good characteristics, but he was not the best public relations man in the world I might say. He was constantly scrapping with the people from New York where he came from and also with a lot of other public officials including Mr. Ickes and Harold Hopkins, and others.
HESS: What were his relations with FDR?
DIVERS: His relations with FDR were very good at the beginning, the first year or two. FDR--well, he was from New York, I suspect that he was a substantial contributor to FDR's campaign.
They had many mutual friends and his relations were good. And then Leon Keyserling was there because--well, I shouldn’t get off onto Keyserling yet, but I just wanted to point out that Keyserling was a protege in effect of Senator Robert Wagner who was the author of the housing act and Wagner was also close to Roosevelt. I remember that Straus decided at one time that he should improve his relations with the public and with public officials and with the Congress and decided to start out on a trip. The first place that we were going to stop was well, to go back a little ways, he was going to visit a dozen cities and he was going to visit the housing projects and visit with the Congressmen from that district, the public officials, maybe have a dinner with--tender them a dinner--and get all ready to go back to Congress the next year where he was getting a rough time occasionally. And the
staff was busy for thirty days getting booklets ready and get all the information with reference to anything, any question he might ask, or any question that the press might ask at press conferences along the way. He started up in New England as all trips seemed to do, and I was assigned to go with him from Pittsburgh west on this trip. So, I boned up on all the projects, some of which were in the territory that I was legal counsel for and other ones were outside my territory. And one of the other persons who was going on this trip was Theodore Granik, Ted Granik, who was a public relations man for Straus. And Straus' son went on this trip. He was not in an official capacity, he just went along for the trip with his father. This was before the days when everybody rode airplanes and we made the whole trip by train.
Each place we stopped Straus had a big
suite. I remember in Chicago, I think, that we stopped at the Drake Hotel, a very nice hotel, and Straus had a big suite, he and his son. At that time we got either five dollars or six dollars a day to cover our traveling expenses when we traveled for the Government. I think it was six dollars a day, so that I didn't make much money off of my six dollars after I stayed at a hotel like the
Drake where I had to stay and eat my meals there.
HESS: What type of appearances did he make on this trip? Did he meet with small groups, large groups, did he make talks?
DIVERS: Well, in Chicago he visited the projects with the local public housing officials and I don't remember much of the details of it. Sometimes there was a ,groundbreaking ceremony for a new project, other times there was a ribbon
cutting for a completed project. All I remember is that he had a press conference at the Drake, in his suite, as a part of his visit. I was trying to be helpful and one of the members of the press asked him a question and Mr. Straus gave a rely and I said (I wasn't supposed to talk to the press but I said), "Mr. Straus maybe you would like to mention to the press so and so and so and so."
And he turned to me and he said, "Mr. Divers," he said, "I wish you hadn't brought that up." Just as much as to say, "Close your mouth, be quiet." It was a reprimand in front of the press, and I kept quiet. I just remember a few of the high spots of this trip.
HESS: And the low spots?
DIVERS: Details, and the low spots. I remember another one. We went out to--when we stopped in Omaha, Nebraska, Phil [Philip M.] Klutznick
met us. Phil was the counsel for the Omaha Housing Authority and later was a representative at the United Nations. He was very prominent in the housing field. He built one of the largest developments outside of Chicago after World War II and just recently I understand has completed a similar project, or is building a similar project east of Denver. But Klutznick met us and we were taken on a tour of the housing projects and Phil knew that the local Congressman was bitterly opposed to Straus, but that he might be softened up, and he would be softened up if Straus paid some attention to him and said something nice about him in the newspaper and so on. So Phil made arrangements to stop by this Congressman's home for a visit coming back from one of the housing projects. Well, it was a hot day and we started out and we visited one project and this
usually meant tramping around through some mud and boards and dust and nails and glass and so on and so forth. Then you get in a non-air conditioned car and drive another fifteen miles and tramp around through some slums with their odors and so on and along about after we had done that for three or four hours they said, "Well, now we will. go visit the Congressman and have lunch with him."
And Mr. Straus said, "I'm not going anywhere except to my hotel. I'm going to my hotel, have a bath and lie down and have something to eat."
Mr. Klutznick said, "We've arranged lunch with the Congressman."
Mr. Straus said, "You go."
So, the luncheon had to be called off which I'm sure didn't make the Congressman unhappy or happy either one. But there was also a dinner that had been arranged that night for
Mr. Straus to meet all the members of the local housing authorities, the mayor and some other prominent people, and about 3 o'clock Mr. Straus called up and said, told Mr. Klutznick, "I've changed my plans, I'm going to leave on an earlier train for Denver and please express my regrets to these people."
Well, Mr. Klutznick already had this dinner arranged and he had to send messengers out to find these people to tell them the dinner was off, at least Straus wasn't going to be there. So, he just cancelled the dinner and I had dinner with Mr. Klutznick that night and we shared our sorrows at a dinner in the coffee shop of the local hotel and then he took me down to the railroad depot to get on the train that I was originally scheduled to depart on, which left around midnight and there were Straus and his son sitting there waiting for the
train. They had not changed their reservations. They had just used that as an excuse and this was one of the things that really got him into trouble a lot of times, was that he would not do the direct thing and say, "Look, Joe, I've had it. I don't feel well, please excuse me, but I've got to go up to my room," which businessmen would understand I'm sure, or politicians. But instead of that he would use the excuse he also had a fetish for cleanliness and some o£ the groups who came in to see him were working men and as he was introduced to them he would shake hands with them and then he would excuse himself and immediately go in and wash his hands before he would sit down and talk to you. So, he was--he didn't make friends easily and this is his big problem. And he didn't, get along with Congress any better than he got along with other people.
He blew hot and cold as far as the staff was concerned. One day he would be praising them all over the place and trying to get a raise for everybody and the next day, why, he would be unjustly and unnecessarily critical and would be trying to find somebody else to do the job, so that I can't say that it was anything more than interesting working for Straus.
Roosevelt eventually, got tired of him and decided to reorganize the Government and put the United States Housing .Authority under the Federal Works ,Agency, I think it was at that time.
I've never told this story to anyone so far as I recall and I suppose it's all right to bury it in the Archives. It's one that I'm not particularly proud of. But I think it may have been one of the few times that it may have happened to a top official. But at one time things got so rough that one of the top men in the United
States Housing Authority, I guess it's the man who was the closest to Straus, came to me and told me that it was just intolerable working there and that the program would suffer unless the President got rid of Straus and that the President wasn't inclined to make the change for a lot of reasons, but he thought that the President would be happy if he resigned. I don't know whether the President had ever been contacted on this or not, I doubt it. I think it all originated in the staff. But, anyway, this person prepared a round robin letter asking Straus for his resignation and signed by the members of the staff and I think that the top twenty-five or thirty people on the staff, including me, signed the letter asking for his resignation, and he reigned. I've never heard of that happening before or since. And I. said that I wasn't very
proud of it because in retrospect, I don't think it was--I think it was kind of a cowardly thing for the people on the staff to do. It was an early day demonstration you might say and I would much preferred that we express our views to him personally and give him an opportunity to give his side of the story rather than signing around robin. But he did get out. I'd have to almost--it was almost around that time when Clark Foreman was put in as head of the public housing. And it was also about that time that the Defense Housing Program started and that was under Mr. Carmody, who was head of the PWA and also head of Public Works, and so on.
That's a good place to stop for today, my throat's getting tired.
HESS: Fine and we will come back to Keyserling and Krooth on our next session. Thank you very much.
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