Oral History Interview with
Oscar R. Ewing
Attorney, Hughes, Hubbard & Ewing, New
York, New York, and predecessor firms, 1919-1947; Assistant Chairman of
the Democratic National Committee, 1940-42; Vice Chairman, 1942-47; Special
Assistant to the U.S. Attorney General, 1942 and again in 1947; Acting
Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, 1946; Administrator of
the Federal Security Agency, 1947-53; and organizer and member of an unofficial
political policy group during the Truman administration, 1947-52.
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
May 1, 1969
by J. R. Fuchs
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview
Transcript | Additional Ewing Oral History Transcripts]
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
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced
for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission
of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Opened July 1971
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices
and Restrictions | Interview Transcript
| Additional Ewing Oral History Transcripts]
Oral History Interview with
Oscar R. Ewing
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
May 1, 1969
by J. R. Fuchs
FUCHS: Mr. Ewing, I'd like to ask you a little bit more about your policy
strategy board or political strategy board. Did you have a common term
that you applied to this little group that met on Monday nights in your
EWING: No. Various terms were used, "advisory group" and "strategy group,"
I think that's about the only two descriptions that I could recall.
FUCHS: Yes, well...
EWING: But we certainly had no formal name.
FUCHS: Yes. I was wondering if certain other individuals met with you,
such as Dave Bell?
FUCHS: George Elsey?
FUCHS: David Lloyd?
FUCHS: No other advisors that you could think of met with this group.
What about Oscar Chapman?
FUCHS: He never met with the board?
FUCHS: Who did you consider to be Mr. Truman's chief political advisors
before the formation of this strategy group?
EWING: Well, I'm sure Bob Hannegan was as long as he was active. John
Snyder, I'm sure that the President relied on him a great deal. Fred Vinson,
until he became Chief Justice, I don't know how much the President consulted
him after he became Chief Justice.
FUCHS: What about Tom Clark, do you think he had any political influence
with Mr. Truman?
EWING: Yes. Yes, I think he did, particularly with reference to Texas
and the Southern states.
FUCHS: What about George E. Allen?
EWING: I don't think George had any particular political influence. George
was a delightful companion and I think the President enjoyed being with
him, but I don't think the President looked to him for political advice.
FUCHS: David Noyes?
EWING: Well, towards the end Dave was in Washington often. I think in
the 1948 campaign he was around a good deal and did advise the President
on political matters and various other things. David had had very wide
experience in public relations and was, I'm sure, quite helpful to the
FUCHS: You were associated undoubtedly with Bill Boyle when you were
vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Do you think he was
a political influence on Mr. Truman?
EWING: Oh yes, in a way. I think--well, I don't know how much weight
the President gave to Bill Boyle's advice and I don't say that negatively,
I simply don't know. Bill, however, was more of a person to carry out
the President's desires than to be offering constructive
advice. But he
was very loyal to the President and in every way did the best he could.
FUCHS: Was there anyone that you would have considered to have been rather
a poor one to advise Mr. Truman, someone who was perhaps too conservative
or too liberal?
EWING: Well, it would be hard for me to say. I think some of his advisers
were much more conservative than I was, than our group was. I think, for
instance, John Snyder was, probably Charley Sawyer when he was in the
Cabinet. That, however, was an honest difference of opinion between our
group and the conservative members of the administration. The conservative
members of the administration were just as honest in their views as we
were in ours.
FUCHS: The conservatives, such as Snyder and later on Sawyer, didn't
attend any of your policy meetings I gather.
FUCHS: Did they know of your group?
EWING: Oh, I suppose they did.
FUCHS: You know of no similar group among the conservatives or any attempt
to organize such a group?
EWING: No. As far as I know it was individual contacts with the President
that they had. Nothing in the way of a group.
FUCHS: Mr. Boyle had been serving in Mr. Truman's office as secretary.
Do you know why he went over to the Democratic National Committee with
EWING: No, I do not.
FUCHS: Now, I believe you resigned your position as vice chairman when
you were appointed to be administrator of FSA.
EWING: Yes. Well, I think I resigned to become Special Assistant to the
Attorney General when I undertook the prosecution of Douglas Chandler
for treason. When that was finished I think I was reappointed vice chairman
of the committee. But that would be only for a short time.
FUCHS: I see.
EWING: I know I was not vice chairman at any time that I
was Federal Security Administrator.
FUCHS: Yes. What about Leslie Biffle, were you acquainted with him?
EWING: Oh, very well. He was the Secretary of the Senate and was very
helpful to the President in any problems that the President had with the
Senate. Of course, Senator Barkley, first as the Democratic leader of
the Senate and later as Vice President, was very helpful to the President.
Mr. Biffle was often the liaison between the President and Senator Barkley
and other Democratic senators.
FUCHS: Did you feel that he exerted a strong influence on Mr. Truman?
EWING: I don't think so. The President always made up his own mind. I
can't say that anyone really had great influence with the President. If
some one had advice that the President thought was good, why, he'd take
it. But I don't believe anyone really could influence the President to
do anything that he didn't think was right and proper. He was his own man.
FUCHS: Well, I was thinking primarily of political advice. He is generally
credited, of course, as being an astute politician. What would your views
of that be?
EWING: Well, there's no doubt about that. His political judgment was,
in a way, unerring. I think that that was particularly true when he had
received, perhaps, a lot of different advice from different sources some
of it which was conflicting. He would unquestionably come out with the
right decision. Now, perhaps there were a few instances, none of which
I recall, where one side or the other had not had a chance to give him
their views before he had to act, he might have made an occasional faux
pas as any of us might do; but when the President had all the facts he
was unerring in his political instincts --judgments.
FUCHS: Of course, you've heard the charges that he had gathered a gang
of Missouri cronies around him. How would you view that?
EWING: Well, it is only natural that a President wants men around him
who are loyal to him. A President needs those above all things. You've
got to remember that President Truman was mighty loyal to his friends, as
he should have been. I think the matters in which some of his friends
perhaps took advantage of him were trivial matters that didn't affect
the public interest in any way.
FUCHS: Who do you have in mind?
EWING: Well, perhaps General Vaughan, I think the refrigerator episode
was not too smart. It wasn't anything like as important as the Republican
press tried to make it. That was simply a situation of where a manufacturer
had some refrigerators that were defective in some minor respect and he
didn't want to sell them, so he gave them away. I think General Vaughan
was the one who the manufacturer had contacted about it or--I don't remember
the details but I'm sure it was played out of all proportion by the Republican
FUCHS: Yes. Any other instances that you can think of?
EWING: No. Not offhand.
FUCHS: When it became necessary for President Truman to find a replacement
for Chief Justice Stone were you consulted on that?
EWING: No. No, I was not consulted. President Truman told me, however,
how he came to select Fred Vinson for Chief Justice. The President said
he requested former Chief Justice Hughes, whose resignation as Chief Justice
had opened the place for Justice Stone, to stop by the White House for
a talk. The President asked Mr. Hughes if he had any suggestions as to
who would make a good Chief Justice. Mr. Hughes immediately replied, "Why
you've got a man here in your own Cabinet who is eminently qualified for
the place, and that is Fred Vinson. He's been the Chief Judge of the District
Court of Appeals. He is a fine lawyer, and I wouldn't think that you had
to go any further." And so Mr. Truman took Judge Hughes' advice. I am
sure it was advice that he was happy to receive because the President
had a very high opinion of Judge Vinson.
FUCHS: Go back just a little bit. What were your thoughts when Roosevelt
died and Mr. Truman became his successor? At the time how did you feel
EWING: Well, I think we all were filled with intense grief over President
Roosevelt's death although I knew that he was a very sick man and I was
not completely unprepared
for his death. Then when the shock came and
Mr. Truman was sworn in as President, I thought his conduct was exemplary.
I had great confidence in his latent capacity to measure up to the job.
Many people did not. I remember one newspaper correspondent who talked
to me about it, and insisted that Mr. Truman was physically a little man
and mentally a little man. I tried to argue him out of it but he was very
insistent. But time proved that Truman's admirers were right rather than
FUCHS: Yes. At the time you were nominated for the Federal Security Administration
post a newspaper article I saw said that perhaps you were slated for something
larger in the long run other than staying in the FSA. Do you recall anything
of that and is there anything you know about that that it might have been
a truthful report?
EWING: No. I never even heard of it. The Federal Security Agency was
a job that I welcomed. I know the President hoped to make it a Cabinet
position. He sent two reorganization plans up to Congress that would have
made the agency a department. Other than that I'm
quite sure President
Truman had nothing in mind for me. I think that had the Agency been made
a department during his term he would have nominated me for the secretaryship.
In fact, I'm quite sure of that, but as to anything outside of that I
never heard of it.
FUCHS: What are the chief reasons that you felt FSA did not achieve Cabinet
status, I believe it was to be called the Department of Health, Education,
and Security during Mr. Truman's time?
EWING: Oh, it was the opposition of the American Medical Association
unquestionably. Both times the reorganization plans were sent up to Congress
the AMA. staged campaigns to prevent the agency being made a department.
Their main argument was that they did not want me given a higher platform
from which to argue for national health insurance.
FUCHS: Did they base their attacks on you solely or largely on principles
EWING: No. You see, national health insurance had been proposed by President
Roosevelt in the very first social security bill introduced in Congress
back in 1934.
Later President Roosevelt dropped his support of national
health insurance. I think he did this largely because he thought that
including national health insurance in the bill might make it more difficult
to get the social security program through Congress and that it would
be better to take a step at a time, get what he could, and later try to
get the more controversial parts of his program, such as national health
FUCHS: How did Mrs. Roosevelt, who we know was greatly interested in
welfare type projects, feel about this earlier approach to health insurance?
EWING: I can say something about that that I learned from Arthur Altmeyer,
who was a member of the first Social Security Board, and later when the
Board was abolished, he became Social Security Administrator. I think
Arthur knew what he was talking about when he told me this. He said that
at the time the social security legislation was first introduced including
the provision for national health insurance, some doctor friend of Mrs.
Roosevelt had a talk with her and convinced her that it was very unwise
to push for national health insurance; and that she convinced the President
that it was unwise
and accordingly he withdrew his support for the proposal.
Later Mrs. Roosevelt changed her mind, apparently, because she became
an active member of the Committee for the Nation's Health which was very
strongly in favor of national health insurance. You see, even at that
time, the United States was the only civilized nation that didn't have
a national health insurance program in operation. National health insurance
was started by Bismarck in Germany back in the 1880s and similar programs
had been gradually adopted by other countries one after another. There
had been ample experience so that we who were pushing it could say that
it was a workable program that would fill a very great need.
FUCHS: Do you have any knowledge of how it worked in Germany, and was
it continued under the Hitler regime and is it still in?
EWING: Oh, yes. It's worked very well there. And the interesting part
of it is that, say from the 1880s on up until the American technology
caught up, it was out of Germany that came all of the great medical advances.
I wouldn't say that today nor would I say it of the time since World War
II, but German medical research
from the 1880s on was outstanding.
FUCHS: Was theirs linked with the social security type system?
EWING: I think it was. It is all part of a social insurance program.
FUCHS: Yes. Do you recall who the doctor was that exerted this influence
on Mrs. Roosevelt?
EWING: No, I never knew, and Mr. Altmeyer, I don't think he told me who
the doctor was. At least I don't remember.
FUCHS: Was the feeling on Mr. Altmeyer's part that the doctor had done
it because of medical interest or that it would be politically unwise?
EWING: Oh, it was medical interest. Completely. Someone suggested that
it might have been Doctor Cushing, the great brain surgeon of Boston.
Jimmy Roosevelt had married a daughter of Doctor Cushing. I'm quite sure
Dr. Cushing's name was not mentioned because I would have recognized it
and it would have stuck in my mind.
FUCHS: AMA was also opposed to the Government getting into medical research.
What were their principal arguments there?
EWING: Well, the American Medical Association wanted to be the exclusive
sovereign of medicine. They didn't want the Government to have a thing
to do with medicine. They opposed every bill that was introduced in Congress
that even remotely would involve Government in medicine. They had a very
powerful lobby. They were opposed to the Federal Government supporting
any kind of medical research. In order to stave off the Government giving
support to medical research, they proposed that the doctors would raise
ten million dollars a year for research. Well, they tried it and the first
year they raised about six hundred thousand dollars and that ended that.
When I left the Federal Security Agency, the Government was giving the
Public Health Service and other areas of medical research about a hundred
million dollars a year. Today they are giving them well over a billion
dollars a year and that money has done more for the advance of medicine
than any other single factor.
FUCHS: Did the doctors propose to raise this through their individual
contributions or by solicitation of the general public?
EWING: I think they had in mind probably tapping the pharmaceutical manufacturers
for a large part of it. They also had in mind raising part of this fund
by their own contributions and a public appeal, too. Anything to keep
Government out of it. They raised the awful specter of Government control.
As a matter of fact Government didn't want control, I know, because I
was in the driver's seat at that time. We had plenty to do without wanting
to control medical research. We wanted to help it. We wanted to encourage
it and we wanted to furnish money for it, but we had plenty to do besides
controlling the medical profession.
FUCHS: Do you know when they first tagged it "socialized medicine" and
how that came about?
EWING: I'm not sure but I think that what I will now say is correct.
In California, Governor Warren back in the early 1940s had proposed a
program of health insurance for the residents of California and he had
legislation for it introduced into the California legislature. The California
Medical Association staged a campaign in opposition. They spent a great
deal of money for billboards, newspaper advertising, radios, etc. Their
opposition was directed by a public relations firm in San Francisco known
as Whitaker Baxter. That was a husband and wife team. Clem Whitaker was
the head of it and his wife, whose maiden name was Baxter, was the other
partner. That fight took place before I was Federal Security Administrator,
before I even got interested in national health insurance. Until I became
Administrator the problem was one that I had had no reason to consider.
After I became Administrator, I realized that President Truman was strongly
in favor of national health insurance. It was, of course, my job to push
any program that he wanted pushed. Then I soon came to realize that health
insurance was an important subject and that I should know more about it
and the country should know more about it. Accordingly, at the request
of the President, I called a conference to consider the health problems
of the country, not merely national health insurance but every phase of
health problems that
faced this country.
FUCHS: What year was that?
EWING: The conference was held in May of 1948 and covered the whole spectrum
of medical problems.
FUCHS: Whose idea was it to call this conference?
EWING: Well, it originated in my office. I think it was Don Kingsley,
my assistant administrator, who first suggested it. It's very hard to
remember just who suggested an idea to you, but I know Don was very much
The question you asked me is how the term socialized medicine came to
be used and I was trying to give you a little background about that. It
was sometime in early 1948 that I began publicly advocating national health
insurance and it was becoming a controversial issue all over the country.
This story that I am now telling you was told me much later. It was about
this time that a friend of mine, Mike Gorman, was working on a paper in
Oklahoma City, and he wrote an article for his paper that was quite favorable
to the idea of national health insurance. The next morning he was called in by his
publisher and fired. Mike's family lived in Los Angeles, so
he returned there. He had been there only a few days when he received
a telephone call from Clem Whitaker in San Francisco. Clem told him that
the firm of Whitaker & Baxter had just been employed by the American
Medical Association to conduct a hard-hitting fight against national health
insurance and he would like Mike to join his staff and help in the fight.
Mike replied, "Clem, I'm not sure. I don't think you can beat it. I'm
convinced that it's the right thing to do and such a program will eventually
be adopted and you can't stop it."
"Oh," Whitaker said, "that's easy. We've been through this fight with
Governor Warren's proposal for a state health insurance program and it's
a cinch to beat it. In order to do so, there are only two things that
you have to have. First you have to give the program a bad name and we're
going to call it 'socialized medicine' because the idea of socialism is
very unpopular in the United States. We'll give it this bad name. No one
wants to be, or at least very few want to have the tag socialist attached
to them. Then the second thing you have to have is a devil. You have to have a devil
in the picture to paint him in all his horns and we've got
that man chosen. We first thought we would center the attack on President
Truman, but we've decided he is too popular; but we've got a perfect devil
in this man Ewing and we're going to give him the works."
So, apparently that is where the large scale use of the term "socialized
medicine" all started.
FUCHS: Why did they feel that they had a perfect devil in you? Have you
EWING: Well, I think they had to center their attack on someone who was
close to the program and was prominent in promoting it and since they
had decided not to attack the President, my being second in the line,
caught the fire.
FUCHS: When did you become acquainted with Mike Gorman?
EWING: It was some time after this episode when he came to Washington
and told me about it. I did not know him at the time it happened. It was
perhaps a year or so afterwards that he told me.
FUCHS: The thing that strikes me as rather odd is that there
is a man
who has just been cashiered from his paper because he wrote in favor of
national health insurance and a public relations firm which was going
to oppose national health insurance wanted him to work for them.
EWING: Well, Mike was a very competent person and if he could be enlisted
in any cause he would do a good job.
FUCHS: Why were the pharmaceutical manufacturers so against national
EWING: The reason for that is quite simple. In the original draft of
the bill, which has been prepared in the Federal Security Agency, largely
under the immediate direction of Dr. Isadore Falk, there had been included
a provision to the effect that if the price of drugs became excessive
the Government could step in and fix prices. That was a perfect anathema
to the Pharmaceutical manufacturers, and I think it was unfortunate that
it was put in. I say this because it instantly created a solid opposition
from the pharmaceutical manufacturers and it wasn't necessary at that
time. What should have been done was to make no mention of price control,
get the program adopted and then if the manufacturers began charging
prices, that would be the time to consider legislation to control the
situation. Later, I remember making a talk to the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers
Association and I told them I thought they were very foolish to oppose
the bill because it would mean a great deal more widespread distribution
of health services and that would necessarily mean a much greater market
for their products; that they would have dollars instead of dimes running
through their cash registers. Actually I think that argument proved quite
effective because shortly afterwards the pharmaceutical manufacturers,
who had been the chief financial supporters of a so-called "National Physicians
Committee for the Extension of Medical Service," withdrew their support.
The National Physicians Committee was really the propaganda arm of the
American Medical Association. You see, under the tax laws, contributions
to an organization that uses its money for the purpose of influencing
legislation cannot be considered a charitable deduction. The Physicians
Committee had been set up because the American Medical Association didn't
want to impair a ruling it had obtained to the effect that gifts to it
were charitable gifts and therefore
tax deductible. Actually, I think
the AMA would have lost its tax-free gift status had they kept operating
the Physicians Committee, because it was doing nothing but carrying on
propaganda to influence legislation. Dr. Fishbein, the Executive Director
of the AMA., was on the board of directors of the National Physicians
Committee and there were other interlocking officers and directors.
FUCHS: Was he the principal man in the National Physicians Committee?
EWING: No. Dr. Morris Fishbein had been for many years the AMA's principal
mouthpiece. He was a very .vocal man and really brilliant.
FUCHS: Who do you recall as being the leaders of the National Physicians
EWING: I really don't recall a single name. It was disbanded shortly
after I made that talk. Whether my talk influenced it or not, I don't
know, but I know the pharmaceutical manufacturers withdrew their support.
FUCHS: About what year was this?
EWING: I would think it was probably in 1948 or 1949.
FUCHS: The implication is that when the manufacturers withdrew their
financial support from the NPC then the committee folded?
EWING: Oh, absolutely. The pharmaceutical manufacturers then organized
the Health Information Foundation. It was an organization to which they
made contributions that previously had gone to the Physicians Committee.
The Foundation did statistical work, furnishing information on the general
economics of medicine and all that, and in no way attempting to influence
legislation. They did very valuable work in producing various statistical
FUCHS: The Wagner-Murray-Dingell bill in 1943, which did contain, in
addition to many other provisions, one for setting up a system of national
health insurance. Would you care to comment about that? It was before
your time, I realize, in the Federal Security Agency. Then, as you know,
there was a later bill somewhat modified that Wagner, Murray, and Dingell
introduced in 1945 under Mr. Truman.
EWING: I am not too familiar with the legislative history of the various
Wagner-Murray-Dingell bills but I am under the impression that the first
one was introduced shortly after President Roosevelt's death. He died
April 12, 1945. I think the first Wagner-Murray-Dingell bill to be introduced
in Congress was in the latter part of May 1945. I understand that a little
while afterwards Arthur Altmeyer, Wilbur Cohen and some others from the
Agency went to the new President and urged him to consider backing the
bill. They gave all the arguments and in a few days sent them an answer
saying that he would support the program, but until the war with Japan
was finally terminated he didn't want anything to divert him from his
concentration on that job. When the VJ Day came and a few months had passed
President Truman sent a special message to Congress in November 1945 recommending
legislation to provide for national health insurance.
FUCHS: Why do you think he separated this from the Wagner-Murray-Dingell
EWING: I do not know. Possibly, he wanted something different from what
that bill provided.
FUCHS: Yes. Well, in his Memoirs, he indicated that he thought
that the Wagner-Murray-Dingell bill was too comprehensive; and he did
introduce his proposal for a separate national health plan in his speech.
EWING: Well, that might be. That was before my time.
FUCHS: Yes. Of course, the Wagner-Murray-Dingell bill didn't do too good.
It was eventually killed by the 79th Congress. The National Health Assembly
resulted in what?
EWING: Well, we divided the work of the Assembly among the various committees
in such a way that each segment of the health problems of the country
would be given specific consideration by a specific committee. Each committee
made its report to the full Assembly and on the basis of these reports
I prepared a full report to the President. I might say that those recommendations
were all unanimously adopted except the recommendation of the section
that dealt with national health insurance; and I think, as I recall, they
endorsed the insurance principle for meeting medical expenses, hospital
expenses. The committee of the
Assembly that dealt with medical care made
absolutely no recommendation regarding the health insurance program.
FUCHS: These representatives were selected at, I assume, a lower level
but have you any knowledge of how representation was decided upon for
this National Health Assembly in 1948?
EWING: Yes. We tried to make the Assembly as representative as we could,
and I'm sure we did because we were complimented by the American Medical
Association on the conference itself. I got a telegram from Dr. Fishbein
saying it was the best conference that had ever been held in this country
on health problems. We had, as I recall, around eight hundred people brought
in to represent every interest that could be involved in the. health problems
of the country. There were representatives of medical schools, representatives
of the hospitals, public health, labor unions, etc. Then we had a smaller
executive committee composed of some of the most distinguished people
in the health field. We left out no one if we could help. We had representatives
of the insurance companies, state health officers, the National
We had the General Federation of Women's Clubs represented. We made it
as broad as we possibly could.
FUCHS: Were the doctors of osteopathy invited?
EWING: They probably were but I don't recall specifically.
FUCHS: I saw a letter in the files--I'm trying to remember whether it
was related to this Assembly or some other commission, but I thought it
was to this Assembly in which an osteopath wondered why they weren't represented,
and the answer from the White House was, as I recall it, that although
they had tried to get representation from every group there were so many
groups that were connected with medicine in one way or the other that
it couldn't be accomplished. My reaction was that doctors of osteopathy
are a pretty large group compared to some of the others that might have
been represented. Now, I just wondered if you had a recollection on that
and I may be connecting it with the wrong conference but I do think
it was the National Health Assembly.
EWING: I have a feeling that it might have been--I think the question
of the osteopaths did come up but I cannot for the life of me remember
FUCHS: Yes, sir. Do you have any anecdotes or other reminiscences about
this assembly, the dinner for it, which I believe Mr. Truman attended,
or anything else in connection with it that comes to mind?
EWING: The only somewhat dramatic incident that I remember occurred in
our final session of the assembly when we were adopting the various committee
reports. Dr. Fishbein had asked for the floor--I was presiding--and he
got up and made quite a vigorous talk against national health insurance.
Nelson Cruikshank, who was a delegate, asked for the floor to answer Dr.
Fishbein. I tried to persuade Mr. Cruikshank not to press his request
to be heard because the conference had really had no friction and had
gone so smoothly that I was hoping that it could be left in that way.
But Nelson insisted and he made quite a vigorous answer to Dr. Fishbein.
It was the only time during the conference that any sparks really flew.
FUCHS: Who was Nelson Cruikshank?
EWING: Nelson Cruikshank was a representative of the CIO at that time
and until quite recently he has been head of social work for AFL-CIO.
He reached retirement age,
certainly within the last year, and has now
been elected president of the Senior Citizens Council of America. He took
the place of Mr. John Edelman who had been the president for some years.
FUCHS: What are the dimensions of the Senior Citizen's Council? What
is their particular thrust for?
EWING: They were organized along in 1956. It may have been 19 5 4 , I'm
not sure. But, with the end of the Truman administration also came the
end of any really active pressures for national health insurance. Mrs.
Hobby, who succeeded me as Federal Security Administrator, and later became
the first Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, she had proposed
one or two different plans, none of which caught hold. The truth of the
matter was that the doctors in the American Medical Association were highly
and efficiently organized and could exert great pressure on Congress.
Naturally a Congressman is interested in votes because if he can't get
re-elected he can't be very effective in any way. The fight that the American
Medical Association had put up against President Truman's proposal for
national health insurance had been very effective. Their main appeal
to tell about how much political influence the country doctor had with
I had realized that if we were ever going to get any program through,
Medicare or anything of the like, there had to be support of an organization
that had real political power. It was with this thought in mind that I
toyed with the idea of organizing the American Patients Association. But
when I dropped that in 1953 the opposing forces rested until along in
1954 or 1956 when Congressman Aimee Forand of Rhode Island and some others
organized this Senior Citizen's Council. They took up the cause of Medicare,
of the bill that I had had introduced in early 1952, which they had reintroduced
in Congress with certain modifications. It was undoubtedly better than
the bill I had had introduced, because they had had four or five years
experience in between from which they could profit.
FUCHS: What year did you conceive, if you recall, of the American Patients
Association and why did you drop that?
EWING: Well, I realize that something had to be done to organize a public
support for national health insurance
or even for medicare; and as my
term as Federal Security Administrator was coming to an end, I played
with the idea of organizing the American Patients Association which I
discussed with some of my friends. I knew the chief financial support
would probably have to come from the labor groups.
FUCHS: Do you recall any of these friends?
EWING: I know the one with whom I discussed it most was Jacob Potofsky.
He was head of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. I talked with
Mr. Potofsky about a Patients Association and he said that labor would
support such an organization. They would make contributions and support
the program, but he added, "Oscar, you've got to remember that we might
get tired and if we did you might find yourself in a situation where you'd
have to assume personally all expenses." Naturally, that didn't encourage
me. Then I talked to another friend and he thought if I had anything to
do with such an organization that, because I had become such a controversial
figure, I would hurt the program.
FUCHS: Who was that?
EWING: I'll have to furnish the name.
FUCHS: Well, fine. What was your next step then? Did he convince you
to drop it then?
EWING: Well, he didn't convince me. It was taking all these considerations
together that convinced me that I had better lay low for awhile. Then
in '54 or '56 Congressman Forand came along with the Council of Senior
Citizens. I asked him if I could give them any help and he answered, "No,
not at present." I think that he felt that I would be a liability instead
of an asset, and again I didn't want to be a hindrance so I just bowed
out. I have been a member of the Senior Citizens Council and have made
my yearly contributions, but otherwise I have not been active.
FUCHS: This bill that you had introduced in ' 52 , what was the title
of that and how did that differ from Mr. Truman's earlier insurance proposal?
EWING: Well, it simply covered the over sixty-five group. Mr. Truman's
earlier proposal involved everyone from cradle to grave.
FUCHS: Could you discuss that a little bit? This was an
attempt to get something instead of nothing?
EWING: Yes. Because I knew they had us licked on the big program for
national health insurance. But I find as of today there is a great deal
of support for extending Medicare to everyone. Governor Rockefeller has
come out for that program within the last few months.
FUCHS: In '52 , they didn't use the term Medicare at that time did they?
EWING: No, that was just a nickname that somebody gave it.
FUCHS: But that just came in with the later bill, the Forand proposal.
Or was Medicare used then?
EWING: No. Our proposal in 1952 got very little public attention. Senator
Kerr's bill to increase Social Security benefits across the board completely
blanked it out.
FUCHS: Who introduced your bill?
EWING: Senator Murray in the Senate and Congressman Dingell in the House.
That was John Dingell the father of the present Congressman Dingell.
FUCHS: Was Senator Kerr against national health insurance and was his
bill an attempt to place him in a position of...
EWING: No, first Senator Kerr was definitely opposed to national health
insurance. He was a very good friend of mine but I think he had given
some commitment to the medical people of Oklahoma that he would oppose
the bill. The Democratic National Committeeman from Oklahoma was a Dr.
R. B. Robins. He was very active in the American Medical Association's
opposition to the bill.
FUCHS: Have you anything more to say about Dr. Robins?
FUCHS: Did the National Health Assembly report have any influence on
the Hill-Burton Hospital Construction Act?
EWING: Well, that had been enacted some time before and the program was
working extremely well.
FUCHS: It was.
EWING: And as I recall, the section of the report of the
Assembly in 1948 that dealt with hospitals strongly supported the Hill-Burton
program and urged its expansion.
FUCHS: How did the Public Health Service view national health insurance,
the leader of the Public Health Service naturally?
EWING: Well, I think it was this way: The Public Health Service personnel
were largely medical men, and they were a little reluctant to oppose their
professional fellows and were on the whole neutral. There were a lot of
them, though, that were enthusiastic for the program. Dr. Scheele, who
was the Surgeon General, helped us in every way he could, and there were
many of the Public Health Service people who helped us greatly.
FUCHS: What do you recall of the replacement of Dr. Thomas Parran by
Dr. Scheele during your administration?
EWING: Well, Dr. Parran was Surgeon General when I became the Administrator
of the Federal Security Agency in August of 1947. The statute describing
the duties and responsibilities of the Administrator stated that all of the units
in the Agency were to act under the supervision and direction
of the Administrator. The Public Health Service had been put into the
Agency when the Federal Security Agency was established by President Roosevelt
by means of an Executive Order in 1939. There were a number of other governmental
agencies that were brought in, too. The Office of Education, the Social
Security Administration, the Food and Drug Administration, and so forth.
Those separate units had been scattered through other departments. The
Public Health Service had been in the Treasury Department. The Food and
Drug Administration had been in the Department of Agriculture; the Office
of Education had been in the Department of Interior. All of the various
bureaus of the new agency had come from other departments of the Government,
and the heads of those bureaus really didn't like the idea of being under
anybody's supervision and direction and they more or less resented it.
The day I was sworn in as Administrator, the various bureau chiefs came
in to congratulate me. Dr. Parran was one of them. We had a very nice
chat, and to make conversation, I told him of an experience that Mrs.
Ewing had had. She had high blood pressure, hypertension,
but had got
wonderful relief from a Doctor Walter Kempner who was at Duke University
Hospital. When Mrs. Ewing first went down to Duke she couldn't walk three
hundred yards, and by the time she left three months later, she could
walk three miles a day. It was a miraculous improvement. I'm sure Doctor
Kempner kept her alive for us for a number of years. I told all of this
to Dr. Parran, who said, "I think the National Institutes of Health are
making Dr. Kempner a grant for some research he is doing."
And I answered, "Well, that's very nice."
And a few days later I received a letter from Dr. Kempner congratulating
me on my appointment. In answering his letter I included a statement that,
"I understand the Public Health Service is giving you a grant and I'm
very glad to hear that." I got a letter back from him saying, no, the
Public Health Service was not giving him a grant, that he had applied
to the Public Health Service for a grant and also to the insurance companies
for a grant. The insurance companies had made him a grant but not the
Public Health Service.
Later I saw Dr. Parran and told him what Dr. Kempner had written me.
"Well," he said, "I thought we were but
I'll make a check." He came back
in a day or two and told me it was true that the Public Health Service
was giving no grant to Dr. Kempner.
I asked, "Don't you think you ought to? This is marvelous work he is doing."
From then on, because the Administrator had suggested a grant, Dr. Parran
was determined that no grant would be made.
FUCHS: What was his reply to your suggestion, immediate reply?
EWING: Oh, at first, he said he'd look into it, and then he said that
the advisory committee had turned down the application for the grant and
there was nothing that he could do about it. He had a dozen reasons why
it couldn't be done. He had one of his assistant Surgeon Generals come
and talk to me about it.
I didn't want to interfere or make any suggestions that were not justified;
and certainly I wouldn't, as a layman, normally know anything about what
ought to be done in this research field. But it just so happened that
because of this experience with Mrs. Ewing I knew more about Dr. Kempner's
work than anyone in the Public
Health Service, and I felt, therefore,
justified in insisting that they make Kempner a research grant. After
all, high blood pressure was one of the great killers. But Dr. Parran
was determined to make no grant. Well, I got very annoyed with Dr. Parran
over this. It was about this time that the Surgeon General had to fill
vacancies in several of his advisory committees in the various Health
Institutes. For instance, we had the Cancer Institute, we had the Heart
Institute, the Dental Institute, there were five, I think, at that time.
The advisory group personnel would change from time to time. There were
vacancies that Dr. Parran wanted to fill and the appointments had to be
approved by the Administrator. I just wouldn't act. The situation got
rather critical. Some of the Institutes couldn't function because their
advisory committees could not muster quorums. As a result, Dr. Parran
came into my office one day mad as a hornet. He announced, "You've got
to approve these appointments."
I asked, "Who is going to make me?"
"Why," he replied, "you've got to do it under the law."
"Well," I answered, "I'm not going to until
you can do something about
this grant for Dr. Kempner."
"I can't do anything," he replied. "That advisory group doesn't meet
until the first of the year." It being then, I'd say, mid-October.
I said, "Well, all right. That's all right."
So he left my office in a storming rage. As he went out my executive
assistant, Mrs. Keyes, stopped him. She said, "Dr. Parran, you're making
a big mistake if you get into a fight with the Administrator."
He answered, "Well, I can't do anything. That advisory group doesn't
meet until January."
She replied, "There's a long distance telephone, Doctor. You can clear
the grant quite quickly if you want to."
So, in a few days, about three or four days later, I was told that the
advisory group had approved a grant for Dr. Kempner.
That whole experience annoyed me so much that when Dr. Parran's term
as Surgeon General expired the following May, I did not recommend him
for reappointment. I recommended Dr. Leonard Scheele. The President knew
Dr. Scheele and was very happy to appoint him.
FUCHS: What had his position been?
EWING: He was an assistant Surgeon General, and a very able man.
FUCHS: You didn't ask Dr. Parran for a recommendation when you told him
you weren't going to recommend him for reappointment?
EWING: When I called him up and told him that I was not going to recommend
him and had decided on someone else he asked who it was. I told him it
was to be Dr. Scheele. Dr. Parran was highly complimentary of Dr. Scheele.
He was, I think, pretty bitter at me and quite understandably so. But
as a matter of fact, I got him the job that he went into after he left
the position as Surgeon General. I found out that the Mellons had set
up a research organization in Pittsburgh and they were looking for a director,
and I recommended Dr. Parran for the job. I called him up to ask if it
would interest him. Apparently he had been to a cocktail party so he told
me in no unmistakable terms that he'd like me to keep my nose out of his
business. But he took the job.
FUCHS: Well, now did the Mellon people write you as Federal
Security Administrator for a recommendation?
FUCHS: You did this on your own?
EWING: The head of that institution was a man who had been in the department
previously and I knew him. He had come down to talk to me about the possibility
of Dr. Parran and it was his thought that they might use Dr. Parran very
well. Dr. Parran took the job and stayed there for several years.
FUCHS: Did you formally recommend him by letter after Dr. Parran had
told you to mind your own business?
EWING: No. What had happened was that the man who was helping the Mellons
find personnel for the project they would finance at the University of
Pittsburgh came to me. He had read in the paper of Dr. Parran's resignation
and asked if I thought Parran would be a good man to head the work. He
remarked that Dr. Parran had a national name and was known as a very competent
man and would I recommend him. I said, "Most assuredly." Then I thought
I ought to advise Dr. Parran of the inquiry that had been made of me and
of the recommendation that
I had made. And he told me to keep my nose
out of his business. But he took the job.
FUCHS: Did you aver have any conversation with him after that?
EWING: Oh, I saw him three or four times after that and he was very nice
and there was no evidence of any acrimony then.
FUCHS: When you first called him and said that you were not going to
recommend him for reappointment as Surgeon General did he remonstrate
with you or just how did he accept it?
EWING: Well, I think he was surprised but I don't recall that he offered
any objection. He had been there for twelve years, and wholly apart from
this personal controversy that had arisen between him and me there was
a question of policy involved which was whether it was wise to keep one
man as head of an organization like the Public Health Service indefinitely.
There are younger men coming up and if they feel that they have no chance
at the top job, they would be more likely to go off to other positions.
From my own
experience where I was Administrator five years, I became
thoroughly convinced that a man had contributed about all he can in five
years. Actually, you run out of ideas and I don't think it's good to have
a man in that kind of position too long.
FUCHS: I believe, of course, that that last reason was the one that was
given out more or less officially to the press according to an article
I have here, which was headlined, incidentally, TRUMAN DECIDES TO DROP
ANOTHER HIGH NEW DEALER. Also, this article said that there were rumors
some weeks ago, and this is dated February 12, 1948, that Dr. Wallace
Graham, who was the President's personal physician, was being considered
for the head of PHS but had been dropped because of an inquiry on Capitol
Hill. Do you recall any of that, sir?
EWING: No, I don't. No, I'm sure Dr. Graham was not considered. No, no.
There's nothing to that. Dr. Graham would not have considered an administrative
FUCHS: Of course, the inquiry had to do with Dr. Graham's transactions,
trading in futures. I wondered if you had
considered Dr. Graham.
EWING: Well, I think that inquiry came long after the appointment of
a new Surgeon General.
FUCHS: What about Public Health Service under Dr. Scheele, any major
problems develop? How did that appointment work out?
EWING: Oh, fine. Dr. Scheele was just as cooperative as anyone could
be. If he had a problem he always came in and discussed it with me. He
was a most satisfactory bureau chief.
FUCHS: Did you have any particular problems with the Social Security
EWING: No. No, none at all.
FUCHS: Arthur Altmeyer was a good administrator?
EWING: Oh, yes. He was tops.
FUCHS: How did you feel about the line-up of the bureaus in the Federal
Security Administration when you took over? Did you have any feelings
one way or another that certain bureaus might better be in another department
or other department bureaus might better be in FSA?
EWING: No, when I first went in I, of course, was completely ignorant
on that score. Naturally I got one after another of the bureau chiefs
in, talked over their problems and tried to get acquainted with them.
I would go see their shops, look them over and listen to any suggestions.
But it took several months before I really got my teeth into the job.
This problem with Dr. Parran came up fairly soon after I took office.
It was early in the first year of my administration. Then the President
told me that he wanted to move the Office of Unemployment Insurance over
to the Department of Labor. It had been an Office in the Social Security
Administration. I talked to Arthur Altmeyer and others and they were inclined
to oppose the transfer. I knew, however, why the President wanted to transfer
it and I felt he was the boss. Accordingly, I endorsed the transfer and
it went along very smoothly. The truth of the matter was that the Federal
Security Agency, when it was an agency much smaller than the Department
of Health, Education and Welfare is now, had more work than the Agency
could do well. We could let the Office of Unemployment Compensation go
without hurting the organization one iota.
FUCHS: Who was the head of that?
EWING: I don't remember.
FUCHS: There was an endorsement in February 1948 by you for a National
Public Health Nursing Week. You and Surgeon General Parran had endorsed
it to Mr. Connelly; and Wallace Graham wrote a memo to Secretary Hassett
saying: "I am surprised that this National Public Health Nursing Week
was ever approved in the first place, but since it has been, you can count
me in, too!" Then he continues to approve Hassett's letter, but he said,
"But I am against the principle of this letter, Bill." And the letter,
of course, was one for Mr. Truman to sign praising National Public Health
nurses and endorsing the week. Why would Graham be against something like
EWING: I don't know. I don't know anything about that.
FUCHS: I thought it was rather interesting that he would be so against
something like that. Back to health insurance and the National Health
Assembly in particular. The report was brought out on September 2 , 1948
and announced by Mr. Truman in a press conference, which
was just a couple
of days prior to his leaving on a campaign trip, and it has been written
by some that this report may have been purposely delayed until this time
as a political factor. Did you consider that at the time?
EWING: No, no, no. It took an enormous amount of work to get the conference
organized, get the delegates selected and have all the preliminary work
done. I suppose it took three or four months to do all of that. We had
to get the consent of people we wanted to act as delegates, decide what
committees we would have and determine the membership of each committee.
It was a terrific job. And then after the conference was closed, I had
to prepare my report to the President. The reports of the committees were
written by the men who had acted as secretaries of the various committees.
They would prepare a draft of the section that dealt with their subject
and then I would go over it. It might have been gone over by one or two
other people before it ever came to me. The only section of which I really
wrote practically every word myself, was the section entitled "An Equal
Chance for Health," that was the one dealing with the health insurance.
The other sections
I went over very carefully and made sure that they
contained everything that should be in my report. Naturally, I took the
work of others where it dealt with technical subjects but where there
were recommendations of the professional staffs then I had to make sure
that these expressed my own thinking.
FUCHS: So it was just more or less coincidental that this report came
out so close to the President's departure on this specific political tour?
EWING: Absolutely. I don't recall that the political aspect was ever
given a thought. You know in Washington everything you do, somebody will
accuse you of doing it for political reasons.
FUCHS: Certainly. I would like you to comment upon the positions of these
people or any conversation you may have had with them upon national health
insurance. David Dubinsky.
EWING: Oh, he was all for it.
FUCHS: What about Sidney Hillman?
EWING: I think Sidney Hillman died a couple of years or so before I became
FUCHS: How about Phil Murray?
EWING: He was strong for the program.
FUCHS: And George Meany?
EWING: Oh, I had many contacts with George Meany. Well, that isn't quite
an accurate statement. I saw him in my dealings with labor groups. I don't
think I ever worked with him closely on anything.
FUCHS: Did you have private conferences with members of the AMA when
you were going into this health insurance program? Also, what was their
position towards voluntary insurance? Anything you might point up about
EWING: I did not have many talks with members of the AMA or with any
of their representatives. My position was made clear in public statements
so that they didn't try to persuade me one way or another. They showed
their opposition in the literature that Whitaker & Baxter prepared
for them and also by their active lobbying against the proposed legislation.
They brought a lot of pressure on individual Senators and Congressmen.
They particularly tried, I think in most cases successfully, to have a
doctor contact that Congressman and convince
him what a terrible thing national health insurance would be. That was
their technique. Whitaker & Baxter would prepare resolutions for various
organizations to adopt. The local doctor would get--well, say the Daughters
of the American Revolution to pass one of these prepared resolutions.
FUCHS: Did they work through any voluntary insurance companies such as
Blue Cross or any other companies that you know of, to put on a campaign?
EWING: I'm sure that they did everything they could to defeat the bill.
If any organization anywhere was susceptible to their wiles, why they
would take advantage of it.
FUCHS: Doctor Robins, whom you mentioned before, in April 1950 was a
Democratic National Committeeman from Arkansas, wrote the House Appropriations
Committee and also the Department of Justice saying that your activities,
"in promoting public meetings, traveling around the country, disseminating
propaganda...diverting the agency's appropriations improperly...to stampede
Congress into...the Socialistic compulsory health insurance
improper and should be probed." Do you remember that?
EWING: Oh, vaguely. Those things were coming so fast that I don't remember
Robins particularly. It was just one of many.
FUCHS: One of many.
EWING: As a matter of fact, we didn't spend a penny in public money propagandizing
FUCHS: How did Louis Pink come into this story?
EWING: Well, simply because he was head of Blue Cross and Blue Shield
in New York and when I was groping around for some less inclusive health
plan than national health insurance I discussed the problem with Mr. Pink.
He was a good friend of mine; he'd been a client of mine when he was Superintendent
of Insurance in New York and I knew he would give me the best advice he
could because he was a man of great integrity. As far as I know he was
only involved in that one conversation and it was he who suggested that
the Government try to develop some actuarial data regarding health insurance
for the over
FUCHS: There were the New York hospitals and a John Connorton who also
entered into the story, I believe. What was his part?
EWING: John Connorton, he was secretary of the New York Hospital Association.
He came to me one time and said that the New York City municipal hospitals
on the whole were in very bad shape; that several of them were over a
hundred years old, their buildings were antiquated; that they were without
adequate plumbing; that some didn't have hot and cold running water throughout
their buildings. Mr. Connorton wondered if the Government could do anything
to help them. I replied, "Well, John, I would be glad to try to see if
there are ways to help. Just exactly what do you want?" Well, he didn't
exactly know. So I suggested that he get this group together and I would
come up to New York, meet with them, go over their problems and see if
we could work out some means to help them. It might be Hill-Burton assistance
or maybe we could think of something else. Mr. Connorton said that he
thought this was a good idea.
In a short time Connorton telephoned me that he had
set up a meeting
for a certain date. He had collected the heads, or business managers of
a large number of New York hospitals. We had a session in which these
hospital administrators explained their problems. They did not, however,
have any definite idea of what action the Government might take to help
them, so I suggested that they put their heads together and see what they
could come up with, suggestions of things the Government might do. I offered
to come back and we'd talk it over again. About a month later Mr. Connorton
asked me to come up to New York for another meeting with this group. When
I got there I found the administrators merely wanted to tell me that they
did not want any Government money or assistance of any kind. Apparently,
the American Medical Association had got to them and blackmailed them
into refusing any Government aid. The hospitals always felt very much
at the mercy of the American Medical Association. To me, this was a stupid
position to take because doctors need hospitals quite as much as hospitals
need doctors. It has only been within the past two years that the American
Hospital Association has had the guts to take independent positions from
FUCHS: I believe there was a dinner at Hearst's that you
mentioned. Do you recall something about that?
EWING: Oh, that was a cocktail party over at Bill Hearst's house, William
Randolph Hearst, Jr. He had invited me over for cocktails and it was at
the time I was searching around for some less inclusive program than national
health insurance. He and I were talking and he said, "You know, Jack,
I'm very much in favor of your idea for national health insurance. But
the thing that worries me about it is that if anything went wrong, if
it didn't work, the upheaval that would result would be catastrophic because
we would have a completely different system of medicine." Then he added,
"Isn't there some small segment of the problem that you could pick out,
apply your health insurance program to it, use it as a pilot plant operation."
This suggestion made a great deal of sense and it started me on my search
for a more limited program.
FUCHS: Do you recall when and where this party was?
EWING: Well, it was at Mr. Hearst's house in Washington. I would say
it was in the fall of '51.
FUCHS: Had you known Mr. Hearst a long time?
EWING: Oh, yes. Purely socially. I think it resulted from the fact that
newspapermen make it their business to become acquainted with Government
officials whose activities might be of public interest.
FUCHS: What about the Committee for the Nation's Health? Do you recall that?
EWING: Oh, yes.
FUCHS: Michael Davis?
FUCHS: Any comments on its part in this?
EWING: I really know almost nothing about the activities of the Committee
for the Nation's Health other than the fact that it existed. I remember
seeing a list of their membership and there were a lot of very prominent
people in it. I'm sure they helped in any way they could to support the
program. As to any details about their activities, I'm very vague. I knew
Dr. Davis, Dr. Michael Davis. He was a very dedicated man and quite effective,
quiet but very effective.
FUCHS: How did Dr. Altmeyer view the over sixty-five plan and its tie
in with Social Security?
EWING: Well, after my talk with Bill Hearst, I had a conference with
Arthur, Wilbur Cohen and Isadore Falk, to ask them if there was some part
of our program for national health insurance that we could pull out, get
it going and use as a pilot plant operation. They came back in a few days
and said that they couldn't think of any. It was after that that I had
my talk with Louis Pink, and he had suggested that the Government try
to do something for the over sixty-five group so that the health insurance
companies would have some actuarial data that would enable them to insure
the over sixty-five group. He said that without such actuarial data an
insurance company wouldn't know what premiums to charge or what risks
the insurance should cover. After my talk with Mr. Pink, I conferred again
with Mr. Altmeyer, Mr. Cohen, and Mr. Falk, and asked if we could take
the sixty-five group out and have a health insurance program for them
which could be used as a pilot operation. Well, they wanted to consider
that for a few days. Mr. Altmeyer came back in three or four days and
said that they'd discuss it
and thought it would be all right, that it
could be done. I knew from the fact that Arthur came back within so short
a time that they had considered this possibility earlier because it wouldn't
be possible to come to a mature judgment on the problem and all its ramifications
in such a short time. So, I have no doubts that the matter had been previously
FUCHS: I believe that you participated in a "Town Meeting of the Air"
debate with Nelson Cruikshank, Morris Fishbein and Senator Alexander Smith.
Do you recall anything about that of interest?
EWING: Oh, yes. I'm not just sure when that took place but it was fairly
early in my administration. "Town Meeting of the Air," was a radio program.
Mr. Cruikshank and I had a number of sessions getting ready what we would
say. As a result we came fairly well prepared. We knew that Dr. Fishbein
wrote a syndicated column called "Dr. Fishbein's Diary," something after
the manner of Dr. Pepy's Diary. Mr. Cruikshank had found one of Dr. Fishbein's
so-called diaries in which he described a recent visit he had made to
England. In the course of our debate Dr. Fishbein had described the horrible
existed in the British Health Service that had recently
been established in Britain. He told of the utter confusion that he found
existed when he was in England a few weeks previously; that there were
long queues in every doctor's office, that doctors were overburdened with
paper work; that a mother who wanted an extra allowance of milk for her
sick child had to get a doctor's prescription for it and then go to the
Health Department for permission to buy the milk. Dr. Fishbein painted
a picture of complete confusion. He described all these details as a result
of a question Mr. Cruikshank had had planted in the audience which was:
"Do you know how the British Health Service is operating now?" After Dr.
Fishbein had described all these horrible details he found existing when
in England a few weeks earlier Mr. Cruikshank pulled out this particular
diary of Dr. Fishbein in which he described his last visit to London.
He had arrived in London Friday morning and that afternoon had gone out
to spend the weekend with Lord and Lady so-and-so at their country place;
that he'd come back to London Monday morning, had stopped by the Health
Department to pick up some papers, and had gone on to catch the noon plane
for Paris. So the questioner
then asked, "Well, is your appraisal of the
British Health Service based on those few hours in London?" The question
was a stinger and pretty much discredited Dr. Fishbein.
FUCHS: Did the press comment upon this "Town Meeting of the Air?"
EWING: I think it did but I don't recall. The press usually commented
on all of their programs.
FUCHS: You don't recall how they felt that the opponents came out?
EWING: No, I don't know. But it wasn't too long after that that Dr. Fishbein
resigned from his position with the American Medical Association.
FUCHS: Mr. Ewing, we can go ahead now. Do you have any other comments
about Dr. Fishbein?
EWING: No. My personal relations with Dr. Fishbein were always very cordial.
FUCHS: Did you feel at any time the public had become somewhat apathetic
about national health insurance either as a result of other matters or
because of AMA's
EWING: Yes. But the latter part of 1950 I had become convinced that the
public was not in a mood to support it. The AMA propaganda against it
had been pretty effective and I had come to believe that we could not
get our program enacted. Actually, the only way Medicare got enacted in
1966 was because an organized group, the Senior Citizen's Council, really
got in the fight and showed some real political power.
FUCHS: Was Forand still living then?
EWING: I don't know. I know he'd dropped out of Congress.
FUCHS: I was wondering if he had been at the signing of Medicare, which
I believe you attended.
EWING: No, I don't think he was.
FUCHS: I was there but I don't recall Mr. Forand being there.
The Whitaker & Baxter Public Relations group initially served the
National Physicians Committee as the lobbying organization, did it not?
Or is that a true statement?
EWING: No. The National Physicians Committee was disbanded prior to the
time that the American Medical Association employed Whitaker & Baxter
for propaganda purposes.
FUCHS: How long did Whitaker & Baxter serve them as a public relations
lobbying organization? For the AMA?
EWING: I think their employment ended about the time I left office which
was with the change of administrations on January 20, 1953.
FUCHS: How did Mr. Truman receive your proposal for the over sixty-five
EWING: Well, at first he didn't like the idea because he didn't like
to give up. At first he didn't like the idea at all and then I talked
to him further. My point was that I was completely convinced that we could
not get the national health insurance program through that Congress, or
any other Congress for some time, and that we ought to try for something
less rather than lose everything. I think the President rather thought
it would be better to lose everything at that time and that future events
would later force the adoption of
some form of national health insurance.
But he finally said, as I recall, that he'd follow my recommendations
if I really thought it was the wise thing to do.
FUCHS: One scholar has written in a study on national health insurance
that though Mr. Truman came out in several major speeches in favor of
the concept, that he really didn't push it vigorously in press conferences
or any other means. Do you have a comment on that?
EWING: Well, I don't think that statement is justified at all. I never
had any feeling that President Truman wasn't wholly and completely committed
to the program. In fact I'm sure that's true. If he didn't do something
that this correspondent thought he ought to have done, I'm sure he had
a good reason for not doing it.
FUCHS: This writer's implication was not that, as I saw it, that he was
not committed to the program but that he didn't use all the powers of
the office in forwarding the program.
EWING: That would be just a matter of judgment. I'd trust Mr. Truman's
judgment more than I would that correspondent's.
FUCHS: In 1951 Mr. Truman felt that there was need for further study
of the health needs of the Nation and set up a Presidential commission
with that title, essentially. He put Dr. Paul Magnuson in as chairman
of it, and incidentally I have found a note that it was in connection
with the composition of this committee that the doctors of osteopathy
were omitted rather than the National Health Assembly. Would you have
any comments about the setting up of this, the initiation of the idea
and so forth?
EWING: I think that was largely the result of Mrs. Mary Lasker's activities
in the health field. Albert Lasker, who was the husband of Mrs. Lasker,
was a very rich man and was spending his energies and considerable sums
of money to advance the health of the country. In other words, he wanted
his benefactions to go toward improving the health services of the country
and Mrs. Lasker was equally dedicated to that. But at the time that this--what
did they call it, the health...
FUCHS: President's Commission on the Health Needs of the Nation.
EWING: Well, by the time that that came up Mr. Lasker had
died, and the
commission was Mrs. Lasker's idea. Mrs. Lasker had got a little miffed
at me because I wouldn't accept her recommendations completely for persons
who were to be members of the advisory councils of the various Institutes
of Health in the Public Health Service. We had eight or ten Institutes
and each one of those had an advisory commission consisting of ten members,
five professionals and five laymen. Naturally, I looked to the Surgeon
General to recommend those appointees for my approval. I said to him that
as far as I knew his recommendations were all right but that I did not
propose to appoint anyone to a Presidential Commission who was going up
and down the street damning President Truman. So, I had checks made and
of seventy people recommended there were probably three or four who were
violently anti-Truman and were expressing themselves quite emphatically.
I therefore struck them off the lists, and this caused Mrs. Lasker to
take great offense. It was she who thought it might be a good idea to
have another health conference. The President was so interested in anything
that would improve people's health that he went along with her suggestion.
I imagine possibly her arguments were--and
this I do not know, I'm only
speculating--that I had become such a controversial figure that it would
be well to have another health conference with which I was not connected.
I was not opposed to this at all, in fact, I cooperated in every way I could.
FUCHS: Was FSA asked to advise on the composition of the commission,
and so forth?
EWING: Yes, oh yes. That would be normal and I personally went over the
list of their proposed delegates to make sure that no one was appointed
who was openly hostile to national health insurance. The recommendations
of the conference were much the same as those contained in my report to
the President on the Nation's health in September 1948. They naturally
had to recommend something a little different but it was in essence the
President's program. Mrs. Lasker was always for the President's program
and I think Dr. Magnuson was also. Dr. Magnuson had come to me previously,
several years previously, when he was still Chief Surgeon of the Veteran's
Administration and suggested that the whole health program for the country
be turned over to the medical schools. This did not seem to me to be very
FUCHS: Who proposed Dr. Magnuson for chairman?
EWING: I don't know, probably Mrs. Lasker. The same Mike Gorman I previously
referred to, became the Executive Director of the Magnuson Committee.
He was a very able man whom I liked very much. He was one of those delightful
FUCHS: There was a conference of the aging called, I believe rather late
in your administration, maybe you can supply the date, and what was the
relationship between that and the over sixty-five bill, if anything, and
how did Clark Tibbitts come into this?
EWING: Under date of June 2 , 1950 the President wrote me a letter asking
me to explore with all the appropriate groups, both within and outside
the Federal Government the problems incident to our increasingly older
population, and to report to him our findings and recommendations. The
conference opened August 13, 1950. Clark Tibbitts was chosen as the Conference
Director and he did a splendid job.
FUCHS: Who was he?
EWING: Clark Tibbitts was probably the most experienced gerontologist
in the country. He had previously conducted a national health survey for
the Public Health Service, taught gerontology in several universities
and written a number of books on the subject.
FUCHS: Did this conference, do you think, have any influence upon the
reception of the over sixty-five bill?
EWING: I don't think so. This dealt with the problems of aging and many
of those are not within the health field. The older generation have environmental
problems, problems with relatives, and many other problems outside the
FUCHS: A minute ago you mentioned deleting certain proposed advisory
council people because they had opposed President Truman. Did you ever
have brought to your attention the fact that Dr. Parran's wife was always
saying to him there would only be one President, President Roosevelt?
EWING: No, I did not. You see, Dr. Parran, if I recall correctly, had
been the head of the health department of the State of New York when Mr.
Roosevelt was Governor of that State so they had had a long relationship
FUCHS: In 1949 the Federal Security Agency proposed some legislation
entitled, "Children's Act of 1949," and the Bureau of the Budget, of course,
made a report on this and the gist of it was, the report to the President,
that they might have to make a decision if the implications of this bill
were that eventually enough funds might be appropriated under its provisions,
if it were passed as an act, to provide complete free medical care for
all mothers during the maternity period and for all children through eighteen
years of age. And that this might redound to a bad effect on the other
Presidential proposals for national health insurance. Do you recall anything
about this matter?
EWING: No. Your question implies that the legislation came out of the
FUCHS: The bill "would provide outside the Social Security Act, a new
and broader charter for the Children's Bureau," and it was legislation
proposed by the Federal Security Agency entitled, "Children's Act of 1949,"
and through the Children's Bureau the administrator would be authorized
to make grants and other things that would under the provisions eventually,
if enough funds were appropriated,
enable this free medical care. The
Budget Bureau reported, in one paragraph, "it appears necessary for the
administration to decide now whether to adhere firmly to the advocacy
of health insurance as the basic medical care program, or to give active
support to specialized programs which have a better chance of early enactment
even though this weakens the possibility of achieving a health insurance
program. This is primarily a political determination." I just wondered
if this came to your attention to any degree and do you have any recollections
EWING: I have no recollections of it.
FUCHS: What were, if any, some of the other problems you had with bureaus,
such as the Federal Food and Drug Administration? Was there anything there
that caused you problems during your five years as administrator?
EWING: Well, I had a problem that flared up in the Office of Education.
John W. Studebaker was Commissioner of Education at the time that I took
office, and he had been appointed commissioner by President Roosevelt
in 1934. At that time, of course, the Office of Education was in
of Interior. Studebaker had previously been Superintendent of Schools
in Des Moines, Iowa and there was some question, I think, about his capacity
for the job. But the thing that really brought me to the point of trying
to find someone else for that job has a background.
When the new Department of Interior building was constructed, it included
a library for the Office of Education, which was really a beautiful room
with top-notch library facilities. After the Office of Education was put
into the Federal Security Agency, the Agency moved into a new building
of its own. Studies had been made which showed that by consolidating all
the libraries of all of the units of the Agency into one place in our
building, we could save the Government about a quarter of a million dollars
a year. The biggest saving, I think, of around a hundred and twenty-five
thousand dollars would come from consolidating the library of the Office
of Education with the other libraries there in the Federal Security building.
Well, Mr. Studebaker was determined that that library should not be moved.
He seemed to have an obsession on this subject. When I would walk down
the hall he would come out from behind
a pillar, join up with me and tell
me what a terrible catastrophe it would be for education if that library
were moved from the Interior building over to the Federal Security Building.
He certainly gave the impression that it would not only ruin the American
educational system but all the educational systems of the world. Finally,
I was so fed up with his attitude that I decided to try to get rid of
him and find a new Commissioner. But I didn't want to make any move in
that direction until I had cleared it with the President. My reason for
being so cautious was because when the Office of Education was in the
Department of Interior, Secretary Ickes had tried to fire Studebaker several
times. But Studebaker had an in with Mrs. Roosevelt and whenever Ickes
would propose to the President that Studebaker be fired Mrs. Roosevelt
would intervene and talk the President out of approving his dismissal.
I didn't want anything like that to happen if I attempted to fire him.
So, I went over to see President Truman and said to him, "Mr. President,
I have a Commissioner of Education in the Agency who I feel has outlived
Mr. Truman answered, "Do you mean John W. Studebaker?"
I said, "Yes."
"Well," he replied, "Good, I never did like him."
From this I was confident that if I let Mr. Studebaker go the rug would
not be pulled out from under me.
FUCHS: So, what was the upshot?
EWING: Well, Mr. Studebaker got wind of the fact I was looking for a
new commissioner and he resigned. A few days later he wrote a letter to
one of the Congressional committees complaining very bitterly about me.
This all happened in the Joe McCarthy days. Mr. Studebaker thought he
should urge all the schools of the country to include a course of instruction
on the evils of Communism. As I recall, he had had some teaching material
prepared which contained statements about American policy. While I didn't
disagree with their substance, they were definitely statements that should
come only from either the President or the State Department and not from
a bureau chief. I, therefore, insisted that those particular statements
be eliminated. Mr. Studebaker, thereupon, charged before this committee
in Congress that I was soft on Communism.
FUCHS: This was after he was out?
EWING: This was after he was out, yes. So, that committee of Congress
had a number of hearings and the committee completely vindicated me.
FUCHS: What did Studebaker do then?
EWING: There was another reason why I felt that he ought to be replaced.
He and his son, as I understand it, a year or more earlier, had bought
a radio station in San Diego, California. I learned that Mr. Studebaker
was spending a very large amount of time in San Diego. The obvious explanation
of that was that he was spending his time on his own affairs rather than
attending to his job as Commissioner of Education.
FUCHS: In the administration of the Federal Security Agency did you have
to deal with any other controversial matter that might be of interest?
EWING: Yes. There was quite a controversy over fluoridation
supplies in the United States. For a number of years the dental profession
had been urging that all water supplies for human consumption should contain
a small quantity of fluoride. It had been observed that in certain sections
of the United States children's teeth contained fewer cavities than teeth
of children in other parts of the country. This was believed to be due
to the presence of a small quantity of natural fluoride in the water used
in those areas showing the smaller number of cavities. The dental profession
was therefore urging that municipal water supplies that were deficient
in fluoride should have small quantities added. I believe that they urged
that there be at least one part of fluoride for each one million parts of water.
In 1945 before I became Federal Security Administrator the Public Health
Service had instituted a very extensive research project to determine
the value of fluoridation of water in preventing caries in children's
teeth. Newburgh and Kingston, New York, were chosen as sites for the experiment.
Their water supplies showed virtually identical analyses. School children
of both cities were examined for cavities and
the results were practically
identical. Fluoride was added to Newburgh's water supply. This test was
to be run for a period of ten years. By the end of the fifth year a re-examination
of the school pupils in Newburgh and Kingston showed that the Newburgh
children had approximately 65% fewer cavities than the children of Kingston.
The report of these findings was made public over my name and the opponents
of fluoridation took after me. The first I heard of this opposition was
a speech made by a Congressman A. L. Miller on the floor of the House
of Representatives. He was a doctor who had turned Republican politician.
In March 1952 he stated on the floor of the House that the Aluminum Company
of America was selling fluoride; that the law firm of Hughes, Hubbard
& Ewing, of which I had been a partner, represented that company;
and he therefore wanted to know whether "Oscar R. Ewing still gets a cut
of the melon or not."
The truth of the matter was that my firm and its predecessors had been
New York counsel for the Aluminum Company of America since sometime during
the first decade of this century. I had been counsel for
Company in several matters but when Congressman Miller made his accusation
I was not even aware of the fact that the company manufactured fluorides.
The anti-fluoridation crowd seemed to concentrate their wrath on me because
I had made public the results of the five-year testing at Newburgh and
Kingston. They ran newspaper advertisements saying that fluoridation of
water was first conceived in Russia to dull the minds of prisoners and
steadily weaken their bodies; that the Russians passed on the idea to
Harold J. Laski, a prominent Englishman, who had transmitted the information
to Sidney Hillman in America, who was head of the War Production Board;
that Hillman turned the big idea over "to his friend, Oscar Ewing, one
of the attorneys for the greatest fluoride factory in the world." Drew
Pearson in his column had reported that the Aluminum Company was paying
me $1 million a year to represent it in Washington in connection with
the preparation of contracts for the construction of aluminum plants.
The anti-fluoridationists reduced this figure to $700,000 a year, which
hurt my pride. It was not easy to have one's salary cut $300,000 a year
it was only in someone's imagination!
As a matter of fact,
the charges of these opponents of fluoridation were really fantastic.
Let me quote here from a sheet that they distributed on the streets of
downtown New York.
ROCKEFELLER AGENTS ORDER FLUORIDE-(RAT-) POISONING OF NATION'S WATER.
Water fluoridation is the MOST IMPORTANT ASPECT OF THE COLD WAR THAT
IS BEING WAGED ON US - CHEMICALLY - FROM WITHIN, BY THE ROCKEFELLER-SOVIET
AXIS. It serves to blunt the intelligence of a people in a manner that
no other dope can. Also, it is GENOCIDAL in two manners: it causes CHEMICAL
CASTRATION: and it CAUSES CANCER, thus killing off older folks...This
committee did no research or investigation on the poisonous effects
of water fluoridation. They accepted the falsified data published by
the U.S.P.H.S. on the order of boss Oscar Ewing, who had been "rewarded"
with $750,000 by fluoride waste producer, Aluminum Co. He then developed
the 'public spirit' that impelled him to take a $17,500 job as Federal
Security Administrator. He immediately demanded of Congress an appropriation
of $2,500,000 for promotion of fluorides by his U.S.P.H.S.
Some of the opponents of fluoridation requested the Bureau of Internal
Revenue to investigate my income tax returns to see whether I had included
these fantastic sums in my report of income. Of course, I had not reported
them because they only existed in the imagination of the opponents of
The fluoridation controversy was pretty well
summarized in a paper submitted
to the New York Institute of Clinical Oral Pathology on December 12 ,
1955 by Dr. Herman E. Hilleboe, Commissioner, New York State Department
of Health. After describing the preliminaries which led to the ten-year
study of the comparative effects of fluoridated and unfluoridated water
in the respective cities of Newburgh and Kingston, New York, Dr. Hilleboe
...Despite the comprehensive studies in the laboratory and among human
populations in New York State and elsewhere on effectiveness and safety,
there has developed a vociferous minority which has succeeded in some
areas in delaying the initiation of local water fluoridation programs,
and in others, actually reversing favorable action.
The opposition stems from several sources, chiefly food faddists, cultists,
chiropractors, misguided and misinformed persons who are ignorant of
the scientific facts on the ingestion of water fluorides, and, strange
as it may seem, even among a few uninformed physicians and dentists.
One very effective opposition speaker in the West, purported to be a
research chemist who saw water fluoridation as a Communist plot to sabotage
our country, was actually an escaped inmate from an Illinois mental
institution. In Connecticut, a woman who calls herself a "research scientist"
trained at Harvard and Columbia, was discredited by the authorities
of both universities. She is, in fact, a person who has been charged
by the police with impersonation.
Another exponent of the opposition group is a dentist in Ohio who never
attended a dental college but was blanketed into the dental profession
in 1910 when Ohio started to license dentists. This person has been
active in other opposition campaigns
such as the unwarranted claims
that using aluminum cooking utensils causes cancer...
FUCHS: Have you any comments about the Truman administration and Federal
aid to education?
EWING: No, except that we favored the Federal Government giving schools
all the aid it properly could. The toughest part of this problem was and
is the Constitutional question of whether or not the Federal Government
can aid denominational schools. And that question has not been solved
FUCHS: Anything come to mind anecdotal or otherwise about problems?
EWING: No, no.
FUCHS: The Children's Bureau sponsored these, I believe, White House
conferences on children?
FUCHS: Do you recall anything about those that might be of interest?
EWING: Well, I think there was only one such conference while I was Administrator
and that went off very well.
I don't recall any particular problem.
FUCHS: Anything about the Children's Bureau and its problems that come to mind?
FUCHS: Its placement in FSA?
EWING: No, it had been put into the Federal Security Agency before I
became Administrator and Miss Katherine Lenroot was the head of it at
that time. She was a very efficient person; managed it very well. She
got into one or two controversies with the Catholic hierarchy, which we
were able to settle. Then after Miss Lenroot retired I appointed Miss
Martha Elliott as head of the Children's Bureau. She was a medical graduate
and did a very fine job. She had been in the Children's Bureau and then
had served for a time with the World Health Organization in Geneva and
I asked her to come back to be head of the Children's Bureau.
FUCHS: Back to Studebaker for a moment. When he resigned and gave the
public reason that he could no longer afford to remain in Civil Service,
a David Rankin Barbee,
Secretary of the Committee on American History,
according to a newspaper article welcomed the resignation as "enabling
the return of the Office of Education to its lawful function." That was
reference to this matter of anti-Communism in the schools solely, or were
there other things that you can think of that he was distorting the purpose
of the Office of Education?
EWING: Studebaker had built up what was largely a personal organization
and surrounded himself with syncophants. The result was that his organization
had become pretty antiquated and out of touch with reality, and I think
the professional educators were conscious of that.
FUCHS: You appointed Dr. Earl McGrath to succeed him. Who were his principal
boosters, who recommended him, do you recall?
EWING: Earl McGrath. Yes, Don Kingsley, the assistant administrator had
recommended him, and Dr. McGrath was a real addition to our organization.
I think he was very much handicapped in his operation by the organization
that Studebaker had built up, because they had tenure and it was pretty
difficult for Dr.
McGrath to control them. Tenure has its advantages and
good features but it has some awfully bad ones, too. Once a man gets tenure
he gets very independent. I once had a run-in with two of my people. It
was in connection with some Food and Drug regulations which I was required
by law to issue. I had asked two men to prepare a draft of the regulations
and told them the substance of what they should contain. They brought
me back a draft that was the very opposite of what I wanted. They then
redrafted the regulations using new language but meaning just what the
first draft meant. Then I blew up and threatened to transfer them to Alaska.
I had a right to move an employee to another location but did not have
a right to fire him.
FUCHS: You were a good friend of Paul McNutt and as he was the first
head of the Federal Security Agency did you have occasion to talk over
problems, did you consult with him?
EWING: No. You see, after the independence of the Philippines on July
4, 1946, Paul was made Ambassador to the Philippines. He returned to this
country during the time I was still Administrator and would drop in my
office from time to time. But he had not been associated with the Agency
for a number of years and I don't think I ever discussed any of my problems
with him, simply because he was out of touch with what was going on so
that it would take longer to explain problems to him than he had time
FUCHS: Very good. I guess we had better quit now, it's 1:30.
EWING: All right.
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