Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum


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]


NOTICE
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview

RESTRICTIONS
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened July 1971
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[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

[163]

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 apartment?

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?

EWING: No.

FUCHS: George Elsey?

EWING: No.

FUCHS: David Lloyd?

[164]

EWING: No.

FUCHS: No other advisors that you could think of met with this group. What about Oscar Chapman?

EWING: No.

FUCHS: He never met with the board?

EWING: No.

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?

[165]

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 President.

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

[166]

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.

EWING: No.

FUCHS: Did they know of your group?

EWING: Oh, I suppose they did.

[167]

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 Hannegan?

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

[168]

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.

[169]

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

[170]

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 press.

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?

[171]

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 about that?

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

[172]

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 his critics.

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

[173]

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 or personality?

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.

[174]

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 insurance, adopted.

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

[175]

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

[176]

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.

[177]

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.

[178]

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

[179]

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

[180]

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 interested.

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

[181]

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

[182]

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 any idea?

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

[183]

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 health insurance?

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

[184]

excessive 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

[185]

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 Committee?

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?

[186]

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 studies.

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.

[187]

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 bill?

EWING: I do not know. Possibly, he wanted something different from what that bill provided.

[188]

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

[189]

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

[190]

Grange. 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 anything more.

[191]

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,

[192]

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

[193]

was to tell about how much political influence the country doctor had with his patients.

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

[194]

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?

[195]

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

[196]

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.

[197]

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?

EWING: Nothing.

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

[198]

National Health 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

[199]

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,

[200]

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

[201]

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

[202]

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

[203]

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?

[204]

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

[205]

Security Administrator for a recommendation?

EWING: No.

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

[206]

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

[207]

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 job.

FUCHS: Of course, the inquiry had to do with Dr. Graham's transactions, trading in futures. I wondered if you had

[208]

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 Administration?

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?

[209]

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.

[210]

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 that?

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

[211]

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

[212]

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 Administrator.

[213]

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 this?

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 Congressman's individual

[214]

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

[215]

program were 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 this program.

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

[216]

sixty-five group.

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

[217]

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 the AMA.

FUCHS: I believe there was a dinner at Hearst's that you

[218]

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?

[219]

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?

EWING: Yes.

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.

[220]

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

[221]

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 considered.

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 confusion that

[222]

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

[223]

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

[224]

campaign?

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?

[225]

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 plan?

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

[226]

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.

[227]

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

[228]

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

[229]

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

[230]

practicable.

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 fast-talking Irishmen.

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?

[231]

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 health field.

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 together.

[232]

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 Children's Bureau?

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,

[233]

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 of it?

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

[234]

the Department 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

[235]

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 his usefulness."

[236]

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

[237]

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

[238]

of water 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

[239]

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

[240]

the Aluminum 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 even though

[241]

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 fluoridation.

The fluoridation controversy was pretty well

[242]

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 said:

...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

[243]

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 yet.

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?

EWING: Yes.

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.

[244]

I don't recall any particular problem.

FUCHS: Anything about the Children's Bureau and its problems that come to mind?

EWING: No.

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,

[245]

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.

[246]

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

[247]

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 to give.

FUCHS: Very good. I guess we had better quit now, it's 1:30.

EWING: All right.

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Ewing Oral History Transcripts]