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John F. Kennedy Administration Collection: Records of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, 1961-1963


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About this Collection

Introduction:

Introduction: John F. Kennedy Administration Collection:Records of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1961-1963

 

Before a researcher attempts to analyze the agency recordson file at the John F. Kennedy Library, it is important to understand thehistory of the collections and the acquisitions guidelines of the particularmaterial selected. This introduction describes the history, planning,methodology, and scope of the collection of Kennedy administration records onmicrofilm.

 

The Early Stages

 

Prior to John F. Kennedys inauguration, historian ArthurSchlesinger, Jr., Harvard President Nathan M. Pusey, and Harvard Librarian PaulH. Buck approached the president-elect in order to convince him to follow theexamples of the most recent presidents and establish a presidential libraryadministered by the National Archives and Records Service (NARS). Since theplan for these institutions usually was developed late in an administration,after many of the important collections had been donated to private institutions,these men believed that if the president made it clear early in theadministration that he would like commitments from members of the staff todonate their papers to the library, the facility could offer historians andscholars a more complete picture of the Kennedy administration. This plandistinguished the Kennedy Library from the existing presidential libraries atthe time - the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, the Harry S. Truman Library, andthe Dwight D. Eisenhower Library - because these three institutions housed thepersonal and public papers of the president but few collections of the personalpapers of members of the cabinet and staff. As Buck later wrote:

 

Our objective has been nothing less than the finestcollection of primary source materials ever brought together under one roof forresearch in a specific period. An outstanding collection surpassing in qualityany ever before assembled, is promised by the Presidents interest, by theearly start that has been made in planning and collecting.1

 

On September 20, 1961, the president appointed an informalcommittee to develop and expand plans for a presidential library. Members ofthis committee included Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., special assistant to thepresident; Theodore Sorensen, special counsel to the president; Paul Buck andGarde Wiggins of Harvard University; Wayne C. Grover, archivist of the UnitedStates; and Herman Kahn, assistant archivist. In November, President Kennedyformally announced his intention to establish a presidential library inCambridge, Massachusetts, to be operated by the NARS in association withHarvard University. The committee had to address several responsibilities:locating a suitable site, outlining an organizational structure, developing afund-raising plan, and writing an extensive acquisitions policy. By May 1962the committee had completed an acquisitions policy statement that Schlesingersent to top executive personnel, in which he communicated the Presidents hopethat his friends and associates will wish to assist in making the collectionsas complete as possible.2

 

Personal correspondence files, official correspondencefiles, work aids, notes, memorandums, personal accounts of events written asreminders, observations of high officials, extra copies of speeches,congressional testimony, reading files, and press releases were the types ofmaterials requested, not the complete official original records of eachdepartment or agency. Schlesinger also requested microfilm or paper copies ofofficial records that would help document the administrations major policies.

 

Schlesingers guidelines assisted the departments andagencies in identifying pertinent materials. The amount of documents in theWhite House was so enormous that by the end of April 1963 it was estimated thatthe Kennedy Library would have to be much larger than initially planned inorder to accommodate an expected eight years of presidential material. InOctober 1963, President Kennedy selected a building site next to the HarvardBusiness School along the banks of the Charles River. (These plans were laterchanged; the library is now located on Columbia Point in Boston.)

 

A Change of Plans

 

Kennedys assassination and the resignation or replacementof many of his appointees accelerated the pace of the librarys acquisitions. Asystematic program directed by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy was mostlycompleted in fewer than eight months. The microfilming of department and agencyrecords was an essential part of this program.

 

On December 9, 1963, Robert Kennedy appointed a coordinatingcommittee to compile lists of important issues and subjects during the Kennedyadministration. These lists were then compared to the lists of availablematerial being compiled by individual agencies. In a December 19, 1963, letterto the department heads, Robert Kennedy reemphasized the acquisitions goals:Our most important immediate problem in connection with the John F. KennedyMemorial Library is the collecting of the significant papers and documents ofthe Kennedy Administration. To do this quickly, while memories and experienceare still fresh, will require the close cooperation of all agency anddepartment heads.3

 

By January 1, 1964, each agency head was to have submittedlists of topics involving presidential decision or interest. In a letter todepartment and agency heads, Robert Kennedy requested, as top priority,originals or copies of the papers, memorandums, notes, and correspondence ofthe head of each agency. The next priority was to make copies of selectedportions of the official records of the department or agency. This materialwould include staff papers, memoranda, and other documents relating to themajor Kennedy Administration issues, as well as papers on any subject, major orminor, in which the President took a personal interest, which went to him forthe decision, or which emerged in response to Presidential request.4He further stated:

 

I know this project will be a drain on your time andresources. But only in this way can we hope to build a collection whichaccurately reflects the career, the hopes and the achievements of PresidentKennedy and which fully illuminates the issues of his time.5

 

President Lyndon B. Johnson instructed the department andagency heads to provide full cooperation. However, no matter how dedicated andorganized the participants were, this project proved to be extremely intricate,time-consuming, and difficult at times. Even Robert Kennedy, after reviewingthe lists of the Department of Justice material, stated:

 

Lets decide what the issues are. Could you say now or anyof you say here what projects in the Department of Justice you should collect?In the Department of Defense? We would like to exchange views with someone.Would you want the weekly reports by the heads of Tax and Civil Divisions? Ithink and I am sure the other Cabinet members would like to get someguidelines.6

 

Questions about what to include were not limited to theDepartment of Justice. Most of the agencies deliberated the same question: Whatexactly is important in the history of the administration? The coordinatingcommittee was to help solve this problem by reviewing the lists submitted bythe agencies. The next step was to send microfilm teams to each agency from theNARS, with the exception of five agencies that used their own film crews.

 

On January 18, 1964, the Washington Post providedsome insight into the project as a whole, specifically the filming of the CivilRights Division of the Department of Justice:

 

The Federal Government began to turn itself upside downthis week in a massive effort to put on microfilm the official records of theKennedy Administration.

 

Other presidential libraries contain the personal papers ofthe President, the files of the White House, personal papers of friends andassociates and some kinds of audio-visual materials, but no officialGovernment records.

 

So yesterday, as they had done all week and as they wouldcontinue to do for no-one-knows-how-long, a group of microfilmers from theNational Archives processed the records that Department heads had designated asrelevant to Mr. Kennedys main interests.7

 

Unlike the filming of retired records, the filming of muchof this material included active files still used by the agencies in question.Therefore, records were not removed to other locations but instead were filmedin and around the daily working offices. The filming continued at the otheragencies in the same way and ran smoothly considering the obviousorganizational obstacles. However, when the film crews encountered restrictedor classified materials, many of the agencies refused to cooperate, citingSection 7(c) of Executive Order 10501 as their justification. This orderprovides safeguards for the administration, access, and copying of classifiedmaterials. Agency heads refused to permit microfilming without presidentialauthorization.

 

In July, President Johnson was unwilling to issueauthorization. Department of Justice attorneys then determined that section7(c) was not applicable to the acquisition of documents for archival purposes,and therefore neither the approval of the originating agency nor of thepresident was necessary.8 Filming resumed shortly. By mid-1964 overtwo million pages of documents had been microfilmed.

 

The Collections Today

 

Presently, the John F. Kennedy Librarys holdings arepartially comprised of 2,573 rolls of federal records. Thirty-nine federalrecords collections were acquired in microfilm and 14 in hard copy.Twenty-three collections of personal papers were obtained in microfilm, withthe remaining 147 collections in hard copy. Sixty percent of the rolls ofmicrofilm remain closed.

 

Each agencys files consist of a variety of materials.General collection policy guidelines provided an outline as to the types ofmaterials desired, but individual agencies were given the latitude to selectdocuments that fit into the guidelines. Each collection emphasizes varioussubjects and is organized differently. For example, the U.S. Department of theInterior records are comprised of files from several offices, includinglegislation papers from the Office of the Solicitor, Fish and Wildlife Servicedata on the use of pesticides, and Bureau of Indian Affairs records containingtask force minutes and publications.

 

The Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW)collection includes files of several task forces, committees, and legislationenacted on subjects such as education, welfare, the National Service Corps, andmental retardation. For some subjects, such as the HEW mental retardationfiles, the microfilm offers the librarys most complete resource of backgroundmaterial and working files on the Presidents Panel on Mental Retardation andthe Secretarys Committee on Mental Retardation. This file includes the proposedcommission, selection of panel members, meetings, and conferencerecommendations. In conjunction with these files a researcher could then referto the librarys nonmicrofilm collections of Presidents Office Files, thepersonal papers of Elizabeth Boggs, and the staff files of Myer Feldman andStafford Warren.

 

The holdings of the Kennedy Library also contain the filesof the Presidents Commission on the Status of Women and several oral historyinterviews involving the issue of equal pay. The Womens Bureau records fromthe U.S. Department of Labor collection also present further information. Thefiles include state programs, legislative proposals, and background material onthe Equal Pay Act of 1961.

 

Often the microfilm collections not only provide backgroundinformation complementing existing files but also serve as a primary source ona particular topic. The U.S. Housing and Home Finance Agency files on thelegislative history of the Housing Act of 1961 are more detailed than the othercollections on the housing issue. Records of the U.S. Office of EmergencyPlanning also provide a firsthand look at the governments response to naturaldisasters nationwide.

 

The papers and records of Walter Heller are alsodistinctive. This collection provides both the files of the Council of EconomicAdvisers and government committees, as well as his personal files from 1941 to1971. Researchers interested in the economic policies of the Kennedyadministration should regard these files as a critical resource.

 

Sometimes a subject is included in more than one microfilmcollection. For example, if a researcher is interested in examining the Kennedyadministrations approach to youth services and programs, aside from thepresidents papers and selected personal papers, he should also examine thefollowing HEW records: committee files and legislative data on juveniledelinquency and on school dropouts; public assistance programs, including Aidto Dependent Children; legislation details on tax deductions for child-careexpenses; models and background information on the National Service Corps; andreports and summaries of other action programs. The Department of the Interiorrecords provide further details on youth employment, with specific emphasis onthe Youth Conservation Corps, and a legislative history of the act establishingthe Corps. The Department of Labor files provide data on the Youth EmploymentAct of 1961, the Presidents Committee on Youth Employment, as well as the 1960White House Conference on Children and Youth.

 

These and other collections offer important insights intothe Kennedy administrations response to the domestic problems of the early1960s. From a historians perspective, an agencys records can offer a uniqueview into how and why certain issues were important, how they were handled, towhom they were referred, and how they were solved. The agency recordssupplement files of administration personnel and demonstrate the implementationof the Kennedy administrations policies by the bureaucracy. Many times eventhe personal papers of agency heads do not offer a complete perspective of theagency itself. Just as research would be incomplete if the papers of keyadministration personnel were not examined for a particular project so, too,would research that did not include a review of the agency files. Such anexamination of the agencys working records presents a more complete picture ofhistorical discussion.

 

Maura Porter
Reference Archivist
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library

 

Footnotes

 

1Letter by Paul Buck,Kennedy Library 1963 folder, Presidents Office Files, box 130, John F.Kennedy Library, Boston, Massachusetts (hereafter JFKL).

 

2Letter, Arthur M.Schlesinger, Jr., May 23, 1962, Kennedy Library 9/2/61 - 12/24/63 folder,Theodore C. Sorensen Papers, box 35, JFKL.

 

3 Letter, Robert F. Kennedy to heads of departments and agencies,December 19, 1963, Collection of Materials - Letter to Agency Heads folder,Papers of Robert F. Kennedy. Attorney Generals Papers, JFK Library File, box11, JFKL.

 

4Ibid.

 

5Ibid.

 

6Minutes, JFK LibraryCorporation meeting, December 9, 1963, Meetings and Memoranda, 11/63 - 12/63folder, Robert F. Kennedy, Attorney Generals Papers, JFK Library File, box 15,JFKL.

 

7Susanna McBee,Records of Kennedy Era Microfilmed for Library, Washington Post,January 18, 1964, Kennedy Library, 1/2/64 - 1/30/64 folder, Theodore S.Sorensen Papers, box 35, JFKL.

 

8Memorandum, NormanSchlei to Robert Kennedy, July 13, 1964, Collection of Materials Memorandum,7/13/64 folder, Robert F. Kennedy, Attorney Generals Papers, JFK LibraryFile, box 11, JFKL.

 

 

Historical Note

 

United States agricultural policy changed significantlyafter the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy in 1961. Under theleadership of Secretary of Agriculture Orville L. Freeman, the newadministration shifted toward higher price supports and rigid control programsto boost farm income. Kennedy moved quickly to propose emergency legislation toraise prices and cut storage of feed grain; the Agricultural Act of 1961proposed longer-term control of farm output through a system of administrativecommunities, which was defeated in Congress. By midsummer the administrationhad a plan to redistribute part of the existing wheat stocks to locationssurrounding large urban centers in case of nuclear attack.

 

One of Kennedys most important programs was the Alliancefor Progress. Described by Kennedy as a vast cooperative effort, unparalleledin magnitude and mobility of purpose, the alliance was aimed toward the consciouseconomic and social development of Latin America on the scope of the MarshallPlan. Although the program consisted of more than agricultural aid, many of therecords concerning the Alliance can be found in this collection.

 

Domestically, the greatest agricultural legacy from theKennedy administration is the Food Stamp Program. Food stamps were devised in1961 to aid needy people in specified distress areas. The stamps could be usedby program participants as cash at a grocery store. A family of four with noincome could receive $40 worth of food stamps, while a family earning$100/month could receive $30 worth of food stamps if they spent $50. Theprogram began with only eight distressed areas, but by the end of 1962 sixteencounties and one city in twelve different states had such a program. SecretaryFreeman expanded the program in 1963 and asked Congress to institute foodstamps on a permanent basis, where participants would pay $6.10 for $10 worthof stamps.

 

The Billie Sol Estes case was investigated by a Senatesubcommittee under Senator John L. McClellan. Estes was a Texas cottonmanipulator who was arrested for the death of investigator Henry Marshall. InNovember 1962, Estes was convicted of theft and fraud and sentenced to eightyears in prison.

 

As a result of other Senate hearings relating toagriculture, the Consumer Advisory Council was formed. The council was anappointed watchdog group, which acted on complaints of poor performance bygovernment regulatory agencies. The council also advocated atruth-in-packaging bill, which regulated the claims that food manufacturerscould make about their products.

 

Two major international agricultural conventions occurredduring the Kennedy administration, the International Food Congress in New York(1962) and the World Food Congress in Washington (1963). At the latterconference chemists announced that they had been able to use inorganicsubstances to effect a synthesis of most, if not all, of the elements essentialto human nutrition.