The Florence Mahoney Page

Born Florence Amelia Sheets, near Muncie, Indiana, in 1899. Her first job was teaching physical education in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, where she became friends with newspaper columnist George Dixon. She used her mother's name, Stephenson, as an adult before marrying Daniel J. Mahoney Sr., the president of Cox Newspapers, in Miami in 1926. He had been married to the daughter of James Middleton Cox, who owned the chain. Cox had been a member of Congress and a three-term governor of Ohio, and in 1920 he ran for president against Warren G. Harding, with Franklin Delano Roosevelt as his running mate. Daniel Mahoney had been Cox's "constant companion" in that campaign. Cox's empire also included newspapers in Springfield, Canton, and Dayton, Ohio, and the Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution. The Mahoneys had two sons, the late Lasker Foundation director Daniel J. Mahoney Jr.; and J. Michael Mahoney.

From her days in Miami Beach, she was friends with Sen. Claude Pepper, Joseph Kennedy Sr. and Bernard Gimbel (of the department store), and also John F. Kennedy Jr. from 1944. In 1945 she began developing contacts with President Harry Truman, whose winter White House was in Key West. Albert Lasker became friends with Gov. Cox and the Mahoneys after the 1920 presidential election, in which Cox was beaten by Warren Harding, the candidate Lasker was promoting. Mary Lasker and Florence Mahoney eventually bought a ranch together near Kirkland, Arizona, where she became friends with Bruce Babbitt, who became the governor of Arizona 1978-87 and Secretary of the Interior in the Clinton Administration 1993-2000. Florence Mahoney was the stimulus behind his career.

Florence Mahoney quotes: "When I wanted to get things done, I started at the top... [for example], because I was friends with the governors of Florida and Arizona, when I wanted to work on birth control, I went directly to them." [She contacted the media herself whereas Lasker had a publicity woman]: "I never had that. It wasn't difficult, though. It was the people I knew, and my friends in the press helped me. She didn't know anything about the press in Washington, and I certainly did. The press is desperately important, I'll tell you that, terribly important... I planted things in the papers all the time."

Florence Mahoney and the anti-smoking movement: "At another meeting, Mahoney heard a speaker 'who said smoking was bad for people,' a revolutionary thought at the time [hardly! -cast]. 'I went home and told [Daniel] Mahoney and thought he would use it in the paper. But he said that people would think he was crazy because everyone in the world was smoking [hardly, again -cast]. So the next time I went to a heart meeting and the doctors mentioned it, I took some conference papers home with me and gave them to Drew Pearson, and he used it the next day. He was the first person who ever mentioned in a newspaper how bad smoking was for you,' she believed. 'Right after that, both Time and Life magazines used it. She also felt that cigarette manufacturers 'should not be allowed to advertise -- that was a long time ago, when I was saying it should not be glamorized.'"

(Information from Noble Conspirator. Florence S. Mahoney and the Rise of the National Institutes of Health. By Judith Robinson; The Francis Press 2001.)

Cox Newspapers Ties to Fraudulent Smoking Cost Study Author Joseph P. Newhouse

James Middleton Cox employed both Francis Philbrick Locke and his father, Walter Locke, as "journalists" and editorial writers. "Phil" Locke began his career with Cox Newspapers immediately after graduating from Harvard in 1933. He was a celebrated recruiter of high school students for Harvard for 30 years. (Walter Locke, 82, Ohio Editor, Dead. New York Times, Oct. 25, 1957; Journey through my years. By James Middleton Cox. 2004, page 392; Phil Locke, Harvard Recruiter, Dies at 88. Riverside Press-Enterprise, Aug. 11, 2000.) Francis P. Locke's son-in-law was Joseph Paul Newhouse, Harvard 1963, recipient of over $82 million in federal grants and contracts for health policy studies, including deliberately fraudulent studies designed to deceive the public about fictitious "savings" from eliminating smoking.

Journey through my years, p. 392 / Google Books
Phil Locke, Harvard Recruiter, Dies at 88 / Riverside Press-Enterprise

United Cerebral Palsy

"1940 Leonard and Isabelle Goldenson worked with Mary Lasker, Anna Rosenberg and Florence Mahoney to help establish the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke, part of the National Institutes of Health. The Goldensons were each appointed to four-year terms on the advisory board for this Institute."

"1945 An ad in the New York Herald Tribune recruiting parents of children with cerebral palsy who were interested in improving services for their kids, generated 350 responses from families in New York City and surrounding area." (1940s Timeline. United Cerebral Palsy.)

1940s Timeline / United Cerebral Palsy

Florence Mahoney and heart disease research

In 1947, she got the bill authorizing funds to study heart disease sent to President Truman, who was campaigning in San Francisco, via White House courier plane. (Noble Conspirator. Florence S. Mahoney and the Rise of the National Institutes of Health. By Judith Robinson; The Francis Press 2001.) In 1950, Mahoney moved to Washington and established what Elizabeth Brenner Drew calls "the utterly purposeful social side of the syndicate's operations. It is probable that there is no one who has been important to health policy in Washington who has not dined - on, among other things, assorted but tasty health foods - at Mrs. Mahoney's." Let that disabuse the health food fanatics of the notion that they have been a downtrodden minority without political clout.

How the Public Was Brainwashed About Heart Disease

LBJ Commission on Heart Disease, Cancer, and Stroke, 1964

Members of the 1964 President's Commission on Heart Disease, Cancer, and Stroke included Florence Mahoney and other prominent Lasker associates (Dr. R. Lee Clark, Emerson Foote, Dr. Sidney Farber, Mrs. Harry Truman, Gen. David Sarnoff, Dr. Irving S. Wright) to the panel, chaired by Dr. Michael DeBakey. Dr. Maureen Henderson was on the staff, and Abraham Lilienfeld was the staff director. The Commission promoted the legislation for the Regional Medical Programs, where the Office on Smoking and Health was first established.

President's Commission, 1964 / UCSF (pdf, 1 p)

Florence Mahoney's and Mary Lasker's role in Medicare legislation, 1965

From the transcript, Lawrence F. O'Brien Oral History Interview XII, 7/25/86, by Michael L. Gillette, at the LBJ Presidential Library:

G: What role did Mary Lasker and Florence Mahoney play in this?

O: They played a significant role. I knew them both; I got to know Florence intimately. I'd have to credit both. Florence had meeting after meeting in her home in Georgetown. Mary Lasker and Florence were on the telephone constantly and their enthusiasm knew no bounds. They were dedicated. I enjoyed both of them, particularly Florence because day-to-day I was more apt to have contact with Florence. She was more on the day-to-day direct lobbying aspect.

G: And what did Mary Lasker do on the other hand?

O: Mary Lasker was, by virtue of her position, her involvement financially, widely recognized and highly regarded.

G: Can you recall any individual senators or House members that they were effective in turning around on this issue?

O: No, not specifically, but they were kept apprised of our progress, and they in turn would provide us with information. Florence had become well-acquainted with key members of the Congress over a long period of time. She had a beautiful home in Georgetown; she was a marvelous hostess, and she utilized that home to the fullest. I had occasion to go there often and she would have people who would ensure that you weren't going to spend one of those typical Washington social evenings; you'd have opportunity for contact. I thought she was very good, very professional.

G: I wonder to what extent were these two agents of yours advancing objectives of the administration and to what extent were they lobbying, urging the administration to go farther.

O: I think both, yes. I think that it's fair to say they lobbied both ways. Obviously, you were well aware of their intense interest. They had left no stone unturned to make sure the administration was aware that they and the people they represented were anxious for the administration to move. People deeply involved are apt to spend a fair amount of time talking to people who are already committed. It's difficult to measure the degree of contribution in terms of X number of votes that were garnered. It would be impossible. It was keeping the enthusiasm high, making sure those in a position on the Hill to be helpful had their backs rubbed. My recollection is that it was Florence in the pits with Mary Lasker as a person nationally known for her interest and financial support.

G: But they did have a lobbyist themselves, didn't they, Mike Gorman?

O: Yes. But Florence was a lobbyist.

G: Well, did their financing include financing congressmen who were favorable --

O: I don't know.

G: -- or was it --?

O: We were not directly involved with them in that aspect. I frankly felt that it was none of my business, and they weren't volunteering information to me in that regard.

O'Brien Oral History XII / LBJ Presidential Library

The Health Syndicate, 1967

"For the past twenty years, Mrs. Lasker has been, in the words of one federal health official, 'the most important single factor in the rise of support for biomedical research.' In the process, she has helped the NIH budget to explode from $2.5 million in 1945 to $1.4 billion this year, influenced Presidents, immobilized Secretaries of Health, Education, and Welfare, selected health policy makers, and pushed health policy in controversial directions."

"Mrs. Lasker's network is probably unparalleled in the influence that a small group of private citizens has had over such a major area of national policy. One federal official refers to it as a 'noble conspiracy.' Gorman calls it a 'high class kind of subversion, very high class. We're not second story burglars. We go right in the front door.'" (The Health Syndicate / Washington's Noble Conspiracy" The Atlantic Monthly 1967, Vol. 200, pp. 75-82.)

Drew - The Atlantic 1967 / UCSF (pdf, 8 pp)

Florence Mahoney and George S. McGovern

Florence Mahoney was Sen. George McGovern's political mentor. President Kennedy appointed Florence Mahoney to the Food for Peace Council in 1961; McGovern was its director, and she held a reception to help McGovern's campaign for the US Senate in 1962.

Addiction Research Foundation

Mahoney was on the National Advisory Council of the Addiction Research Foundation, founded by Avram Goldstein in 1974 "to discover the physiological causes of Narcotics and Tobacco Addiction" [sic]. Actually, Golstein's past experience was in narcotics and the facility did not have a nicotine lab. But Goldstein expected the tobacco industry to give him the $400,000 he said he needed to create one, and then to fund his endeavor to portray smoking as the same as heroin addiction. Other members of the National Advisory Council included Mrs. Douglas Cater [elsewhere identified as Libby Cater, the name of President Johnson's Special Assistant Douglass Cater's wife); Sen. Alan Cranston; Charles C. Edwards; Philip R. Lee; Art Linkletter; and Mrs. Nan Tucker McEvoy, former Presidential appointee to UNESCO and heir of the San Francisco Chronicle. Directors included Martin E. Packard, Corporate Vice President of Varian Associates and a former trustee of the San Francisco Foundation (founded by Lasker Foundation director Daniel Koshland Jr.); and Wilbur Watkins, former Executive Administrator of the Palo Alto Medical Clinic, founded by Lee's father. (Page 18)

Brochure, Addiction Research Foundation / UCSF (pdf, 23 pp)

National Institute of Aging

"Mary Lasker's pal, Florence Mahoney, has been positioned on the Adisory Council for the new National Institute of Aging, where she can push the notion that smoking shortens life." (Tobacco Institute memorandum from Fred Panzer to Jack Mills and Earle Clements, April 1, 1975.)

Panzer to Mills & Clements, 1975 / UCSF (pdf, 1 p)

All-American Cities Award Ceremony, 1994

Remarks of President Clinton at All-American Cities Award ceremony, Sep. 8, 1994: "I want to acknowledge the presence in the audience of Florence Mahoney, one of the great citizens of this nation. (Applause.) The National Institutes of Health are practically a monument to Florence Mahoney and Mary Lasker, two great Americans."

All-American Cities Award, 1994 / NARA

Florence Mahoney Papers

Finding aid to the Florence S. Mahoney papers, 1935-1988. List of correspondents includes Leonard Hayflick 1973-81, who is still a current media source on aging research; Freddy Homburger 1960-76, of tobacco lawsuit fame; Philip R. Lee, two-time former Assistant Secretary for Health; W. Averell Harriman, between 1947 and 1971; Lister Hill, former US Senator, 1960-73, a key Lasker collaborator; former President Lyndon Johnson and Lady Bird, 1955-76; Boisfeuillet Jones (Sr.), 1961-84; Mary Lasker; Richard L. and Maurine B. Neuberger, 1957-65, key anti-smoker members of Congress; Adlai E. Stevenson, 1952-72; Moon Valley property in Arizona; birth control from 1941 to 1982; and aging research from 1948-88. "Florence Stephenson Mahoney is a prominent Washington socialite and a lobbyist for health causes who was most active and well-known during the 1960s and 1970s. Through a network of friends and acquaintances, and in particularly with her close friend, the medical philanthropist and lobbyist Mary Lasker, Mahoney worked tirelessly to advance health legislation and to promote medical research" (according to the prejudices and priorities of the Elite, who comprised those friends, and to their economic ultimate benefit).

Florence Mahoney papers / NIH

Florence Mahoney died Nov. 29, 2002. (Florence S. Mahoney, 103, Health Advocate. By Carla Baranauckas. New York Times, Dec. 16, 2002.)

Florence S. Mahoney, 103, Health Advocate / New York Times

Daniel Joseph Mahoney Jr., Wolf's Head 1950, married Jean West Woolsey Bronson, Vassar 1952, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Francis Woolsey Bronson of New Haven and Bay Head N.J. Her attendants included Mrs. Iredell W. Iglehart of Baltimore. His brother Michael was best man. He graduated from the University of Virginia Law School and was on the staff of The Springfield, Ohio News-Sun. (Jean W. Bronson Married At Yale. New York Times, May 23, 1954.) Francis W. Bronson, Wolf's Head 1922, was editor of the Yale Alumni Magazine from 1937 until his retirement in June 1966. He was also a reporter for the New York Tribune and Newsweek. (Francis W. Bronson, Yale Alumni Editor. New York Times, Sep. 9, 1966.) The weekly Yale Alumni Magazine was formerly privately published by the deceased Clarence Day, brother of George Parmly Day, the treasurer of Yale. Its new officers included Maurice F. Hanson, vice president, and Ogden D. Miller, secretary and treasurer. (Yale Alumni Board Takes Over Weekly. New York Times, Aug. 5, 1937.)

Florence's granddaughter, Martha Bronson Mahoney, married Ray F. Sadler. "Miss Mahoney, an associate with the Miami law firm of Steel, Hector & Davis, graduated from the Ethel Walker School, Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Her father is publisher of The Post and The Evening Times in West Palm Beach, Fla., and president of The Palm Beach Daily News and Palm Beach Life magazine. Her mother is chairman of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc." Ray Sadler was an assistant to the President of Palm Beach Newspapers Inc. whose father was financial vice president of Dayton Newspapers Inc. in Ohio. Ray F. Sadler 3d, Martha Mahoney to Marry in Fall. New York Times, May 30, 1982.)

Another granddaughter, Helen Stephenson Mahoney, married Edward Devon Pardoe 3d, a deputy manager of financial institutions banking at Brown Brothers, Harriman & Company. (E. D. Pardoe 3d, Helen Mahoney Exchange Vows. New York Times, Apr. 27, 1986.)

Florence S. Mahoney and the Rise of the National Institutes of Health

"The political history of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is more often linked with Mary Lasker than with Florence Mahoney. But Mahoney, though less visible to the public, was Lasker’s colleague in arms in promoting the fortunes of medical research and a force in her own right. The best account of the NIH story remains Stephen Strickland’s Science, Politics, and Dread Disease (Harvard, 1972), and Robinson avails herself liberally of this source. Beginning in the late 1940s and continuing through the 1960s, Lasker and Mahoney, with Alice Fordyce, Lasker’s sister, teamed up with eminent physicians Michael DeBakey, Sidney Farber, and Howard Rusk and with key members of Congress such as Sen. Lister Hill (D-AL), who controlled both health legislation and health agency appropriations, including that of the NIH, and Rep. John Fogarty (D-RI), who chaired the appropriations subcommittee for the NIH.

"In concert with James Shannon, NIH director from 1955 through 1968, and the directors of individual NIH institutes, a stylized kabuki dance was played out each year related to the NIH budget. The president’s budget was presented and dutifully defended by the NIH; the House (Fogarty) then asked for the "professional judgment" budget from each institute director, which was higher than the president’s request; then the Senate (Hill) asked for the views of outside experts (such as DeBakey and Farber), who invariably recommended more than the House had. The appropriations outcome was typically some splitting of the difference between the House and Senate versions and much more than the president had asked for. This ritual was patently intended to increase the NIH budget beyond the president’s budget recommendation and the economizing (or stingy) preferences of the Bureau of the Budget (later the Office of Management and Budget). Its success supports the nomination of the NIH as one of the most successful federal government domestic agencies in the past half-century." (The Politics Of Science. By Richard A. Rettig. Book Review of Noble Conspirator: Florence S. Mahoney and the Rise of the National Institutes of Health, by Judith Robinson. Health Affairs 2002 May/Jun;21(3):274-276.)

The Politics Of Science, 2002 / Health Affairs

WAMU radio interview with Mahoney biographer Judith Robinson

Public Interest, Thursday, Sep. 27, 2001 interview with Judith Robinson, author of "Noble Conspirator," on Florence S. Mahoney and the rise of the National Institutes of Health (The Francis Press, 2001). Mahoney was originally from Muncie, Indiana (born 1899), and studied at the Kellogg Institute in Battle Creek, Mich (this would have been during the heyday of John Harvey Kellogg). Mahoney was a neighbor in Florida of Sen. Claude Pepper, a principle ally of the Lasker Syndicate, for whom the author once worked, and of Bernard Gimbel. Notes that on behalf of their cause, 'Drew Pearson would run a wonderful article about how Eisenhower was cutting the NIH budget at a time when Senators and Congressmen were dying of heart attacks." The Alsops also shilled for them. A caller who worked at NIH said, "I saw how we created the illusion of the need for more money when we were having trouble spending all the money we had." Former President Harry and Beth Truman were close personal friends of Mahoney from their vacations in Key West, where Mahoney once lived. Truman reportedly said, "There goes another million dollars!" every time he saw Florence and Mary.

To Judith Robinson interview / WAMU

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cast 01-06-10