The Laskers in the Truman Administration

Florence Mahoney and Mary Lasker both knew President Truman. Truman's special counsel was Judge Samuel Rosenman, the judge who had arranged for Albert and Mary Lasker to be married by Supreme Court Justice Floyd Church. Truman's Sep. 6, 1945 message to Congress, reportedly the first to address health, was a reflection of their influence. Truman's 1948 presidential campaign "received direct input from Mahoney and Lasker through their friendship with Clark Clifford" [later of BCCI - the "Bank of Crooks and Criminals International" - notoriety -cast]. "The three often dined together, making up what Clifford jokingly called 'our exclusive club.' By then he had replaced Rosenman as the president's special counsel. Mahoney and Lasker continually sent him material from the Nation's Health Committee, facts that he could use in speeches for the president." When Truman won the election, Clifford's chaffeur delivered a celebration basket of champaign and cheese from Florence Mahoney to the White House. Florence Mahoney was friends with Defense Secretary Louis A. Johnson, and in 1950 she began arranging for Margaret Sanger's visits to occupied Japan through him, while Mary Lasker gave her the money. (From: Noble Conspirator. Florence S. Mahoney and the Rise of the National Institutes of Health. By Judith Robinson. The Francis Press 2001.)

President Truman's trip to Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Key West, Florida Log #4, Feb. 20 to Mar. 5, 1948, by Lieut-Comdr. WM Rigdon, USN. Includes press conference on Palestine, and visits by former Ohio governor and 1920 presidential candidate James M. Cox and Florence's husband Daniel J. Mahoney of the Miami Daily News.

Truman at Key West / Truman Little White (pdf)

In 1947, Mary Lasker mailed a draft copy of her bill to set aside $100 million for heart disease research to her allies in Congress.  "In a remarkably short time," says historian Steven Strickland, "the Senate and House enacted the measure designed, its sponsors said, to conquer what had become the nation's number one killer, heart disease. On June 16, 1948, President Truman signed the measure into law; straightaway, Surgeon General Scheele appointed Mrs. Lasker as the first layman to serve on a medical research advisory council."

How the Public Was Brainwashed About Heart Disease

Former Lord & Thomas executive vice president for Chicago, David M. Noyes, had met Sen. Harry S. Truman during his work with the War Production Board in 1942-44, and in 1948 he was appointed Consultant to the President without compensation. He "advised Truman on various matters and helped prepare his speeches, especially during the 1948 campaign," and also assisted in the 1952 campaign. He continued as the former president's assistant from 1953 until 1972.

David M. Noyes Papers / Truman Presidential Museum and Library

Anna Rosenberg was appointed Assistant Secretary of Defense.

The Anna Rosenberg Hoffman Page

The President's Commission on the Health Needs of the Nation

Oscar Ewing oral history, interview by JR Fuchs, May 1, 1969, from the Truman Presidential Library.

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 came up Mr. Lasker had died, and the commission was Mrs. Lasker's idea. Mrs. Lasker had got a little miffed at me because I wouldn't accept her recommendations completely for persons who were to be members of the advisory councils of the various Institutes of Health in the Public Health Service. We had eight or ten Institutes and each one of those had an advisory commission consisting of ten members, five professionals and five laymen. Naturally, I looked to the Surgeon General to recommend those appointees for my approval. I said to him that as far as I knew his recommendations were all right but that I did not propose to appoint anyone to a Presidential Commission who was going up and down the street damning President Truman. So, I had checks made and of seventy people recommended there were probably three or four who were violently anti-Truman and were expressing themselves quite emphatically. I therefore struck them off the lists, and this caused Mrs. Lasker to take great offense. The President was so interested in anything that would improve the peoples' health that he went along with her suggestion. I imagine possibly her arguments were -- and this I do not know, I'm only speculating -- that I had become such a controversial figure that it would be well to have another health conference with which I was not connected.

I was not opposed to this at all, in fact, I cooperated in every way I could.

FUCHS: Was FSA asked to advise on the composition of the commission, and so forth?

[Note: The Federal Security Administrator was the equivalent of the present Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.]

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 opnely 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 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.

Ewing also notes that Dr. Thomas Parran, who was Surgeon General from 1936 to 1948, "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."

Oscar Ewing oral history 3 / Truman Library

Ewing also mentions that "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." Perhaps it should also be noted that Albert Lasker was the son of Morris Lasker, the brother of Eduard Lasker, Prussian National Liberal Party Member of Parliament, and the author of Bismarck's plan for the unification of Germany around Prussia. Eduard Lasker died in New York City in 1883, while attending the opening of the Northern Pacific Railroad. One of the speakers at his funeral was Andrew Dickson White, founder of Cornell University (and later co-founder of The Johns Hopkins), and a member of The Order of Skull and Bones.

Philip R. Lee HCFA oral history, interviewed by Prof. Edward Berkowitz, Nov. 27, 1995.

Philip R. Lee was Assistant Secretary for Health under both Presidents Lyndon Baines Johnson during the Lasker push for Medicaid, and William Jefferson Clinton during that push for national health insurance. He attributes his getting this position to "an 'old boy' network operating. He [Secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare John W. Gardner, whom he met at the Bohemian Grove, that legendary hotbed of conspiracy] knew my dad when he was a student at Stanford and thought very highly of my dad and knew subsequently of his activities when he (John) was president of Carnegie. He knew the work my dad had done on the President's Commission on the Health Needs of the Nation. That was the Magnassen [sic - Magnuson] report. Actually my dad and Lester Breslow basically wrote that report, but that's another story. Howard Rusk got my dad appointed to that by President Truman."

Philip Lee / HCFA Oral History
Bohemian Grove / FAIR

The Committee for the Nation's Health

From the "Finding Aid to the Committee for the Nation's Health Records from the Michael M. Davis Collection, in the New York Academy of Medicine, 1939-1955:" "The Committee for the Nation's Health (CNH) was incorporated on 23 February 1946 with Michael M. Davis as chairman of its Executive Committee... The CNH's initial goal was to lobby for the support of national health insurance. As it was originally organized, the CNH had four major functions: providing technical information for sponsors of health legislation; preparing and distributing promotional literature; coordinating activities among other groups favoring national health insurance; and encouraging other groups to join in the campaign for national health insurance. Initially funding for the committee came from members of the Julius Rosenwald family and Albert and Mary Lasker. In 1949, however, disagreement arose within the CNH over whether the CNH should continue to concentrate its efforts on promoting national health insurance or, as the Laskers argued, instead should work to support less controversial aspects of the Truman administration's health program, such as increased federal funding for medical education and research. The Lasker position was eventually rejected by the CNH, at which point the Laskers and Rosenwalds withdrew their support for the organization. Organized labor then became the chief financial supporters of the committee, with some additional support from the Democratic National Committee.

"With the election of Eisenhower in 1952 the prospects for national health insurance dimmed. As a consequence the CNH shifted its attention away from lobbying for health insurance and instead began to function as a health information office for organized labor. During the merger of the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations, both organizations proposed to establish their own health information office. With their final function absorbed by the new union, the CNH was abolished in January 1956."

Committee for the Nation's Health / National Library of Medicine

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cast 09-24-05