Published Date

September 2, 1943

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

Present: Arthur M. Schlesinger, Solon J. Buck and Guy Stanton Ford, members of the Executive Committee; Louis R. Gottschalk, member of the Council; Mortimer Graves of the American Council of Learned Societies as a guest substitute for Waldo G. Leland; also Colonel Francis T. Spaulding, Colonel John D. Kenderdine and Major Donald W. Goodrich of the Education Section, Special Service Division, War Department.

At the request of the Executive Secretary and in the absence of Mr. Kendrick, chairman of the Executive Committee, Mr. Schlesinger acted as temporary chairman. Before proceeding with the special business for which the meeting was called there was a brief discussion of the legal status of the group quorum. It was decided that whatever action was taken should be in the nature of a recommendation approved by those present and submitted for a mail vote to those members of the Executive Committee who were absent. One additional affirmative vote on whatever action was unanimously recommended would constitute the necessary majority.

The meeting then heard from Colonel Spaulding, with supplementary remarks by his associates Colonel Kenderdine and Major Goodrich, a full and complete explanation of the educational program which he had presented to Mr. Ford in St. Paul. The plan was summarized in the letter that called this meeting. A copy of the letter of the Executive Secretary will be included in the transcript of the minutes of the Executive Committee when they are sent, as requested, to the other members of the Council. The text of the letter is as follows.

AUGUST 23, 1943.

Although this letter is addressed to the Executive Committee, I think I shall take the liberty of sending a copy to some other members of the Council who are not too far from Washington. I am doing this because of the importance of the matter that I want you to consider and feel that the decision should be made by as many members of the Council as can conveniently come to Washington for a meeting on September 2.

The occasion of this call, the expenses of which will be paid by a government agency, arises from a conference this last week with Colonel Francis T. Spaulding (Harvard University). Colonel Spaulding came to St. Paul to see me and laid before me a new educational activity in the Army but now under the responsibility of his section. A previous long distance call from his associate, Colonel Kenderdine, had given me some idea of the project and the place they saw in it for the American Historical Association. Since my conference with Colonel Spaulding, I have had a long letter from Colonel Kenderdine outlining their problem more in detail. I shall attempt to give you the main points so that you will not come to the meeting wholly unprepared to discuss the matter which presumably Colonels Spaulding and Kenderdine will want to lay before us in emtenso.

In addition to the educational programs that are now being carried on in the Army and in camps as well as on campuses, the Army authorities have given their approval to the inauguration of free, informal, voluntary, forum discussions of matters relating to war and postwar issues. Preliminary experiments have been made and the results are very encouraging. In addition, there is the supporting evidence of the English experience with their troops after the first pressure of technical military training was released. Field reports from our camps and troops abroad indicate that our men and, of more importance, our officers or at least a sufficient proportion are now interested and hospitable to the introduction of the free forum. Having now received a clearance from higher authority, Colonel Spaulding and his associates are anxious to begin at once.

In the nature of the case, they do not find themselves in the best possible position to prepare authentic material. This is in their opinion a matter of civilian education relating primarily to citizenship and so far as possible the proper function and responsibility of civilian agencies. Their plan is to contract with some responsible and accepted scholarly agency that will prepare the material in such a form, simple in presentation but accurate in scholarship and realistic in approach, that it will furnish a good basis for the discussions pro and con of the problems that their field officers find the men are deeply interested in. They have canvassed in their own minds the possible organization for this sponsorship and feel that the standing of the American Historical Association, the acceptance of history as an approach, our incorporation under an act of Congress, and other factors make us the organization of their first choice. I canvassed with Colonel Spaulding the other organizations that I had thought of and that he also had considered and was compelled to agree that presumably the American Historical Association by its name and character could avoid some of the difficulties and prejudices that would be aroused either by the history or name of other organizations. He further assured me that in the preparation of the material those made responsible by us would have full freedom.

Colonel Kenderdine’s outline gives some four groups of problems which they feel the men would like to discuss. To repeat them here would make this letter too long. I can only say that they are in part distinctly within the field of history and most of them could be approached historically. Others are much more distinctly in the field of economics and sociology, as well as political science. I do not want to anticipate any decision which the Executive Committee will make after hearing from Colonel Spaulding and Colonel Senderdine. I can say, however, that if sponsorship is accepted and a contract made at least two things are vital to the execution of the program. First, the finding of an acceptable and outstanding scholar in our ranks to take the chief responsibility. Second, either in the committee associated with him or in coworkers on his staff he will have to have competent people in other fields in the social sciences and, I presume, equally competent and skillful rewrite men capable of stepping down the voltage of the material to an acceptable level for the use of the soldiers.

In conclusion, let me repeat that this is a call for a meeting of the Executive Committee in Washington on September 2 at ten o’clock in the Conference Room of the National Archives if Dr. Buck will make it available. I will ask two or three other members of the Council to attend and possibly Mr. Waldo Leland, long associated with the affairs of the Association and now Director of the American Council of Learned Societies. In addition, the experience of Mr. Leland’s organization in carrying out government missions under contract may be useful. Please write or wire my Washington office that you will attend. I shall not be back in Washington myself until August 31. I am cutting short my vacation by a few days in order to attend the meeting because Colonel Spaulding and his associates urgently desire to set their program in motion.


Guy Stanton Ford, Executive Secretary.

After about two hours of presentation, questions, answers, and discussion, those present agreed that the proposal of Colonel Spaulding presented a challenge to the American Historical Association to assume an important and appropriate role in the educational program of the Army, both in camp and as citizens on the conclusion of hostilities. All present were compelled to agree after reviewing the situation that there was no other organization whose history, reputation, standing with Congress and with the people, and incorporation by act of Congress met the conditions necessary in any organization sponsoring a program of such national importance. Those members of the Council present were unanimous in recommending that the Association accept the responsibility and conclude with the War Department a contract and the other arrangements necessary to the execution of the commission. In making this decision they were fortified somewhat by the fact that when they had discussed the matter confidentially with any of their colleagues in the Association they had found agreement and confirmation of this decision. The same support came in a letter from one of the Council who had been asked to attend, and he reported similar sentiments from men of diverse attitudes within his own department.

For purposes of confirmation and to give full legal authority to this decision the members of the Executive Committee present recommended to their absent colleagues the conclusion of a contract with the War Department for the purposes stated in the letter of call. The Executive Secretary was instructed to enclose a request for an immediate mail vote “Yes” or “No” on the above matter. If possible, the two absent members of the Executive Committee were requested to telegraph collect their affirmative or negative votes, because if we were to act at all, it had to be promptly. [Affirmative votes made these minutes official.]

The conferees representing the Association reconvened at 1:45 p.m. and discussed steps in the execution of the program if approved. Of the results of that discussion one or two points were of a nature to require a recorded vote of the Executive Committee. Absent members were to note, therefore, that their replies should cover these matters: (1) that the Executive Secretary is authorized to secure the services of a possible director; the discussion gave him a directive to proceed with these negotiations with a small list of possible men whose names were arranged in order of preference and presumed availability. For obvious reasons this list is not embodied in the minutes. (2) The group discussed the formation of an advisory committee of historians, political scientists, economists, and sociologists, the committee to contain not less than ten members. The final composition of this committee was left for conference with the director of the project. Its membership so far as possible would make use of men not in government service but in or near Washington. This concluded the matters which required a definite and immediate vote by those absent.

Suggested vote by telegraph:

I vote on recommended action: to accept War Department contract Yes (or No), negotiation for director Yes (or No), formation of advisory committee Yes (or NO).

Affirmative votes were received and the recommendations above became the action of the Executive Committee. Later, Mr. Ford reported the vote to the Executive Committee and the Council and added: For your information I am including a copy of the letter from the Honorable Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War, which was not at hand at the time of the meeting but has come in since, and I shall be happy to reply that we have responded to his request.

WAR DEPARTMENT, Washington, Sept. 8, 1918.


Through the Special Service Division of the Army Service Forces, the War Department is undertaking a comprehensive program for the education of men in the armed forces. One phase of this program is to consist in supplying the troops with factual materials which may serve as a basis for discussions of significant current problems. The selection of the problems will be guided by the results of research studies made by the Special Service Division of attitudes and interests of the troops. It is my understanding that General Osborn, Director of the Special Service Division, has already talked with you about the project, and about the possibility of the American Historical Association’s assuming responsibility for the preparation of the necessary materials. To what General Osborn has said, I should like to add my personal hope that the Association will feel itself in a position to undertake this responsibility as a public service. You are at liberty to use this letter with the authorities of any institution from which you may wish to obtain the services of the individual who is to be appointed Director of the project.

Sincerely yours,
Secretary of War.

Since the meeting I have proceeded to take the preliminary steps to execute the commission. I have secured the services of Dean Theodore C. Blegen of the Graduate School of the University of Minnesota as director of the project. As Dean Blegen was in Washington on Sunday and Monday on other business, I was able to take him to a conference with General Osborn and Colonel Spaulding and have him participate in a discussion of the form of the contract and the necessary financial arrangements. I have secured from the President of the University of Minnesota his approval of our request to release Dean Blegen for this academic year. The Library of Congress, through the Assistant Librarian, Mr. Luther Evans, has agreed that it will furnish free of charge the necessary space for Mr. Blegen and his small permanent stag. Mr. Blegen will begin his services on October 1. In the meantime he will have proceeded with a number of the essential first steps.

GUY STANTON FORD, Executive Secretary.