Prich’: A New Deal Memoir

In the summer of 1941 I went south from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to do research at the Library of Congress. Every morning I disappeared into the darkness of the manuscript division and immersed myself in the Washington of Andrew Jackson. At five o’clock, when the library closed, I would come out into the sunlight and heat of the Washington of Franklin Roosevelt. While I was entangled in the nineteenth century, the twentieth-century world was exploding around me. I remember emerging one afternoon to find newspaper extras proclaiming that the British had sunk the German battleship Bismarck. One could almost touch the wave of elation running through people on the street. It was far from the age of Jackson.

A beautiful young girl named Evangeline Bell, whom I had known when she was at Radcliffe, invited me to dinner at a place called Hockley to meet her friend Ed Prichard. One knew of Prich by reputation. He had made a powerful impression when he was at the Harvard Law School. He was Felix Frankfurter’s adored protégé, the coeditor at the age of twenty-four with Archibald MacLeish of Law and Politics: Occasional Papers of Felix Frankfurter. Now he was the Wunderkind of the New Deal. I had no idea that, as a friend, I would in years to come watch his brilliant future fall in ruins, and then conclude in triumph. He died on December 23, 1984.

On a soft summer evening Evangeline and I drove across Key Bridge to an old Virginia mansion on a high bluff overlooking the Potomac. We sat on the columned veranda, with a wide lawn before us and the lights of Georgetown in the distance, while Johnson, the Negro butler, served mint juleps in silver cups. I had never had mint juleps before. The “New Deal bachelors” who were renting Hockley were returning from their jobs at the war agencies. I cannot remember who was there that night. Among the young men living for periods short or long at Hockley were Philip L. Graham, later publisher of The Washington Post; Adrian Fisher, who was to become arms control negotiator and dean of the Georgetown Law School; Henry Reuss, later congressman from Wisconsin; William L. Cary, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission; John Oakes, editor of The New York Times editorial page; John Ferguson, ambassador to Morocco; Graham Clayton, secretary of the Navy and president of Amtrak. William Sheldon, the moving spirit behind Hockley, was grievously wounded at Guadalcanal and killed himself in a naval hospital in California.

When Prich appeared, he at once took over as the undisputed king of that formidable group. The talk was rapid, knowing, and droll—talk of the war, of the problems of defense mobilization, of FDR, of Felix and Harry, of Dean and Ben and Tom. I found it all vastly exciting. I do not think it was just the mint juleps. Prich was the dazzling center, exuberant, witty, bursting with legal ideas, political insight, administration gossip, and …

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Letters

Sheparditis May 30, 1985