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Jean Baker
Jean Baker
The Stevensons:  A Biography of an American Family
ISBN: 0393038742
The Stevensons: A Biography of an American Family
Professor Jean Baker discussed her book, “The Stevensons: A Biography of an American Family,” published by W.W. Norton and Company. In the book, she traced the family history of Adlai Ewing Stevenson III, former U.S. senator from Illinois. Ms. Baker described the family's Scottish-Irish roots, and detailed the lives and careers of several family members, including Grover Cleveland's Vice-President Adlai Stevenson and two-time Democratic presidential candidate and former Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson II (1900-1965), the Democratic presidential candidate in 1952 and 1956.
The Stevensons: A Biography of an American Family
Program Air Date: April 7, 1996

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Jean H. Baker, author of "The Stevensons: A Biography of An American Family." What's the scope of this book?
Professor JEAN H. BAKER, AUTHOR, "THE STEVENSONS: A BIOGRAPHY OF AN AMERICAN FAMILY": Well, it's pretty broad and it's a long book but it covers a lot of Stevenson generations. And it also focuses on the most important, in some ways, of all the Stevensons. And that's Adlai Ewing Stevenson II, who lived from 1900 to 1965 and, of course, was the losing Democratic presidential candidate in 1952 and 1956. It took me a long time to do and I really was trying hard to look at layers of Stevensons and different views of family life, etc., and not only do just a political biography of some of the best known Stevensons.
LAMB: Did you ever meet any of them?
Prof. BAKER:Yes, I did. The most prominent Stevensons that I met were Adlai Stevenson II's sister, that's Buffie Stevenson Ives who was really an indomitable figure and she's the one I think who was partially responsible for the fact that the Stevenson archive now numbers about 700 boxes of material. I guess every family has someone that cares about the past and she kept her brother's image alive. And one way she did it is to keep all of the records. She died at 97 in 1994.

And the other Stevenson that I'm grateful for his time and his insights was Adlai Stevenson III. Illinoians know him as their senator during the 1970s. And he returned to Illinois in 1980 and ran two losing campaigns against Jim Thompson in '82 and '86. And now he's retired from politics.
LAMB: There's a chart in the front of the book, if I can find and show the audience, of the family tree.
Prof. BAKER:Yeah.
LAMB: Has this ever been done before, by the way? I circled the Stevensons here.
Prof. BAKER:Well, in terms of family history, I don't think this has been done. There are people who've done genealogies and genealogies are really interesting to do because the minute you start to do them, you realize that you're leaving a whole lot of--a number of folks out. I've already had some calls from some Stevensons who want me to help them with some of the aspects of their genealogy. The point about all this is that the original Stevensons--there were seven brothers, who came to the United States in the 18th century so when they multiply, then you have legions and legions of Stevensons who live all across the country now.
LAMB: Where did they come from?
Prof. BAKER:Well, they came originally from Scotland, from the lowlands in Scotland and life got pretty dour and tough over there so then they went to Scotland--excuse me, to Ireland, and they're part of this big migration that comes to the United States in the 18th century; comes into Pennsylvania and then works its way by means of the Great Philadelphia Road down into the South. And each generation moves on. I mean, this is a really American story, this Scots-Irish migration. And then these people in turn populate areas of the South.

And in a critical decision for the Stevensons when they were living in Kentucky, they chose to move into the free state of Illinois. And, of course, their family history would have been entirely different had they stayed in the South, or even gone farther west into slave-holding states.
LAMB: What are we seeing right here on this cover?
Prof. BAKER:This is a view of Bloomington, which is the town...
LAMB: Illinois.
Prof. BAKER:Bloomington, Illinois, not Indiana. I found that when I was going out to Bloomington a great deal that that was always a big question in the airport. `Are you going to Indiana or are you going to Illinois?' This is the town that they moved to when they left Kentucky and they stayed there for generations. Buffie Ives maintained the old family house until she died and this is a really important part of the Stevensons' story. It's certainly something that Adlai Stevenson II depended on. He always talked about how in Illinois, quiet reason abounded and there was less of the passion that he felt on the East Coast. And so this location was really important for them. And I think that's one reason why it turns up on the cover of the book.
LAMB: When did you get interested in this?
Prof. BAKER:About eight years ago. It was a project that really interested me because the Stevensons opened up some private papers. And in the process of doing that, they afford a historian this sort of longitudinal look so that you can begin with a family--a family that's living in North Carolina--and then you can trace them all the way up to 1996. But you're not only looking at their public lives, you're also looking at their private lives, and I'm convinced that the feminists have it right, that the personal is the political and the political is personal. And if you're really going to understand public figures, you've got to know what their background is, what their personality is and what their personal turmoils, etc., are.
LAMB: Let me work back. Adlai--you--the last that you say is that in the fall of 1994, Adlai Ewing Stevenson V was born.
Prof. BAKER:Yes.
LAMB: Where is he?
Prof. BAKER:Well, he lives in Illinois but he's not ready to enter politics. I think--He's what?-- a two-year-old. Adlai Ewing Stevenson IV also lives in Illinois and I don't think that there's a--he has much interest in entering politics. So, I mean, this is one of the themes of the book, that we look at the Stevenson family always, for generations, so interested in public life, and what we see now is a family, like many, many Americans, less interested in party politics and more interested in other aspects of life. Adlai Stevenson IV has for part of his career been interested in communications.
LAMB: Where does he live?
Prof. BAKER:He lives outside of Chicago.
LAMB: And his father, Adlai Stevenson III, held what offices?
Prof. BAKER:He was a senator during the 1970s, but before that he did his political apprenticeship in state politics. I think this is sort of funny because this is something that his father never did. His father, as you remember, really began his political offices as a candidate for the highest office in Illinois, and that was the governorship. And along comes this--his son and his son works really hard--he's a state delegate in Springfield and then he runs for state treasurer. These are hard-core local issues. His father who, of course, died in the middle of--the beginning of Adlai III's career--was always telling him, `Start at the top. Don't get involved at all in local politics.' But Adlai thought differently and in many ways he was a much better formed and shaped politician. He knew politics in a way, I think, that his father simply didn't.
LAMB: Let me read you some quotes that you have in the book, from Adlai Stevenson III, the senator who left the Senate in what year? Do you remember?
Prof. BAKER:1980.
LAMB: 1980. `He remains gloomy about our democracy which,' quote, `"as we practice it, is not conducive to a candidate's celebration or the people's confidence. To succeed, democracy must inform and exhort the public to some high and common purpose. Now it seems paralyzed by timidity and partisan bickering."'
Prof. BAKER:There it is. That's the Stevenson ethic. Adlai Stevenson III learned politics at his father's knee and he admired his father greatly, and should. But it's this idea of the declension, the contamination of American party politics that the Stevensons see and it's certainly something that Stevenson III saw when he was running against Jim Thompson in Illinois.

The Stevensons really stand for this idea that politics should be issue oriented, that it shouldn't involve 30-second sound bites and that it never should be negative. This is absolutely flipping upside down, perhaps, what we have today. But all the Stevensons worry about our democracy. They are very big on `the vision thing.' And some people have asked me what Adlai Stevenson II would be like if he had been elected president, and I think he would have been A+ insofar as vision is concerned. And to some extent, his son, as well. These are people who are looking ahead and looking to the future and the immediacy of winning campaigns is less interesting to them than what they perceive as the long-range interests of their country.
LAMB: Where does Adlai Stevenson III live?
Prof. BAKER:He lives on a farm in western--near Galena. And he also lives in Chicago. This is, by the way, one of the things that came up during one of his campaigns against Jim Thompson, that when he had a riding accident, he lived so close to the Iowa border that he was taken to a hospital in Iowa. And this, some Illinoians felt, was un patriotic. But he's a very active guy. He's interested in economic issues and, again, long-range issues of organizing the American economy so that we can compete with the Japanese. And he's a thoughtful and interesting man. I think it's too bad that he's out of politics.
LAMB: When did you last spend time with him?
Prof. BAKER:Oh, about a year ago.
LAMB: And how much did you interview him?
Prof. BAKER:Oh, I must have interviewed him about four or five times.
LAMB: There's some more quotes here. You said, `He soon found mostly private ways to serve the public in a system corrupted by,' quote, `"cheap and easy popular answers; unfunctioning government at risk of producing a gray, shapeless mediocrity,"' unquote. `In his political obituary, he condemned, quote, "professional politicians who have surrendered to the media and to public relations experts and cosmeticians, the actors and managers who have taken over from the statesmen."' Now...
Prof. BAKER:Yeah.
LAMB: ...we've had a lot of talk about that in the last couple years.
Prof. BAKER:Yeah.
LAMB: How long ago did he say that?
Prof. BAKER:Excuse me?
LAMB: How long ago did he say this?
Prof. BAKER:Well, he said this during the campaigns against Thompson. But the problem with saying that is that it's hard to live that. It seems to me that sometimes politics in the midst of these campaigns, you can't help but go down to--if that's the right word--what your opponent's doing. And so at the--in the last campaign, Stevenson III had, in fact, hired a public relations expert. Now I know he would never use makeup, but still this is a guy that when--when--it's hard to move back from the immediacy of campaigns when your opponent is a very savvy politician and who is throwing a few stilettos in your back.
LAMB: Did you ever meet Adlai Stevenson II?
Prof. BAKER:No. No, I did not...
LAMB: Did you ever hear him speak?
Prof. BAKER:I've heard him speak, yes. In--and I must say that that's one of the things that I'm sorriest about. I've talked to so many people who knew him and most of them say pretty much the same things about him. This is guy who--while I think some people would interpret his career a little bit differently than I have, this is a guy who everybody liked. This is a guy who was mourned by his friends when he dropped dead in the street in London in 1965, for the pleasure of his company. This is a guy who I think was as quick with a quip as anybody that we've ever had in American public life. Now I don't know that we admire politicians for that but sometimes I think it's worth noting that this perhaps is the recognition of a quick mind and a worthy spirit.
LAMB: How long was Adlai Stevenson II married?
Prof. BAKER:Adlai Stevenson was married for 20 years and then he and his wife, Ellen Borden Stevenson, were divorced. This is sort of a sad episode in Stevenson's life. After their divorce, Ellen Borden Stevenson became more and more upset with her life, more and more jealous of her husband's notoriety. And this is a--really unhappy chapter in Stevenson family annals as she deteriorated into what I would call telephone harassment of her sons. She would call them up and ask them for money and this is hard going in the context of a family that wanted very much to keep up its respectability.
LAMB: As a matter of fact, I'm showing a picture there of `Bear,' as he was called by his father, and his parents at Libertyville.
Prof. BAKER:Yes. Yes.
LAMB: But there are some quotes, you're talking about Ellen...
Prof. BAKER:Yes. Yes.
LAMB: ...who was the mother of three.
Prof. BAKER:Mother of three sons.
LAMB: The senator that we've seen '80.
Prof. BAKER:Yes. Yes.
LAMB: `"You betray me. I'm losing my honor. I was your mother, remember? I loved you once. If I go broke, I'll go broke on my own. I don't want to be on the dole." She swore at young Adlai, whom she called "My most evil son "'
Prof. BAKER:Yeah, this is really hard to take, don't you think?
LAMB: How do you find all that? I mean, where did you get the material?
Prof. BAKER:These are court records. There was a conservatorship hearing and the three boys went into court--and Ellen's mother as well--went into court to take her assets away from her. And so there are court records that have transcripts of these bitter calls. Adlai Stevenson had introduced them into the evidence--into the records as evidence of the fact that his mother's mental health was deteriorating and that her assets should be protected. But even after that episode, and you know, as an outsider, you always make these judgments and you wonder whether you're right. I think there are some things that the Stevensons might have done to alleviate some of Ellen Borden Stevenson's unhappiness, but nonetheless, this is a terrible problem that they had throughout most of their lives.

And the senator was always the son with whom his mother tangled with. They were always fighting with each other.
LAMB: What jobs did Adlai Stevenson II have in his life?
Prof. BAKER:Well, he was a lawyer. And like his father, he didn't really much like the law. It was an avenue into politics. And the minute he had an opportunity, that's what he did. He ran for the--a state delegate's post. In a famous Illinois election in 1964, in which there are--it was called `the bedsheet ballot.' And the Illinois Legislature is unable to reapportion itself so everybody's on the ballot; 266 names and voters have to make these intelligent choices. And if you've got a name like Adlai Stevenson, or if you're Dwight Eisenhower's brother, Earl Eisenhower, then you have a lot of name recognition and you win. So he moved pretty quickly into politics. He was very ambitious about what he might do.
LAMB: And he was governor of Illinois how many terms?
Prof. BAKER:Oh, I was talking about the son who became senator...
LAMB: I'm sorry.
Prof. BAKER:...for times.
LAMB: But the--two.
Prof. BAKER:Adlai Stevenson II, this gets very difficult when you talk to people about who--which Adlai Ewing Stevenson is being referred to. Adlai Stevenson II also was a lawyer and but had this call. I don't think there's any other way to put it--you're called into public duty. He went to Washington and worked in the New Deal. And then he went back to Chicago and he really wasn't very happy about being a lawyer in Chicago. And then he had various jobs in the UN. And it's--the UN saw--suited Adlai and he it. And then he became governor of Illinois and that's the only elective office that he ever had.
LAMB: You do notice as you read your book that there were a lot of other women in his life.
Prof. BAKER:Yes, you do notice that, don't you?
LAMB: Yes, you do. And--it is--here's a picture of Marietta Tree. What was there relationship?
Prof. BAKER:Well, very close. And there were other women. But in the last days of his life, it was Marietta Tree who was closest to Adlai Stevenson. They shared a lot of interests. She was a wonderful woman. And I think that they had a good time together. But there were other women. One of the things that is a little bit--well, again, to make a judgment--disturbing about Stevenson, is that he's a man of utmost probity but--and respectability. But nonetheless, I think it's pretty clear that he was having an affair--not with Marietta Tree, but before he was divorced from Ellen Borden Stevenson.
LAMB: With?
Prof. BAKER:Well, an unknown--unnamed woman who will be unnamed. But there are a whole--there are a whole lot of other women that he had affairs with.
LAMB: What was his--who was Agnes Meyer?
Prof. BAKER:Agnes Meyer was his surrogate mother. She was Eugene Meyer's wife and really an outstandingly provocative woman.
LAMB: Is that Katherine Graham's mother?
Prof. BAKER:Yes, that's right. And her husband, Eugene Meyer, was busy with The Post and all of his investments. And Agnes Meyer took a liking to Adlai Stevenson and he to her. And she used to give him advice about how he should love politics more. Stevenson always had this sort of offish view toward mixing with the people and it was Agnes Meyer who replaced Adlai Stevenson's ever-loving mother, suffocating mother, and gave him all of this advice about how he should behave as a politician. And she played a very important role in his life. There are lots of women that played important roles in Adlai Stevenson's life.
LAMB: Who is Jane Dick?
Prof. BAKER:Jane Dick was a friend from Lake Forest who, again, shared with Stevenson not only politics, but also social life. And she actually became an important volunteer in his '52 campaign, and to a lesser extent in the '56 campaign. But these are women who really, truly adore Adlai Stevenson for all the reasons that, if we could pull up another chair here right now and get Adlai Stevenson to sit down, we, too, would have a wonderful time.
LAMB: Let me just go over some quick things. He went where to college?
Prof. BAKER:He went to Princeton.
LAMB: Where did he get his law degree?
Prof. BAKER:He got his law degree at Northwestern. And this is one of these hidden episodes in the family. He flunked out of Harvard. And this is a--sort of an episode that the family put under the closet door and didn't refer to. But he did fail out of Harvard Law School and then he finished it at Northwestern.
LAMB: And he was governor for how many terms?
Prof. BAKER:One time.
LAMB: What years?
Prof. BAKER:He was governor from 1948 to 1952.
LAMB: He ran for president how many times?
Prof. BAKER:Twice.
LAMB: What about '60. What was that all about?
Prof. BAKER:Well, that...
LAMB: You have '52, '56 and then...
Prof. BAKER:Yes. Yes. And then in '56, he said, `I'm never going to do this again.' And one would like to think that that's what he really meant. But there's always this ambiguity with Adlai Stevenson. Having said that and unleashed all of the very ambitious young Democrats, not the least of which is going to be John Fitzgerald Kennedy, then he takes this back a little bit in 1960 and there is this minor effort at the convention in Los Angeles to win the nomination. And it doesn't work. And then there is this bad time, I think, for Stevenson, who doesn't--is not appointed secretary of state, which is what he wanted and truly believed that he could excel at. Instead, he becomes the ambassador to the United Nations and that's not a good job for him.
LAMB: There's a scene that you talk about in the book and then we'll jump all around here trying to get to the bottom of this...
Prof. BAKER:As long as we know which Adlai Stevenson we're talking about.
LAMB: Yes. We're talking about the former governor...
Prof. BAKER:Yeah.
LAMB: ...the man who ran for president. The scene outside of John F. Kennedy's house in Georgetown...
Prof. BAKER:Yeah.
LAMB: ...when they came out after the election to talk about the UN ambassadorship. What was that about?
Prof. BAKER:Yeah. Well, by that time Kennedy--Stevenson wouldn't trade. I have to back up a little bit. Kennedy had gone to Libertyville, that's Stevenson's home outside of Chicago, and asked him to support him. And this was a typical old political deal. It's done all the time.
LAMB: In '60.
Prof. BAKER:In '60. `You give me your delegates,' and Stevenson had a big following, `and then I'll support you for secretary of state.' But Stevenson wouldn't do that. That's dirty politics and you don't behave that way. So what happened was that Kennedy had certainly--didn't have any debt to Stevenson after he won the election. And there was this sort of embarrassing time where Stevenson hoped that he might be appointed secretary of state, but really Bobby Kennedy--who hated Stevenson--was talking to his brother about the possibility of sending him off as the ambassador to Great Britain. And they finally come up with the UN job. And so this scene takes place outside of Kennedy's home and Kennedy is publicly offering Stevenson the UN post. And Stevenson refuses to say, `Oh, this is wonderful, I'm glad to join this administration. This is going to be very good for the Democrats and for the world.' And instead he's very ambivalent about what he's going to do. And Kennedy's furious.

Things deteriorate, even from there, and Kennedy--at the actual inauguration--I've always thought it was a sign of things to come, when everyone gets into their limousine to ride down from the Capitol Hill swearing-in to the White House, there's no limousine for Adlai Stevenson. And, in a sense, he was out in the cold.
LAMB: You mention that Robert Kennedy didn't like Governor Stevenson. But you also point out that he worked for him, though.
Prof. BAKER:Yes, that's right.
LAMB: And what year did he work for him?
Prof. BAKER:He worked for him in '56.
LAMB: Can you remember how old they both were?
Prof. BAKER:Well, Stevenson would have been 56 and I guess Robert Kennedy's in his 30s perhaps.
LAMB: Why didn't he like him?
Prof. BAKER:He thought he ran a bad campaign. And that's one thing about the Kennedys. They know how to run campaigns. And Robert Kennedy was sending word to his brother almost immediately that Adlai Stevenson was--had no idea about how to speak to the people, that the campaign would roll up into a coal mining town and Stevenson would get out and talk about foreign policy. This is--by the way, is one of the great characteristics of Adlai Stevenson. He was always telling people what they didn't want to hear. If he went to talk to the veterans, he'd talk about patriotism, but not of the kind of muscular patriotism that the veterans wanted to hear about. If he was in the South, he'd talk about civil rights and tidelands oil. If he was talking in front of Democratic politicians, he'd talk about how he might not support everybody on the ticket.
LAMB: Did Robert Kennedy vote for Mr. Stevenson in '56?
Prof. BAKER:No, he voted for Eisenhower, apparently.
LAMB: Why?
Prof. BAKER:Well, I guess that's the depth of his dislike, that he was willing to jump parties. Of course, there might be a hidden agenda there about helping his brother.
LAMB: How did you find that out?
Prof. BAKER:I think that that's in some printed sources on Stevenson and also on Robert Kennedy. I think there's a biography of Kennedy by Arthur Schlesinger that includes that.
LAMB: Who are the people that liked Governor Stevenson the most?
Prof. BAKER:Well...
LAMB: People around him.
Prof. BAKER:People around him, yeah.
LAMB: I mean, you mention Arthur Schlesinger. Did he start with him?
Prof. BAKER:Yeah, this is his famous campaign in '52 when Stevenson had the best speech writers we've ever--probably ever had--three Pulitzer Prize winners; Arthur Schlesinger, John Kenneth Galbraith, John Bartlow Martin--I mean, an all-star cast.
LAMB: Where'd Archibald MacLeish come in?
Prof. BAKER:He wrote for Stevenson, too. He wrote one of the best of Stevenson's speeches, but there's always a difficulty because Stevenson stood by those speeches and he liked to call these wonderful writers his researchers. And there was a little bit of element of pride there in--on the issues that--Stevenson wanted to write these speeches. They--he was a messenger of this vision that he had of the United States. So we know today that no one makes up their own speeches, but in Stevenson's time he stood very firmly on the notion that those were his speeches, and that's why he edited them all the time, so that there would be a little bit of a rumpus.

I have to tell one story about the '52 campaign and the plane arrives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and there's a big crowd on the ground and Stevenson's working on the speech, he's not ready. He's editing, he's editing, he's editing and the newspaper reporter from The Baltimore Sun looks over and sees that the crowd just dwindles away. And by the time that Stevenson gets out and has a beautiful speech to deliver, everyone's left.
LAMB: If we followed you around in the last eight years...
Prof. BAKER:Oh, God. Oh, my--God forbid.
LAMB: ...where would we have seen you go to get this book?
Prof. BAKER:Oh, well, a lot of places. We don't make things easy for American historians. If we just--we're really close here to the Library of Congress, but, you know, our records are all over the country: Bloomington; Springfield; Princeton University, which--where a huge Stevenson archive exists; McLean County Courthouse; presidential libraries.
LAMB: McLean...
Prof. BAKER:So that there's--the Kennedy Library in Boston.
LAMB: How do you work on something like this? How do you organize it?
Prof. BAKER:That's not a question. I don't have to answer that anymore, do I?
LAMB: Well...
Prof. BAKER:It's tough. I wanted to have more flashbacks. I guess I should--you should never say what you should have done, you just say what you did. I wanted to craft this around Stevenson II. He's a very interesting, quixotic figure. On the other hand, I wanted to do a family biography that swept through the years and so what I do is to begin with this major choice and decision that Adlai Stevenson II makes in 1948 to run for the governorship. And then, after covering his years in the Statehouse, I move backward in time and cover the family progression and then return to Adlai Stevenson II, who's the central character of the book, and then conclude with Adlai Stevenson III.
LAMB: Where do you work on a full-time basis?
Prof. BAKER:I'm a professor of history at Goucher College.
LAMB: And where's that?
Prof. BAKER:That's in Baltimore, Maryland, and they're very sensitive and helpful to their professors who are trying to write books.
LAMB: How long have you been there?
Prof. BAKER:I've been there about 20 years.
LAMB: And other books that you've written.
Prof. BAKER:I've written a biography of Mary Todd Lincoln and I've written a book on political culture, "Affairs of Party," which is the story of northern Democrats. And then I've written some books on Maryland history.
LAMB: Based on what you found about Adlai Stevenson, could you have voted for him?
Prof. BAKER:Oh, for sure. Oh, yes, I would have voted for him. Have to always remember who the competition is.
LAMB: Now there are some odds and ends here I want to ask you about. You've got George Ball...
Prof. BAKER:Yes.
LAMB: The late George Ball saying...
Prof. BAKER:Yes.
LAMB: `The thing that fascinated me about Adlai was that he accepted so easily the idea that he was a great historical figure.'
Prof. BAKER:Yes. Yes.
LAMB: `I think he had Abraham Lincoln on his mind a great deal.'
Prof. BAKER:Yes. Yes. Well, I think--there's also a quote in there from the Alsops about how they worried about American politicians who put themselves in--next to Abraham Lincoln. But you had to worry about American politics. There are Illinoians, though, and they have a strong identity with Abraham Lincoln. Now as to the issue of Adlai Stevenson thinking of himself as a great man, I see him somewhat differently. This is a guy who's very self-deprecatory and who may suffer from a lack of what we call in modern America self-esteem. This is a guy who's had a lot of barbs and arrows along the way and who I don't think, except perhaps at the end of his life, that he ever was pompous and prideful and full of hubris. I see him as a man who was very much in touch with the reality of what--who and what he was.
LAMB: Periodically, you see references that people tried to accuse him of being gay.
Prof. BAKER:Yes, that's shabby.
LAMB: Was he?
Prof. BAKER:That's one of the worst things I found out. That depressed me a great deal. This came out of the FBI records. There is material there suggesting that J. Edgar Hoover really organized a campaign among some of his agents to talk publicly, loud voices, about how Adlai Stevenson was gay. And Hoover did keep a file on Stevenson. You know that he had this special closet of stuff in his office. And he would also tell FBI agents to try to circulate this in Chicago. So this is one of these sort of hidden rumors that in '52 nobody talked about this openly; it was too soon. But there was a lot of whispering around about how Adlai Stevenson was gay. And this was totally untrue and totally unfair. And so when we think about dirty campaigns, I think we've got to remember 1952 as a very dirty campaign.
LAMB: You say that near the end he ballooned to 200 pounds.
Prof. BAKER:220 pounds, yeah.
LAMB: What was his normal weight when he was governor?
Prof. BAKER:Probably about 160, 180.
LAMB: What happened?
Prof. BAKER:Well, I think the last part of his life he really became somewhat obsessive. He did have a family background of a mother and father who were full of nerves, who were neurasthenics, who spent most of their adult lives seeking spas and often went off to Harvey Kellogg's Battle Creek Sanitarium. And I think Stevenson had some of this nervousness and perhaps you would call him a neurotic at the end. But people noted that he would, at parties, just eat too much and perhaps drink a little bit too much.
LAMB: Back to the women in his life. I want to read--you have a love letter to Marietta Tree.
Prof. BAKER:Yeah.
LAMB: Who was she, by the way?
Prof. BAKER:Well, she was a Peabody--a Massachusets Peabody of a very distinctive line of--these are public figures and private figures. This is a family that began Groton School and this is a family that was associated with the civil rights movement.
LAMB: This the Endicott Peabody family?
Prof. BAKER:Yeah, sure. Yes.
LAMB: He ran for vice president once?
Prof. BAKER:Yes. Yes. Yes. And this is a woman, who, living in New York in the 1950s, like a lot of other Americans, became absorbed with politics. And she worked in one of these local Lexington clubs--Lexington Avenue political clubs for the Democratic Party and she--that's how she met Adlai Stevenson. She was an energetic, intelligent woman who then, having been bitten by the Stevenson bug--as, by the way, lots of men and women were during the '50s. They never forgot Adlai Stevenson. She then worked on his campaign in '52 and '56 and then he was responsible for her appointment to the United Nations.
LAMB: "The skies have cleared, the moon is high, full and brilliant over the silver sea. You won't step out on the balcony to wonder at the beauty of the night for fear of prying eyes. So we stand in the shadow just inside the door very close. Breath is short and the heart fast and the struggle between looking and wondering--lying and wondering. Now I will go to sleep and dream of July days and nights," unquote. Adlai Stevenson wrote that?
Prof. BAKER:What a wonderful...
LAMB: Wait, did--I mean, did...
Prof. BAKER:Why are you surprised?
LAMB: Well, what an image you have of him when--the speeches--is--fairly--I don't know, you tell me. Is that…
Prof. BAKER:Well, he's a romantic and at the end of his life he was writing poetry. I came upon all these snippets of poetry and he had composed some of them. Some of them were paraphrases from others.
LAMB: This is the one here, `We have changed since, but the remembered spring can change no more.'
Prof. BAKER:Yes. Yes.
LAMB: `Even in the autumn smokes, we cannot have the havoc of the hearth.'
Prof. BAKER:Yes. Yes.
LAMB: `But my mind remembers half the spring and shall till winter falls.'
Prof. BAKER:Yeah. I think that's a transposition, I'll probably hear from some of your viewers, from Baudelaire. Adlai Stevenson, I think, was--cared a lot about the written word. And I see these speeches--I mean, this is one of the things that got me through this project. The idea of reading all of a politician's speeches can be a life sentence, but Adlai Stevenson's speeches are wonderful to read. Sometimes you get through them and you're not exactly sure what he said, but nonetheless, they are poetry to some extent.
LAMB: The Last Hurrah chapter, chapter 12, you lead off by saying, `He sought from his sister some explanation of his father's tempers, his mother's illness and his parent's unhappiness.'
Prof. BAKER:Yeah.
LAMB: What is all that?
Prof. BAKER:Yeah. Well, this is the problem of his parents who didn't get along at all. This is...
LAMB: What were their names?
Prof. BAKER:Their names were Louis Green Stevenson, and Louis Green was descended from Adlai Ewing Stevenson I, who's a congressman and inveterate politician and a vice president of the United States. But Louis has certain kinds of problems with him, so he never can do much of anything. And Helen is his very nervous wife and they have two children and those two children are Buffie, the eldest, and Adlai.

The problem here is that because the parents don't get along, Helen, Adlai's mother, insists on, really, to some extent, suffocating her young son with affection. I mean, there are other mothers who go to college with their sons. I guess we can remember MacArthur and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but Helen Davis Stevenson went off to Princeton when her son Adlai matriculated and she would stay there several blocks away and try to tend to him and take care of him.
LAMB: What was the impact on him?
Prof. BAKER:I don't--you know, there are two ways you can go on this. You can say that really helps you if you have this dedicated mother who's given up her life, in a sense, to be with you. But then you can go the other way and say that you sort of never come out of this umbrella that's been put around you to be yourself.
LAMB: Another name that you--I think I only saw it once in here, you mention that he had a relationship with a Dorothy Fosdick.
Prof. BAKER:That's right, yeah.
LAMB: Who was she?
Prof. BAKER:She worked for the State Department, and Adlai Stevenson spent many years with the UN and Dorothy Fosdick was Harry Emerson Fosdick's daughter and she worked...
LAMB: Who's that?
Prof. BAKER:A famous preacher. And she worked with the State Department and was assigned to the UN, and so they ran into each other when Stevenson was in London on UN business. Now this is before he's governor of Illinois, and they clearly have an affair, but I...
LAMB: How do you know?
Prof. BAKER:Well, I guess I know because of some of the letters that had existed between the two that the family has now withdrawn.
LAMB: Withdrawn from public?
Prof. BAKER:Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: And you saw them?
Prof. BAKER:No, I did not see them. I saw transcriptions of them in the letters of John Bartlow Martin where they do exist.
LAMB: Is this the same Dorothy Fosdick that went to work over on Capitol Hill after all that?
Prof. BAKER:Probably.
LAMB: She's still alive, or did you...
Prof. BAKER:I don't know.
LAMB: When you get something like that, do you ever try to find them and call them up and ask them whether this is true or not or...
Prof. BAKER:Well, there's so many characters here, though. I did interview Marietta Tree before she died. I did try to get to the central characters in the book, but what I found was that Stevenson's a guy who has associations with people in the Democratic Party, he has people in the UN that you need to see. So it's real hard to cut down. And besides which, someone like Dorothy Fosdick, and indeed this was the case with Marietta Tree, they're never going to tell you about the intimacies of their relationship.
LAMB: What did Marietta Tree tell you? I mean, did you ask you about it?
Prof. BAKER:Well--no, I'm just a little bit too sensitive to that to know that if it doesn't come up, I'm not going to be like Geraldo, is that right?
LAMB: I've got to watch what I ask then. Was Adlai Stevenson II an anti-Semite?
Prof. BAKER:Well, in the context of the time he surely was. Remember, this is a time in American history, and we're talking now about the '20s and '30s, when white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants talked of an anti-Semitic vocabulary, and certainly this was part of his society and he shared it with them. When I also think that he--because he failed out of Harvard Law School, he always, I think, felt that Harvard had been one of the places where he had first met Jewish people and that they were more competitive than he. And that, also, was something that came up in his years in the New Deal with Jerome Frank and some of the really sharp minds of the New Deal. These people were Jewish. And I think Stevenson resented that.
LAMB: This sentence--`There the casual nudist, Stevenson, who often wanted to, quote, "escape myself," unquote, shocked several women by throwing off his clothes and plunging naked into the soft Caribbean sea.'
Prof. BAKER:I know, it's wonderful. His son, Borden--I had a wonderful interview with his son, Borden Stevenson. And Borden Stevenson told me the same thing about his father, that when they would go out West, these three boys with their father, and they would be riding in the--Wyoming or Idaho, that he would love to take his clothes off and frolic about. Now I don't know what the meaning or significance of that is, but nonetheless, this is a guy who did have good times. He had a lot of bad times, but he had some good times, too.
LAMB: What did Edward R. Murrow do for Stevenson?
Prof. BAKER:I think Murrow could have helped Stevenson a lot and…
LAMB: Did he work with him?
Prof. BAKER:Tried to work with him, but couldn't get Stevenson to really pay attention to what Murrow knew was important, and that is electronic projection. Stevenson was old-fashioned and traditional about this, and he thought that you got up in front of a lectern and you had a printed page and you read a speech. And, of course, Murrow knew a lot differently. So there's this wonderful story of Stevenson and he goes to New York and it's--Murrow can't go public with this because that would show partisanship, but Stevenson sneaks into the studio to get some tips from Edward R. Murrow, but Murrow later said it just didn't work, `He really didn't want to hear what I was trying to tell him,' and that's Stevenson. That's probably the might have been of American campaigns, that you don't learn how to project yourself on TV, you just talk about the issues.
LAMB: And you were born where?
Prof. BAKER:I was born in Baltimore, Maryland.
LAMB: Went to school where?
Prof. BAKER:I went to school in Baltimore and then I went to Vassar College and then I returned and got my degrees in Baltimore. My PhD is from the Johns Hopkins University.
LAMB: In what?
Prof. BAKER:In history.
LAMB: What got you interested in history?
Prof. BAKER:Well, I--it's that teacher in the third grade--you know the way people say. And it also, I think, has something to do with my family and their interest in their past and I was just always hooked from Miss Howard's class in the Bryn Mawr school where we cut and pasted Greek statues into our books and learned about Pericles in fifth century B.C. Greece.
LAMB: What do you think of the teaching profession today? Do you like to teach?
Prof. BAKER:Oh, yeah, I love it. Yeah. What a wonderful way to stay in touch with young people and learn from them and then try, sometimes, to teach them something.
LAMB: What is Goucher like, and what kind of a school is it?
Prof. BAKER:It used to be a women's college, and now it's co-ed and boisterously co-ed. It's small, undergraduate and very much committed to the idea of liberal arts--that you have a broad-based, general education and then off you go to do more specialized training.
LAMB: Is there new information in this book?
Prof. BAKER:Some. Some. What's new about it is the use of the family papers, some of the letters of Adlai Stevenson II to each other. And then I think every time we redo and relook at a public figure, you get a new interpretation. Whether there's new facts or new information is probably less important than the whole interpretation of an era and of a family.
LAMB: Is this the liberal that everybody uses as the standard bearer?
Prof. BAKER:Yeah. Yeah. Yes and no. If you're looking at civil rights, this is not the liberal. Men like Averell Harriman were a lot more liberal on issues of civil rights which Stevenson was sort of squashy on. But if you're looking at something that was really important at the time, and that was civil liberties--remember, this is the time of Joseph McCarthy and if you look at that, then you see Adlai Stevenson really is a heroic figure. This is a guy who was willing to veto legislation in Illinois because he felt that it was unneeded, that there weren't any Communists in the Illinois schools and colleges and that there were a number of laws that were sufficient to take care of the problem of subversion in the United States. And he was very bold on that.
LAMB: Picture here of Adlai Stevenson I, finally back to the beginning of this.
Prof. BAKER:Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
LAMB: Who was this man?
Prof. BAKER:This is Adlai Stevenson's grandfather. This is the guy who really starts this heritage of public service. This is a guy who loved, above all, to be in office and to be in politics. He ran five times for Congress. He didn't mind if he was defeated, he would go back and run again. He served in appointive offices, he was elected to--as vice president with Grover Cleveland in his second...
LAMB: Is this--I didn't mean to interrupt--this a picture of him and his grandson?
Prof. BAKER:Yes, that's a picture of Adlai Stevenson I and Adlai Stevenson II. We've jumped the generation of Stevenson parents, Louis Green Stevenson.
LAMB: How did he become a vice president?
Prof. BAKER:He was lucky. In many areas, Stevenson I was real lucky. There was a search for a vice president. It was a thought in those days that you needed to balance regionally. The vice president should come from a part of the country that the president didn't come from. And Stevenson had a--some following at that point. He'd been in politics all the time. I think the best story about him is that even when he's in his 70s, he decides that he wants to run for governor of Illinois in 1908. And so he goes out on the hustings, and even though sick and ill, this, it seems to me, is something that was the meaning of his life. And so he literally, almost, dies as a political candidate who's interested in having some kind of a public office. I've often thought maybe that was because he didn't serve in the Civil War.
LAMB: `So you've made it, you indomitable little tiger.' See if you remember this. `I could bite your ear'...
Prof. BAKER:Oh, gosh.
LAMB: ...`with savage jaw. I know what it means to win when people smiled and had no faith, just damnable courtesy. Why this Napoleonic, "I'll found an empire?" Must Caesar forever gather laurels to be happy? Is this father jealousy love healthy? Profit my heart, profit from the lessons of your inher…'--who is this?
Prof. BAKER:This is another one of those love letters that we've been reading. This is a letter that Adlai Stevenson, who--I'm not sure whether he'd been elected governor, but--or he was about to be elected governor in 1948--wrote to one of his intimates and that's, of course, Alicia Patterson Guggenheim, with whom he had an affair while he was in the governor's mansion.
LAMB: While she was married.
Prof. BAKER:She was married. She was married to Harry Guggenheim. And she, of course, is of that wonderful journalist clan and that's why he's so in awe of her, because he too thought that he might have a career in journalism because the family owned a famous Midwestern newspaper, the Bloomington Pantagraph. So here's this woman whom he loves and whom he's known on the dance floors of Chicago, and what is she doing? She's running this very successful Newsday. And they have a wonderful relationship. Again, I'm not sure why he didn't marry her. When she was ready to marry him, he wasn't ready to marry her and vice versa.
LAMB: There's another letter that--I guess they got--almost got caught.
Prof. BAKER:Yes, they always get caught. I mean, they're pretty open about this in the governor's mansion and you can't keep this kind of stuff quiet. I mean, I don't mean it would get in the newspapers, but you certainly can't keep this stuff quiet too long because the maids are finding the lipstick-stained pillowcases and so he has to warn her about his reputation.
LAMB: Well, here's a letter. `"Write guarded letters for a while until I can get the secretarial situation down there under control," cautioned the horrified governor. Once Stevenson rebuked his house guest about, quote,"that strong scent."'
Prof. BAKER:Oh, God.
LAMB: `The place reeked the next morning and the maids must have been slightly confused or not confused at all.'
Prof. BAKER:Yeah. Yeah. Now these are letters, it's interesting, that aren't in the official family letters, as you might guess. But, in fact, are in another collection of letters. So some of this is detective work. You're not going to get all the stuff from the Stevenson family. They're not going to show these--I think they're wonderful love letters--between the two.
LAMB: What does the Stevenson family think of your book?
Prof. BAKER:I hate to think from one perspective, because they have a sense of themselves and I certainly wouldn't speak for them. I hope that they respect the book from the point of the view of the integrity of the research and the accuracy. I'm sure they're not going to accept all of the interpretations. I mean, you know, this is difficult for Adlai Stevenson III to read about some of the things I say about him as a practicing campaigner. He's just not a very effective campaigner.
LAMB: You're talking about the man that was a United States senator for 10 years?
Prof. BAKER:Yes. Yes.
LAMB: Who left the Senate in 1980.
Prof. BAKER:Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: Who's still alive.
Prof. BAKER:Who's still alive.
LAMB: Roughly how old is he now?
Prof. BAKER:Well, he was born in 1930, so he's 66.
LAMB: Sixty-six. How did--you eluded to--or how did Adlai Stevenson II die?
Prof. BAKER:I felt that he died a sort of noble death in--I guess we look at this from our perspective in this time of lingering illness and having to be in hospitals and etc. Here he was on a soft London day walking along the street with Marietta Tree and he suddenly drops behind and pales and says to her this ancient Stevenson motto, `Keep your head up high,' and crashes to the ground dead of a coronary at exactly 65 years of age. This, it seems to me, might be a proper lifetime for a man who was born in 1900. And there is a certain irony about his death because he was walking with some secret material and his briefcase sprang open and all of the pink slips were flying around in the London breeze and here lay Adlai Stevenson dead on the pavement. A great shock to numbers of Americans who respected him a great deal.
LAMB: Didn't you also say that his father and mother both died at 65?
Prof. BAKER:Yes. Not at 65, but one before and the mother at 65 I believe.
LAMB: And his wife is--he divorced his wife in 1949...
Prof. BAKER:Yeah.
LAMB: ...and what was the circumstances, finally, of her death in 1968?
Prof. BAKER:Oh, Ellen Borden.
LAMB: Ellen. Yes.
Prof. BAKER:She died in '72 and--of cancer of the colon.
LAMB: Oh, she was evicted from her home in...
Prof. BAKER:She was evicted from her home and this was a terrible episode.
LAMB: '68.
Prof. BAKER:In '68. She had no money and she had become more and more paranoid and felt that the Stevensons were after her, that they had paid people to eavesdrop on her and she was worried always that she would be--have to be examined by psychiatrists, and so she was evicted and fled across state lines and then lived in Gary, Indiana, for four years before she died in '72.
LAMB: You have this dedication here in the front of the book.
Prof. BAKER:Yeah.
LAMB: The book is dedicated to the next generation.
Prof. BAKER:Yeah.
LAMB: Next generation of what?
Prof. BAKER:I thought it was an appropriate dedication. I have another grandchild coming and this was a book on family history and generations of Stevensons. I come from a big family with many, many generations and grandchildren and great nieces and all and so I thought it was an appropriate dedication, and one can bring to it whoever one thinks that the next generation might be.
LAMB: What is your sense? Will there ever be another Adlai Stevenson? I don't mean by name...
Prof. BAKER:Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: ...but that kind of a politician?
Prof. BAKER:Yeah. No is the short answer.
LAMB: Why?
Prof. BAKER:Our political mediums just simply don't permit a thoughtful, expressive American politician. I think we're into a sort of mean-spirited time in American politics, and I would never deny that there are cycles of political behavior but, on the other hand, I think it's really difficult to have the kind of politician who's willing to say, as Adlai Stevenson said, `Let's talk sense to the American people. Better to lose the election than mislead the American people.' I can't imagine anyone saying that today.
LAMB: If you were going to go find one thing that was Adlai Stevenson, you could put your hands on it, read it, or if there was a speech you could listen to, what would that be?
Prof. BAKER:It might be the speech that I just quoted. This is a speech that he gave to the Democratic National Convention in 1952, and I might conflate it with one of his other speeches in which he has this vision of what America might be. `I see an America.' And then he goes through this peroration of healthy, working American men, of older Americans protected by their government. And he goes on and on. It's really wonderful. It's a--sort of makes your blood run.
LAMB: Another name that came up in connection with Adlai Stevenson was Newton Minow.
Prof. BAKER:Yes. Yes.
LAMB: What was their relationship?
Prof. BAKER:Well...
LAMB: He's still ar...
Prof. BAKER:He's...
LAMB: He's still alive.
Prof. BAKER:He's still around, yes. Yes, very much so. There are a number of characters from Adlai Stevenson's life. This, by the way, and I'll get back to Minow, is one of the things about Stevenson, that he attracted this generation of Americans, and even now there are a number of people who are in public life who will say, `Well, I got into politics because I was inspired by Adlai Stevenson.' There is something sort of mentoring in the language we use today about Stevenson. He paid attention to these people like Newt Minow, who was one of his assistants who worked in the state government with him in Illinois and then was active in the '56 campaign and then went on to become head of the FCC.
LAMB: This is the book, “The Stevensons: A Biography of an American Family.” You’ll see it on the screen in a moment. The guest is—author here is Jean H. Baker and we thank you very much.
Prof. BAKER:Thank you. Pleasure to be here.

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