Today’s blog post was written by Sam Rushay, a supervisory archivist at the Truman Presidential Library.
In the late summer of 1945, Frances Sarah Curtis of Mt. Rainier, MD, applied for a White House pass. Curtis, a Treasury Department employee in the Bureau of Public Debt (BPD), had worked in the White House File Room for 10 days in June before returning to the Treasury Department.
Perhaps hoping for a permanent White House job, Curtis applied for a pass.
The U.S. Secret Service conducted a standard background investigation of Curtis. She did not receive a White House pass. Two reasons were given. The first reason was because she owed $100 in unpaid tuition to the Wilcox College of Commerce in Cleveland, OH, where she had taken secretarial courses from 1937 to 1939.
The second, more damaging, reason was the presence of her name on the mailing lists of the American Peace Mobilization (APM) and the Current Events Club, formerly the Council Education Alliance. The investigators note in the report that these “groups are considered Communistic in nature.” She had also contributed money to the APM. And while there was no evidence that she had ever attended any meetings, there also was “nothing to indicate that she was not active” with these groups. Known Communists had attended these meetings, although evidence suggested that Curtis herself was not a known Communist.
The evidence against Curtis was circumstantial and far from firm. The investigators report that “superficially, it appears that this applicant may have been directly connected with the Communist Party.” But they go on to state that “practically every person who has attended Glenville High School [which Curtis had attended], which is located in the Jewish Center of Cleveland, has, at one time of another, subscribed to one of these alphabetic groups, or at least put on their mailing lists.”
Frances Curtis had no police record, and her efficiency ratings as a typist at the BPD for 1944 to 1945 were “Very Good.” All of her personal references and employers submitted favorable information concerning her services, character, reputation, and loyalty to the U.S. Government. She was described as a single 26-year-old white female who lived with her parents.
There is no record that shows if Curtis was ever informed why she was denied a White House pass. Nor is there any indication that the Secret Service ever gave her an opportunity to explain her memberships. Curtis’s associations undoubtedly affected her career, even though she retained her job at BPD. This raises the question of how Curtis was too untrustworthy to receive a White House pass but trustworthy enough to continue her employment at the Treasury Department.
The investigatory memorandum for Curtis’s case reads as if it was written during the time of McCarthyism, although it predated that era by almost five years. During the Truman administration (1945–1953), the Secret Service denied few applications for White House passes. In one case, an application (file #5-P-2319) was recommended for a man who had been jailed for attempted rape in 1925.
The story of Curtis, who died in 1995, emerged from recently opened Secret Service records that are now available for research at the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum. Her file, #5-P-2173, is one of thousands of background investigation files concerning applicants for White House jobs during the Truman administration.