Thursday, August 6, 2015

A DIABOLICAL THING: Anne Ford’s Atomic Protest Letter

In anticipation of the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we recently spent a week in Independence, Missouri at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library. Our research goal was to find letters reflecting the immediate public reaction to the Bomb. We expected to find a mountain of material, but instead came across only a small file of letters.[1] Thankfully, though, there are a few gems in this slim collection.

One such gem is an impassioned note from a publishing executive named Anne Ford. Ms. Ford, who was then the Publicity Director for Little, Brown and Company, minced no words in her August 9, 1945 broadside against the bombing of Hiroshima. Indeed, she emphatically told President Truman that she thought it was “a disgrace that America should be involved in such a diabolical thing…” She described herself as “stunned and sick at heart” for “Japan and her people – thousands of them innocent.”[2]

Little Brown Complaint_02_Lo

But Ms. Ford also couldn’t help viewing the aftermath of the first use of the Bomb as the veteran publicist she was. In a paragraph on how poorly the post-atomic news had been handled, she singled out a strange image of the wife of the Enola Gay pilot with their young children. Amidst all the tabloidy hoopla over Hiroshima, the wire photograph of Lucy Wingate Tibbets (1906-1985) and her two sons had appeared in newspapers across the country on August 8 and August 9, 1945.[3] A caption accompanying the photo stated that Mrs. Tibbets had received calls of congratulation for her husband’s successful mission.

Mrs Lucy Tibbets_Lo

Ms. Ford supported her brief critique of the media to Truman by writing: “The picture of Tibbets [sic] wife, for instance, with her innocent babies in her lap receiving congratulations over the telephone for this ghastly thing…”

Ms. Ford concluded her letter by writing that she would “force” herself to tune in to the President’s 10:00 p.m. radio address that evening. Given that news of the second atomic bomb, dropped on Nagasaki, was already being reported in the evening newspapers, Ms. Ford may have skipped the speech.

Truman Radio

There is no evidence that Truman or his staff ever replied to Ms. Ford’s damning message. She had tried to get it in front of the President by routing it through his appointments secretary, Michael J. Connelly (1907-1976). But obviously someone in the Truman White House thought enough of Anne Ford’s letter to file it away for future generations to hold and to read.

At this point you may be wondering whether there is more to know about Anne Ford. There is. CONELRAD researched Ms. Ford’s biography and we are happy to share what we found.

Anne Adelaide Ford was born in Boston, Massachusetts on September 12, 1901. She grew up in Brookline in a house not far from John F. Kennedy’s birthplace. Ms. Ford, a lifelong Catholic, would later teach the future President in prayer class at St. Aidan’s Church. She graduated from Brookline High School in approximately 1918 and Boston University four years later.

When she was just 21 Ms. Ford landed a job as assistant to the prominent music and drama critic Philip Hale (1854-1934) at the Boston Herald. She performed editing tasks and filled in as an alternate critic which afforded her the opportunity to interview some of the top entertainers of the era. Ms. Ford soon moved on to become an advance woman for the Theatre Guild where she met stars like Helen Hayes, Alfred Lunt, George M. Cohan and Lynn Fontaine. One of Ms. Ford’s jobs with the Guild was to promote plays adapted from novels which allowed her to develop contacts in the publishing industry. She became Director of Publicity at Little, Brown and Company in 1938. In 1949 she was promoted to the position of Manager of Public Relations for the company.

Anne Ford_1941_Lo

During her tenure at Little, Brown Ms. Ford was profiled in a Boston Globe column that focused on women in the workplace. The columnist marveled at how Ms. Ford got to travel to New York City and hobnob with authors like John Marquand, A.J. Cronin, James Hilton and C.S. Forrester. The column was accompanied by a photograph of Ms. Ford at her office desk where she may have written her letter to President Truman in 1945.

Ms. Ford became Publicity Director for Harcourt Brace after her long stint at Little, Brown. At Harcourt she helped promote the works of T.S. Eliot, Thomas Merton and others. She concluded her career in publishing as Director of Publicity for Houghton Mifflin Company in 1970. Concurrent to her retirement, she was contributing an occasional column to the Boston Globe called “Anne Ford Remembers.” In one column, she mentioned that her friend actor James Cagney offered some advice on the next phase of her life: “Start rehearsing, kid. You’ve got to rehearse for retirement.”

Unlike Mr. Cagney, though, it does not appear that Ms. Ford ever came out of retirement. Her step-nephew, Dr. James M. Kieran who is 95 years old, told CONELRAD in a telephone interview that he isn’t sure what Ms. Ford did after 1970. He told us that she had lots of friends because “she was outgoing and easy to get along with.” He added that she was “very intelligent and sophisticated,” but in response to another question said that she never talked fast like Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday (as we had imagined). Dr. Kieran told us that he remembered his step-aunt supporting her former pupil John F. Kennedy for President in 1960, but was not sure if she remained a Democrat for her entire life.

Anne Ford_1970 copy

Anne Ford died on November 16, 1993 in Rockport, Massachusetts. She had never married and had no children. Her younger sister, Margaret Ford Kieran survived her, but passed away ten years later. Ms. Ford is buried at the Beech Grove Cemetery in Rockport. Her anguished and insightful letter about America’s atomic debut lives on.

Anne Ford's Atomic Protest Letter by Bill Geerhart


Dr. James M. Kieran, telephone interviews with Bill Geerhart, August 3 and 5, 2015.

“Anne Ford, 92 Was Critic, Literary Agent,” Boston Globe, November 18, 1993, 63.

Anne Ford, “Anne Ford Remembers” column, Boston Globe, June 10, 1970, 19.

Anne Ford, “Anne Ford Remembers” column, Boston Globe, February 24, 1970, 19.

Anne Ford promotion announcement, Publishers Weekly, 1949.

Nell Giles, “Smooth Susan at Work Interviews Anne Ford of Little Brown & Co.,” Boston Globe, October 6, 1941, 15.

[1] After we were unable to find what we thought would be a huge collection of public opinion mail regarding the first use of atomic weapons, we consulted with historian D.M. Giangreco, the co-author of the 500+ page book Dear Harry: Truman’s Mailroom, 1945-1953 (Stackpole, 1999). Mr. Giangreco confirmed in an August 4, 2015 telephone conversation that there is only a small number of letters reflecting the immediate public reaction to the atomic bomb. There are many more letters from the public regarding the 1946 atomic tests conducted during Operation Crossroads. There is an even larger volume of citizen mail concerning the possible use of atomic weapons during the Korean War (1950-1953). CONELRAD will be presenting some of these letters in future posts.

[2] Anne Ford to Michael J. Connelly and Harry S. Truman, August 9, 1945. White House Central Files: Official File: 692; Box 1686; Folder: Miscellaneous April – October 1945; Truman Papers, Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum.

[3] Jesse Helms, “Columbus Woman’s Husband Pilot of First Plane to Drop Atomic Bomb,” Columbus (Georgia) Enquirer, August 8, 1945, 1. The same wire photo of Mrs. Tibbets also appeared on page 2 of the New York Daily Mirror on August 9, 1945. It also appeared on page 2 of the New York Daily News on August 9, 1945.

Kudos on the Atomic Bombs


Surprisingly, there are only a handful of letters at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library that capture the first public reaction to the atomic bomb. We know this because last month we went to the Library in Independence, Missouri and searched with the help of an archivist.[1] And of these few Bomb letters from August of 1945, only one is unreservedly positive in its praise for the Commander in Chief. The handwritten missive came not from a citizen, but from an old friend of the President’s and a Republican to boot! Indeed, Ohio Senator Harold Hitz Burton’s short note is dated August 9, 1945 and offers congratulations to Truman for his role in the “winning of the war and the saving of the lives of many American soldiers and sailors.”[2]

Senator Burton Atomic Kudos by Bill Geerhart

It is interesting to see how the Senator made some last minute edits to reflect the news of Fat Man, the second atomic bomb dropped on Japan. Burton may have been perusing the Washington Evening Star headline (“Second Atom Raid Brings ‘Good Results”) for August 9th when he crossed out “by” and replaced it with the word “with” and added an “s” to what was “bomb.” The new, pluralized line read:

“Even your old battery would find it hard to match what you have done with the atomic bombs…”

President Truman was so pleased by the fan letter that he replied on August 11th, “I certainly appreciated your note of the ninth more than any I received.” A little more than a month later Truman, in his first Supreme Court nomination, picked Senator Burton to fill the vacancy left by the retiring Associate Justice Owen J. Roberts. The nomination of a Republican to the bench after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s three and a half terms and eight Supreme Court appointees (seven of whom were Democrats) sent a clear signal that Truman was his own man. He also got a new Democratic Senator out of the deal in James Wylie Huffman. Huffman was appointed by Ohio Governor Frank Lausche to finish Burton’s term when he was confirmed to the Supreme Court on September 19, 1945.


In a Cold War coda of sorts, it was Justice Burton who reviewed the 1955 Letter of Understanding with the Grove Park Inn of Asheville, North Carolina to serve as an emergency relocation site for the Court in the event of a nuclear attack on the United States. “Dear Chief,” Burton wrote to Earl Warren, “I have examined the attached material and believe it presents a reasonable solution on its face.” The tone was certainly different from the congratulatory letter to a President ten years earlier. But times had changed.

Burton Approval copy