Chicago attorney Harold L. Ickes was a key political advisor to Franklin D. Roosevelt. He served as the 32nd Secretary of the Interior for 13 years from 1933 to 1946, longer in that post than any other person. His name is pronounced as if it were "Ick-eez." Sixty years after Harold L. Ickes started in President Roosevelt's cabinet, his son, Harold M. Ickes, became Deputy White House Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton.
Harold was born on a farm near Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania on March 15, 1874. His family moved to Chicago in 1890 when Harold was 16 and he graduated from Englewood High School in 1892. In 1893, he started to work his way through the University of Chicago to earn a B.A. degree and graduate with the first class of 1897. He worked as a newspaper reporter for The Chicago Record and for The Chicago Daily Tribune while he studied law at night. In 1907, he earned a law degree from the University of Chicago School of Law. But he did not practice much law and preferred to work on reform political causes.
Harold Ickes started his career in Chicago as a progressive and reform-minded Republican at the level of city politics. In 1912, dissident Republicans who had supported Teddy Roosevelt over William Howard Taft for the presidential nomination returned to Chicago to nominate Roosevelt on the Bull Moose ticket and Ickes joined the Bull Moose or Progressive Party along with Tribune publisher Medill McCormick and other key city leaders. Ickes re-joined the Republican Party in 1916 after the Bull Moose Party started to fold.
Ickes campaigned for Charles Evans Hughes, the Republican nominess against Woodrow Wilson in 1916. He also campaigned for Teddy Roosevelt's 1912 running mate, Republican Governor Hiram Johnson of California when Johnson ran for the GOP nomination for president in 1920 and 1924. Ickes was for civil rights causes and served a president of the Chicago branch of the NAACP.
During the 1932 campaign for president, Ickes headed up efforts to recruit progressive Republicans to support Democratic Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt of New York in his contest with President Herbert Hoover. Partly as a reward for his efforts, FDR appointed Ickes as Secretary of the Inerior in 1933.
Perhaps one of the most famous legends about Harld L. Ickes has to do with his invitatioin to black contalto Marian Anderson to sing at the Lincoln Memorial on April 10, 1939. Much of the story as it is normally told is true but some of it is misleading. The way the story usually runs, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) are usually portrayed as the villain of the story because they "refused to allow" Marion Anderson to sing in DAR Constitution Hall. What is almost always left out of that story is that Anderson had also previously been refused permission by attorneys for the D.C. Board of Education to sing on public school property in a benefit for Howard University.
Washington, DC still had many segregation laws on the books in 1939. The school system was not desegregated until 1954 when a DC school case was consolidated with Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Kansas. After organizers were turned down by the D.C. School System, they applied to use the Constitution Hall owned by the DAR. But DAR attorneys also advised their clients that a concert by Anderson on their property would violate local segregation laws for public hall venues. Finally, Secretary Ickes did extend the invitation to Marion Anderson to sing, but not to raise money, using the venue of the Lincoln Memorial which was on federal land managed by the Natioinal Park Service and under the control of the Department of the Interior and Ickes. The story is usually told to condemn the DAR when in fact the laws of DC were at fault and the local school board was the first to refuse Anderson a venue. The concert on April 10 was a big success and drew 75,000 people so a concert that started in controversy ended in triumph for Marian Anderson and for Harold Ickes who introduced her.
In 1946, Ickes was one of several officials who resigned in protest over patronage hiring by the Truman Administration of less than competent individuals. He wrote several books. One was called The Autobiography of a Curmudgeon in 1943 and another was titled The Secret Diary of Harold L. Ickes published after his death. Ickes died in Washington, DC on Feb. 3, 1952 at the age of 77.
Harold M. Ickes, the son of Secretary Ickes, lived most of his life in New York active in Democratic politics. In 1993, forty-seven years after his father resigned from the Truman Administration, Harold M. Ickes became Deputy White House Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton.