Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Mildred Watkins Chandler, June 29, 1991

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:03 - Introduction

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Partial Transcript: This is Professor Charles P. Roland of the University of Kentucky History Department.

Segment Synopsis: The interviewer, Professor Charles P. Roland, introduces the subject for the interview: Mildred Watkins Chandler, the wife of former Kentucky governor Albert B. "Happy" Chandler, who is accompanied by her son, Ben Chandler. The purpose of the interview is stated, which is to gather information for a biography on Albert B. Chandler.

Keywords: Biographies; Interviews; Oral histories

Subjects: Chandler, Albert Benjamin, Jr.--Interviews; Chandler, Happy, 1898-1991; Chandler, Mildred Watkins; Governors--Kentucky

00:00:36 - Relationship with A. B. Chandler

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Partial Transcript: Mrs. Chandler, I, uh, I'd like to start out by, by just asking you, uh, wh, wh, when you met Happy Chandler, uh, so many years ago, uh, what were your first impressions of that young man?

Segment Synopsis: M. Chandler talks about meeting A. B. Chandler while engaged to another man. She talks about Chandler's singing talents and other various impressions of Chandler. She discusses breaking off her other engagement due to her interest in Chandler. She tells the interviewer about her engagement to Chandler and his faithfulness to their relationship. She then discusses their wedding in Louisville, Kentucky.

Keywords: Courtships; Dating; Engagements; First impressions; Relationships; Remarriage

Subjects: Chandler, Happy, 1898-1991; Chandler, Mildred Watkins, 1899-1995; Chandler, Mildred Watkins, 1899-1995--Interviews; Divorce--Law and legislation; Marriages

00:09:05 - A. B. Chandler's career before politics

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Partial Transcript: Now he was practicing law here in Versailles at that time. And, was he also coaching?

Segment Synopsis: M. Chandler discusses how her husband worked multiple times during and after his time at the University of Kentucky Law School, coaching football at various schools, including at Centre College. He also practiced law in Versailles at that time. M. Chandler talks about how they had difficulty making ends meet due to the low fee prices of lawyers at the time.

Keywords: Collateral; Football coaching; High school football; Law practices; Lawyers; Loans; Scouting; Versailles (Ky.)

Subjects: Career development; Centre College (Danville, Ky.)--Sports; Practice of law--Kentucky; University of Kentucky

00:13:50 - Beginning of A. B. Chandler's political career

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Partial Transcript: But he pretty soon begins to get interested in politics. Now, what, uh--when did you first,uh--how did that come about?

Segment Synopsis: M. Chandler discusses how A. B. Chandler became involved in politics through U.S. Senator Johnson Camden. This affiliation came about from Camden's enjoyment of M. Chandler's musical abilities while she sang at the Episcopal church in Versailles. She details how Chandler became a Kentucky Senator through the support of Senator Camden and his talent as a politician.

Keywords: Episcopal Church; Political influences; State senators; Woodford County (Ky.)

Subjects: Kentucky. General Assembly. Senate; Politicians--Kentucky; State governments--Officials and employees

00:19:03 - A. B. Chandler and the Kentucky Democratic Party

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Partial Transcript: Alright, so he serves in the state Senate and then in 1931, the convention--the Democratic state convention is, uh, to be held in Lexington.

Segment Synopsis: M. Chandler discusses how Chandler won the nomination for lieutenant governor. Chandler talks about her active political involvement in her husband's campaign during the Democratic state convention. She discusses several figures in the Democratic Party involved with A. B. Chandler, including state auditor Dan Talbott, chair of the Democratic Party of Kentucky Fred Vincent, and Kentucky Congressman Ben Johnson. She recalls how and why Talbott and Johnson gave their political support to A. B. Chandler. M. Chandler also talks about the relationship between her husband and Billy Clair, who she describes as "the boss" of Fayette County.

Keywords: Campaign promises; Clair, Billy; Democratic conventions; Johnson, Ben; Lexington (Ky.); Lieutenant governors; Political support; State auditors; State conventions; Talbott, J. Dan; Underwood, Tom; Vincent, Fred; Woodland auditorium

Subjects: Democratic Party (Ky.); Governors--Election; Kentucky--Politics and government; Political campaigns--Kentucky; Political conventions; State governments

00:30:49 - A. B. Chandler as lieutenant governor

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Partial Transcript: Well, so he gets nominated and elected Lieutenant Governor, uh, shall we say, on the ticket with Ruby Laffoon.

Segment Synopsis: M. Chandler describes how A. B. Chandler and Ruby Laffoon opposed each other while in office as lieutenant governor and governor, respectively. This opposition was particularly strong on the sales tax that Laffoon wanted to implement in Kentucky. She discusses the particulars of the opposition to the sales tax and its effect on A. B. Chandler's relationship with Laffoon.

Keywords: Disagreements; Laffoon, Ruby; Oppositions; Political factions; Sales taxes; Taxation

Subjects: Governors--Kentucky; Kentucky--Politics and government; Lieutenant governors--Kentucky; Taxation--Law and legislation--Kentucky

00:35:35 - A. B. Chandler calling a special session of state legislators

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Partial Transcript: But then something very dramatic happened. Uh, Governor Laffoon had occasion--

Segment Synopsis: M. Chandler discusses the key figures who called for a special session while Laffoon left for Washington, particularly some highway commissioners who backed Ben Johnson, a supporter of Chandler. She tells anecdotes relating to calling the special session, particularly about the politicians who stayed at her home during the session. She talks about how this special session, led by Chandler, implemented a primary vote in the state of Kentucky. She then discusses other candidates participating in the election.

Keywords: Elections; Legislators; Primary elections; Run-off primaries; Special sessions; Talbott, J. Dan; Votes

Subjects: Governors--Kentucky; Kentucky. General Assembly.; Politicians--Kentucky; Politics, Practical

00:45:52 - University of Kentucky staff in the Chandler administration / Reorganization Act of 1936

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Partial Transcript: Well, now, uh, now, I'm gonna ask about another figure who becomes very important: Professor James Martin.

Segment Synopsis: M. Chandler gives her opinion on why Chandler picked professors from the University of Kentucky, particularly economics professor James Martin, as part of his administration during his initial run for governor. She also discusses why A. B. Chandler created the Reorganization Act of 1936, an act which made cuts to bureaucratic positions and consolidating bureaus within the state government.

Keywords: Administrations; Economics; Finances; Integrity; Martin, James; Professors; Reorganization Act 1936

Subjects: Administrative agencies--Reorganization; Governors--Election; Political campaigns--Kentucky; Politics, Practical; University of Kentucky (Lexington, Ky.)

00:51:02 - Various acts by Governor Chandler / Ohio River flood of 1937

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Partial Transcript: But, uh, for example--well, let me just mention some of these outstanding things and, and ask for any, uh, information that you have from your perspective on, on, uh, Governor Chandler's role and what caused him to, to do these things.

Segment Synopsis: M. Chandler discusses various acts of A. B. Chandler while governor. She talks about how he assisted teachers in receiving their full wages, saving a Kentucky insurance company from closing, and his actions during the "Great Flood" of the Ohio River in 1937. She also discusses how he opened a new prison in La Grange, Kentucky as well as a psychiatric hospital in Danville, Kentucky. She talks about the various uses of the hospital over time.

Keywords: Great Depression; Great flood; Insurance companies; Luxuries; Ohio River flood; Prisoners; Psychiatric hospitals; Salaries; State debts; State senate; Taxes; Teachers; U.S. Senate

Subjects: Chandler, Happy, 1898-1991.; Elections; Governors--Kentucky; Natural disasters; Political campaigns--Kentucky; State governments

01:05:31 - Continuance of Reorganization Act of 1936 / Running for U.S. Senate

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Partial Transcript: Well, he, he had, by any measurement, a, a remarkable administration, there--

Segment Synopsis: M. Chandler talks about how her husband went about reorganizing the government and eliminating unnecessary positions and departments within the state government. Her son, Ben Chandler, discusses the particulars of what Chandler taxed in order to fund the Reorganization Act, preferring to tax luxury items such as alcohol and tobacco. She also discusses Chandler's run for United States Senate, opposing the popular Senator Alben Barkley, who had the support of Franklin D. Roosevelt. She gives her opinion on A. B. Chandler running for Senator and losing to Sen. Barkley.

Keywords: Barkley, Alben; Majority leaders; Politicians' spouses; Presidential support; Roosevelt, Franklin D.

Subjects: Elections; Political campaigns--Kentucky; Politics and government; United States. Congress. Senate.

01:15:13 - Poisoning of A. B. Chandler

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Partial Transcript: Now, let--now, let's come back to the incident of, uh--that occurred in Louisville.

Segment Synopsis: M. Chandler recalls how A. B. Chandler was poisoned by drinking water laced with arsenic while giving a radio speech at a hotel in Louisville. She describes his physical symptoms, as well as the long-term effects of the arsenic on the rest of his team who had consumed the poisoned water. She discusses her experiences the night of the poisoning, as well as her role in continuing her husband's campaign while he recovered. She talks about the judicial proceedings and the court decision about the poisoning.

Keywords: Arsenic; Louisville (Ky.); Political corruption; Politicians; Radios; Speeches; Women in politics

Subjects: Arsenic--Toxicology; Elections--Corrupt practices; Governors--Kentucky; Poisonings; Political campaigns--Kentucky

01:28:59 - A. B. Chandler becoming a U.S. Senator

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Partial Transcript: Do you remember when--how you and Happy learned of the death of Senator Logan?

Segment Synopsis: M. Chandler discusses how she and her husband learned of the death of Marvel Mills Logan, a Kentucky U.S. Senator, after Chandler's loss to Senator Barkley. She describes the various steps A. B. Chandler took to resign as governor and succeed Logan as the U.S. Senator for Kentucky.

Keywords: Deaths; Logan, Marvel Mills; Resignations; Senators

Subjects: Elections; Governors--Kentucky; Kentucky--Politics and government; United States. Congress. Senate.