Was the typist a communist? Old Secret Service report denied by family.
By Michael E. Ruane,
The late Frances Levy probably never knew why she wasn’t cleared for a White House pass in 1945.
She was 26, single and lived with her parents and little brother in Mount Rainier in Prince George’s County. She worked as a typist at the Treasury Department, where she earned $1,836 a year.
But when she applied for the White House work pass that summer, near the start of the Cold War, the Secret Service reported that the former under clerk in the Bureau of Public Debt might be a communist.
The agency wasn’t sure, but it wasn’t taking chances.
And as time passed and she raised three children in a tiny house in Landover, Levy probably didn’t know that she was once in the files of the FBI and her hometown police department’s “subversive squad.”
Last month, when her children found out, they were stunned.
“You’re kidding!” one of her daughters, Phyllis Billmeyer, 58, of Rifle, Colo., said upon hearing the news. “If you knew my mom, she was the kindest, gentlest person who walked on the Earth.
“She was not political, and she did not have a mean bone in her body,” Billmeyer said.
Levy died in 1995, after retiring as a mid-level worker in the Agriculture Department. And her family wonders if the report might have affected her career.
The Secret Service had found that back home in Cleveland she had contributed to, and was on the mailing list of, an antiwar group that critics said was communist-inspired. She also apparently owed $100 in back tuition to a business school.
The four-page report, dated Sept. 11, 1945, came to light last month through an archivist at the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Independence, Mo.
The archivist, Samuel Rushay, was in the process of preparing declassified Secret Service files for public release. The files were in the library because they were related to the Truman administration, under which the investigation of Levy was conducted.
“This case really did catch my eye,” Rushay said in an interview. Most such applications drew “recommendations” from the Secret Service, and he wondered why this one had not. Levy received a “no recommendation.”
It’s not clear if Levy ever received the pass, although it appears unlikely. Her family said they never heard of her getting one. There is no evidence of one in her government personnel file or the Truman library file.
The Secret Service, which issues White House passes, said its archivist could not find a definitive answer. Its 1945 report merely says, “The matter is submitted for such disposition as may be advisable.”
‘Loyal to this government’
Investigation 5-P-2173 — into Levy’s “character, reputation and loyalty to this government” — was thorough.
Levy, then using her maiden name, Curtis, was interviewed, along with several acquaintances who vouched for her.
A college friend told the Secret Service that Levy was “an upright, loyal American citizen,” the report on the probe said. The friend did “not know of any subversive affiliations, thought or tendencies.”
A neighbor said Levy was “entirely loyal to this government.” A labor official in Washington said she was “a girl of good habits, character and reputation, and that her loyalty to this government is beyond question.”
She was 5-foot-2, with brown eyes, black hair and a slight build, the investigation found. She had two brothers in the Army, and her father worked for the Navy.
But the report said that she still owed money to the business school.
Other things cropped up, too.
The subversive squad of the police department in Cleveland, where Levy was born, found her name on the mailing lists of groups whose meetings were attended by “known Communists.”
One was the American Peace Mobilization, which arose prior to U.S. entry into World War II and picketed the White House to oppose the draft and aid to Britain. Its leaders denied it was a communist organization, according to old news reports.
“There is no indication that she attended meetings,” the investigation found. “But at the same time there is nothing to indicate that she was not active. . . .”
“Superficially, it appears that this applicant may have been directly connected to the Communist Party,” the agency concluded, although the Cleveland police reported that she “was not a known Communist.”
Because of the suspected connections, and the $100 debt, “no recommendation is being made” for the White House pass, the Secret Service report said.
Three years later, after its own investigation, the FBI determined that the peace mobilization’s mailing list included many prominent citizens. The agency said it was closing the Levy probe.
“I don’t know if she was ever notified as to the reasons why,” Rushay said of the Secret Service decision.
“I don’t think she was ever given the opportunity to explain,” he said. There is “no evidence that they ever approached her so she could defend her First Amendment rights.”
Levy continued working for the government until she married Morris Levy in July 1950 and resigned “to become a housewife,” according to her records.
They honeymooned in Atlantic City and later moved into a three-bedroom rambler on Muncy Road in Palmer Park, just north of today’s FedEx Field, her family said.
But her daughter, Billmeyer, said their lives were hard.
Her father had polio as a youngster, and one leg was shorter than the other. He also suffered from severe depression, she said, and her mother was frequently the sole breadwinner. “There were times when my mom had to ask for help,” she said.
Billmeyer said that her mother never mentioned the White House matter, and she believes her mother did not know about the Secret Service report.
“She was raising the family, and dealing with my dad’s disability, and it was just a hardship,” she said. “There was no focus beyond that house. . . . My mom was never the one in the spotlight.”
Billmeyer’s twin sister, Marsha Jurek of Morton, Wash., said:
“Possibly things would have changed if she had gotten . . . into the White House. . . . It just happened that it did not lead to a career that presented a more prestigious job for her. And I don’t think that bothered her.”
Levy later returned to government work with the Census Bureau and Agriculture Department. She retired in 1979, and she and her husband moved to Florida.
When she died in Bradenton 16 years later, her obituary listed her occupation as “statistical clerk.”
“In the end,” Jurek said in an e-mail, “her life far exceeds the chapter that was skipped over, only to be found, and given as a gift for her children to see!”