Documenting the American South Logo
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, October 16, 1975. Interview G-0023-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Durr learns about New Deal politics

During the New Deal era, James M. Landis climbed to prominence in the Roosevelt administration. Through his wife Stella, Durr grew interested in New Deal politics and policies, and she also gained an insider's view of the Landises' marriage.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, October 16, 1975. Interview G-0023-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

And by the greatest luck in the world. Just by another great stroke of luck, my next door neighbor was Stella Landis. Stella Landis came from Mississippi. And she came . . . Did you ever read a book called "So Red the Rose" by Stark Young? [I remember you talking about it.] Well, it was written all about her family and about the plantation and you know that place they all had during the civil rights they had so much trouble down in south Mississippi? What was the name of that place? You know, Bob Zellner got beat up there. Macomb. Well, I think their plantation was near there. Anyway its all written up in a book called "So Red the Rose" by her cousin that was named Stark Young. And her mother's father had been Bishop Galloway, who was the presiding bishop of the Methodist Church of Mississippi. And Stella had gone to Millsaps College. And she was a tall, thin, I thought, beautiful girl, woman, and by some strange freak of fate, she had come up to Washington to look for a job. She didn't want to stay in Mississippi, and if you ever heard anybody strong against male oppression, she was. She had several brothers and maybe it was the Bishop too, but anyway she just felt the women in Mississippi were just treated, you know. And she wasn't one of the beautiful kind of floating Southern belles, you know, She was tall and thin, and near-sighted and like me read a lot. We were sort of similar in a way, you know we were both tall and thin and read a lot and we were near-sighted. But Stella was beautiful. She had lovely sort of fluffy dark hair and great big grey eyes and white skin, and just thought she was absolutely lovely looking. She was married to Jim Landis. And Jim Landis, you know, came from, his people had been missionaries in China, and she came from, she came over here and went to Harvard, I believe. And he was so brilliant, you know. He was a sort of super-genius. And he got to be the Dean of the Harvard Law School at such an early age. And he was a Law Professor at Harvard. He had come down to work in the Securities and Exchange Commisssion. And he was the one that got to be, that worked with Joe Kennedy in the Securities and Exchange Commission. So she lived right next door and she had two little girls just about the age of my daughter, you know, Ann. But her Ann and my Ann were about the same age. And then Ellen came along and then you see Lucy came along. And so the little girls were the same age. And so she and I became absolutely devoted friends and her husband, Jim Landis, had been the law clerk for Justice Brandeis. So Stella loved to go up to the Supreme Court. See that was before Hugo had been put on the Supreme Court. He was still a Senator. But Stella loved to go up to the Supreme Court and hear the cases. You know, she lived in this law school atmosphere and she knew a lot of the lawyers. And we would go up to the Supreme Court and Justice Brandeis' messanger, who was a Negro, you know all the messangers of the Supreme Court Justices were Negro men, he was devoted to her. We'd go up to the Supreme Court, you know. You'd go to the clerk's office, or wherever you went, and the messanger would come and usher us to the front seats. We would sit in-Mrs. Brandeis never came-so we would sit in Justice Brandeis' private enclave. You know I loved all that. I was this country girl from Alabama, you know, and I thought that was just lots of fun, you know. All the pomp and the ceremony and being ushered into the seats. And I began to enjoy Washington, you see. But then I also got interested in the law cases because you see all the great New Deal cases were being tried, the NRA case and the AAA case. So I also got very interested in the New Deal, the great cases that were being tried. Then Stella began to take me around with her on Monday afternoon to visit the Supreme Court Justices' wives. You see, the Supreme Court Justices' wives received on Monday. So we went to see Mrs. Brandeis a number of times, because she was crazy about Stella. Mrs. Brandeis was a perfectly marvelously interesting woman. She was perfectly beautiful. She must have been eighty, but she was still absolutely beautiful. She always wore cotton stockings. She said, you girls are very extravagant, I think, to wear silk stockings; I never wear silk stockings, unless it's an evening entertainment. But she was very devoted to Stella, and through Stella I got to know her, you know, as a second-hand relationship. But she was very nice to me. She began to invite Cliff and myself to the afternoon teas she'd have on Sunday afternoon, but that was more on account of Cliff than on account of me. You see, the Justice, Justice Brandeis, was very much interested in everything that went on, and he was particularly interested in all the recapitalization of the banks. And he and Max Loenthal had been very much interested. Max Loenthal was a brilliant man who was a great friend of Justice Brandeis who had helped recapitalize the railroads, I believe. But he was an extremely attractive man. But I've told you about going to Justice Brandeis' for tea, alll the pomp and ceremony. But the point was that it was really through Stella-then of course I got interested in what Cliff was doing-but I just gradually got interested in the New Deal.
This was sort of in your second year?
This was in about the second or third year, it was the second year I was in Washington.
Had you had another child by that time? Had Lucy come by that time?
No, it was my son. He was born then.
He was born about the second year you were in Washington?
He was born about the second year I was in Washington. He was a beautiful boy. . . . Stella Landis . . .I began to go out, you know, to go to hearings. She also was interested in hearings. Stella had worked for the Scripts-Howard papers. And she was such a bright, interesting woman, so attractive that old-man Scripts had taken her around the world with him on his yacht. And this was certainly no scandal connected with that; he was about 87 then. But he found her such a delightful companion. And she was, I think, one of the most charming women I ever met in my life. And Cliff got to know Jim pretty well, because they'd go in the car together in the morning, but he never did like Jim much. He said Jim was one of the most cold-blooded, selfish people he'd ever met. He didn't think he was arrogant and cold-blooded in the sense . . . he was unaware, if you know what I mean. I don't mean he was deliberately cold-blooded and selfish; he was just unaware. He was that way with Stella. I remember the little girls went to St. Agnes, too, and when they would have plays or put on something, she would have to beg and beg Jim to come, you know, because they wanted their father to be there. Jim was just unaware. Whatever he did, he did with his entire concentration, you know, his entire mind. And he talked very little, but if you'd go there to dinner, if he drank a great deal, along about 12 o'clock, he'd start talking. And then he'd talk til 4 o'clock in the morning and be just absolutely brilliant. You know, he really was just shy and . But by that time, we were just in a state of total exhaustion. He was a difficult husband, And then later, you know, he deserted her, left her. That's a long . . . way into the future. But he was a very difficult husband. I always thought Cliff had a great awareness of character, and he judged people more by character than he did by their accomplishments really sometimes. Often he did, he'd judge them. And he never did really care for Jim very much. But anyway through Stella I did get interested in going up on the Hill to the hearings and I got interested in the New Deal.