Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Eugene H. Bird
Q: Who was this?
BIRD: Gordon Wright. He was an historian of the French Communist Party. He'd been in the Embassy [in Paris] during the period from 1946 to 1948. He then came back to the University of Oregon and became head of the Department of History there. I was his graduate assistant while I was there. So again I received a good orientation on foreign affairs and the Foreign Service. When I was getting my master's degree under Professor Wright, my specialty was the economic history of Europe. My master's thesis was on the Eastern borders of Poland and the determination of the “Curzon Line.” I went down to the Hoover Library [at Stanford University] and did research on the actual meeting of the “Group of 10” which determined the Curzon Line. I read some of the original documents and wrote my thesis on whether the line was really an ethnic boundary or not. As it turned out, the Curzon Line is pretty close to the [present] line between Poland and Russia, the Ukraine, and Belarus.
That was in 1952. I took an examination to enter the Rockefeller intern program for upgrading administrative management in government. The program had been running for six or seven years by that time—since the end of World War II. The Department of State had never participated in it, but in 1952 they decided to do so. When the Department did so, it brought in a total of about 40 Rockefeller interns out of 500 who were recruited across the country. The [Rockefeller program] had an examination quite similar to the Foreign Service examination—two steps, including an oral examination. I was one of two people chosen from Oregon to go to work at the Department of State. We held out for this assignment—we had to because there were so many others in competition to go to the Department of State.
Q: The Rockefeller Foundation was paying you to be an intern at the Department of State?
BIRD: Yes. Actually, I don't think that the Rockefeller Foundation paid the entire amount. What they did was to pay each agency involved with this program in the U. S. Government to have a certain number of interns. The management and training costs of those interns were covered by the Rockefeller Foundation. When we came in, we were told that we would spend a month here and a month there, in various parts of the Department. We were in constant rotation to other agencies as well. We'd go to the Hill [Congress]. So it was quite an introduction to Washington.
Q: The idea was for the Rockefeller Foundation to reach out across the country to bring people into the government from places where they otherwise might not be coming from?