Tuesday, September 17, 2013

VET STORY 2 | Franklin D'Olier, Founded American Legion 9-19-1919

Franklin D'Olier (1877-1953)
in WWI uniform. He was a
Quartermaster in France, was
elected first National Comman-
der of the American Legion
and later became Prudential's
CEO (1938-46). 
Congress chartered the American Legion on September 19, 1919.  The man elected as the first National Commander was an early advocate of a new, more broadly based organization for U.S. veterans, Franklin Woolman D'Olier (April 28, 1877-December 10, 1953). He was in the quartermaster corps of the U.S. Army in France.

American Legion, Founded 1919 as
a more inclusive veterans' group
than the VFW.
The impetus for the initial convening of an organizational planning group came from Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt, eldest son of the President, who was with active-duty personnel in France waiting to be repatriated to the United States.

The first caucus of what would come to be called the American Legion was in Paris. By the time it met, young Col. Roosevelt had returned to the USA. The concept of the American legion is that it would be more inclusive than The Veterans of Foreign Wars, which was limited to those who served overseas and only in wartime. Many veterans - those who served during peace-time, or who did not serve overseas - were denied admission to the VFW.

At the first meeting of the new Legion, D'Olier was elected as its first National Commander.

Franklin's granddaughter, Anne d'Olier Mullen (her mother Winifred Lee d'Olier insisted that the "d" in D'Olier be spelled Frenchwise in lower case) told me that when he was in France, he made efficiency improvements.

Franklin, she said, observed that the Overseas Expeditionary Forces routinely threw away boots and clothing when these items became worn and needed repair. Franklin noted three problems with this practice: (1) It was expensive to buy new items from the United States, (2) new supplies were often delayed, and (3) It was resource-wasteful.

Anne d'Olier Mullen, Franklin's
granddaughter, as a very young
figure skater. Photo courtesy
of the subject.
D'Olier decided to hire local French artisans to repair these items and thereby both created jobs for unemployed French people and saved the United States a lot of money. His granddaughter told me that the French Government gave him a high honor (Legion d'Honneur she thinks ) for his creating of work for French people after World War I, as well as for his quartermaster management skills.

During his service in France, D'Olier noted that many veterans had not yet seen service overseas when the First World War ended, and new recruits would be serving in peacetime. The VFW, as noted above, would not admit them.

D'Olier attended the first Legion convention in Minneapolis on November 10-12, 1919, which was the culmination of a planning process that included caucuses in Paris and St. Louis. D'Olier was elected its first National Commander for the year 1919-20, when he was 42 years old. His granddaughter Anne d'Olier Mullen told me that Hanford MacNider, who later became the fourth National Commander, was the other candidate in the initial election. The two of them - Franklin and Hanford - went out to a bar together while the vote was being taken and remained friends for years after the election. The first four National Commanders were:
D'Olier became a prominent businessman, later heading up the Prudential Life Insurance Company from 1938 to 1946. He was also the great-grandfather of “Superman” actor Christopher Reeve. 
The five D'Olier brothers, who emigrated to the USA from
Dublin. William, the most successful, is on the left. One of
the other four was murdered in Brooklyn. Photo courtesy of
Anne d'Olier Mullen.

The D'Oliers were originally French. But when in 1685 Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes that had (since 1598 under Henry IV) given religious freedom to Protestants, the Huguenots (French Calvinists) emigrated in large numbers. The D'Oliers ended up in Dublin, Ireland and one of them gave the family name to a street that became famous as a center of commerce in Dublin.

Franklin D'Olier's father William D'Olier and four of his brothers left Dublin during the 1845-52 Great Famine, when a potato blight destroyed the staple food of the Irish poor. William married Annie Kay (née Woolman) in Burlington, N.J. and they gave birth to Franklin Wooman D'Olier in 1877. 

Franklin D'Olier worked his way up to being head of the yarn merchants, D'Olier & Company, in Philadelphia. A Quaker and an 1898 graduate of Princeton University, Franklin was described as:
A conservative in almost everything, [he was] a quiet, serene, unruffled man with a serene, unruffled, analytical mind; an admirable compromiser and conciliator; a tolerant and agreeable man, always willing to hear the fellow's other side and a wizard at converting people to his own side so adroitly that they are apt to be unaware of the change. (Marquis James, A History of the American Legion, pp 135–136. Wm Green. 1923.) 
At his acceptance speech he said only: "My word is simply this. We came here to work. Let us keep working and not listen to speeches. I thank you." As commander he served without pay or expenses - he paid all his expenses out of his own funds. The headquarters of the Legion was based in Indianapolis.

Franklin W. D'Olier, Legion's
First National Commander, CEO
of Prudential Insurance, 1938-46.
Photo courtesy of Anne D'Olier 
The three main items on his agenda as national commander were 
· disability benefits for wounded veterans, 
· job training for unemployed veterans, and a 
· scheme of "adjusted compensation" that would have paid veterans what they would have earned if they had not served in the war. 

The pay disparity between the military and civilians was a serious injustice. Reports show the average soldier, sailor, or Marine was paid $1 per day during the war while the average factory worker made $12. However, D'Olier's staunch support for adjusted compensation for the military - whether paid by the taxpayer or the serviceman's prior employer - made many of his business friends hostile to him. As he said:
I don't feel welcome down here any more. [A] lot of people ... used to think I was a pretty decent, respectable business man who knew the rules of the game and played by them. Now they treat me as if I belonged to the I.W.W. [the trade-unionist "Wobblies", despised by the Legion]. (Interview with Marquis James, A History of the American Legion, Wm Green, 1923, p. 141.)
In September 1920, as the Legion was preparing for its convention in Cleveland, Ohio, D'Olier told a reporter, "The American Legion is the best insurance policy a country ever had." D'Olier refused to be reelected as national commander as he believed the power of the position should not be held by one man for more than one one-year term.  

Afterwards, D'Olier returned to his yarn business in Philadelphia and then in 1938 succeeded Edward D. Duffield as President of the Prudential Insurance Company in Newark, NJ. He concluded that many managers of the company were mediocre, but his ability to shake things up was limited by the country's increasing involvement in war preparations. Because of his American Legion background, he was asked to help resist Hitler by helping to organize civil defense for the New York City region. Later he assisted in the Pacific War by heading up the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey for President Truman.

Meanwhile, in 1942 the Prudential converted to a mutual company, a process started in 1915, and D'Olier moved Edmund Whittaker, who had joined the company in 1928, to head up group sales. He pioneered in developing major medical coverage, group credit insurance, and group insurance in multiple employer collective bargaining units. When Whittaker later characterized actuaries as the “engineers of insurance,” he explained his own success. In a speech reported in William Carr’s For Three Cents a Week, Whittaker told Prudential agents to take a long view:
We who are trying to compete with the ideas of nationalized programs are required to be social engineers. So far we have been good salesmen... [but not good] social engineers. If we don’t do better, our system of private enterprise will pass by default to social planning.
(L to R): Franklin d'Olier Jr., Winifred 
Lee d'Olier, & Jackie Bouvier, South-
ampton Riding &Hunting Club.
Franklin D'Olier died in 1953 and is buried in the St. Mary's Episcopal church yard in his home town of Burlington, NJ. Anne d'Olier Mullen tells a story she heard from her mother, Winfred Lee d'Olier, who summered in the Hamptons and is buried with her husband in East Hampton's Most Holy Trinity cemetery:
There was an elderly black man at my father's funeral. He seemed deeply sad so I asked him why he was there. "Well," he said, "I was working in the boiler room, feeding in coal when needed. Your father used to come around and visit all the headquarters office every morning and would talk with the people. And, you know, that even included the boiler room and me. I got to know him. It meant a lot to me. I am here to pay my respects."
Times have changed.
  • Prudential Insurance today has close to 25,000 employees and insures 20 million people in its group coverage alone.
  • The Legion has 2.4 million members attached to 14,000 Legion Posts. 
1. Interviews by JTMarlin with Anne d’Olier Mullen, September  13 and 22, 2013. Photos via iPhone September 22, 2013. 
2. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franklin_D'Olier
3. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=2942
4. Reeve: http://www.wargs.com/other/reeve.html.

5. http://www.ussbs.com/ussbs-hist1.html, by Marquis James.
6.  http://www.legion.org/library/163001/franklin-dolier 
7. http://www.Encyclopedia.com entry on Prudential Insurance. 
8. Daily Princetonian (http://bit.ly/16uw1Eg ).

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