Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Arthur Flemming (1958–1961): Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare

Arthur Flemming was secretary of health, education and welfare under President Eisenhower from August 1, 1958, to January 19, 1961. Flemming graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a B.A. in 1927 and from American University with an M.A. in political science in 1928. While at American, he was both an instructor and a debate coach (1927-1930).

Flemming worked as a reporter (1930-1934) for the United States Daily, which is now U.S. News and World Report, while also pursuing a law degree from George Washington University, which he earned in 1933. He then returned to academia as the director of the American University School of Public Affairs (1934-1938) and as executive officer of the university in 1938. President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed him as a Republican member of the U.S. Civil Service Commission (1939-1948).

Flemming also served as chief of labor supply with the Office of Product Management (1941-1942) and as a member of the War Manpower Commission (1942-1945); he received the Distinguished Civilian Service Award for his work on naval manpower. Flemming was chosen as one of the twelve members of the Presidential Commission on the Organization of the Executive Branch of Government, or the Hoover Commission, named after its chairman.

Flemming resigned his government jobs to become the president of Ohio Wesleyan University in June 1948; he was the first alumnus to be president of the university. Nevertheless, he continued to participate in public affairs in an advisory capacity, assuming the chairmanship of the personnel advisory board of the Atomic Energy Commission in September of that year.

In 1951, he took sabbatical leave to serve as assistant to the director of defense mobilization (1951-1953) and subsequently became its director (1953-1957). Flemming was also a member of the President's Advisory Committee on Government Organization and the National Security Council.

He returned to Ohio Wesleyan in 1957 but was enticed back by Eisenhower to be the secretary of health, education and welfare, despite turning the President down several times before accepting. As secretary, Flemming led the department into a period of sustained growth, rising to public notice in 1959, when he acted to ban all sales of cranberries before Thanksgiving since the fruit had been sprayed with banned and potentially lethal pesticides. He was passionate about desegregating the education system and was interested in issues concerning the elderly, hosting the first White House Conference on Aging.

After leaving office, Flemming became, first, president of the University of Oregon (1961-1969), then president of Macalester College (1969-1971), while also being appointed by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson as a member of the National Advisory Committee on the Peace Corps (1961-1968). He was named by President Johnson as chairman of the U.S. Commission on Aging and was retained by the Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations (1971-1978). He was also named chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (1972-1982).

Flemming was active in support of rights for the elderly, receiving a second Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Clinton in 1994 -- he received the first from Eisenhower in 1957 -- and remaining chairman of a nonprofit group, the Citizen's Commission on Civil Rights, until his death in 1996.