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A. Robert Smith

A. Robert Smith was interviewed by Karen Perdue with videography by Deborah Lawton and Michael Letzring of KUAC radio/tv, Fairbanks on April 29, 2009 in a recording studio at KUAC radio/tv on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. William Schneider was also present during the interview. A. Robert Smith talks about his experience as a young journalist in Washington D.C. in the mid-1950s reporting on the congressional oversight hearings for Morningside Hospital, and the battle over Congress' passage of Alaska's Mental Health Enabling Act.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2006-15-15

Project: Alaska Mental Health Trust History
Date of Interview: Apr 29, 2009
Narrator(s): A. Robert Smith
Interviewer(s): Karen Perdue
Videographer: Michael Letzring, Deborah Lawton
Transcriber: Carol McCue
People Present: Bill Schneider
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
Alaska Humanities Forum, Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority
Alternate Transcripts
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There is no slideshow for this person.

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Section 1: How he got involved in reporting for newspapers in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.

Section 2: Review of mental health treatment in Alaska.

Section 3: Congressional involvement and auditing of Morningside Hospital.

Section 4: Results of the audit of Morningside Hospital.

Section 5: Newspaper coverage of the Alaska Mental Health Bill debate in Congress.

Section 6: Effects of his newspaper coverage of the mental health story.

Section 7: Edith Green’s career in Congress and the role of Bob Bartlett in the Alaska Mental Health Bill.

Section 8: Bob Bartlett and Edith Green’s partnership on passing the Alaska Mental Health Bill, and Robert Smith’s previous experience with mental health issues making him interested in this story as a journalist.

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Section 1: KAREN PERDUE: Bob, good to have you here. Thank you for coming. A. ROBERT SMITH: Glad to be here. KAREN PERDUE: Thank you. I understand that you ‑‑ you worked in Congress and you were a journalist for a long time. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got into journalism and what your career was like. A. ROBERT SMITH: Yes. I was a Washington correspondent almost from the beginning. I had several jobs on small newspapers when I was in college and right after college, but then I decided I really wanted to cover Congress and be a political writer more than anything else.

And so I set up a ‑‑ I organized my own news bureau in Washington, with the idea of covering Congress for small newspapers in the Pacific Northwest. And the reason for that was that none of the papers out in the Northwest had a representative in Washington in the Press Corps. And it just seemed to me to be an opportunity, if I could do it, and so I said I'll have to do that.

And within a few years, I had lined up quite a number of newspapers in Oregon and Washington. And I got into Alaska some few years later. So that's ‑‑ that's how it all began. KAREN PERDUE: And how ‑‑ how did you get into the Alaska newspaper coverage?

A. ROBERT SMITH: Well, I got into Alaska without ‑‑ I had not intended to do that, but I met the publisher of the Anchorage Times, Bob Atwood, in Washington, and he said, you know, we have a big story developing in ‑‑ for Alaska here in Congress, and that's the Statehood Bill which may be coming up pretty soon, and we would like it if you could take us on and cover that story for us.

And so that's how I began with my introduction into Alaskan affairs, and was pleased to do it, because as a journalist, I always thought it was great to be covering Congress, it was like writing the first draft of history. And here was something that, if it happened, was really going to be historic. Because there hadn't been a new state added since 1912, I think, Arizona, and this was in the early '50s when Bob Atwood propositioned me, and so then I covered it from then on until Alaska was admitted.

KAREN PERDUE: What newspapers were those in Alaska and the big ones in the Pacific Northwest? A. ROBERT SMITH: Well, after the Anchorage Times hired me, I took on the Fairbanks News‑Miner. And these were the two biggest papers in the state that favored Statehood, and so they were interested in my covering that particular bill.

Then several of the smaller newspapers down on the Southeast of Alaska, Ketchikan Daily News and the Sitka Sentinel and the Petersburg Press all took on my stories, and so I had five newspapers.

Now, there were some newspapers in the ‑‑ in the Territory that were opposed to Statehood, and they didn't have anybody covering the bill. That was the Juneau Empire, particularly, and the Anchorage News. There may have been some others that opposed it, but those were the two principal ones.

KAREN PERDUE: And then you covered in Oregon some of the big papers, as well, right? A. ROBERT SMITH: Yes. I had the biggest paper in the Northwest, the Portland Oregonian was my main newspaper. But I had papers in Eugene and Salem and Pendleton and Longview, Washington, and Bremerton, Washington. And Everett, Washington, and Yakima, Washington. I had ‑‑ I had practically all of them.

KAREN PERDUE: So you probably knew many of the Congress members from just those districts pretty well, like Bob Bartlett and ‑‑ A. ROBERT SMITH: Yes. Yes. KAREN PERDUE: Did you know Bob Bartlett?

A. ROBERT SMITH: Well yes, when I started out, of course, Alaska had only Bob Bartlett who was the delegate, and I got well acquainted with him, but I was ‑‑ I was covering all the senators from the Pacific Northwest, as well as their Congressmen from the local districts in which the newspapers were located. So yes.

And Bob Bartlett was easy to get acquainted with. He was a very likeable and gracious person, and I must say, probably welcomed the attention of a newspaperman. Because so many members of the Congress crave attention that they don't get much of in the House of Representatives. It's a big body, you know, 435 members. KAREN PERDUE: Uh‑hum. A. ROBERT SMITH: And unless there's somebody there from their home state ‑‑ KAREN PERDUE: Right.

A. ROBERT SMITH: ‑‑ nobody pays too much attention to them individually, unless they have particularly powerful positions. KAREN PERDUE: And I understand, Bob Bartlett actually had a newspaper background. A. ROBERT SMITH: I guess he did. He ‑‑ I know who you're ‑‑ he did his own writing, and I don't know really what his newspaper experience was, but I had heard that he had some.

Section 2: KAREN PERDUE: Well, today we want to talk a little bit about the coverage that you provided of the Morningside Hospital in Portland and the Alaska mental health story. And I know that you have done a lot of writing about that at the time when it was in front of Congress. And Bob Bartlett was involved in that, he ‑‑ he ‑‑ he was very involved, and give us some thoughts on what you saw Bob Bartlett doing in the mental health area and what you think motivated him.

A. ROBERT SMITH: Well, I can imagine that Bob Bartlett was motivated by trying to reform something that was really badly in need of reform, and I don't know, you know, for a fact exactly what prompted his interest in it, but like so many things, undoubtedly it was called to his attention by his constituents.

He represented everybody in Alaska, and so he had many ‑‑ undoubtedly had many calls on him to ‑‑ to do this and do that, as most members of the Congress do. But that was a situation that called out for reform for many years, and exactly how it happened with him, I can't know for sure.

He ‑‑ I think he had been with ‑‑ had he not been before my time, I think he had been on the staff of Delegate Tony Dimond, and I don't know whether Dimond ever looked into this problem or not. I'm not sure about that. But it could have happened.

KAREN PERDUE: And what ‑‑ generally what was the problem that you heard Bob Bartlett express about what was wrong with our mental health system in Alaska? A. ROBERT SMITH: Well, the problem was that anyone who was judged to be insane was sent outside, was sent from Alaska to somewhere else. And the somewhere else was a hospital in ‑‑ a private hospital in Portland, Oregon. And that meant that none of the family, unless they had enough money to travel, would conveniently find ways to ‑‑ to be with them, or to see this person from their family.

So that in itself was a bad situation. And I don't know how much he knew about the conditions at the Morningside Hospital, but in 1950, when ‑‑ during the ‑‑ when Alaska was still a Territory, there was a commission set up to look into the ‑‑ how mental health patients were treated in Alaska, and it was done by the Interior Department.

And they had a very ‑‑ very good panel of independent qualified people, and they ‑‑ they turned out a report that said this has to change. This is not good.

And for example, one of the things in that report was that most of the people who were sent out were sent by a jury of nonmedical people, that they weren't even evaluated by a psychiatrist, and yet they could be judged insane by a jury of their peers, who might just object if they seemed a little goofy, you know, and didn't behave in the way that ‑‑ or they might have been an alcoholic, you know, whatever, they could be dispatched, get rid of, and that's happened to a lot of people, evidently.

Section 3: KAREN PERDUE: And so in Oregon, this hospital where a lot of Alaskans were sent, Morningside Hospital, was ‑‑ was in the district of a couple of folks that were important to the mental health story, Senator Richard Neuberger and Representative Edith Green. And you knew both of them? A. ROBERT SMITH: I did. KAREN PERDUE: And what ‑‑ tell us about them.

A. ROBERT SMITH: Well, both of them had been elected in ‑‑ for the first time to Congress in 1954. Edith Green was a Democrat, a Congresswoman from Portland, and the hospital was in her district. Richard Neuberger was a ‑‑ was elected to the United States Senate, and of course, the hospital was in his state.

So somehow they ‑‑ here again, I don't know what called to their attention the conditions there at Morningside, but they were both liberals, liberal Democrats, and both immediately wanted to reform this situation.

Unlike many Congressmen who would like to protect any business in their district, they recognized that this was not in the best interests of the patients of Alaska, from Alaska, and as a result, introduced the bill that eventually was ‑‑ was enacted. And it may be that Bob Bartlett called it to their attention. I wouldn't be surprised because that is usually the way it works.

KAREN PERDUE: But it was unusual to think about members of Congress taking on business interests in their own district, and ‑‑ A. ROBERT SMITH: Well, that was. And it's not only unusual, it's heroic, because most Congressmen try to protect their constituents, whatever their constituents' interest is, assuming it's legal and morally upright, but this is a situation that called for reform.

And Edith Green particularly, I think, was outraged because she had a ‑‑ she had a great capacity for outrage. Morally, the issues of wrongdoing would infuriate Edith Green. She was ‑‑ she had been a school teacher, and she was not a professional politician in any sense, she had been ‑‑ I think she had worked at the state legislature in Oregon lobbying for education, but this was her first run for office, her first office that she held as the Congresswoman.

And she ‑‑ and, of course, I imagine that the people who owned the hospital were part of the business community that opposed her when she ran, so, you know, it wasn't a ‑‑ it wasn't as difficult as it might have been. KAREN PERDUE: Right. It seemed like she also, along with introducing the bill, began to call for audits of the hospital itself. And you covered that ‑‑ A. ROBERT SMITH: Right. KAREN PERDUE: ‑‑ quite a bit. A. ROBERT SMITH: Right.

KAREN PERDUE: And what was the motivation there? A. ROBERT SMITH: Well, somehow she found out that the ‑‑ the hospital, their ‑‑ they had a contract with the Department of the Interior, which the Interior Department over ‑‑ you know, had oversight over the Territory. The Department of the Interior had an Office of Territories, which Ernest Gruening had been a head of that office at one time before he was appointed Governor of Alaska during territorial days.

And the ‑‑ the Department of the Interior was supposed to ‑‑ I assume was supposed to, or you would think anyway would want to audit this contract, the contractor, and see to what extent their expenses were legitimate and everything. Hadn't been done. They ‑‑ they had had a contract with Morningside for ‑‑ since 1904, and over all that years, we're talking about 50 years, had never been audited.

And so she, I think, thought it was time to find out what was going on there. And I ‑‑ when the audit came out, I wrote a big story because it showed that they were making a whole lot of money, and this ‑‑ this seemed to be somewhat shameful because here you are making money, being ‑‑ I think they made over a million dollars over a period of 13 years, something like that, and she was very critical of that.

Section 4: KAREN PERDUE: And that ‑‑ that audit did get a lot of coverage in both of the papers ‑‑ in all the papers in Alaska and in Oregon that you wrote for, and there were some headlines such as “Oregonian Gets Rich Off Alaska Business,” “Owner Earns Over a Million Dollars,” et cetera, so it was very damaging, I know ‑‑ A. ROBERT SMITH: Yeah. KAREN PERDUE: ‑‑ to the ‑‑ to the situation. What effect do you think that had on the legislation?

A. ROBERT SMITH: Well, I ‑‑ I suspect that it helped push the bill along because first of all, the real reason to do this was that this was a bad situation. This was not in the interests of these patients, they were getting custodial care, they were not getting the kind of treatment that you would hope they might get.

And yet that was very ‑‑ you know, I would think that would be harder to prove as something that should be changed than the question of whether this was a moneymaking operation.

And so as soon as it became ‑‑ it shifted in that respect, I think, and politically, that was very important because if you can say, well, you know, these people are just making money on this deal and they ‑‑ they get $75, the hospital could collect $75 for every patient they buried, and then they didn't really give them a decent burial, you know they are making money on the death rate in the hospital.

Instead of treating them, send them back home, they were probably having an incentive to let them die and then bury them. So all of those really worked against the people who wanted to protect this ‑‑ this hospital.

KAREN PERDUE: Well, the idea of the legislation was to give Alaska something, the Territory of Alaska something, land, money, some combination ‑‑ A. ROBERT SMITH: Right. KAREN PERDUE: ‑‑ to take care of this problem. A. ROBERT SMITH: Right.

KAREN PERDUE: And there were a lot of details to that. And as we started to move into the House Interior committee and the various committees that handled these bills in the House, there were a lot of different permutations, but one that stands out is the Congressman Miller from Nebraska, he had some concerns about the bill when it was in the house committee, and do you remember anything about that?

A. ROBERT SMITH: I think the original bill that Bob Bartlett introduced said it would allow the Territory to claim ‑‑ to collect 500,000 acres of the ‑‑ all the lands in the ‑‑ in the Territory, which were owned by the Federal Government, and use the proceeds from the resources of that land to finance a mental health program.

And yes, Congressman Miller, for reasons that we can only speculate about, decided to double the amount of the land, and he was opposed to the bill. I mean, it looks like it's a paradox. Here's a guy who is opposed to the bill for whatever reason, and yet he wants to double the amount of land. And I can only believe that he did so thinking that would kill the bill for sure because then it could be portrayed as a land grab. And it was. There's no question about it.

But oddly enough, when the bill did finally pass, it had a million acres in it, and that was ‑‑ that is today beneficial for the program.

Section 5: KAREN PERDUE: Very good. You took a lot of heat. Your papers and some of the papers that Edith Green preserved showed that sometimes, when you cover these stories, somebody, whether it's the owners of Morningside or Congress people, kind of got hot and bothered over what you wrote, and they contacted your editors. A. ROBERT SMITH: Uh‑hum.

KAREN PERDUE: And so what was that about? A. ROBERT SMITH: Well, that's ‑‑ you know, that's a good newspaperman's reward. You know you're really touching sensitive nerves when that happens. And if you have ‑‑ if you work for newspapers that support what you do, and I did, you just take it in stride and feel I must have done a good job.

So it didn't bother me a bit, and it didn't ‑‑ it didn't seem to bother the publishers of the Alaskan papers, or the ‑‑ even the Oregonian. Although the Oregonian was right there in that area where the hospital was, and it would not ordinarily want to see a business shut down in Portland, but there ‑‑ I don't know that they ever took any editorial positions on it, but I was never hampered in any way as to what I wrote about it.

KAREN PERDUE: It seems like the stories were very prominently featured. It was a big story. A. ROBERT SMITH: Yeah, it was. It got front‑page play, and so it couldn't be ignored. That's true. KAREN PERDUE: Yeah. And the owners of the Morningside Hospital were the Coe family. A. ROBERT SMITH: Right.

KAREN PERDUE: And did you ever meet any of the Coes or interview them? A. ROBERT SMITH: I don't recall. You know, that's been 50 years ago, and I don't recall ever meeting them. I was aware of them, and I may have seen them at a ‑‑ at a hearing, there were hearings, you know, held before Congress committees, and ‑‑ but I was not well acquainted with ‑‑ with them personally.

KAREN PERDUE: So then in 19 ‑‑ around '56, '55, '56, it seemed like, the Alaska Mental Health Bill had started to get on a path to pass, and all of a sudden a few other issues arose from your writing that we ‑‑ we ‑‑ for instance, that the bill was akin to the Teapot Dome scandal. Tell us about that.

A. ROBERT SMITH: Well, I think that all came out of this ‑‑ that may have been why Miller, Doc Miller, added another half million acres, for all I know. You know, who ‑‑ that could have ‑‑ it seems a little nefarious, but the Teapot Dome was one of the great scandals in American history that had to do with western lands that the Interior Department supervised, back in the 19 ‑‑ during the Harding Administration.

And they had oil, they had discovered oil in Wyoming. And the there was some payoffs being made by oil companies to people in the Harding Administration and Interior Department. So that was the heart of the matter on that big scandal.

And so somebody, I think, was trying to draw a comparison, and was attempting to portray this as a way of setting aside some money that somebody was going to exploit for their own private gain, and it would be another big Teapot Dome type scandal. And of course it was absolutely off base. I mean, it wasn't ‑‑ it wasn't even close to being something like that.

KAREN PERDUE: And similar to that was another phenomenon that seemed to appear, and that was about Alaska becoming a place to send mental patients from across the nation. And tell us about that. A. ROBERT SMITH: Yeah. For some reason, there was a group in California that began a campaign against this bill, and they ‑‑ one of the newspapers down there ran a ‑‑ a story or an editorial, and they described this as Siberia USA.

And the whole concept they were trying to get across was that this bill would set up this huge preserve in Alaska as kind of a place where you could send mental patients, anybody from the United States who had mental problems, you wanted to get rid of them, you send them to Siberia USA, which is Alaska, and there they had this land all set aside for it.

Well, there again, you know, it was so farfetched, there wasn't a shred of truth to the thing. But when people are really out to ‑‑ to ‑‑ in politics sometimes, smear tactics like that work, even if people aren't convinced, they might just want to be shy of the whole thing. So it was a ‑‑ it was a short time ‑‑ a short‑term campaign, and it ‑‑ it dried up pretty soon.

Section 6: KAREN PERDUE: It seemed like in the very end that that emerged and it was in the senate, and the senators, Senator Goldwater and maybe Senator Jackson had to deal with that. A. ROBERT SMITH: Right. KAREN PERDUE: And it seems like Senator Goldwater stepped forward, and if you remember anything about his involvement in this bill.

A. ROBERT SMITH: I don't remember what Barry Goldwater did in that respect. Jackson, Scoop Jackson was the Senator from Washington State, and he was both ‑‑ I think both of them were on the Interior Committee, which is why they would get involved in it because this bill would go through the Interior Committee.

And Jackson, I know, you know, disputed that there was anything of that nature involved. And of course, if Goldwater did it, you have a Senator from ‑‑ Republicans as well as Jackson, so I think it was discredited rather quickly.

KAREN PERDUE: I think what happened, Senator Goldwater in exasperation eventually removed from the ‑‑ made an amendment to remove from the bill the commitment procedures and left it to the Territory to define them. A. ROBERT SMITH: Oh, I see. KAREN PERDUE: And that seemed to quiet down all the people who thought, you know, that this was going to mean they were going to go to Alaska. A. ROBERT SMITH: Yeah.

KAREN PERDUE: So. Well, there were a lot of ins and outs to the bill, and you covered ‑‑ you covered the story, it seems, pretty extensively, at least probably every month or more, you wrote hundreds of articles on this subject. And stepping back today, was it a good story to cover?

A. ROBERT SMITH: It was one of the better stories that I covered because it was ‑‑ it was the kind of story that ‑‑ that makes you proud if you ‑‑ if this thing is going to happen, it's ‑‑ you know it's going to improve the lives of ‑‑ of some people. You can't say that about a lot of stories that ‑‑ that you write as a newspaper person, and for me, that ‑‑ that gave it a ‑‑ a sense ‑‑ a sense of purpose. This was a good cause, in other words.

But as a practical matter for me, representing more than one newspaper, it was a beaut because I could write the same story for the Oregonian in Portland as I was writing for the Anchorage Times or the Fairbanks News‑Miner. And so I ‑‑ I worked that story to death, you know, and was pleased to do it, and got such good reception, it was usually a front‑page story. And that in itself for a newspaperman is the reward, you know. So...

KAREN PERDUE: You know, you said yourself that Congressmen have to cover just hundreds of subjects. A. ROBERT SMITH: Right. KAREN PERDUE: And they very busy. And what impact ‑‑ have you ever thought about what impact it might have been for ‑‑ that your coverage made to the story? In other words, that you were working for Oregon and Alaska, and you were there to cover the story, do you think that kind of helped the issue get ‑‑ get resolved, or ‑‑

A. ROBERT SMITH: Well, I like ‑‑ I'd like to think so. You know, journalists, I particularly, always felt that I shouldn't be partisan in any cause, but when you have a story like this, it's hard to be absolutely neutral, absolutely nonpartisan, or non ‑‑ or not take sides.

But just the fact that you write stories like this and call it to the attention of the public, there are lots of people who get exercised over things that ‑‑ of wrongdoing. You know. And that's one of the great missions of ‑‑ of the press, it's ‑‑ it should be anyway ‑‑ is to find out what's going on that just isn't right. It just isn't right. And expose it. And that was ‑‑ this was an ideal story to fulfill that mission.

KAREN PERDUE: And now that you're here in Alaska and you've had some time to ‑‑ to talk to people who ‑‑ you know, who have benefitted from the ‑‑ the bill passing, you know, the land was actually awarded and, of course, it was a long history before it came to help the mentally ill, does that surprise you that it ‑‑ it sort of took these twists and turns, but now today it's still alive and well?

A. ROBERT SMITH: Well, I'm so pleased that it worked out so well. It's ‑‑ because it's been such a long time since that event took place. And I have not been involved with ‑‑ I ‑‑ I left covering Congress in the '70s, and so I haven't really been much in touch with events in Alaska since then. And so it's a ‑‑ yeah, it's a joy to ‑‑ to know that such good benefits came from that successful effort.

Section 7: KAREN PERDUE: And what do you ‑‑ what happened to Edith Green? A. ROBERT SMITH: Well, Edith Green served in ‑‑ in the House of Representatives. I don't know that she ever suffered politically by taking on this business interest in her district. It was a heroic thing for her to do, there's just no question about it, but that was the kind of person she was.

And she ‑‑ she was an admirable member of Congress. Her specialty was education. And she sponsored numerous education bills in the years, and during the Kennedy Administration particularly. She was close to the Kennedy's.

She was one of the early supporters of Jack Kennedy when he was trying to get the nomination. I one time took a trip with her and Jack Kennedy before he got the nomination, and he was courting her support. And she wasn't sure whether he could make it or not. But she liked him. She really liked him.

And I remember she and I talked about him. We flew out cross country with him to Oregon, and he did some campaigning. She got him to come out there to Oregon. And so she had an illustrious career. I don't recall how long she served in Congress, but she had a long career. That was ‑‑ you have to remember also that was in a time when there weren't very many women in Congress. KAREN PERDUE: Uh‑hum.

A. ROBERT SMITH: She was not the first one from Oregon, Oregon had had another woman once before, but she ‑‑ she was ‑‑ I don't remember, there were maybe a half a dozen women in the House. And only one in the Senate in those days. So that in itself was something that ‑‑ an achievement for her.

KAREN PERDUE: And Bob Bartlett, you became ‑‑ you know, you covered him extensively, just a little bit more about Bob Bartlett. A. ROBERT SMITH: Well, Bob Bartlett, of course, was one of the founding fathers of Alaskan Statehood. Nobody really did more for that cause than Bob Bartlett. And he became ‑‑ as a result, when Statehood was enacted, he became one of the first two United States senators from Alaska and certainly deserves it.

It's unfortunate that he died as early as he did. I think he had only served like 10 years in the Senate before his death, and ‑‑ but he was ‑‑ you know I always thought of him ‑‑ I always thought he looked ‑‑ he reminded me of Will Rogers. Will Rogers was a humorist; Bob Bartlett was a man of good humor, but he was a hard worker and he was very skilled in ingratiating himself with his colleagues.

And for many years when he was a delegate, that's all he had going for him. He couldn't ‑‑ he didn't have a vote, he couldn't swap his vote for somebody else's on any cause, and so he could try to make friends and influence his colleagues, and he was very good at that.

KAREN PERDUE: And it would seem that the Mental Health Bill might be an example of that where he ‑‑ he was a delegate at that time, he was not a voting member. A. ROBERT SMITH: Right. KAREN PERDUE: He had pushed this issue, and then he found a partner in ‑‑ A. ROBERT SMITH: That's right. KAREN PERDUE: ‑‑ the Oregon delegation.

A. ROBERT SMITH: Yeah. That's really a very unusual situation that he was able to, as you say, partner with Edith Green in the House, and then the support of ‑‑ of Richard Neuberger was important in the Senate. KAREN PERDUE: Well, I think that is my ‑‑ that's my list of questions on the script, and wondered if we want to take a drink of water and ‑‑ and ask Bill what I left off.

Section 8: KAREN PERDUE: So it seems like Delegate Bartlett and Edith Green paired up on this issue, and that was effective. And why would that have happened? Why did Bob Bartlett need a ‑‑ need somebody to push legislation for Alaska?

A. ROBERT SMITH: Well, as you know, Bob Bartlett, as a delegate, before he became a Senator, could introduce legislation but he couldn't vote on anything. And so he had minimal influence, except through friendship. And he was a very friendly man.

And of course, I suspected after Edith Green was elected and joined the House in 1955 that he probably quickly made friends with her, probably welcomed her to the House, and made himself known to her, and he ‑‑ since he had already, was conscious of this problem in her district, he probably sought her out and said, you know, I've got a problem, and I'd love to have your help in solving it.

And she ‑‑ I would guess she never heard of Morningside or didn't know what was going on there until Bob Bartlett called it to her attention. So that she being the kind of ‑‑ of reform‑minded person that she was, I would guess that she was immediately responsive.

There is some correspondence between them that we've discovered that took place later when she was so exasperated that she said to him, why did I ‑‑ why did you ever talk me into getting into this, because it was ‑‑ it was a distraction for her in many ways, and certainly she wasn't going to win any ‑‑ or she didn't probably think she was going to win any ‑‑ any votes in Portland by ‑‑ by killing this business.

KAREN PERDUE: It also seems like a very interesting set of timing because the whole basis of the bill was to give land away to the Territory to deal with the problem, and of course, after Statehood, that would not have been possible because Statehood dealt with that issue. And so it seems like timing-wise, this could only have happened in ‑‑ in the territorial days, and so it was kind of at the last part of the Alaska's territorial history.

A. ROBERT SMITH: Well, the Mental Health Bill passed in 1956, as I recall, and Statehood didn't happen ‑‑ wasn't passed for another two years. And so it ‑‑ it had a good lead. And I don't know how the enactment proceeded after the bill was enacted. I don't know how quickly Alaska, the Territory, began to select lands for it. So that ‑‑ but obviously, there was a two‑year lead time there that made it possible probably to get some pretty good parcels.

KAREN PERDUE: That's ‑‑ that's right. That's what happened. So back to your ‑‑ the very beginning of our conversation, when we talked about how you got started in ‑‑ in journalism and ‑‑ and your ‑‑ your early experiences, what was your first experience with mental health issues?

A. ROBERT SMITH: Well, one year when I was in college, I got a summer job, I think before my senior year, if I'm not mistaken, in a mental ‑‑ in a mental hospital in Maryland. And I had no idea ‑‑ you know, I had no idea about how mental health problems were ‑‑ were dealt with.

And I only took it because it was a job. I needed a job, and they were hiring young people to be ‑‑ what did they call them. I've forgotten what we ‑‑ what we were called, but we were just to do whatever needed to be done. You know, we weren't professionals in any way, but it was just to help feed the patients and keep the place clean and that kind of thing.

And so I was maybe more sensitive or more conscious when this thing came along, which was not too long ‑‑ you know, just a few years later, actually, than I might have been otherwise, but I don't know that that had much of an effect, I think I just saw this as a great story, just go for it.

KAREN PERDUE: Go for it. How old were you, roughly, when you covered this? A. ROBERT SMITH: I was in my twenties. I was only out of school for a few years when I started as a newspaperman, and then this thing came along in '54, so I would have been ‑‑ I would have been in ‑‑ yeah, I was in my late twenties. That's when this happened. Yeah.

KAREN PERDUE: We're lucky you did it. A. ROBERT SMITH: Yeah. KAREN PERDUE: I think those are the questions that I have. And it's a wonderful interview. Perfect interview. A. ROBERT SMITH: Well, thank you.