Jewish Ancestors in the Closet

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A fascinating historical footnote to the story of Sen. George Allen's Jewish forebears appeared last week in Washington Jewish Week. Rafael Medoff reports on the discovery by Time magazine in 1939 that Secretary of State Cordell Hull's "entry in Who's Who wrongly stated that his wife's last name was Whitney, which was her married name from her first marriage." Hull's wife, Frances Witz, was the daughter of a Jewish immigrant from Austria--a fact he feared would doom his presidential hopes. Hull's boss, FDR, apparently agreed.

Writes Medoff: "The president told Sen. Burton Wheeler (D-Mont.) in August 1939 . . . [that] Mrs. Hull's Jewishness 'would be raised' by [Hull's] opponents. FDR added: 'Mrs. Hull is about one quarter Jewish. You and I, Burt, are old English and Dutch stock. . . . We know there is no Jewish blood in our veins, but a lot of these people do not know whether there is Jewish blood in their veins or not.'"

The political speculation was mooted, of course, by Roosevelt's decision to run for a third term. Hull served as secretary of state until 1944, and received a Nobel Peace Prize the following year.

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