Did You Know a Connecticut Governor Was a US Spy?
By Paul E. Baran
When James Lukens McConaughy campaigned for Governor in 1946, he could already boast of an impressive resume: President of Wesleyan University in Middletown (1925-1943), Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut (1939-1941), President of the United China Relief (1942-1946), and a prominent role in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II (1943-1945). The OSS was the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
In late 1943 McConaughy was recruited by Major General William J. Donovan of the OSS to serve as Deputy Director in Charge of Schools and Training. The former college president oversaw a campus that was scattered all over the world. To ensure the necessary secrecy, McConaughy’s trips to Washington, DC, and abroad were supposedly made in connection with his work as President of the United China Relief (an aid organization dedicated to supporting Chinese civilians and military in their struggle against Japan).
Those trained by the OSS received instruction in navigation, parachute jumping, how to kill wild animals and use them as food, lock picking, hiding microscopic-sized confidential data, protecting oneself from dagger attacks and using a dagger offensively, operating a wireless set, reading code and cipher, and elementary foreign languages. McConaughy wrote, “Name me a weird subject of instruction and I will gamble that it was taught by OSS somewhere, sometime!”
McConaughy touted his OSS experience during his 1946 campaign for governor, stating that it taught him how to work with all kinds of people. He courted veterans by reminding them that in the OSS he worked with them, trained them, lived with them, understood them, and got to know their desires, needs, and financial limitations. He sought the support of labor by explaining that it was American labor leaders who assisted the OSS in organizing foreign labor leaders into sabotage crews.
McConaughy’s rhetoric in the first gubernatorial campaign of the post-war era also highlighted the start of the Cold War in its emphasis on the threat from communism. In his acceptance speech for the Republican nomination, McConaughy stated:
Communism is a cancer which will destroy America if it is not driven out. The two greatest fighters against American Communism are the Church and the Republican party…We Republicans pledge to continue to keep our party free from this menace. Let the Communists of Connecticut vote the other ticket, not ours.
McConaughy died in office on March 7, 1948, having served little more than one year of his term as governor.
The James L. McConaughy Papers were donated to the Connecticut State Library in August 2008 by McConaughy’s grandson, also named James L. McConaughy. The papers complement McConaughy’s gubernatorial records and include not only speeches from McConaughy’s time as Governor and Lieutenant Governor but also photographs, correspondence to his wife written during his overseas trips for the OSS, and his scrapbook from Yale University, from which he graduated in 1909.
By Paul E. Baran, Government Archivist for the Connecticut State Library
© Connecticut State Library. All rights reserved. This article is excerpted and originally appeared in The Connector Vol. 11/No. 2, April 2009.