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Joseph Andrew Robinson, born on August 27, 1909, the son of David B. Robinson, a businessman, and Elizabeth Robinson, grew up in West Collingswood, New Jersey, and attended Camden High School. He graduated from Princeton University in 1931 with a degree in history. In 1937 Robinson earned a Ph.D. in history at the University of Pennsylvania. Beginning in 1941 Robinson served in a series of increasingly responsible positions, rising to Editor in the Office of Coordinator of Information, which was part of the Executive Office of the President. "This propaganda arm of the government...is truly America's most formidable secret weapon," he wrote at the time. By the end of the year he had complete charge of all contacts with the Intelligence branches of the Army and Navy for the OCI. From 1942-45 Robinson was Chief War Correspondent for the United Nations News Service in the Mediterranean theatre.
After the war Robinson served as an army information specialist and Foreign Service officer. In late 1945 Robinson was appointed chief press officer, Indonesia, within the Office of Information and Cultural Affairs. Between 1945-47 Robinson lived in Italy, India, Singapore, and French Indochina. In the 1948 class directory, Robinson described himself as the assistant public affairs officer for the Office of Information and Cultural Affairs in the Department of State at the American Embassy in Manila. Between 1949 and 1952 Robinson lived in Poland, and then in Korea in 1952, where he became Secretary of Embassy and Director of Information in Pusan. It was there on October 30, 1952 that Robinson married Madeline Law, a graduate of Radcliffe College and also a member of the U.S. Foreign Service.
Robinson returned to the United States in 1953, retired from the Foreign Service, and served as the secretary-treasurer of the Joseph W. Graham Company, a family-owned industrial coal business in Camden, New Jersey.
He retired from his business career in 1962. He and Madeline moved from Moorestown, New Jersey, to St. Michaels, Maryland, where they lived on the San Domingo Creek. He pursued his lifelong hobby of sailing, and the Robinsons maintained a waterfowl refuge. "We are all refugees together from an uncertain civilization," he wrote in his 40th Reunion book. The Robinsons became Trustees of the Maryland Ornithological Society. Robinson wrote "British Invade the Chesapeake, 1777," which was part of Chesapeake Bay in the American Revolution, edited by Rear Admiral E. M. Eller, and published in 1980 by Tidewater Press.
Robinson passed away on April 4, 1998 in Easton, Maryland at the age of 87.
Robinson was involved in the establishment of informational and cultural affairs agencies in India, Saigon and Warsaw, and in his letters describes both the internal politics and external challenges of establishing an American news presence abroad. Robinson's account of the creation of the Saigon office is especially thorough.
At the beginning of the correspondence run, Robinson has just been offered a position in the Office of the Coordinator of Information. Early in his correspondence Robinson asks his mother to save his letters for a possible book he would write upon his return (but did not). He also cautioned his family to keep the contents of his correspondence private: "We were told treason charges face the first man to let anything out." Perhaps with a future memoir in mind, he wrote full and lyrical descriptions of many places he visited. The letters are vivid in their descriptions of places and events. He was very meticulous about ensuring the continuity of events in his accounts.
Many of the details in his correspondence concern ordinary daily life - inquiring after relatives and friends, discussing the sale and purchase of various boats (Robinson was an avid sailor), and social events with friends. The letters are less revealing about some important events - the bombing of Pearl Harbor, for example - but are valuable for their description of the atmosphere and growing unease that preceded them.
During this time Robinson had several personal encounters of note. Perhaps most significantly he was one of two American journalists present at a luncheon with "M. Matthieu," the leader of one of the eight major French resistance groups. "Matthieu" described to the assembled group a clandestine meeting in Paris of these organizations with a special representative dispatched by de Gaulle in May of 1943; that meeting produced a written contract stating that once the Council of Resistance could come into the open, it would supersede de Gaulle as the directing power in France, and would push forward the work of evicting the Nazis on its own account. (11/23/43) "The importance of this is hardly to be overestimated," Robinson wrote. Robinson had met personally with de Gaulle a year earlier in November of 1942.
Robinson also had an unusual opportunity to meet privately for several hours with Mahatma Gandhi in Calcutta in December of 1945. At the time Gandhi had accompanied Bengalese governor Richard Casey on a trip to observe the effects of the 1943 famine, and Robinson was able to arrange an afternoon visit. Robinson was also present at the assassination attempt against President Syngman Rhee in Korea in July 1952.
There is a vivid description of the occasion upon which Robinson was a member of the official party that accompanied French High Commissioner Admiral Georges-Thierry d'Argenlieu on a visit of state to the Cambodian Court on the occasion of the announcement of autonomy. Robinson's relationship with d'Argenlieu was somewhat tense; he believed the Admiral was well aware that Robinson had been placed under surveillance by the French civil and military police. Robinson had been warned indirectly that "[his] presence here in Indochina was considered a grave challenge to certain 'powerful interests.'" Once d'Argenlieu lost power, Robinson again felt assured of his personal safety.
Of lesser note is Robinson's description of his public support of radical feminist writer Josephine Herbst's labor efforts on behalf of workers at Ford Motors; shortly thereafter his working hours change from dayside to the overnight shift, a move he believes "is not unconnected with my championing of Josephine Herbst's cause." Also of interest is his vivid depiction of the landing of French troops at Haipong in March of 1946.
The collection contains personal correspondence, arranged chronologically, from Robinson to his family, primarily his mother, during the years he was in the Office of War Information in the United States Department of State, and later in the Foreign Service.
Margaret Law Robinson, his wife, donated the papers in 1999.
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This collection was processed by Lisa Dunkley in Spring 2000. Finding aid written by Lisa Dunkley in Spring 2000.
No information about appraisal is available for this collection.
- Diplomatic and consular service, American -- India -- 20th century
- Diplomatic and consular service, American -- Poland -- 20th century
- Diplomatic and consular service, American -- Vietnam -- 20th century
- World War, 1939-1945 -- United States -- Propaganda
- Public Policy Papers
- Finding Aid Author
- Lisa Dunkley
- Finding Aid Date
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Joseph A. Robinson Papers are open for research.
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