After his initial visit in 1897 to visit Susan Vaughan at her home called “Bellwood” near Clinton, 17-year-old Will Clayton returned to his job in New York City with the American Cotton Co. But for the next two summers he used part of his vacation time to return to “Bellwood.”
Sue had several suitors, among them young Alben Barkley, with whom she had debated at Marvin College in Clinton.
Oft-told in Clinton is the story that Alben Barkley asked the vivacious Sue to marry him, saying “You’ll be the wife of the president.” On the other hand, Will Clayton, in proposing, said, “You’ll be the wife of a millionaire.” The decision was not made for a few months, however, but as it turned out both predictions, if true, were prophetic, as Barkley became vice-president under Harry S. Truman and Clayton became a multi-millionaire.
During the winter of 1899-1900, according to the Clayton’s daughter, Mrs. Ellen Garwood, Will Clayton was writing Sue, who was a student at Washington College in Washington, D.C., often mentioning the beauty of “Bellwood” which reminded him so much of his earliest memories of the countryside near Tupelo, Miss., where he lived as a child.
They became engaged at Christmas in 1899 but it was three years before the couple married. Will was occupied with a heavy work schedule and night courses in French. He often sent Sue books to read – Ivanhoe, Kenilworth, and other classics.
Again, in the summers of 1900 and 1901 he visited “Bellwood.” On August 14, 1902, the couple were married there. She was 21 and he was a year older.
Will and his brother-in-law, Frank Anderson, a cotton buyer from Jackson, Tennessee and Anderson’s brother, Monroe, a Jackson banker, founded Anderson, Clayton and Co. in 1904 in Oklahoma City but moved the firm to Houston, Texas in 1916, that being the “front door” of the cotton market. The partnership later established the famed M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. On the staff, until his retirement, was Dr. L.M. Vaughan of Clinton, a nephew of Mrs. Clayton.
While Will Clayton was making his mark in business and government, Mrs. Clayton, who had acquired wealth of her own, made her mark in politics and philanthropy. She was one of the earliest contributors to the United Negro College Fund and helped finance the first low cost housing project in Texas. While living in the nation’s capital, she spent many hours working for the Home of Incurables and the Children’s Hospital. She left much of her estate to Texas Children’s Home.
Apparently, Mrs. Clayton inherited from her father a love of politics as she early fought for woman’s suffrage and in 1936 was chosen a Texas delegate-at-large to the Democratic National Convention in recognition of her work in behalf of Franklin D. Roosevelt. She was instrumental in organizing women’s Democratic clubs throughout the South and after moving to Washington became president of the Women’s Democratic Club, astounding the club by wiping out is perennial indebtedness.
Before Will Clayton joined Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, he opposed the president. It was said that Mrs. Clayton matched every penny her husband gave to defeat Roosevelt with an equal amount to help him win. But in 1940 Will Clayton resigned from the cotton firm and became a director and Vice-President of the nation’s Export-Import Bank and then was appointed Deputy Federal Loan Administrator. After America’s entry into World War II, Clayton was named Assistant Secretary of Commerce and in 1944 was asked to become Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Affairs.
Clayton’s seven years’ experience in government prepared him to take a leading role in developing the European Recovery Program. Known as the Marshall Plan, the program was proposed by Secretary of State George C. Marshall in a speech at Harvard University in 1947. In Clayton’s mind, the Marshall Plan, was one part of a much larger plan for peace, a plan on which he had been working for four years which included the establishment of an international trade organization. The Marshall Plan, he believed, dealt with short-term emergency needs of one part of the world while the International Trade Organization had to do with the long-range trade policies and trade of all the world.
In a biography of her father, Mrs. Ellen Garwood quoted Washington journalist I.F. Stone who said of Clayton, “This tall, lean, handsome Texas, with the tired, eagle expression, is a … man fighting a losing battle, for a dying philosophy. He who was one of the architects of the Marshall Plan, seemed as much opposed to a dollar curtain as to an iron curtain …”
Clayton continued his struggle for world peace and in 1957 was stating, “If we are to win the cold war, there is so much to do and perhaps so little time in which to do it. Much capital, public and private, must be made available to the countries that need it for the development of their resources and for raising their standard of living.”
One can only imagine the conversations Susan Vaughan Clayton and her husband must have had over their visions for universal understanding and peace.
Although he was 60 when he joined the New Deal, Clayton held a number of posts with the government until his death in 1966. President Kennedy appointed him to serve as a member of the National Export Expansion Program and in 1963 asked him to work for ratification of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The week prior to Clayton’s death at age 86, he attended a meeting of the Atlantic Council in New York City.
Even though their world was national and international in scope, the Claytons returned to Clinton for at least one more glimpse of “Bellwood” when they attended the dedication on December 28, 1950 of the Clinton-Hickman County Hospital. Sharing the platform with the Claytons on that day was Vice-President Alben Barkley who made the dedicatory address, and who had once been Susan Caltyon’s fellow debater and suitor at Marvin College. Events had come full circle.