President Richard M. Nixon: Early Life and Education

About the early life and education of President of the United States Richard M. Nixon.

Career: When Richard was 9, his parents gave up citrus farming and moved to nearby Whittier, a small Quaker community 15 mi. east of Los Angeles. Hannah Nixon's family, the Milhouses, were well established in Whittier, and they helped their unlucky son-in-law set up a small gas station-grocery. As a teenager, Richard spent much of his time working in that store. He got up every day at 4 A.M. to drive the family's truck into Los Angeles to pick up a load of vegetables. He would then wash them off and carefully set up a display, before putting in his full day at school. Every afternoon, he worked several more hours at the store, then studied alone in his room until midnight. Thanks to his iron self-discipline, he did well in school and won a local reputation as an intellectual. Nevertheless, he had to give up his dreams of going to Harvard because his parents continued to demand his help in the store. After graduation from high school, Richard won a scholarship to Whittier College--a scholarship that had been established by his grandfather specifically for members of the family. Richard continued his grueling routine and high academic achievement, also developing his skills as a championship debater. He was never popular with his classmates, but he won the election for student body president by promising to allow dancing on campus. Actually, Richard himself seldom attended dances, but he convinced the administration that it was better to have dances under campus control, rather than let students seek their entertainment in the sinful atmosphere of nearby Los Angeles. Graduating 2nd in his class at Whittier, Nixon won a scholarship to the recently established Duke University Law School in Durham, N.C. There, his long hours of uninterrupted study in the library won him the nickname "Iron Butt." Other classmates addressed him as "Gloomy Gus." After finishing 3rd in his law school class of 26, Nixon applied for jobs with New york law firms, but he was turned down. He also tried for a position with the FBI (the director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, was one of his personal heroes), but the bureau never responded to Nixon's application. Sorely disappointed, Richard returned to Whittier and got a job with the law firm of Wingert and Bewley--his grandfather had known Mr. Bewley's grandfather years before. In Nixon's very 1st case as a trial lawyer in 1937, 10 days after he had been admitted to the California Bar, he represented a Los Angeles woman to execute a judgment in recovering a bad debt. During this case, Nixon was accused by the judge of unethical behavior, threatened with disbarment, and was also sued by his client for mishandling her case. (Bewley settled with the client by giving her $4,000.) With a salary of $250 a month, the young lawyer was naturally anxious to improve his financial position. He organized a company called Citra-Frost, but despite 18 months of intensive effort by Nixon, the company's plan to market frozen orange juice in plastic bags did not work. Nixon's law partner, Thomas Bewley, was city attorney of Whittier, and he appointed his young colleague to the post of assistant city attorney. However, this job hardly provided the excitement that Richard was looking for. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, Nixon went to Washington for a job with the tire-rationing department of the Office of Price Administration. As a Quaker, he was exempt from service in the armed forces during the war, but after 6 months in Washington, he decided to abandon the pacifist dictates of his religion and enlisted in the Navy. Assigned to the South Pacific, Lieutenant Nixon divided his time between building jungle airstrips and playing poker. On the island on which he was stationed, he built a little shack with a makeshift bar, stocked with liquor he managed to requisition. Officers and men flocked to this gambling resort, and found "Nick" Nixon ready to play for high stakes. By the time his tour of duty was over, Nixon's poker skills had netted him more than $10,000!

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