This oral history interview with Thomas Vaughan was conducted by Sieglinde Smith at the Oregon Historical Society in Portland, Oregon, from October 1, 1995, to December 2, 1996, as part of the historical society's oral history program. The interview was conducted in nine sessions. Tape 17 is missing, and Tape 25, the final cassette of the interview recording, was removed from the collection by Vaughan at the time of the interview.
In the first interview session, conducted on October 1, 1995, Vaughan discusses his family background and early life in Seattle, Washington; near Kelso, Washington; and in Longview, Washington, including his education, his family's experience during the Depression, and working in sawmills as a teenager. He talks about his service in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1943 to 1945, about his education at Yale University, and about working for the Macmillan Company after graduation. He describes a trip to Alaska, and talks about working in the Southwest in the 1940s. He then talks about his experiences at the University of Wisconsin.
In the second interview session, conducted on November 6, 1995, Vaughan shares additional anecdotes about the time he spent in Alaska, the Southwest, and Madison, Wisconsin. He briefly discusses his service as director of the Rock Creek Historical Society in Janesville, Wisconsin, and shares his reasons for accepting the job of executive director of the Oregon Historical Society in Portland, Oregon, in 1954. He speaks at length about his early years at OHS, describes the condition of the library and museum, and talks about changes he made. He talks about his role in the establishment of the Fort Clatsop National Memorial; about working with the OHS board members, including David T. Mason and Tom McCall; and about the 1959 Oregon state centennial. He discusses selecting and purchasing the site for the OHS building on the Southwest Park Blocks in downtown Portland in the 1960s, and describes how OHS came to own the entire block between SW Jefferson, Madison, Broadway, and Park.
In the third interview session, conducted on November 8, 1995, Vaughan continues to discuss his service as executive director of OHS. He talks about the relationship between OHS and other archives in Oregon during his early years; about fundraising for the building construction on Southwest Park Avenue in the 1960s; and about working with Pietro Belluschi as consulting architect on the design of the museum and library. He also discusses OHS's relationship with Oregon governors Mark Hatfield and Tom McCall, as well as with the Legislature. He talks about developing collection security and preservation policies for the museum and library, about OHS's storage facilities, including the Meier & Frank building and the Oregon Journal building, and about moving the collections to the new building. He discusses building the OHS archival collection, including traveling to Siberia in 1968 for materials.
In the fourth interview session, conducted on November 13, 1995, Vaughan continues to discuss his service as executive director of OHS. He speaks further about his travels to Siberia to collect archival materials, and talks about forming relationships with Russian archives. He discusses cultivating relationships with donors; speaks further and at length about building the OHS archival collection, and talks about OHS's relationship with governors Bob Straub and Vic Atiyeh, with Portland mayors, and with Multnomah County government. He also talks about the preservation of the Bybee House on Sauvie Island. He speaks about his personal philosophy and managerial style.
In the fifth interview session, conducted on December 18, 1995, Vaughan continues to discuss his service as executive director of OHS. He talks about his involvement in historic preservation of buildings in Portland, and revisits the topics of the construction of the OHS building on Southwest Park Avenue and the purchase of the Sovereign Hotel. He talks about his reasons for retiring in 1989, about the North Pacific Studies program at OHS, and about the selection of his successor, Bill Tramposch. He speaks further about cultivating relationships with donors.
In the sixth interview session, conducted on December 19, 1995, Vaughan discusses his activities since his retirement. He talks about his house in Skamokawa, Washington, and describes the surrounding area.
In the seventh interview session, conducted on May 6, 1996, Vaughan continues to talk about the area of Skamokawa, Washington. He returns to the topic of his service as executive director of OHS. He talks about building, cataloging, and preserving the OHS collections, about cultivating relationships with donors, and about some of the collections acquired during his tenure.
In the eighth interview session, conducted on May 7, 1996, Vaughan continues to discuss some of the collections acquired during his time as OHS executive director, and about cultivating relationships with donors. He talks about working with the OHS board, about OHS staff members, and about his work with the Oregon Humanities Commission and the American Association for State and Local History. He also talks about serving on the American Heritage Publishing Company board, and about his involvement with other museum-related organizations.
In the ninth and final interview session, conducted on December 2, 1996, Vaughan discusses creating a film about the Crimean War of 1853, "The Crimean War: A Clash of Empires." He talks about what he looked for in hiring staff at OHS, discusses the field of public history, and reflects on his accomplishments as OHS executive director. He talks about OHS's role in public education. He closes the interview by discussing the OHS museum collections and the work of George Himes, OHS's first director.