Harry Hopkins

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Harry Lloyd Hopkins (August 17, 1890 – January 29, 1946) was one of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's closest advisors. He was one of the architects of the New Deal, especially the relief programs of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) in 1933-35 and the even larger Works Progress Administration (WPA), (1935-43), which he directed and built into the largest employer in the country. In World War II he was Roosevelt's chief diplomatic advisor and troubleshooter and was a key policy maker in the $50 billion Lend Lease program that sent aid to the allies.

Social work

Harry Hopkins was born in Sioux City, Iowa, the fourth child of David Aldona and Anna (nee Pickett) Hopkins. He attended Grinnell College and soon after his graduation in 1912 took a job with Christodora House, a social settlement in New York City's Lower East Side ghetto. In the spring of 1913 he accepted a position with the New York Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor (AICP) as "friendly visitor" and superintendent of the Employment Bureau. In October 1913, Harry Hopkins married Ethel Gross and the couple eventually had three sons: David (1914-1980), Robert (1921-2007) and Stephen (1925-1944).

In 1915, New York City's Democratic Mayor John Purroy Mitchel appointed Hopkins executive secretary of the Bureau of Child Welfare which administered pensions to mothers with dependent children.

With America's entrance into World War I, Hopkins became the American Red Cross director of Civilian Relief, Gulf Division. Eventually, the Gulf Division of the Red Cross merged with the Southwestern Division and Hopkins, headquartered now in Atlanta, was appointed general manager in 1921. Hopkins helped draft a charter for the American Association of Social Workers (AASW) and was elected its president in 1923.

In 1922, Hopkins returned to New York City where he became general director of the New York Tuberculosis Association. During his tenure, the agency grew enormously and absorbed the New York Heart Association.

When the Great Depression hit, New York State Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt called on Hopkins to run the first state relief organization in the nation – the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration (TERA). Hopkins and Eleanor Roosevelt began a long friendship, which strengthened his role in relief programs.

New Deal

In March 1933 Roosevelt summoned Hopkins to Washington as federal relief administrator. Convinced that paid work was psychologically more valuable than cash handouts (the "dole"), Hopkins sought to continue and expand the Hoover administrations' work-relief programs, especially FERA. He supervised the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), the Civil Works Administration (CWA). Hopkins feuded with Harold L. Ickes, who ran a rival program the PWA which created jobs by hiring private contractors who hired the workers. The PWA did not require applicants be unemployed or on relief.

Although Hopkins denied saying "Spend-Spend-Spend; Tax-Tax-Tax; Elect-Elect-Elect," conservative critics thought the slogan fit the New Deal very well. Smith (2005) concludes he did say it.

FERA, the largest program from 1933-35, was a continuation of Hoover's relief program and involved giving money to localities to operate work relief. CWA was similar, but focused on short-term projects (like maintenance work) that left little visible impact.

They were replaced in 1935 by a much bigger and more important agency that Hopkins ran, the WPA or "Work Progress Admoinistration." It hired men (and some women) directly into federal jobs from local relief roles. The WPA was dramatically new because it operated on its own. It selected projects with the cooperation of local and state government but operated them with its own staff and budget. Hopkins started programs for youth (National Youth Administration) and for artists and writers ("Federal One"). He and Eleanor Roosevelt worked together to publicize and defend New Deal relief programs. He was concerned with rural areas but more and more focused on cities in the great depression. Critics charged that his WPA, with 2 million men employed, who voted 90% Democratic, was the first national political machine. If Hopkins had plans for becoming president they were shattered in 1940 by the Hatch Act which made it illegal to use the WPA for political purposes.

World War II

During the war years, Hopkins acted as FDR's unofficial emissary to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Visiting Britain in spring 1941, he had a major voice in making policy for the vast $50 billion Lend-Lease program, especially regarding supplies, first for Britain and then (upon the German invasion) Russia too. Hopkins promoted an aggressive war against Germany and successfully urged Roosevelt to use the Navy to protect convoys before the US entered the war in December 1941. Roosevelt brought him along as advisor to his meetings with Churchill at the Cairo Conference, Tehran Conference and Casablanca Conference in 1942-43. He was a firm supporter of China, which received Lend lease aid for its military and air force. Hopkins wielded more diplomatic power than the entire State Department. Hopkins helped identify and sponsor numerous potential leaders, including Dwight D. Eisenhower. He continued to live in the White House and saw the president more often than any other advisor. Although Hopkins' health --always poor--was steadily declining, Roosevelt sent him on additional trips to Europe in 1945; he attended the Yalta conference in February 1945. He tried to resign after Roosevelt died but President Harry S. Truman, recognizing the value of his services, sent him on one more mission to Moscow.

Death and remembrance

Hopkins died in New York City in January 1946, succumbing to a long and debilitating battle with stomach cancer.

There is a house on the Grinnell College campus named after him.

Harry Hopkins is portrayed by Stephen Zelezny in the 2007 version of "New Deal or No Deal: FDR's Solution to the Great Depression."



  • Adams, Henry Hitch. Harry Hopkins: A Biography (1977)
  • Charles, Searle F. Minister of Relief: Harry Hopkins and the Depression (1963)
  • Hopkins, June. Harry Hopkins: Sudden Hero, Brash Reformer (1999) biography by HH's granddaughter. excerpt and text search
  • McJimsey George T. Harry Hopkins: Ally of the Poor and Defender of Democracy (1987), biography.

Depression years

  • Bremer William W. "Along the American Way: The New Deal's Work Relief Programs for the Unemployed." Journal of American History 62 (December 1975): 636-652. online at JSTOR
  • Brock William R. Welfare, Democracy and the New Deal (1988), a British view
  • Hopkins, June. "The road not taken: Harry Hopkins and New Deal Work Relief." Presidential Studies Quarterly 29, 2(306-316). online edition
  • Howard; Donald S. The WPA and Federal Relief Policy (1943), the major study of WPA online edition
  • Meriam; Lewis. Relief and Social Security The Brookings Institution. (1946). Highly detailed analysis and statistical summary of all New Deal relief programs; 900 pages online edition
  • Sherwood, Robert E. Roosevelt and Hopkins (1948), memoir by senior FDR aide; Pulitzer Prize. online edition
  • Singleton, Jeff. The American Dole: Unemployment Relief and the Welfare State in the Great Depression (2000) excerpt and text search
  • Smith, Jason Scott. Building New Deal Liberalism: The Political Economy of Public Works, 1933-1956 (2005)
  • Williams; Edward Ainsworth Federal Aid for Relief (1939) online edition

World War II

  • Clarke, Sir Richard. Anglo-American Economic Collaboration in War and Peace, 1942-1949. (1982), British perspective
  • Dawson, Raymond H. The Decision to Aid Russia, 1941: Foreign Policy and Domestic Politics (1959)]
  • Dobson, Alan P. U.S. Wartime Aid to Britain, 1940-1946 London, 1986.
  • Herring Jr. George C. Aid to Russia, 1941-1946: Strategy, Diplomacy, the Origins of the Cold War (1973) online edition
  • Kimball, Warren F. The Most Unsordid Act: Lend-Lease, 1939-1941 (1969).
  • Reynolds, David. The Creation of the Anglo-American Alliance 1937-1941: A Study on Competitive Cooperation (1981)
  • Sherwood, Robert E. Roosevelt and Hopkins (1948), memoir by senior FDR aide; Pulitzer Prize. online edition
  • Woods, Randall Bennett. A Changing of the Guard: Anglo-American Relations, 1941-1946 (1990) excerpt and text search
  • Wills, Matthew B. Wartime Missions of Harry L. Hopkins (2005), 105pp

Primary sources

  • Lowitt, Richard and Beardsley Maurice, eds. One Third of a Nation: Lorena Hickock Reports on the Great Depression (1981) secret reports sent to Hopkins; excerpt and text search
  • McElvaine, Robert S. Down & out in the Great Depression: Letters from the "Forgotten Man" (1983); letters to Harry Hopkins; online edition