The Harry L. Hopkins Papers

Biographical Note
" . . . as President . . . You'll learn what a lonely job this is, and you'll discover the need for somebody like Harry Hopkins who asks nothing except to serve you." - FDR to Wendell Willkie, 1941
Harry Lloyd Hopkins, federal administrator and presidential advisor, was born 17 August 1890 in Sioux City, Iowa. The fourth of five children born to David Aldona and Anna Pickett, he spent his childhood in Nebraska and Chicago. At the age of 11, his family settled in Grinnell, Iowa. Hopkins demonstrated his political savvy while still in high school. Opposed to the teachers fixing class elections in favor of the best student, he organized a ballot stuffing. Even though the vote was thrown out, Hopkins kept on electioneering. On the next supervised ballot, his candidate was elected with an even larger vote than the first time.

At Grinnell College, Hopkins earned a reputation for brilliant political tactics and a "restless electric personality." He graduated cum laude in 1912.

From 1912 to 1933, Hopkins was involved in the field of social work receiving the experience that served him so well in his later career in the Federal government. During World War I, he served as head of the Gulf Division of the American Red Cross for the relief of soldiers' families. In 1920, he headed the Department of Civilian Relief's Red Cross mission to Mexico.

Hopkins' participation, experience and contacts on the state level as executive director for New York's Temporary Emergency Relief Administration (TERA) paved the way for his first appointment as a Federal official in 1933. While campaigning for the 1928 Democratic presidential candidate Alfred E. Smith, Hopkins met Franklin D. Roosevelt: "Governor Roosevelt liked him at once and Mrs. Roosevelt was very partial."

Harry Hopkins' unwavering loyalty to President Roosevelt; his hard-driving enthusiasm for the New Deal; and his "piercing understanding" of war problems merited him an unsurpassed position in twentieth-century American history.

In 1933, Hopkins was appointed head of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) and readily tackled the problem of providing immediate relief for the homeless and the hungry. As Civil Works Administrator (CWA) in the fall of 1933, he put 4,000,000 men to work in less than one month, and in less than four months he spent $933 million.

In 1935, he was appointed Works Progress Administrator (WPA) charged with the responsibility of putting 3,500,000 people to work. As WPA head, Hopkins' drive and decisiveness earned him the acrimony of some and the admiration of many.

Hopkins was appointed Secretary of Commerce in 1938 after a fierce Senate battle over his confirmation. One year later, due to plaguing ill health and a strenuous workload, Hopkins resigned.

Harry L. Hopkins not only held top administrative positions. He also served as a member on the Industrial Emergency Committee; the Committee on Economic Security; the National Resources Committee; the Executive Council; the Reemployment Council; the 1937 Flood Committee; chairman, Foreign Trade Zones Board; Council of National Defense; the Smithsonian Institution; the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission; the Foreign Service Buildings Commission; chairman, the U.S. Golden Gate International Exposition Commission; the New York World's Fair Commission; the Export-Import Bank of Washington; the National Archives Council; the Commodity Exchange Administration; Committee on Regulations, Pure Food and Drug Act; Committee on Regulations, Insecticide Act; Central Housing Committee; general chairman, Business Advisory Council; and the U.S. Coronado Exposition Commission.

From 1940 to 1945, Harry Hopkins served his President and his country as Personal Representative and Advisor. He arrived in London on 1 January 1941 as FDR's Personal Representative, to gain firsthand knowledge of Britain's needs during the crucial early days of World War II. His reports to the President spurred the rapid passage of the Lend-Lease Bill by the Senate in March of 1941.

The 1941 London trip was not Hopkins' first diplomatic mission undertaken for the President. In 1934, he met with Italian dictator Benito Mussolini to discuss the Italian public works programs. During World War II, he met with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin regarding Russia's need for war materiel. At the 1943 Teheran Conference of the Allied wartime leaders, Hopkins played a crucial role. Averell Harriman stated that Stalin displayed more open and warm cordiality towards Hopkins than any other foreigner.

In February, 1945, Hopkins accompanied President Roosevelt as his Personal Aide to the Yalta Conference held at Stalin's summer residence in the Crimea. Both Roosevelt and Hopkins, laboring under intense pain, participated fully in the plans for Germany's ultimate defeat. Less than two months later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt died. Hopkins retired from an energetic yet exhausting career in the government service.

President Harry S. Truman presented the Distinguished Service Medal to Hopkins on 4 September 1945 for his "selfless, courageous and objective contribution to the war effort." This occasion was Hopkins' last trip to Washington. Harry Lloyd Hopkins died on 26 January 1946.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Harry L. Hopkins married Ethel Gross in 1913. They had three sons: David; Stephen, who was killed in action while serving with the U.S. Marines on Namur Island in the Pacific in 1944; and Robert, who accompanied his father as an Army photographer at many of the wartime conferences. They were divorced in 1929. That same year he married Barbara Duncan. The second Mrs. Hopkins died of cancer in 1937. They had one daughter, Diana. Upon the death of her mother, Diana spent a portion of her childhood as a White House resident along with the memorable Roosevelt family. In 1942, Hopkins married the former Mrs. Louise Macy, who later prompted the novelist Robert Sherwood to complete Hopkins' unfinished memoirs. The third Mrs. Hopkins died in 1963.

Robert Hopkins resides in Washington, D.C. Diana Hopkins Baxter Halsted resides in Reston, Virginia.


Return to Hopkins Papers Outline
Return to Collection List
Return to Finding Aids
Return to Special Collections Home Page