Harry Hopkins

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Harry Hopkins

Harry 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. He was a leading domestic liberal of the 1930s, and concentrated during the war on lining up Britain, Russia and China to win the fight against Germany and Japan. While working in the White House, how he received compensation is something of a mystery.


Social worker

Harry Lloyd Hopkins was born in Sioux City, Iowa, the fourth child of David Aldona and Anna (née Pickett) Hopkins, devout Methodist parents who taught him the Social Gospel. 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.

In 1917 with the nation's entry 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.

Personal life

Hopkins married as a young man a fellow welfare worker. They had three sons. In 1930 his wife filed suit against him for divorce in New York State, the charge being infidelity. She secured the divorce and an order for the payment of $5,000 a year in alimony. Hopkins was making $10,000 a year at the time. Shortly after the divorce, he took a second wife. He became WPA Administrator at a salary of $10,000 a year. Marquis W. Childs, in an article in the Saturday Evening Post of April 19 and 26, 1941, said Hopkins was hard pressed for funds under the circumstances and was having a difficult time meeting the alimony payments to his first wife. To cure this situation, social workers were brought together to raise a fund of $5,000 a year to take care of Hopkins' alimony. A number of small salaried little social welfare workers were assessed to pay Hopkins' obligation to support his children. In theory the money was collected to pay him for lectures. This arrangement went on for two years. Then in January, 1936, his salary was raised to $12,000 and the welfare workers were relieved of the burden of Hopkins' alimony.

Childs relates in the same article, that during those WPA days, Hopkins, who was so pressed for funds was, with the men around him, playing poker with losses so stiff they ran to $500 or $600 an evening and that he found the time and the means to spend weekends in the homes wealthy friends and to make frequent visits to the race tracks at Saratoga, Pimlico and Warrenton. Life magazine has printed much the same stories about him.

According to Mr. Felix Belair in an article in Life, Postmaster General Walker, John D. Hertz, and other millionaire friends, raised a purse to pay Hopkins $5,000 a year as head of Franklin D. Roosevelt's library at Hyde Park. When the Lend Lease act was voted the President arranged a $10,000 a year salary for Hopkins under the Lend Lease program. During this period Tom Beck, the head of the CrowellCollier Publishing Company, began paying him $5,000 a piece for seven or eight articles in the American Magazine over a period of several years for articles written in Hopkins name. In the meantime, he had moved into the White House where he enjoyed the additional privilege of free board and lodging. His second wife had died and his daughter by this marriage lived with him in the White House. When Hopkins and his third wife later moved to Georgetown, his daughter, after remaining with them a while, went back to the White House. Mrs. Roosevelt writes how she fretted about the lonely life of this child and spoke to Hopkins about it. He said to her: "That's totally unimportant. The only thing that is important is to win the war." He found plenty of time, however, to pursue at intervals his favorite forms of diversions in the night clubs of New York and Washington.

New Deal

In March 1933 Roosevelt summoned Hopkins to Washington as federal relief administrator, and later member of the Brain trust.[1] 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), The CWA developed a reputation very quickly as a leaf raking agency. Hopkins told the President: "I've got four million at work but for God's sake, don't ask me what they are doing."

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. The FERA is a model for the stimulus package passed by Congress in 2009.

FERA was replaced in 1935 by a much bigger and more important agency that Hopkins ran, the WPA or "Work Progress Admoinistration." In cooperation with state and local government, WPA 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 estimated that 25 million people got their living from Works Progress Administration alone.

Upon being “purged” from Agricultural Adjustment Administration,[2] Communist lawyer Lee Pressman was immediately hired back into the government by Hopkins, who apparently had little regard for the law; according to Pressman, Hopkins told him, “The first time you tell me I can’t do what I want to do, you’re fired. I’m going to decide what I think has to be done and it’s up to you to see to it that it’s legal.” [3]

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. Roosevelt biographer John Flynn observed, " It became a part of Mr. Hopkins' WPA organization to learn how many of the down-and-­out had enough devotion to Franklin D. Roosevelt to be entitled to eat." [4] Hopkins' performances in WPA became such that he had to leave that position after the 1938 elections were over and was appointed Secretary of Commerce. Significantly, one old associate who moved with Hopkins into his new world was David K. Niles who had been his chief political adviser and campaign strategist.[5] A little more than a year and a half later Hopkins moved to the White House as a close presidential confidant, adviser and resident, paid a salary that was never authorized by Congress.

World War II

FDR sent Hopkins to deal with Joseph Stalin.

During the war years, Hopkins acted as FDR's chief emissary to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Roosevelt trusted Hopkins more than he trusted the State Department. Visiting Britain in spring 1941, Hopkins had a major voice in making policy for the vast $50 billion Lend-Lease program, especially regarding military supplies, first for Britain and then (after the German invasion in June 1941) the Soviet Union as well.

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.

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

Mission to Moscow

In July, 1941, Moscow learned of President Roosevelt's decision to send Hopkins to the Kremlin in order to negotiate Lend-Lease. For a number of days, no pertinent information from the Soviet Embassy in Washington was available to Moscow. The Kremlin readied for a stiff and prolonged bargaining session.

Vyacheslav M. Molotov was appointed to head a committee to determine how far the USSR might have to yield to American demands. This included the right of Americans to inspect distribution of lend-lease provisions (food, weapons, and other material)[6] on Soviet soil and admission of American military observers behind Soviet lines. The committee determined the Soviet Union was willing to grant mining concessions for manganese ore other special privileges in the Baku and Volga oil fields. The Soviet Union was even prepared to make a solemn pledge to protect human rights, free speech, and freedom of religion.

Shortly before Hopkins arrival Molotov informed Mikoyan, Vassilensky, Trainin, and Bogolepov that Soviet espionage officers had been notified "Hopkins will demand no concessions whatever. The sole wish of Mr. Hopkins is to ask nothing and give everything.... Mr. Hopkins is completely on our side." Hopkins even remarked publicly of Stalin, "It is ridiculous to think of Stalin as a Communist."

Despite the protests of military officials, Hopkins demanded that the American government give the Soviet Union a large amount of uranium as part of the Lend Lease program. On a diplomatic trip to the Soviet Union in 1945, he shunned the American position of free elections for Poland and told Stalin that America's goal was actually to have a post-war Poland that the Soviet Union was comfortable with. Earlier, when a Soviet government official defected, Hopkins unsuccessfully urged Roosevelt to return the man to the USSR even though he knew that it would mean the man's certain death.

Roosevelt biographer John T. Flynn remarked of Hopkins,

Men of high intellectual and spiritual caliber soon make themselves disagreeable to rulers who want abject subservience in their subalterns. They soon find the atmosphere of the court repulsive. They either depart or are dismissed. In the end, the only ones who remain are men of the type of Hopkins. ...one by one the abler men with some sense of personal dignity who were unequal to the role of sycophant drifted away ...The palace guard that survived were such men as Harry Hopkins... David Niles and Henry Wallace... men who were not interested in policy but only in discerning Roosevelt's pet mental drifts." [7]

The Zarubin Affair

In 1943, Vasily Zarubin, NKVD station chief in the U.S. from 1941 to 1944, was transferred from the Soviet Embassy in Washington to the San Francisco consulate, under cover as a diplomat called "Zubilin." Shortly thereafter, Zubilin gave Soviet agent "Steve Nelson"u (Stjepan Mesaros) ten bills of unknown denominations.[8] This interaction was recorded by an FBI "bug" planted in Nelson's residence.[9] On May 7, 1943, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover informed Hopkins:

Through a highly confidential and reliable source it has been determined that on April 10, 1943, a Russian who is an agent of the Communist International paid a sum of money to Steve Nelson, National Committeeman of the Communist Party, USA, at the latter’s home in Oakland, California. The money was reportedly paid to Nelson for the purpose of placing Communist Party members and Comintern agents in industries engaged in secret war production for the United States Government so that information could be obtained for transmittal to the Soviet Union.[10]

Instead of notifying the President of this atomic espionage, Hopkins immediately tipped off the Soviets that the FBI was onto them. A document in the KGB files copied by former KGB agent Vasili Mitrokhin and smuggled out of Russia by British intelligence in 1992 reveals that Hopkins

privately warned the Soviet embassy in Washington that the FBI had bugged a secret meeting at which Zarubin (also known as Zubilin) had passed money to Steve Nelson, a leading member of the U.S. Communist underground.[11]

In an endnote (Note 64, p. 594), Mitrokhin and his co-author, Cambridge University Professor Christopher Andrew ("dean of British historians of Soviet espionage") comment:

Hopkins had been personally briefed by Hoover on Zarubin’s visit to Nelson (Benson and Warner (Eds.), VENONA, Document 9). Hoover would doubtless have been outraged had he known that Hopkins had informed the Soviet embassy.

This incident persuaded Ray Wannall, former FBI assistant director for counterintelligence, that Hopkins was indeed a Soviet agent,[12] Just as Iskhak Akhmerov, the leading NKVD illegal in the United States, had claimed in a lecture before a KGB audience.[13]


Recent scholarship has concluded that Venona project codename Zamestitel (English translation, "Deputy"), is Harry Hopkins.[14][15][16] Eduard Mark, historian at the United States Air Force Academy, builds a case that if Zamestitel is Henry Wallace, as some have hypothesized, than agent 19 [17] at the Trident conference is Hopkins.[18] Mark argues on the basis of a close reading of the attendance records of the Trident conference and other evidence that he located that the most likely Deputy (Zamestitel) was Wallace and Source no. 19 was Hopkins. Source no. 19 was very highly placed in as much as he was asked to join a private conversation with President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill. Source no. 19 reported on a private conversation he had with Roosevelt and Churchill during the just ended 'Trident' conference of the two Allied powers in Washington. Source no. 19 reported on Churchill's views on why a 1943 Anglo-American invasion of continental Europe was inadvisable. The message also reported that Zamestitel supported a second-front and that it appeared that Roosevelt had been keeping Zamestitel in the dark about "important military decisions." The message, from the New York KGB office to Moscow, is signed by the KGB illegal officer, Iskhak Akhmerov. It states "19 reports that Kapitan [Roosevelt] and Kaban [Churchill], during conversations in the Country [USA], invited 19 to join them and Zamestitel." In the 1960s, Akhmerov professed at a secret meeting of Soviet intelligence officers that Harry Hopkins was "the most important of all Soviet wartime agents in the United States."[19]

Other Venona related documents

An April 14, 1941 Memorandum from the U.S. Military Attaché (G-2) in Moscow, found in the Harry Hopkins Papers at the FDR Library, entitled NKVD of the USSR,[20] it states in part,

Although the Soviets disclaim forced labor in this country, the organization of this commissariat is interesting to note. In it are the means to apprehend (militia), try and sentence (advisory council) and imprison offenders (corrective labor). Any governmental organization that has a crying need for labor simply calls upon the NKVD to supply it. If the amount of labor is insufficient to supply the need, it is relatively an easy matter to institute a reign of terror on any pretext and fill up labor colonies[21] to meet requirements....Its close supervision over the people, its pogroms, its raids and arrests, has instilled fear...[3]...The NKVD has every individual under observation from birth to death...its secret agents are everywhere; its actions are swift. An individual simply disappears in the middle of the night and no one ever sees or hears of him again. ...When Stalin needs scapegoats to cover government mistakes he unleashes his NKVD...The Soviet Union is in itself a prison and the NKVD and State Security are its keepers. [4]

See also



  • 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

See also


  1. America: The Last Best Hope (Volume II): From a World at War to the Triumph of Freedom
  2. http://homepages.nyu.edu/~th15/pressmanx.html
  3. Gilbert J. Gall, Pursuing Justice: Lee Pressman, the New Deal, and the CIO (New York: SUNY Press, 1999) ISBN 079144103, p. 32.
  4. The Roosevelt Myth, John T. Flynn, Fox and Wilkes, 1948, Book 1, Ch. 6, Harry the Hop and the Happy Hot Dogs
  5. Roosevelt and Hopkins : An Intimate History, Robert E. Sherwood, New York Harper and Brothers, 1948, pg. 129 pdf.
  6. Lend Lease to Russia, From Major Jordan' Diaries, (NY: Harcourt, Brace, 1952).
  7. Roosevelt Myth, Flynn, Book 1, Ch. 6.
  8. Committee on Un-American Activities, House of Representatives, 81st Cong., 1st sess., Hearings Regarding Steve Nelson (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1949), pp VIII-IX (PDF pp. 12-13)
  9. Athan G. Theoharis, Chasing Spies: How the FBI Failed in Counter-Intelligence But Promoted the Politics of McCarthyism in the Cold War Years (Ivan Dee, 2002) ISBN 1566634202, p. 62
  10. 9. Hoover to Hopkins, 7 May, 1943, Page 2, Robert Louis Benson and Michael Warner, eds., Venona: Soviet Espionage and The American Response, 1939-1957 (NSA/CIA, 1996)
  11. Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, The Sword and the Shield, The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB (Basic Books, 2000) ISBN 0465003125, p. 111
  12. Reed Irvine, "The Scandal Of The Century," AIM Report, October 1999
  13. Allen Weinstein, Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978) ISBN 0394495462 p. 325
  14. Herbert Romerstein and Eric Breindel. The Venona Secrets: Exposing Soviet Espionage and America's Traitors. Washington, DC: Regnery, 2000.
  15. Reds in the White House, by William P. Hoar, Human Events, Summer 2001. Review of Romerstein and Breindel, The Venona Secrets. [1]
  16. Interview with Ralph de Toledano, Episode 6: Reds.
  17. 812 Venona 29 May 1943, "19 reports on Roosevelt/Churchill meetings," [2].
  18. Eduard Mark, Venona's Source 19 and the 'Trident' Conference of May 1943: Diplomacy or Espionage, Intelligence and National Security 13, no. 2 (Summer 1998), 1-31.
  19. What Your Textbooks Won't Tell You About the Cold War, Dan Flynn, Accuracy in Academia.
  20. Joseph A. Michela, Military Attaché Moscow Report 1903, N.K.V.D. of the U.S.S.R., 14 April 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Harry Hopkins Papers, "MID Reports--USSR--Volume V," box 190.
  21. See for example 32,000 & Mrs. Rubens, Time magazine, Feb. 07, 1938 on the Rubens-Robinson case; "The camp contains about 32,000 prisoners. They are kept there until death results from hard work, bad food and consequent sickness. I met two American citizens in the camp, Arthur Hanley, a chemical engineer from California, and Edward Rose, a machinist from Boston, Mass. They said they came to Russia in 1921 as volunteer workers. Rose said he was arrested in Leningrad in 1923. Hanley was caught trying to escape from Russia to Latvia in 1925. Each was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment, but, although they have served out their sentences, they are still being held. They told me they know of three other native-born Americans who are held prisoner in other Soviet camps....Mrs. Ruth Marie Rubens (alias Robinson), one U.S. citizen officially known to be in jail in Moscow (TIME, Dec. 27 [1937]). In Moscow on December 9...U.S. Charge d'Affaires Loy W. Henderson learned that Mrs. Rubens had "disappeared"' from the big Hotel National next door to the U.S. Embassy. On January 18 [1938] the Soviet Foreign Office finally admitted that Mrs. Rubens was under arrest, failed to say on what charge...." The Robinson's evidently had been Trotskyites.

External links