The Man with a Plan
A Review of June Hopkins’ Harry Hopkins: A Sudden Hero, Brash Reformer
June Hopkins is the granddaughter of Harry Hopkins. She received a Ph.D. from Georgetown University in 1997and has studied her grandfather’s life. She is currently the head of the history department at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, Georgia and has been teaching there ever since 1998.
BY LETITIA NGUYEN
Many people suffered through the hard times of the Great Depression but one man gave his best efforts to change that. That man was Harry Hopkins. Harry Hopkins was a man who wanted to help others as much as possible. He became one of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s most trusted advisors; many people believed that “if something needed to be done, Hopkins was the man to see.”1 Throughout Harry Hopkins: A Sudden Hero, Brash Reformer, June Hopkins explains the major factors that influenced Harry Hopkins and what he did to help the people.
The major influences on Harry Hopkins included his parents, his sister, as well as Grinnell College, and the Christodora house, all of which made Hopkins want to help the less fortunate and allowed him to become one of the most honored men in America. He did not have very much money and his job was to use other people’s money to help others. He became famous without being rich. He cared for the people. He created various programs through his ideology that “human welfare is the first and final task of government [and the government] has no other” and the government should “put men to work [and] create buying power” in order to help the people.2 This ideology helped shape his plans that he proposed to FDR. He didn’t believe in giving people free money because it wouldn’t help in the long run. Such ideals came from the influence of his mother’s Methodist teaching. She taught him to “not let [problems] overcome [him] for [people] can do without so many things if [they] only think so,” which caused him to think positively during the Great Depression.3 She taught him to treat others as he would like to be treated, to volunteer when he had free time, and to have commitment when serving others. He wanted to serve the people under FDR when FDR was trying to help people during the Great Depression. In addition, Hopkins’ father influenced him to be frank with the people around him and caused him to dislike pretentiousness. His father’s failures in business caused him to be content with the money he had and not be greedy. Another influence was his sister, Adah, who always his favorite sibling. She went to Grinnell College and trained to be a social worker. He always admired her and learned about women’s roles from her example. He saw that women had certain roles but couldn’t always be there for their children because the families needed more money; thus, he formed an idea that the government should help these women so that their children will grow up to be productive members of the society. He later entered Grinnell College himself. At the school, it expressed their ideals to the students, things such as democracy and social service made that made Hopkins start believing in the social gospel. Though he failed his freshmen year of college, he was still popular and met many others who would also eventually become New Dealers. During his attendance at Grinnell College, he took a speech and debate class which helped him later in life when speaking to large crowds and conveying his ideas. After leaving college and moving to New York, he got his first real job at the Christodora house as a counselor for the boys at the Northover Camp. The Christian settlement house did not force the idea of Christianity to the people or include religion in its policies. It tried to provide entertainment to the people. The way the settlement house was managed taught Hopkins to keep religion and policies separate. After the summer camp was over, he was promoted to head of boy activities. During his time at the settlement house, he saw the problem of poverty and he felt anger. He saw that the poor needed and wanted jobs but couldn’t get them. He did not blame them for being poor and wanted to change their status as poor people. He found this to be his purpose. He then decided that he wanted to be a social worker and get into position where he could help people. He also met his first wife, Ethel Gross, while working at the settlement house. Through his experience with these ideals, he expanded them to his policies and put the ideals into practice.
Harry Hopkins later left the Christodora house due to money issues and gained a reputation as a social worker after the New York City charities controversy. After marrying Ethel Gross, Hopkins needed more money to support the both of them but refused to be anything else but a social worker, so he applied to different social work positions. He soon got a job at the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor (AICP). The goal of the AICP was “the elevation of the moral and physical condition of the indigent; and so far as compatible with these objects, the relief of their necessity,” which meant that the AIPC wanted to end discriminating charities and to reform characters so one can do better in life.4 They chose the people who qualify for help after evaluating the person. Social workers began using the scientific method to identify the problem and informed the public of the problem. Hopkins’ position in the agency was head of the Employment Bureau, where he was supposed to help the people who applied for the AIPC find jobs. He recommended the agency to implement a work colony or institutional center as more and more people became poor. In 1915, Hopkins teamed up with William Mathews, head of AIPC’s Family Welfare Division, to create a work-relief program. The program was to take the Bronx Zoological Park, which could not be improved because of lack of funds; the AICP paid the people to work there. Unfortunately, while this project was happening, there was controversy over the charities. There were problems with the activities of private child caring institutions. Due to a lack of money, these institutions had substandard conditions. When the conditions of the institutions became known, the governor ordered a committee to inspect these accusations. Charles Strong was chosen as head of the committee, who then accused the Commissioner of Public Charities John A. Kingsbury, and Hopkins’ friend. The controversy of the substandard institutions brought upon laws to help fund the charities and the children who were in the orphanages. One important law that was passed was the Children’s Law of 1875, which” mandated that all children between the ages of three to sixteen be removed from public almshouses, away from the dangerous influences of adult paupers and criminals, and placed either with families or institutions exclusively for children.”5 The controversy also caused the government to authorize the State Board of Charities to regulate the orphanages. However, the controversy soon expanded, and the church became involved because it believed that children should be placed into Catholic institutions and placing children elsewhere threatened the children’s spiritual well-being. During the controversy, people became more suspicious of the social workers motives. By the end of the controversy, Hopkins discovered that he wanted to be in a position like that of Kingsbury because only then could he influence the government and create policies that he knew would help the poor. By watching the controversy, Hopkins’ also created a standard for his method of providing help to the needy.
As Hopkins’s career moved forward, he also wanted to create women’s pensions and to help people during the war. Unfortunately, his family life started to deteriorate at this time. As he became more and more involved with the government, he began to believe that the government was responsible in providing help to the deserving needy, including widows. The problem was that the widows would have to go work to provide for the family because there was no man there to do so. At the same time, it was believed that “children should not be deprived of [home life or their mothers] except for urgent and compelling reasons.”6 Because of that belief, many people thought that “deserving mothers should be enabled to raise their children in their own homes.”7 Thinking the same way as others, the relief administrations believed that poor mothers would misspend the money and then ask for more money so the administration decided that it would only give money to poor mothers that showed good moral character. They experimented with the widows’ pension and changed the public’s opinion. Eventually the bill for the pensions got passed into law despite six separate bills that failed earlier. Later, Hopkins’ friend, William Mathews, was elected president of the Board of Child Welfare (BCW) and accepted the position with the condition that Hopkins was appointed executive secretary. Hopkins got to demonstrate what he had learned and made solid relationships with existing charities while he spent money without wasting it. Unfortunately, the BCW did not have enough money to achieve what Hopkins, wanted so he had to make concessions, but that did not stop him from helping the people. His reputation grew and his name got clients to help the charities. He later resigned from the BCW due to budget cuts which hampered Hopkins’ attempts to provided assistance and joined the American Red Cross (ARC) as general director of civilian relief. During that time, the war was beginning and Hopkins decided to register for the draft. However, he failed the physical examination because of defective vision in one eye. During his four and a half years with ARC he was the Director of the Gulf Division Home Service in New Orleans. After the war, he became the head of the Southern Division in Atlanta. He was involved with disaster relief, and he often risked his life to help others. He spent most of his time building up a strong network of Red Cross offices to assist the families of servicemen. He also reorganized his division to fully utilize the staff that he hired but quit ARC for a better job as the assistant director of AIPC. He became well known and famous in the social worker circle but his family life deteriorated because his wife wanted to be equal partners but his devotion to his job caused strain to their marriage. After experiencing some challenges and making his reputation the Great Depression hit where he would become one of the greatest man due to his programs.
When the Great Depression hit the country and America needed help, Hopkins hoped that after Governor FDR became president, FDR would choose Hopkins to help the country during the disastrous times. Even though FDR only chose Hopkins to make quick and temporary changes, Hopkins did such a good job that he became one of FDR’s greatest advisors. Though Hopkins shared the general attitude “that government handout[s] without some rather strict rules would enfeeble recipients,” Hopkins made some radical federal programs to help fight the Great Depression.8 He believed that the unemployment was not the fault of the individual or the private industry. However, since many people did not believe that idea, it took a while for the government to battle the Great Depression. When FDR was governor of New York during the beginning of the Great Depression, he realized that the Great Depression was not going be short lived and the government needed to do something to help the people so he enacted legislation to het help to the people. Through the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration (TERA), Hopkins was offered the job as executive director and there he met FDR. After FDR became president, Hopkins met with Frances Perkins who was impressed with his proposal that she took it to FDR. Then FDR chose Hopkins to be his federal relief administrator because Hopkins could operate competently on a state wide level and because Hopkins could make relief programs quickly. As time went on, the two of them grew close. Hopkins with the Brain Trust was chosen to make a bill that would provide social and economic security to American citizens. He and FDR agreed on the bill to help America in the future.
June Hopkins believes that Harry Hopkins’ “contributions to the American welfare system cannot be understood without first examining his family background and his education in Grinnell, Iowa, a town smack in the middle of the United States that provided a substructure for the way he thought about American society.”9 She shows many points that display his family’s influence in his relief programs. She believes that his origins and his education influenced him in the ways he thought which later is shown through the execution of his programs. She has more insight about Hopkins because she was his granddaughter and she has also studied his career. She adds more insight to the book because she could have known him personally or his story was passed down to her by her parents. She also had access to notes that he had written as well as ones that Ethel Gross wrote. She uses quotes from other people who have written about him or have studied his career; she has also studied his notes and letters to write this book. Both reviews believe that June Hopkins thinks that Harry Hopkins’ origins influenced him and his respect for women. He combined both unabashed willingness and strong distrust of permanent federalized welfare state. He was exposed to the diversity of American urban culture and that influenced him. Both reviews believe that the author has some strong points and weaknesses as well; for example, Hopkins’ openness but falls short because she “[spent] less than two chapters on her grandfather’s role in the depression-era relief.”10 She does explain his origins thoroughly and clearly states where some of his traits came from. She also writes about what influenced him and what his ambitions were. A weakness is that although she does write about his career, she does not discuss Hopkins’s programs. She writes about whom he met and suggestions he made to rise into higher positions but did not go into specific cases he dealt with or what part of the New Deal programs or ideas were his and what part of the New Deal programs are other people. She also does not mention much about the other members of the brain trust.
The author points out the things Hopkins did to change America by changing the way the government watches out for the people. Many programs “addressed problems arising out of economic crisis” and helped with finding ways to deal with problems that are similar today.11 The 1930s changed America greatly –both economically and culturally. It also got the government to become more involved in the economy and is now in charge when there is a crisis with the economy. It is looked at to help the people during crisis and it has also caused the public to think differently about the unemployed.
The 1930s did change America and mark a watershed. It created a way “to stimulate the economy through public money.”12 The idea of what the poor deserve changed and revised the job of the government to protect democracy. Many things that occurred in the 1930s still exist: for example, the Social Security Act. The Social Security Act has helped protect the money of numerous people and made the banks more reliable. Other things like the widows’ pension have been expanded and now there are pensions for retired people, injured people and unemployed people.
Harry Hopkins achieved a significant amount of things in his lifetime and should be honored for what he has done. We should never forget what he has done for America. He “died with virtually no money to his name [but] left a much richer endowment.”13
1: Hopkins, June. Harry Hopkins: A Sudden Hero, Brash Reformer. St. Martin’s Press, 1999. 2.
Letitia Nguyen is a junior at Irvine High. She is a girl scout and has received both the Silver Award and the Gold Award. She enjoys archery and ceramics. She was born at Fountain Valley Hospital and is currently undecided on what she wants to do in the future.
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