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Granddaughter of New Deal Architect Keynotes Policy Day 2010


Contact: Emily Williams

Posted January 26, 2011

Listen to the podcast | View a slideshow or see photos from the day on our Facebook page

June Hopkins, Ph.D., granddaughter of Harry Hopkins—the principal architect of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal and emissary to Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill in World War II, gave the keynote remarks at this year's annual Parham Policy Day at the School of Social Work on October 26. Hopkins, chair of the history department at Armstrong State and author of Harry Hopkins: Sudden Hero Brash Reformer, recounted her book on her grandfather's catapult from a poor Iowa farm kid to one of America's most influential policy makers in history.

"How did he get to that position? Scholars have been scratching their head about that for decades," Hopkins began. "He wasn't particularly political. He wasn't particularly brilliant. He wasn't steeped in an ideology. He didn't dress very well. He didn't come from an important family. He was sick most of the time. He didn't have a diplomatic personality but yet, he reached the height of power during the Roosevelt administration. What made him so influential? He asked himself that many times."

When Hopkins started her investigation into her grandfather's life, she never knew him since he died when she was four and a half years old. She read documents and heard stories about him through her grandmother and other relatives. She was intrigued with his life story and decided she wanted to tell it in a book.

To understand Harry Hopkins' rise to power, one must understand his history, Hopkins explained. He was was the fourth of five children and grew up poor in Iowa, but his parents instilled in him a sense of responsibility to help others, which was further ingrained during his university years at Grinnell College. He was influenced by his professors who advocated for social justice and one's responsibility for public service.

His first job after graduating in 1912 was at Christa Dora House, a settlement house in New York City that provided food, recreation, child care, English and civic lessons, as well as, help finding a job. "Hopkins graduated in [political science] went to work in Christa Dora House and boom he was a professional social worker," Hopkins said. This is where Harry Hopkins fell in love with and married fellow worker, Ethel Gross—June's grandmother, who plugged Harry Hopkins into the social work community in New York City. In 1913, Harry Hopkins went on to work for the New York branch of the national organization of the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor.

"It was here that he began to develop some of his convictions concerning poverty and unemployment," Hopkins said. "Principals that he would later draw on in the 1930s for the able bodied who wanted to work and for whatever reason could not find employment, the government would provide jobs. For those unable to work, the government would provide assistance."

When America entered WWI, Harry Hopkins was ineligible for the draft because he had poor eyesight, so he went to work for the American Red Cross in New Orleans, where he headed up the Civilian Relief Division or Home Service, which provided services for soldiers and sailors and their families. Harry Hopkins found no agencies to help him with his work and no network of social workers or even a framework for training them. He called on some of his Grinnell classmates and started a training program, which became the School of Social Work at Tulane University.

Although Harry Hopkins wasn't formally trained as a social worker, he recognized a need for training workers in this challenging profession. In 1920, he joined other social workers to draft a charter for the American Association of Social Workers.

His career took him to Atlanta in 1921, where he took over the Southwest division of the American Red Cross. He returned to New York City in 1923 and directed his attention toward public health. He became the general director of the New York Tuberculosis Association. For Harry Hopkins, illness was a preventable cause of poverty.

Historians believe Harry Hopkins and Roosevelt met sometime in 1928 when Roosevelt was campaigning for governor of New York, Hopkins asserted. Roosevelt assumed the governorship in 1929 and was reelected in 1930—just after the stock market crashed. Roosevelt tapped Harry Hopkins in 1931 to run the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration, which would be one of the agencies replicated in the New Deal package.

"Both Governor Roosevelt and Hopkins felt it was extremely important that workers have the dignity of a job," Hopkins said. "Not just taking money, a dole, this they thought was humiliating and did not serve the purposes of the United States, much less, New York State."

In 1932 Roosevelt was elected president of the United States. Harry Hopkins watched the first 100 days intently and wanted to get involved. He wasn't able to get an appointment with the new president, so he contacted his friend Francis Perkins, who was now Roosevelt's Secretary of Labor and pitched a plan for a federal emergency relief program, which came to be known as the New Deal. Perkins loved the idea and took it to the president, who promptly appointed Harry Hopkins Relief Administrator. He now was responsible for putting American's to work.

"The president and Hopkins didn't really know each other that well at this point," Hopkins said. "But their relationship was going to build slowly during the New Deal years, peak during the war years when Hopkins would become indispensible to the president."

Harry Hopkins ran the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), the Civil Works Administration (CWA) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). He was committed to putting people to work for their own well-being and to stimulate the economy, rather than giving direct relief or doles.

In 1934 to 1935 he wrote the legislation that would become known as the Social Security Act, which became the foundation for the American welfare system.

Hopkins spoke informally after lunch about her grandfather's role as emissary to Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill in World War II and answered questions about Harry Hopkins and her book.

Parham Policy Day is an annual, daylong event coordinated by Parham Professor June Gary Hopps and policy students in the School of Social Work. Attendees were served Depression-era inspired meals including a breakfast of grits and biscuits with gravy and lunch of macaroni with hotdogs and tomatoes. Policy students kicked-off the event by singing and dancing to "What's Policy Got to Do with It?" their take-off of Tina Turner's "What's Love Got to Do with It." Throughout the day there were presentations on the U.S. health care system, trauma centers in the state and how students can get more involved in the local community and School of Social Work. Student posters based on specific social policy issues, such as homelessness, childhood obesity and the Dream Act, were on display in Tucker Hall throughout the day. Policy Day was started in 2003 by Hopps to highlight the lasting positive impacts of well-crafted social policy.

Roosevelt's granddaughter, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, spoke to students at the 2008 Parham Policy Day. Harry Hopkins was friends with Eleanor Roosevelt and worked with her to advance the cause of the poor and oppressed in America.