Harry Hopkins became a special adviser to U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II. He was one of Roosevelt’s closest and most trusted confidants and even lived in the White House at times. By the start of the war, Roosevelt and Hopkins had known one another for more than a decade. In 1931, when Roosevelt was governor of New York, Hopkins had become executive director of the state’s newly minted Temporary Emergency Relief Administration (TERA). In 1932, Roosevelt made Hopkins the head of the organization. Under Hopkins’ supervision, TERA focused on finding work for unemployed citizens suffering during the Great Depression. After Roosevelt won the presidential election in 1932 and moved to Washington D.C., he brought Hopkins along, charging him with the direction of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA).
Hopkins had devoted his professional life to social concerns even before working with Roosevelt. After graduating from Grinnell College in 1912, Hopkins, a native of Iowa, moved to New York City, where he worked with various associations to improve the lives of the urban poor. He developed the belief that most people had the desire and drive to work and he attempted to provide jobs—rather than handouts—to able workers, confident that this type of aid allowed people to retain their dignity and fostered a sense of personal pride.
While working for FERA, Hopkins became involved in many of Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, including the Works Progress Administration and, through his position on the Committee on Economic Security, the development of the Social Security System. In 1938, Roosevelt appointed Hopkins as the U.S. secretary of commerce, but he resigned the position due to ill health two years later. During World War II, Hopkins accompanied the president to many Allied conferences; he also traveled to meet with both Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. His reports back to Roosevelt helped justify the U.S. Lend-Lease program which he briefly directed.
Hopkins’ preference for bluntness and straight talk made him an invaluable asset for Roosevelt and earned him the nickname “Lord Root of the Matter” from Churchill. After Roosevelt’s death in April 1945, Hopkins continued to act as emissary for the new U.S. president, Harry S. Truman, and helped to arrange the last Allied conference. On September 5, 1945, Truman presented him with the Distinguished Service Medal, citing his “selfless, courageous, and objective contribution to the war effort.” A few months later, Hopkins, whose health frequently troubled him and who had long battled stomach cancer, died on January 29, 1946, from complications relating to the cancer.