Social Security Pioneers

John Gilbert Winant

photo of John Winant at desk
Winant during his tenure on Social Security Board.
SSA History Archives photo, donated by Maurine Mulliner.

Three-term Republican Governor of New Hampshire
United States Ambassador to Great Britain 1941-1946
First Chairman of the Social Security Board 1935-1937

Winant greeting card
Winant's autographed greeting card while Governor.

When President Roosevelt asked John G. Winant to become the first head of the new Social Security Board in 1935, Winant had already distinguished himself in public life as a three-term governor of New Hampshire. As the first head of the newly created Social Security Board, Winant was instrumental in the crucial work of creating the organization that would carry-out the new Social Security Act.

Prior to joining the Roosevelt administration, Winant was considered a possible presidential or vice-presidential candidate for the Republican party. However, the party's candidate in 1936, Alf Landon, adopted a position of strong opposition to the newly created Social Security program, calling for its repeal. Winant, who believed deeply in the value of the program, was thus placed in an awkward position since the Board was expected to be non-partisan. After much soul-searching, and barely a year in the job, Winant resigned in September 1936 so that he would be free to speak out publicly in support of the program. His principled stand in favor of Social Security and in opposition to his party's platform ended his chances of higher office. After the election, he briefly resumed the Chairmanship of the Board, resigning permanently in February 1937.

Following his brief tenure with the Social Security Board, Winant went on to a highly distinguished career as ambassador to Great Britain during World War II. Deeply saddened by President Roosevelt's death the previous year, Winant retired from public life in 1946.

Confirmed by Senate as first chairman of Social Security Board - 8/23/35
Resigned as chairman - 9/30/36
Reappointed chairman by President Roosevelt - 11/16/36
Resigned permanently - 2/19/37

Letter From Grosvenor Square, John G. Winant, 1947, republished by Greenwood Press, 1969.
He Walked Alone, (biography), Bernard Bellush, Mouton & Co., 1968.

Biographical Article on Winant by SSA Historian

Soundclip from 1946 Speech by Governor Winant

A speech in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. The occasion was an official reception banquet in honor of the former Prime Minister of Great Britain,Winston S. Churchill. The event took place on 03/15/1946. (Although Winant's remarks on this occasion do not concern Social Security, it is one of the few surviving records of Winant's voice as the notoriously speech-averse Winant rarely made public speeches.)
Soundclip in RealAudio Format (3:59)

Soundclip in Windows Media Player Format (3:59)