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Eliot, Thomas H. (1907-1991)

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Congressional Biography

Thomas H. EliotELIOT, Thomas Hopkinson, a Representative from Massachusetts; born in Cambridge, Mass., June 14, 1907; attended Browne and Nichols School; was graduated from Harvard University in 1928; student at Emmanuel College, Cambridge University, in 1928 and 1929; was graduated from the law school of Harvard University in 1932; was admitted to the bar in 1933 and commenced practice in Buffalo, N.Y.; served as assistant solicitor in the United States Department of Labor 1933-1935; general counsel for the Social Security Board 1935-1938; lecturer on government at Harvard University in 1937 and 1938; regional director of the Wage and Hour Division in the Department of Labor in 1939 and 1940; unsuccessful candidate for e lection in 1938 to the Seventy-sixth Congress; elected as a Democrat to the Seventy-seventh Congress (January 3, 1941-January 3, 1943); unsuccessful candidate for renomination in 1942 and for nomination in 1944 to the Seventy-ninth Congress; director of the British Division, Office of War Information, London, England, and special assistant to the United States Ambassador, 1943; chairman of the appeals committee, National War Labor Board, 1943-1944; served with the Office of Strategic Services in 1944; served as chief counsel, Division of Power, Department of the Interior, from November 1944 to November 1945; engaged in the practice of law in Boston, Mass., 1945-1950; professor of political science, Washington University, St. Louis, Mo., 1952, and of constitutional law 1958; dean of Washington University College of Liberal Arts, 1961-1962, and chancellor, 1962-1971; vice chairman, United States Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, 1963-1967; president, Salzburg Seminar in American Studies, 1971-1977; teacher, Buckingham, Browne and Nichols School, 1977-1985; was a resident of Cambridge, Mass., until his death there on October 14, 1991.

Social Security Administration Archives Biography


The chief draftsman of the Social Security Act, as well as the first General Counsel for the Social Security Board of the United States was the son of Samuel Atkins Eliot, the first president of the American Unitarian Association. The Social Security Administration Archives portray his life as follows:

Thomas H. Eliot

In 1933, Thomas H. Eliot, together with many of his youthful fellow graduates from Harvard Law School, went to Washington, becoming Assistant Solicitor of the Department of Labor under Frances Perkins. Later, she appointed him Counsel for the Committee on Economic Security which drafted the social security bill. After serving as General Counsel for the Social Security Board, he returned to Massachusetts, taught at Harvard, was elected to Congress from Massachusetts, joined the faculty of Washington University in St. Louis in 1952, and served as Chancellor of that institution during the period 1962-71. The problems faced in the drafting of legislation which could withstand constitutional challenges in the U.S. Supreme Court are the core of Mr. Eliot’s presentation. He reports how the Court’s earlier decisions on grants-in-aid provided the basis for the old-age assistance program and several other grant-in-aid programs in the 1935 Act; how the decision upholding tax offsets was used as the basis for the unemployment insurance legislation once the policy decision of State responsibility and administration had been made; and how events unrelated to social security may have had an impact on the Court’s upholding the constitutionality of the old-age insurance program.

Thomas H. Eliot: Former Chancellor of Washington University


Eliot Hall

On the Hilltop campus is Thomas Hopkinson Eliot Hall which houses the department of Political Science and Economics.

Thomas H. Eliot, as Washington University chancellor, led the school to national academic prominence and helped it weather the student protest era. Mr. Eliot headed Washington University from 1962 until his retirement in 1971. Earlier, he represented his home state of Massachusetts in Congress and was a federal labor official, playing a key role in the drafting of the Social Security Act and the lobbying for its passage. After leaving Washington University, he became president of the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies, holding that post until 1976. In that position, he divided his time between Salzburg, Austria, and the seminar’s U.S. office in Cambridge. Mr. Eliot joined Washington University in 1952 as chairman of its political science department. In 1958, he became the Charles Nagel Professor of Constitutional Law and Political Science. In 1961, he became dean of the College of Liberal Arts and vice chancellor, dean of faculties. As the school’s 12th chancellor, he was credited with completing the school’s transformation from an institution of primarily local renown into one with a national reputation. He achieved that in part by bringing well-known scholars in various fields to join the university’s faculty and by attracting substantial financial support from the Ford Foundation and other private groups. During Mr. Eliot’s tenure, the school’s full-time faculty grew from 600 people to more than 1,100. Fourteen major buildings were completed, and construction was begun on three more.

Herbison House

The University Chancellor’s residence, Herbison House.

The university received more than $100 million in grants and gifts from private sources and maintained an unprecedented level of government support of research and teaching. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Washington University – like many campuses – was affected by student protests against the Vietnam War and other issues. Robert H. Salisbury, chairman of the school’s political science department, recalled Tuesday that Mr. Eliot had been “firm in resisting some of the more outrageous tendencies of demands for change” at the school but “accommodating” in considering well-reasoned requests. Salisbury added that Mr. Eliot—in an effort to keep confrontation to a minimum—kept local police off campus during protests except when absolutely necessary. In a 1970 lecture, Mr. Eliot said colleges needed to retain their role as “citadels of freedom of inquiry and expression” and to resist both “anarchistic violence” on the left and “extremist reaction” on the right. Mr. Eliot was born in Cambridge. He was the grandson of Charles W. Eliot, a president of Harvard University. Mr. Eliot’s family includes also William Greenleaf Eliot, a founder of Washington University, and the poet T.S. Eliot. Over the years, Mr. Eliot wrote articles for many professional journals and general-interest magazines and was author of a leading college textbook, “Governing America: The Politics of a Free People.” In addition, Mr. Eliot served as a trustee of the St. Louis Council on World Affairs and New England chairman of the United Negro College Fund.

— Abridged from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 16, 1991.

Eliot’s Retirement Years

Upon returning to Cambridge during his retirement years Thomas Eliot taught at the coeducational day school for students in Pre-K through grade 12 and also wrote its history.