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Eliot, Thomas H.

in: People

Thomas H. Eliot (June 14, 1907 – October 14, 1991) — Counsel for the Committee on Economic Security, Chancellor, Washington University in St. Louis and U.S. Representative in Congress.


Former General Counsel Thomas H. Elliot circa 1936
Former General Counsel Thomas H. Elliot circa 1936
Photo: Public Domain

Introduction: In 1933, Thomas Hopkinson 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. He also shares his close-up view of the progress of the social security bill through the Congress.

Career: Thomas Eliot was 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.

Publication:  Eliot, Thomas H. Recollections of the New Deal: When the People Mattered. Edited with an introduction by John Kenneth Galbraith. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1992; Eliot, Thomas H. Public and Personal. Edited by Frank O’Brien. St. Louis: Washington University Press, 1971.


Social Security Administration

Biographical Directory of the United States Congress