John Gilbert Winant

Last updated

John Winant
John Gilbert Winant.jpg
United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom
In office
March 1, 1941 April 10, 1946
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Harry S. Truman
Preceded by Joseph P. Kennedy Sr.
Succeeded by Averell Harriman
Chair of the Social Security Board
In office
November 16, 1936 February 19, 1937
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded by Arthur J. Altmeyer (Acting)
Succeeded by Arthur J. Altmeyer
In office
August 23, 1935 September 30, 1936
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded by Arthur J. Altmeyer (Acting)
63rd Governor of New Hampshire
In office
January 1, 1931 January 3, 1935
Preceded by Charles W. Tobey
Succeeded by Styles Bridges
In office
January 1, 1925 January 6, 1927
Preceded by Fred H. Brown
Succeeded by Huntley N. Spaulding
Personal details
Born(1889-02-23)February 23, 1889
New York City, New York, U.S.
DiedNovember 3, 1947(1947-11-03) (aged 58)
Concord, New Hampshire, U.S.
Political party Republican
Education St. Paul's School
Alma mater Princeton University

John Gilbert Winant OM (February 23, 1889 – November 3, 1947) was an American politician with the Republican party after a brief career as a teacher in Concord, New Hampshire. [1] John Winant held positions in New Hampshire, national, and international politics. He was the first man to serve more than a single two-year term as Governor of New Hampshire, winning election three times. Winant also served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom during most of World War II. Depressed by career disappointments, a failed marriage and heavy debts, he committed suicide in 1947. [2] [3]


Early life

Winant was born on East Side, New York City, the son of Frederick and Jeanette Winant. His father was a partner in a prosperous real estate company. Winant attended St. Paul's School in Concord and progressed to Princeton University, but he was a poor student, and left without graduating. He was appointed an instructor in history at St. Paul's in 1913, remaining there until 1917. He was elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives in 1916. In 1917, he joined the United States Army Air Service, trained as a pilot, and commanded the 8th Aero Squadron (Observation) in France, with the rank of captain. [2]

Public offices

Winant returned to his position at St. Paul's in 1919 after his military service, and was elected to the New Hampshire Senate in 1920. He lost money in oil stocks in 1929, which he had profited from through the 1920s.

Governor of New Hampshire

He twice served as Governor of New Hampshire: from 1925 to 1927, and from 1931 to 1935. He served his later terms during the Great Depression and responded in several ways. He oversaw an emergency credit act which allowed the state to guarantee debts of municipalities so that local governments could continue. He pushed through a minimum wage act for women and children. During the depression, Winant fought to keep improving the state's highways while reorganizing the state banking commission and pursuing more accurate accounting of state agencies' funds. Working closely with the federal government, Winant was the first governor whose state filled its enrollment quota in the Civilian Conservation Corps. [2] [4]

Other offices

Subsequently, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Winant to be the first head of the Social Security Board in 1935, a position he held until 1937. [2] At the time, it was rumored that Roosevelt appointed Winant to prevent him from running for President in 1936, but Winant never admitted to Presidential aspirations. The next year, he was elected to head the International Labor Office in Geneva, Switzerland, from January 1939. As Director-General, he was preceded by Harold Butler and succeeded by Edward J. Phelan.

Ambassador to United Kingdom

In 1941, Roosevelt appointed Winant ambassador to Britain, and Winant remained in that post until he resigned in March 1946. [2] In a 2010 book, Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour, the author Lynne Olson described Winant as dramatically changing the U.S. stance as ambassador when succeeding pro-appeasement ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. Upon landing at Bristol airport in England in March 1941, Winant announced, "I'm very glad to be here. There is no place I'd rather be at this time than in England." The remark heartened a country that had come through the Battle of Britain and was in the midst of The Blitz, and it was featured dramatically on the front pages of most British newspapers the next day.

The new ambassador quickly developed close contacts with King George VI and Prime Minister Winston Churchill even though the U.S. was providing only military aid and the Axis was not yet at war with the U.S. [5] Winant, according to the book, had an affair with Churchill's second daughter Sarah Churchill during that time. [6]

Winant was with Winston Churchill when he learned that Pearl Harbor had been attacked on December 7, 1941. [7]

Return to US

President Harry S. Truman appointed Winant US representative to UNESCO in 1946 although he retired to Concord shortly after to write his memoirs. [2] However, he found himself unable to adjust to a quieter pace of life. "Everywhere Winant turned he saw the drama in which he had participated so significantly drawing to a close". [8] Estranged from his socially ambitious wife and deeply in debt, he became profoundly depressed. [8]

Personal life

John Winant Jr. (far right) with other Prominente after their release. PicOf 4C Prominente.jpg
John Winant Jr. (far right) with other Prominente after their release.

Winant married Constance Rivington Russell (1899–1983) in 1919. [2] [9] They had a daughter, Constance (1921–1978), and two sons, John Jr. (1922–1993) and Rivington (1925–2011). [10] Constance married Carlos Valando, a Peruvian scientist, in 1941. [11] John Winant Jr. served as a bomber pilot in World War II and was taken prisoner by the Germans. [2] Sent to Colditz, he was removed in April 1945 as one of the Prominente to be used as a bargaining chip by Himmler and the SS as the end of the war approached; he was eventually released. [12] Rivington Winant also served in World War II and later became treasurer at the United Nations. [2] [13]


John Gilbert Winant (c.1943) John Gilbert Winant 1947.jpg
John Gilbert Winant (c.1943)

Winant shot himself in the head at his Concord home on 3 November 1947, the day his book Letter from Grosvenor Square was published. [2] [14] [15] The book Citizens of London reports that after Roosevelt's death, with Winant distanced from his Republican Party base, "[h]e hoped that he was going to become secretary-general of the new UN... On top of that [disappointed hope], his affair with Sarah Churchill ended badly. 'He was an exhausted, sick man after the war'," author Olson continued in the interview on NPR. [6]

Winston Churchill sent four dozen yellow roses to Winant's funeral, and the British king and queen sent their condolences by telegram. [16]

Winant was buried at Blossom Hill cemetery in Concord; his wish to be buried in the St Paul's School's consecrated cemetery refused by the Episcopalian rector on the grounds that suicide was a sin. However, in the more secular culture of 1968, his casket was reinterred at St Paul's. [17] His epitaph was his 1946 quote:

Doing the day's work day by day, doing a little, adding a little, broadening our bases wanting not only for ourselves but for others also, a fairer chance for all people everywhere. Forever moving forward, always remembering that it is the things of the spirit that in the end prevail. That caring counts and that where there is no vision the people perish. That hope and faith count and that without charity, there can be nothing good. That having dared to live dangerously, and in believing in the inherent goodness of man, we can stride forward into the unknown with growing confidence. [18]


In 1947, Winant was only the second (and last) American citizen, after General Dwight Eisenhower, to be made an honorary member of the British Order of Merit. In 1943, he was awarded the Freedom of the City of Aberdeen.


In what amounted to a eulogy, The New York Times wrote of Winant two days after his death:

Here was a man who truly loved mankind and tried all his life to make the lot of his fellow-men better and happier... Governor Winant was a liberal Republican. When President Roosevelt summoned him to a larger field as head of the Social Security Board, his political opponents called him "a Republican New Dealer." [3]

In 1948, the Winant Clayton Volunteers formed in honor of Winant and the Reverend Philip "Tubby" Clayton, organizer of the Toc H Christian charity in the First World War. Initially, American volunteers came to London to help British families rebuild churches and community centers damaged during World War II. In 1959 the exchange was reciprocated with Winant volunteers traveling from America to England while the Claytons go from England to work in the United States.

In 1982, The Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire established The John G. Winant Fellowship for students interested in working in non-profit or governmental organizations. [19]

In 2009, Rivington Winant, with his wife Joan, donated 85 acres of land in Concord for the creation of Winant Park in honor of his late father and mother. The property sits on what was formerly the Winants' estate and offers the public biking, hiking and cross-country ski trails. [20] Rivington Winant said his goal was to create "something that would be useful to the people of Concord, and something my father would like." [21]

Two positions have been endowed in Winant's honour at the University of Oxford: the John G. Winant Lectureship in U.S. Foreign Policy and the John Gilbert Winant Visiting Professorship of American Government, which is held at Oxford's Rothermere American Institute. [22]

On June 30, 2017, a statue of Winant was unveiled outside the New Hampshire State Library in Concord. The campaign to build the statue with private funds was led by Van McLeod, longtime head of New Hampshire's Department of Cultural Resources, and state lawmaker Steve Shurtleff. [23]


  1. Lawrence Kestenbaum. "The Political Graveyard: Index to Politicians: Wilson-allen to Winfrey".
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 "John G. Winant Kills Self; Was Ex-Envoy to London; Pistol Shot Ends Life on Bedroom Floor in New Hampshire Home". New York Times. November 4, 1947. p. 1. Retrieved June 17, 2020.
  3. 1 2 "John G. Winant". New York Times. November 5, 1947. p. 25. Retrieved June 17, 2020.
  4. "John G. Winant, A Guide to Likenesses of New Hampshire Officials and Governors on Public Display at the Legislative Office Building and the State House Concord, New Hampshire, to 1998, New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources".
  5. Olson, Lynne, Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour, Chapter 1 (2010, Random House, 496 p.). Report with excerpt "Chapter 1: There's No Place I'd Rather Be Than In England". National Public Radio, All Things Considered , February 3, 2010.
  6. 1 2 Report with author interview at time of publication of Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour by Lynne Olson (2010, Random House, 496 p.). National Public Radio, All Things Considered , February 3, 2010.
  7. Olson, Lynne, Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour 2010. Random House
  8. 1 2 Freedman, J. O. (2000). John Gilbert Winant. Harvard Magazine Nov. – Dec. 2000. Harvard University.
  9. "The Roosevelt New Deal Sends An Ambassador To Britain's New Dealers". Life. March 3, 1941.
  10. "Commemorative Chairs: John G. Winant" Archived March 3, 2016, at the Wayback Machine .
  11. "Milestones, Feb. 24, 1941". Time . February 24, 1941. Retrieved April 11, 2010.
  12. "Internet Archive Wayback Machine". Archived from the original on May 15, 2012.
  13. "John Gilbert Winant – Governor and Ambassador".
  14. "Social Security".
  15. James O. Freedman. "John Gilbert Winant—Brief life of an exemplary public servant: 1889–1947". Harvard Magazine, November–December 2000. Retrieved April 16, 2009.
  16. Felice Belman; Mike Pride (2001). The New Hampshire Century: Concord Monitor Profiles of One Hundred People who Shaped it. UPNE. pp. 145–. ISBN   978-1-58465-087-4.
  17. Hare, J. (2010). Eventually, Winant ended up at St. Paul's. Concord Monitor, February 5, 2010.
  18. "John Gilbert Winant – Governor and Ambassador".
  19. "Carsey School of Public Policy". Carsey School of Public Policy. Archived from the original on July 27, 2010.
  20. New Concord Park Honors NH Governor John Gilbert Winant.
  21. Leubsdorf, Ben (February 11, 2011). "Donor Winant dies at 85". Concord Monitor. Retrieved January 2, 2019.
  22. John G. Winant Visiting Professor of American Government RAI. June 11, 2015.
  23. Bookman, Todd. "Statue of Governor John Winant Unveiled in Concord". Retrieved December 29, 2018.

General bibliography

Party political offices
Preceded by
Windsor Goodnow
Republican nominee for Governor of New Hampshire
Succeeded by
Huntley N. Spaulding
Preceded by
Charles W. Tobey
Republican nominee for Governor of New Hampshire
1930, 1932
Succeeded by
Styles Bridges
Political offices
Preceded by
Fred H. Brown
Governor of New Hampshire
Succeeded by
Huntley N. Spaulding
Preceded by
Charles W. Tobey
Governor of New Hampshire
Succeeded by
Styles Bridges
New office Chairman of the Social Security Board
Succeeded by
Arthur J. Altmeyer
Preceded by
Arthur J. Altmeyer
Chairman of the Social Security Board
Succeeded by
Arthur J. Altmeyer
Non-profit organization positions
Preceded by
Clarence A. Dykstra
President of the National Municipal League
Succeeded by
Charles Edison
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Joe Kennedy
United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom
Succeeded by
Averell Harriman

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