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John Winant

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John Winant

John Gilbert Winant
United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom
In office
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Harry S. Truman
Preceded by Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr.
Succeeded by W. Averell Harriman
60th Governor of New Hampshire
In office
1925 – 1927
1931 – 1935
Preceded by Fred H. Brown (1925)
Charles W. Tobey (1931)
Succeeded by Huntley N. Spaulding (1927)
Styles Bridges (1935)
Personal details
Born February 23, 1889
New York City, USA
Died November 3, 1947(1947-11-03) (aged 58)
Political party Republican

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] Born in New York City, 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 US Ambassador to the United Kingdom during most of World War II.

Background and early life

Winant attended St. Paul's School in Concord as well as Princeton University. He was appointed an instructor in history at St. Paul's in 1913, remaining there until 1917, and 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.

He was married to Constance Rivington Russell,[2] who took his surname. They had a daughter, Constance Winant in 1921, and two sons, John Jr. and Rivington.[3] His daughter married Carlos Valando, a Peruvian scientist, in 1941.[4] John Winant Jr. served as a bomber pilot in World War II and was taken prisoner by the Germans. John Jr. was a prisoner of the infamous Colditz and taken in April 1945 as one of the "Prominente" to be used as a bargaining chip as the end of the war approached by Himmler and the SS.[5] He was eventually released. Rivington Winant also served in World War II and went on to be the treasurer of the United Nations.[6]

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 later 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 of the states' governors to fill his enrollment quota in the Civilian Conservation Corps.[7]

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. 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.

U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain

In 1941, Roosevelt appointed Winant ambassador to Britain, and Winant remained in that post until he resigned in March, 1946. One of his students from St. Paul's, Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle, Jr., was serving as ambassador to several of the occupied countries' governments-in-exile at the time.[8] In a 2010 book, Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour, author Lynne Olson described Winant as dramatically changing the U.S. stance as ambassador when succeeding pro-appeasement ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., Winant announced upon landing at Bristol, England, airport in March, 1941, "I'm very glad to be here. There is no place I'd rather be at this time than in England." The remark, for a country that had come through the Battle of Britain and was in the midst of The Blitz, was dramatically on the front page 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 only providing provisions but had not yet declared war on the Axis.[9] Winant, according to the book, carried on an affair with Churchill's second daughter Sarah Churchill during his time as ambassador.[10]

John Gilbert Winant was with Winston Churchill when he learned that Pearl Harbor was attacked.[11]

President Harry S. Truman appointed him U.S. representative to UNESCO in 1946, although he retired to Concord shortly after to write his memoirs.

In 1947, Winant was only the second American citizen, after General Dwight Eisenhower, to be made an honorary member of the Order of Merit.


Winant committed suicide in 1947 in his Concord home on the day his book Letter from Grosvenor Square was published, and was buried at St. Paul's School.[12][13] The book Citizens of London reports that after Roosevelt's death, with Winant's distance 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.[10]

Upon learning of Winant's death, Winston Churchill sent four dozen yellow roses to his funeral, and the British king and queen sent their condolences by telegram.[14]

Winant is buried in Concord, New Hampshire. His gravestone is inscribed with a 1946 quote from Winant: "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."[15]


In 1948, the Winant Clayton Volunteers formed in honor of Winant and the Reverend Philip “Tubby” Clayton, former private chaplain to the British Queen. 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 travelling from America to England while the Claytons go from England to work in the United States.[16]

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.[17]

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.[18]



Bellush, Bernard. He Walked Alone: A Biography of John Gilbert Winant. The Hague: Mouton, 1968.

External links

  • – Winant Clayton Volunteers UK
  • New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources – John G. Winant
  • Social Security Pioneers – John Gilbert Winant
Political offices
Preceded by
Fred H. Brown
Governor of New Hampshire
1925 – 1927
Succeeded by
Huntley N. Spaulding
Preceded by
Charles W. Tobey
Governor of New Hampshire
1931 – 1935
Succeeded by
Styles Bridges
Non-profit organization positions
Preceded by
Clarence A. Dykstra
President of the National Municipal League
Succeeded by
Charles Edison
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Joseph Kennedy
U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom
1941 – 1946
Succeeded by
Averell Harriman

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