Signing the Social Security Act of 1935

There were many photographs taken of the Social Security Act signing ceremony. The posing was different in many of the photographs and in no single photograph are all the participants visible. This composite photograph shows all of the participants in a single image.



FDR signing composite

Who's Who & Why They Were There

1. Rep. Jere Cooper (D-TN). Cooper was a member of the House Ways and Means Committee and would go on in subsequent years to become something of an expert on Social Security topics and he was a major force in Social Security legislative developments during the 1940s to the mid-1950s. Mr. Cooper also rose to the position of Chairman of the Ways & Means Committee during the Eighty-fourth and Eighty-fifth Congresses.

2. Rep. Claude Fuller (D-AR). Fuller was a member of the Ways & Means Committee and was generally opposed to the Administration's bill. During Committee consideration he made motions seeking to strike key provisions of the legislation. But when his efforts failed, he compromised with the Administration and joined in voting for passage of the bill.

3 . Rep. Robert Doughton (D-NC) was chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. As such he was the principal official sponsor of the legislation in the House.

4. Rep. Frank Buck (D-CA) was a second-generation industrialist and fruit grower from California. He was a member of the House Ways & Means Committee, which had jurisdiction of the bill in the House. He graduated from Harvard Law School and served five terms in Congress, from 1933 until his death in 1942. (Representative Buck has often been misidentified in photos of the signing as being Edwin Witte. Witte, in fact, was not in the signing photographs.)

5. Rep. John Boehne, Jr.(D-IN) succeeded his father as a representative from Indiana. He was first swept into office in the 1932 elections with President Roosevelt and strongly supported FDR's programs. At first, he was against the Social Security bill and wanted to exempt industrial employers with their own pension systems.

6 . Sen. Robert Wagner (D-NY) was born in Germany, immigrated to New York City, attended law school and was elected to the Senate in 1926. He served four terms. He was a close associate of Frances Perkins and helped draft several early New Deal measures. Wagner introduced the bill into the Senate. His son, Robert F. Wagner, was mayor of New York City for 16 years.

7 . Sen. Alben Barkley (D-KY) was a seven-term Congressman before being elected to the Senate in 1926. By 1937, he was Senate Majority Leader and a decade later, Vice President of the United States. He was an ardent New Dealer and helped shepherd the Social Security Act through the Senate. He argued for "a universal and uniform program in general." He didn't want to exempt certain private groups merely because they already had pension systems, as was proposed by some conservatives in the Congress.

8 . This individual is presently unknown.

9 . Sen. Robert LaFollette, Jr., (PROG-WI) was the eldest son of Robert LaFollette, a progressive Senator from Wisconsin and one-time presidential candidate. When his father died in 1925, Robert Jr., then only 30 years old, was appointed to succeed him. Initially elected as a Republican, LaFollette changed his party affiliation to the Progressive Party in 1934. LaFollette served on the House-Senate conference committee that drafted the final version of the Social Security bill. He served in the Senate until 1946, when he was defeated by Joseph McCarthy. In 1953, LaFollette committed suicide in Washington, D.C.

10 . Rep. John Dingell, Sr. (D-MI). Rep. Dingell was a member of the House Ways & Means Committee. He was a prominent leader in Congress in sponsoring social insurance legislation and teamed with Senator Wagner he authored a couple of important precursor bills to the Social Security Act. (Several authors have identified Dingell as "unidentified man" in some versions of the signing photo.)

11. Sen. Augustine Lonergan (D-CT) was a native of Connecticut and a graduate of Yale University. Although he was a four-term Congressman, he served only one term in the Senate. During the discussions on the Social Security bill, Lonergan gave information about various private insurance annuities to show how they compared to the social insurance program that was being proposed.

12 . Frances Perkins was appointed Secretary of Labor in 1933, making her the first woman to hold a cabinet-level position. Like FDR, she was a child of privilege, but became a strong advocate for the poor and working class. She began her career in New York City as a social worker and held several responsible State government jobs. She served as head of Roosevelt's Committee on Economic Security, set up in 1934. The Social Security legislation sprang from this committee.

13. Rep. Frank Crowther (R-NY) was a Republican member of the House Ways & Means Committee;

14. Sen. William H. King (D-UT). King was a conservative Democrat and member of the Senate Finance Committee. King expressed persistent opposition to many features of the bill as it was being considered, and his support of the legislation was in doubt until the last possible minute. In the end, he voted for passage of the Social Security Act. (Senators King and Harrison have often been confused in the signing photos, including,we are embarrassed to admit, in SSA's own OASIS magazine. Clue: King has a bowtie, Harrison has a regular long tie.)

15. Rep. David J. Lewis (D-MD) was a member of the House Ways & Means Committee and was probably the leading expert on social insurance legislation on the Committee. It was Lewis, a former coal miner and self-taught lawyer, who introduced the Social Security bill into the House on January 17, 1935. However, Chairman Doughton, exercising what he took to be the Chairman's privileges, made a copy of Lewis' bill and submitted it himself. Then he persuaded the House clerk to give him a lower number than Lewis' copy. Newspapers then began calling the bill "The Wagner-Doughton bill." When Lewis found out, he sputtered and swore, then went to work to understand every sentence and master the arguments in favor of the bill. And when David Lewis walked down the aisle of the House to debate on the bill's behalf, he received a standing ovation–a subtle rebuke to Chairman Doughton's high-handed treatment.

16 . Sen. Byron Patton "Pat" Harrison (D-MS) was a Congressman for 8 years before being elected to the Senate in 1918. In his book "The Development of the Social Security Act," Edwin Witte gives Harrison credit for his "adroit" handling of the Social Security bill in the Senate Finance Committee. According to Witte, Title II would not have been approved by the Committee without Sen. Harrison's help. Harrison went on to serve in the Senate for the rest of his life and was elected President pro tempore 6 months before his death in June 1941. (In other versions of the signing photo, Sen. Harrison can be more clearly seen wearing a white suit and tie and holding his trademark cigar.)

17. Sen. Joseph Guffey (D-PA) was 65 years old at the time the Social Security Act was passed, although he was only a first-term Senator. From Pennsylvania, he served two terms before being defeated in 1946. His vote on the Social Security bill was in doubt until the final roll call.

18. Senator Edward Costigan (D-CO), a member of the Finance Committee.

19. Rep. Samuel B. Hill (D-WA) was a member of the House Ways & Means Committee.

20. Rep. Fred Vinson (D-KY) was a member of the House Ways & Means Committee. He would go on to serve as Secretary of the Treasury and as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

21 . President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

NOTE: For more biographical information on any of the members of Congress see the U. S. Senate Biographical Directory of the United States Congress on the Senate website

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Correcting the Record

The participants in the signing ceremony have been misidentified numerous times in published sources. In order to prevent these mistaken identifications from being picked-up and repeated, we are listing here some of the errant identifications that have come to our attention:

Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, by William E. Leuchtenburg. Harper Torchbooks paperback edition. 1963. In the signing photo included following page 172, Rep. Frank Buck (D-CA) is misidentified as Edwin Witte. (Witte was not at the signing ceremony--he was vacationing in Europe at the time.)

The Making of the New Deal: The Insiders Speak, edited by Katie Louchheim. Harvard University Press. 1983. In the signing photo preceding page 153, Rep. Frank Buck (D-CA) is misidentified as Edwin Witte; and the person shown as "unidentified man" is actually Rep. John Dingell, Sr. (D-MI)

In 1985, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Social Security, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, sent out a mass-mailing to thousands of households throughout America. As part of their fund-raising appeal, they sent a copy of the Social Security Act signing photo, along with an annotated message from the group's President, former Congressman James Roosevelt (son of the late President). In the signing photo included in the package Senator Harrison is misidentified as Senator King. The annotation also states that Senator Harrison is visible between Secretary Perkins and the figure mistakenly identified as Senator King. In fact, it was Senator King who was between the other two at this point in the proceedings, although he is not really visible in this version of the photo. The photo also states that Rep. Samuel B. Hill is next to Congressman David Lewis. Rep. Hill was indeed next to Congressman Lewis in many versions of the signing photo, but he is not in fact visible in the photograph circulated by the Committee.

In 1990, on the occasion of the 55th anniversary of Social Security, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare sent out another mass-mailing with a signing photo included in which they repeated the same errors they had made five years earlier.

Recollections of the New Deal: When People Mattered, by Thomas Eliot, published posthumously by Northeastern University Press. 1992. In the signing photo included following page 72, Rep. Frank Buck (D-CA) is misidentified as Edwin Witte. The person identified as Senator William H. King is in fact Senator Augustine Lonergan (D-CT). The person identified as Senator Pat Harrison (D-MS) is in fact Senator King.

Pitied But Not Entitled: Single Mothers and the History of Welfare, by Linda Gordon. Free Press. 1994. In the signing photo preceding page 253, our unidentified man is misidentified as Harry Hopkins. (Hopkins is not in the signing photos.) Also, Senator Robert M. La Follette, Jr. (PROG-WI) is misdescribed as Governor of Wisconsin. (Robert La Follette Jr. was never Governor; his father Robert M. La Follette Sr., who died in 1925, was Governor of Wisconsin from 1901-1906; and his brother Phil was Governor from 1931-1933 and again from 1935-1939, but Robert Jr. never served in that office.