Biography and History

Harry Dexter White (1892-1948) was an economist with expertise in international finance and monetary issues. White served in the United States Department of the Treasury from 1934 to 1946, rising to the position of Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, and was one of the principal architects of the Bretton Woods agreements in 1944 that established the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

White was born in Boston, Massachusetts on October 29, 1892 to Jacob and Sarah Weit, immigrants to the United States from Lithuania. He followed his father into the family hardware and crockery store business after high school. White then registered at Massachusetts Agricultural College in 1911 but left after one semester and returned to selling hardware. He enlisted in the United States Army in April 1917, six days after the United States declared war on Germany, and was sent to officers' training school. He went overseas in 1918, serving in France as a Lieutenant in the 302nd Infantry, 27th division. Before leaving for Europe, White married Anne Terry, who at the time was a student at Brown University. She later became a successful author of children's books. They had two daughters, Ruth and Joan.

Upon his return to the United States in 1919, White moved to New York, where he directed an American Expeditionary Force (A.E.F.) orphan asylum for two years. He then resumed his education, enrolling at Colombia University in 1922. White transferred to Stanford University three semesters later, where he studied economics. He graduated with a B.A. from Stanford University in 1924, and received his Masters in economics, also from Stanford, a year later. White then enrolled at Harvard University, where he taught and studied economics, earning his Ph.D. in 1930. He also taught at Simmons College in Boston during that time. Faced with no opportunity for advancement at Harvard, White accepted the position of associate professor of economics at Lawrence College in Appleton, Wisconsin in 1932. He was soon raised to full professor. While there, he published his only book, The French International Accounts 1880-1913, from his dissertation work at Harvard.

In June 1934, White traveled to Washington, D.C. at the request of Jacob Viner, an internationally known economist then serving as an official in the Department of the Treasury. White spent the summer studying the gold standard and international trade, given his specialty in international finance. The summer's research work evolved into a career at the Department of the Treasury. White stayed in the department as Assistant Director of Research until he became Director of the Division of Monetary Research, a position that was created for him, in 1940. In 1942, he was appointed Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Treasury, and he served as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury from 1945 to 1946.

When the United States entered World War II in December 1941, Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau Jr. placed White in charge of all international matters for the department. In this capacity, White influenced United States international economic policy throughout World War II. He was involved with establishing post-war fiscal policy and economic assistance policies to China, Japan, and Europe after the war. White was an important advisor to Morgenthau and drafted the Morgenthau Plan for post-war Germany, which called for the de-industrialization of the country in order to remove Germany's ability to wage war. The plan was ultimately rejected, but its tenets influenced other United States policies towards Germany.

White was also one of the principal architects of the Bretton Woods agreement on post-war currency stability. From 1941 to 1943, he drafted his White Plan to restore international stability after the war. The competing plan was the Keynes Plan. Both plans defined an international agency that would promote cooperative competition in world commerce and insure that the international flow of capital encouraged trade rather than becoming an independent and possibly disruptive force. In the White Plan, the agency was called the International Stabilization Fund of United and Associated Nations and was created as an adjunct to the economic power of the United States. The Fund would promote the balanced growth of international trade while preserving the role of the United States dollar in international finance, centering the international monetary system on the United States dollar and its relation to gold. In the Keyes Plan, the agency was called the International Clearing Union and would function as a world central bank that would regulate the flow of credit and act as an independent, countervailing balance to America's economic power. A joint statement, a compromise between the two plans that favored White's ideas, was presented for debate and amendment at the Bretton Woods Conference, held in New Hampshire from July 1 to 22, 1944. It was the third meeting of the Allies to debate solutions for major post-war problems before the final victory. The conference included three task groups: the Stabilization Fund Committee chaired by White, the World Bank Committee chaired by Keynes, and a third committee to consider all other proposals. The conference adopted a broad program on international finance, including many of the provisions recommended by White, and resulted in the establishment of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

In 1946, White was appointed United States Executive Director on the International Monetary Fund by President Harry S. Truman. As there was no Deputy Managing Director position at the time, White also served occasionally as the Acting Managing Director and had a highly influential role during the Fund's first year. Because of his health, White was forced to resign in 1947, and he retired from public service. Soon after his retirement, White was subpoenaed, based on the testimony of Elizabeth Bentley, by a New York grand jury that was investigating Communist infiltration, but he was not indicted. Then, in the summer of 1948, he was denounced by both Elizabeth Bentley and Whittaker Chambers before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. They claimed that, although he was not a member of the Communist Party, he had given secret information and aid to a wartime Soviet spy ring and assisted Communists in obtaining positions within the United States government. Following these accusations, White requested and was granted the opportunity to testify before the Committee on August 13, 1948, where he denied all accusations of Communism and disloyalty. He died a few days later, on August 16, 1948, of a heart attack at the age of 55. In November 1953, the case was re-opened by Attorney General Herbert Brownell Jr., due to the discovery of new files and the concern that then-president Harry S. Truman had known about the accusations when appointing White as Executive Director of the International Monetary Fund. During this investigation, White was ruled to be guilty of assisting the Communists.

Source: From the finding aid for MC140

  • Harry Dexter White Papers. 1917-2000 (inclusive), 1935-1948 (bulk).

    Call Number: MC140

    Harry Dexter White (1892-1948) was an economist with expertise in international finance and monetary issues. White served in the United States Department of the Treasury from 1934 to 1946, rising to the position of Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, and was one of the principal architects of the Bretton Woods agreements in 1944 that established the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. White's papers document his service in the Department of the Treasury and include correspondence and memoranda, notes, and writings.

  • Harry Dexter White Papers. 1917-2000 (inclusive), 1935-1948 (bulk).

    Call Number: MC140

    Harry Dexter White (1892-1948) was an economist with expertise in international finance and monetary issues. White served in the United States Department of the Treasury from 1934 to 1946, rising to the position of Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, and was one of the principal architects of the Bretton Woods agreements in 1944 that established the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. White's papers document his service in the Department of the Treasury and include correspondence and memoranda, notes, and writings.