Alger Hiss (November 11, 1904 – November 15, 1996) was a U.S. State Department official involved in the establishment of the United Nations. He was accused of being a Soviet spy in 1948 and convicted of perjury in connection with this charge in 1950. Evidence revealed after Hiss's conviction has added a variety of information to the case, and the question of his guilt or innocence remains controversial. Some reliable sources have suggested that those who believe in Hiss's innocence are in the minority of scholarly opinion.
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, to Mary Lavinia Hughes and Charles Alger Hiss, Alger Hiss's early life was repeatedly marred by tragedy. His father committed suicide when Alger was 2 years old, his older brother Bosley died of Bright's disease when Alger was 22, and he lost his sister Mary Ann to suicide when he was 25. His father had been a middle class wholesale grocer, and after his death Mary Hiss relied largely on family members for financial support in raising her five children. The Hiss family lived in a Baltimore neighborhood that was described as one of "shabby gentility."
Hiss was educated at Baltimore City College high school and Johns Hopkins University, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa and was voted "most popular student" by his classmates. In 1929, he received his law degree from Harvard Law School, where he was a protégé of Felix Frankfurter, the future Supreme Court justice. Before joining a Boston law firm, he served for a year as clerk to Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. That same year, Hiss married the former Mrs. Priscilla Hobson, a Bryn Mawr graduate who would later work as a grade school English teacher.
In 1933, he entered government service, working in several areas as an attorney in President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal, starting with the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA). Hiss worked for the Nye Committee, which investigated and documented wartime profiteering by military contractors during World War I, and served briefly in the Justice Department.