Eleanor Roosevelt a Life to Live
Richard J. Garfunkel
Hebrew Institute, White Plains, NY
Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the most remarkable women of the 20th Century and certainly one of the outstanding women of history said, in 1937, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” In other words, if you wish to be victimized it will surely happen. Eleanor Roosevelt was an individual born to privilege who was not exempt from being a victim. This is My Story, 1937
In a sense she grew mightily as an individual and said later in her life, “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through the horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’… You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” You Learn from Living, 1960
Therefore the story of Eleanor Roosevelt is a compelling one that should bring meaning to everyone. She certainly was not perfect, she obviously had her faults and she for sure had to deal with them in her own way, and basically alone. In a sense it is like the old saying, “water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink. Eleanor Roosevelt was constantly surrounded by people, good, bad, and indifferent, but basically was forced to re-create herself, time and time again. This is her story. I have basically divided it into eight segments. It attempts to cover her life from her early days as a lonely unwanted, uncared for child, a product of a dysfunctional family, to her role as the First Lady of the World, the most admired person of her age and in the end, her living the greatest life. Of course this great life is intertwined with the most dramatic events of our history and partnered with one of most dynamic men who has ever lived.
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt
I. Born in NYC (56 W.37th Street) to Elliot Roosevelt the younger brother of Theodore Roosevelt and Anna Ludlow Hall, who was a descendant of the Livingstons, (William Livingston was a signer of the US Constitution)
II. Her father was a carefree, fun loving man, an alcoholic and irresponsible. His family virtually collapsed in 1891 when Eleanor was 7 when they were on a European trip. She had two brothers, Elliot Jr. (1889-93) and Hall (1891-1941)
III. Her mother was a beautiful woman, who died at 29 from diphtheria, when Eleanor was age 8. It seems that he mother, a striking beauty, was disillusioned with Eleanor and probably motherhood. Her father basically abandoned her, living a dissolute drunken life, here and abroad, and died soon afterward from a seizure in 1894 when she was 10.
Her mother called Eleanor granny, and it seemed that she was highly disappointed with her looks and saddened disposition. As to her drunken father, Eleanor had a completely romanticized notion of him. He spent long periods away from the family, either off in a sanatorium 19th century’s version of a substance abuse rehabilitation center, or off on liaisons of debauchery. He wrote her long letters expressing his love, but he was totally unable to come to grips with reality. One time he left her waiting on the steps of his club, and spent hours drinking and completely forgot she was there. No one knows whether he was clinically sick or a victim of depression because he was not skilled at anything.
IV. She was sent to live with her grandmother, Mrs. Valentine (Mary Ludlow) Hall, a stern Victorian, with her two younger brothers. Shortly thereafter the older of these brothers, Elliot, died. She always felt guilty over her brother’s death.
V. She was a lonely child, suffering from probably an inferiority complex, she felt rejected and unloved and abandoned by her dead mother, and fantasized and rationalized about her romantic father, who seemed to show her love and affection in his letters. Along with this burden, her grandmother was a difficult and unsentimental Victorian. Mrs. Hall also had extreme problems raising her own sons who were dysfunctional and verged on insanity. The young Roosevelt children lived in fear with them in the Hall home, and it was not unusual for these young men to shoot at strangers with rifles from upstairs windows.
The alcoholism of her father would not only affect Eleanor all her life, but it seemed to be genetically transmitted to her brother Hall, who was an alcoholic and died from its affects at age 50. Eleanor therefore shied away from alcohol and almost always begged off from FDR’s daily afternoon cocktail ritual, called the “Children’s Hour” held with his aides, White House intimates, and his private secretary Marguerite “Missy” LeHand.
VI. She was sent abroad to be educated in an English finishing school with other society daughters called Allenwood, which was run by one Mlle. Marie Souvestre, (1830-1905). This school had a great impact on Eleanor, giving her first a carefree and open atmosphere of learning and a climate to develop her intellect. She developed both sensitivity to social issues and, the sense of duty to champion the underdog.
Life in NY after Allenwood
I. Upon returning to NY, at age 18, she found that the social life of her class was uninteresting, vacuous, and boring, Life in New York among the well-born upper classes was one of endless parties, other social events and a day filled with the ritual of ever-changing clothes for each time of o the day or each social occasion.
She was involved in the Henry Street settlement and there she met a great many of the Jewish poor from the Lower East Side. It was there that she started to soften her sense of class prejudice and casual anti-Semitism. She would also feel uncomfortable about materialism and felt that many of her husband’s Jewish associates talked too much about money, jewels and travel. To a degree she was an early captive of the stereotypical perspectives of her class. Inherently it was always old money versus the nouveau riche. Later on, as she developed tolerance for the under privileged she came in contact with many educated and talented Jews who were involved the labor movements, the women’s rights campaigns and the effort to achieve social justice. Later on she would develop a strong social friendship with Elinor Morgenthau, the wife of the future Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau Jr.
II. She was pressured by her grandmother to debut, but even retreated to her room during her coming out party.
III. To escape the life of leisure of women of her class she joined
a. The Junior League
b. Taught dancing at the Rivington Street Settlement
c. Visited and aided needy slum children
d. Worked for the Consumer’s League
IV. During this period she re-meets meets her distant cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt
a. He was from the Hyde Park branch of the Roosevelt family. Eventually she and her 6th cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt meet at one of her numerous coming out events through the efforts of TR’s sister, her aunt, Corinne Robinson She liked his humor, easy going social confidence and ambition. He liked her discipline and serious concern for the welfare of others. In a sense, she understood her own needs reflected the lack of nurturing in her own childhood. On the other hand, FDR was as nurtured as anyone could be. The Hyde Park Roosevelts were Democrats unlike their Republican cousins, the Oyster Bay branch. As a wealthy Democratic contributor to the party, FDR’s father James was able to take him to Washington, in 1893, to meet President Grover Cleveland. The President, a large bluff man, put his hand on eleven year old Franklin’s shoulder and gave him his one blessing that he never will be burdened with the difficult job of being President. What irony! Unlike Eleanor, who was suffering in a stultifying home, he was off visiting the President.
After being home educated until age fourteen and then being sent off to Groton, FDR graduated and went off to Harvard. After earning his degree in three years he spent an extra year there after graduation, to become editor of the Crimson. Because of his work with Harvard’s newspaper, he always though of himself as a journalist and had therefore an affinity for reporters and the press. During his days at Harvard, his father died, (James was 26 years older than his mother Sara). He always had difficult relationships with his fellow classmates from Groton, who had started in school years before, and got along better with younger students. While at Harvard he had one of his first setbacks. Procellian, the Harvard eating club, which his father and TR had belonged, blackballed him.
b. Active in campus politics, though a Democrat, he forms a support group for his cousin Teddy Roosevelt’s re-election in 1904.
c. He even starts to wear pince-nez glasses like his famous 5th cousin.
d. Eleanor and Franklin court are secretly engaged for a year and marry on St. Patrick’s Day 1905. They are given away by her famous Uncle Teddy, who is in town for the parade, and leave for an extended European honeymoon. Ironically after the marriage couple is left standing alone, when her Uncle Teddy and all the other Porcellians go off to a room and sing Porcellian house songs.
e. After a long European honeymoon, where Eleanor is basically worn out they move to NYC.
They lived in a twin townhouse, given to them by Sara, in New York while FDR attended Columbia Law School. The house had connecting floors and it was said, from Eleanor’s early perspective that she had no privacy or independence from her mother in law. But in fact, this was probably very normal for many families. Eleanor had not had a normal childhood and her frame of reference, vis-à-vis her mother-in-law was probably distorted. In fact, Sara Delano was very generous to her. She arranged that the house on Campobello Island be given to her. In her life Eleanor Roosevelt never remarked negatively about Sara and her views on her seemed to vacillate emotionally from one period to another. After Sara’s death in 1941, she reflected later on that at the time she did not seem emotional about her passing. Later on she seemed to amend those thoughts. Eleanor always gave the impression that she was more distracted emotionally from those closest to her and she seemed to transfer her love and emotion to others and other issues.
V. From 1906-1916, she gives birth to six children, one dies in infancy.
a. She has difficulty raising her large brood of children and her authority with them is divided, and possibly undercut by her mother-in-law. Is this a real conflict? No one knows for sure.
b. She perceives that her children are spoiled and swayed by their grandmother, but this feeling and her subsequent recollections must be analyzed in the context of the times and with her emotional state.
She always considered her children more of her mother-in-law’s than her own. But in truth she was not a very good mother. She did not know how to raise children. She wasn’t raised properly herself, and she turned most of the work over to incompetent nannies who quite often were too strict and almost indifferent. In a sense they adopted the character of their mistress. On the other hand, Sara Delano was deeply concerned with her son’s future and happiness. (Eleanor always remembered that Sara had really opposed the union and they had been engaged secretly a year before their marriage.) This is a period of great challenge for Eleanor.
c. FDR is working now in New York City as a lawyer at Carter, Ledyard and predicts that someday he will be Asst. Secretary of the Navy, a State Senator and Governor. He is also a distracted lawyer and after some indifferent years, he is looking at other interests.
d. FDR is asked by Judge John Mack to run for office in Duchess County.
1. FDR is elected to the State Senate 1910- in the GOP dominated district.
2. They live in Albany, which she abhors.
3. But she gains some independence from Sara but feels awkward as a politician’s wife
4. She gets involved in state Democratic politics (he will never carry this district again!)
5. Conflict starts with Alice Roosevelt Longworth and the Oyster Bay Roosevelt children over the future legacy of Theodore Roosevelt. The surviving sons, Quentin is killed in air combat in France during WWI, feel that Franklin Roosevelt is a usurper who has stolen the Roosevelt name and legacy, and the Alice, who is the same age as Eleanor, and is in a horrible marriage, becomes jealous of her cousin and the jealousy turns to hatred. During their early years together, as FDR’s political career developed, the rift between the two branches of the Roosevelt family began to grow and ever widen. The sons were jealous and the daughter Alice, who was a stepsister to her young brothers, becomes quite defensive regarding the political future and legacy of her father’s sons. FDR loved and respected TR, but he was from a different party and in 1912 FDR supported and worked hard for Woodrow Wilson who ran against both the GOP incumbent President William Howard Taft and TR who ran on the Progressive or Bull Moose line. Alice and her brothers never forgave Franklin for opposing their father.
Life in Washington 1913-1920
I. After Wilson’s election FDR is rewarded with a post and the Roosevelts move to Washington in 1913.
a. FDR is appointed Asst. Sec. of the Navy, like his cousin Theodore Roosevelt (There would 5 other Roosevelts who would hold this office.)
b. After a rough start in the Capital, Eleanor develops her social skills as a Washington wife.
c. WWI opens up new opportunities for ER
1. She works for the Red Cross
2. Becomes an advocate for hospital reform after witnessing the conditions of the wounded
3. There are new social responsibilities thrust upon her as a wife of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy.
II. The hot summer of 1918 brings new challenges to their marriage!
a. Lucy Mercer was Eleanor’s social secretary. In 1917 Eleanor, after the birth of her sixth child, (the first Franklin Jr. died after a few months,) decided that she had fulfilled her wifely obligations and duty, and wanted not to be pregnant again. She therefore practiced the only birth control she knew, abstinence. She subsequently moved out of Franklin’s bed and bedroom. FDR was 36 years old at the time, and since it was obvious the Roosevelt men were quite fertile, and his libido was more than adequate, a sexual shutdown by his wife did not bode well for the future of his marriage.
b. She headed off to Campobello Island from the beastly hot summer Washington summer. Hard work, and problems arise with Lucy Mercer, a beautiful Catholic young woman from an old family that now is suffering from hard times. Even what and how it happened between them is really unknown. But an affair, not completely secret ensues. There is no doubt that there is a great amount of debate and conflict over what next happened and how the marriage was saved. Many accounts stated that Eleanor offered him a divorce. Other’s stated that she would only agree to reconciliation if FDR never talked to Lucy Mercer again. It is also said that Sara had backed Eleanor and had threatened to disinherit her son. This is mostly apocryphal. Lately it has been speculated that the so-called negotiations were not just between Sara and her son, but also with a much stronger Eleanor as an active participant. Sara Delano is seen here as a positive force in the salvation of their marriage. The age old argument was made to him possibly by Lois Howe that she a Catholic, would not marry a divorced man, and a divorced man with five children could never be considered for higher office.
III. FDR’s run for the Vice-Presidency 1920 with James Cox
a. Active campaign- speeches all over the country strain their marriage!
b. They retreat to Campobello Island for escape after the disastrous loss!
IV. Polio strikes FDR 1921
a. Polio strikes at Campobello Island
Franklin Roosevelt was always plagued by illness. In a sense it is possible that his polio was brought on not only from his lowered resistance due to his long swim in the icy waters of the Bay of Fundy, or his run through the woods to a Boy Scout encampment, but from the stress he was possibly suffering at the time. It is possible that his stress level was quite high regarding the Newport homosexual scandal, of which he was accused of investigating with too much rigor.
b. As a result of the ensuing health crisis, Eleanor develops a long friendship with Louis Howe, FDR’s confidante and alter ego. During this trying period, Louis Howe, FDR’s first true friend, helped Eleanor cope with FDR’s illness and disability. Whether his effort was completely altruistic or not, he was attached to FDR’s star and could not easily abandon it. He therefore helped her to learn how to speak in public, address and organize meetings and therefore bolstered her constantly damaged self-esteem.
The Dore Sharey stage and film treatment of FDR’s sickness, “Sunrise at Campobello,” is more fiction than fact. He was close to death, his future was touch and go and it was much more devastating to him and his family than it was depicted. His illness was first misdiagnosed and Eleanor’s attempt to massage life into his affected legs proved fruitless, counter-productive and extremely painful. In fact later medical opinion concluded that the excessive massaging permanently destroyed the muscles in his legs, and exacerbated his total condition. After the Roosevelt family attended the play on Broadway they shrugged it off as fiction. It reminds me of the story of Cole Porter, who went to see the Hollywood biopic of his life, titled “Night and Day” with Cary Grant in the lead role, and at the conclusion of the film Porter said, “great picture, not my life.”
During this time, before FDR returned to a period of almost physical normality, he was constantly away from his family. He retreated to both the warm waters, in a virtual state of abject depression, off South Carolina in his houseboat, the Larooco and to the rundown Warm Springs Resort. In these early days and months after his attack of polio, he was convinced that hydro-thermia therapy could cure his paralysis by re-invigorating his leg’s muscle tissue. Eleanor was left alone in NYC to raise her children. She only visited the houseboat and Warm Springs a few times in a period of around 30 months. During this period at Warm Springs, Missy LeHand became his housekeeper-hostess-secretary there. Eleanor hated Warm Springs, especially because of their Jim Crow social morays and laws. She visited there as little as possible. Later on, Missy LeHand, who had worked for FDR before he had been afflicted, became his trusted aide during his recovery, wound up in the same role in Albany. Eleanor was undoubtedly ambivalent about this arrangement-grateful to be relieved of the work and for sure was not resentful of another woman’s performance of her wifely duties.
Their relationship would be incredibly close until her stroke in 1941 after 20 years of selfless work
c. While on her own, ER’s partnership with Howe helped to rehabilitate FDR’s political legacy and keep his political name alive.
d. She begins to volunteer with progressive groups She developed her skills of organization and met with most of the prominent women in the State of NY that were involved in social issues, child welfare, child labor, living standards, housing, and women’s rights.
1. Women’s City Club of NY
2. Women’s Democratic Club of NY
3. League of Women’s Voters
4. National Consumer’s League
5. Women’s Trade Union League
6. NY and National Democratic Committees
7. Active in Governor Al Smith’s campaigns
Life again in Albany 1928-1932
V. By the mid 1920’s FDR enjoys partial recovery and starts to return to public life.
a. FDR nominated Al Smith in 1924, the “Happy Warrior” speech, invests in Warm Springs as a rehabilitative center and continues to search for a cure to polio.
b. He re-nominates Smith again for president in 1928.
c. FDR himself nominated for Governor of NY in 1928, and elected in spite of a GOP national landslide. He didn’t seek the office and Eleanor was not sure she wanted him to run, but Smith begged him to do it. Smith wanted his help with the turnout in New York. Smith’s advisors worried about FDR becoming his rival and Smith told them, that he would not live another year. FDR won over Albert Ottinger (Dick Ottinger’s uncle) by only 25,000 votes, about one per precinct.
1. As wife of the Governor she traveled the state as his “legs, eyes, and ears” and inspects everything. As the Governor’s wife she hones her skills at organizational work and meets with the most prominent women in the State of New York that are involved in social issues, child welfare, child labor, living standards, free milk programs, housing and women’s rights.
2. Establishes important political and social contacts, and creates alliances, and friendships with Harry Hopkins, Rose Schneiderman, Caroline O’Day, Lillian Wald, of the Henry St. Settlement, and Florence Kelly of the Consumers Union,
d. She is resolved to maintain her independence while Fiurst Lady of NY.
Missy LeHand, meanwhile, winds up assuming the same role she had in Warm Springs Eleanor was obviously happy that Missy was always there. This relationship with Missy would be incredibly close for twenty years of selfless work until her stroke in 1941 at age 46. LeHand was part of the original group that eventually passed from the scene, almost all worn out by the hectic pace of Washington life. Arthur Krock, the famous NY Times columnist had great respect for Missy and felt that she had as much to do with FDR’s conscience as did Eleanor. He said that they both “staked out to separate domains of great influence.” Missy lived on her own cottage at Hyde Park, lived also in the Executive Mansion and the White House. She not only did is correspondence, but had his power of attorney, managed the Roosevelt accounts, dined with the Roosevelts formally and informally. When Eleanor wanted to help him with his correspondence, he told her that Missy would feel insulted. After her stroke, FDR paid all of her bills and she was to be left half of his estate in his will. She never fully recovered, and was completely depressed by her debilitated condition and died in 1944. After her death, Eleanor arranged the funeral, which was presided over by Bishop (later Cardinal) Richard Cushing of Boston, Felix Frankfurter, Jim Farley, Joseph P. Kennedy and many, many others. Eleanor treated her like family, bought her clothes, gave her gifts and understood fully FDR’s dependency on her. FDR could never bear to speak of her after her illness.
e. During those days she developed a furniture factory at Val-Kill- her only home, which is still located near the big mansion on the Post Road.
f. She also founded the Todhunter School in NYC- with Marion Dickerman, and Nancy Cook.
These two activities enabled Eleanor to earn her own money, of which she did all her adult life, and to develop new friends and activities. She developed a long and close friendship with the nationally renowned reporter Lorena Hickock and received great personal pleasure from teaching at Todhunter.
g. Lorena Hickock, Esther Lape, and their relationships
VI. The crash of 1929, brings on the start of the Great Depression (1929-39)
VII. At the end of his two-year term, FDR ran for re-election in 1930
a. Wins in the greatest numerical landslide in history, 725,000 votes
b. The Depression hits NY hard and he starts relief programs, with the help of Hopkins and Frances Perkins. He considers bid for the White House and within another year is considered the odds on favorite. After a contentious primary campaign which pitted him against his new bitter rival and enemy Al Smith and a raucous convention, he campaigns all over America and wins a landslide victory over Herbert Hoover.
Back to Washington 1933-39
I. Having to deal with the immense problems that have emerged from the crash and the economic collapse, FDR plans the establishment of the New Deal. Eleanor is basically shocked again by the next transition in her life. She feels her freedom is at an end and her life’s work is finished.
When the Roosevelts arrived in Washington in March of 1933, the country was in a free-fall. On the day of FDR’s inauguration, the country was on the verge of bankruptcy. They had a very somber celebration in an impoverished White House. The Oyster Bay Roosevelts and cousin Princess Alice were invited. Eleanor was shocked over FDR’s kindness to her spiteful and bitter cousin. Alice had made a career of mocking Eleanor and often did public exhibitions that included her imitating her voice and mocking her mannerisms. They were incredibly offensive and Eleanor was highly disturbed and offended by her. She demanded to know why FDR could have invited a person who so hated her. FDR calmed her down and literally said, “one gets more flies with honey than vinegar.” Alice Roosevelt Longworth was so stunned and surprised by this beau geste. She had not been invited back to the White since her father had been there in 1908. For that reason, Alice never again mocked Eleanor in public until after the death of FDR.
a. ER sees that equality of opportunity is more important than “honest broker” government
1. She supports vigorously aid to underprivileged groups
2. Wants a social system based on individual rights
3. Supports government’s role in furthering justice
b. ER sees herself in a unique role as an intermediary between the average person and government
Eleanor again faced the great challenge of the abandonment of her private life and her new role as the First Lady. She started to see it as an opportunity to be an intimate lobbyist with her husband. She made sure that every day there were ideas and requests put in his mailbox.
c. She is the first First Lady to have press conferences, makes speeches, writes columns, My Day, 1936
d. She brings a long line of reformers to the White House
e. She even fights with Cardinal Spellman over the “Establishment Clause.” Her support for Margaret Sanger (birth control) and the American Youth Congress.
II. Establishes with Harry Hopkins a White House Conference on the needs of women.
With the death of Louis Howe, Eleanor was able to make a strategic and philosophical alliance with Harry Hopkins.
a. By December 1933, the Civil Works Administration is employing 100,000 women
b. Hopkins promises to hire 300,000 more in the next year
III. She helps found the National Youth Administration
a. Provides work opportunities to youth while in school
b. She is very concerned that a whole generation of youth could turn from Democracy to fascism or communism
c. She makes sure the homeless, transients and black youth are also helped.
One of the early leaders who came out of the National Youth Administration was the young Lyndon B. Johnson from Texas. Later on FDR would do many things for LBJ and eventually he capitalized on their relationship to further his ambitions in Texas politics
IV. Forms alliances with American Youth Congress and American Students, Unions, and Civil Rights groups: 1936-40
a. Groups advocating extensive social welfare
b. Establishes uncompromising position on civil rights
c. Tries to open New Deal to blacks, housing, jobs, education
Eleanor worked closely with Walter White the director of the NAACP and Mary McLeod Bethune, the founder of Bethune-Cookman College. Bethune became a friend of Eleanor’s in 1935, and was appointed by FDR to the Advisory Committee of the National Youth Administration. As the highest-ranking Black in the New Deal she met with FDR 6-7 times a year. Her group was known as the “Black Cabinet” and was a regular guest of Eleanor’s at the White House.
d. Worked with Walter White, of the NAACP to sponsor anti-lynching legislation
Eleanor was always concerned with the underdog and the disadvantaged. She quickly gravitated to the issue of Civil Rights. Almost all of FDR’s Supreme Court justices worked hard to dismantle a century of law discriminating against Blacks and Eleanor Roosevelt. Even though filibusters killed two anti-lynching bills, lynching declined from 28 in 1933 to 2 in 1939.
After the DAR refused their permission to allow Marian Anderson to perform at Constitution Hall, Eleanor resigned from the DAR and with Harold Ickes help arranged a concert for the contralto at the Lincoln Memorial. She also resigned from a number of other clubs that discriminated.
e. Strong advocate against Congressional efforts to cut funds from the WPA
f. Works to protect school lunch programs, reform or welfare agencies
g. Supports Loyalist (anti-clerical) faction in the Spanish Civil War who opposed General Franco.
World War II 1941-1945
I. Took on only official job during FDR’s presidency, the Deputy Director of Civilian Defense. After 6 months she resigned. The war put the New Deal on the backburner and FDR famously stated that he was changing his Dr. New Deal hat for his Dr. Win the War hat. Eleanor became again his eyes and ears and started an extensive cross-country trip to inspect working conditions at war plants.
When America entered the war all efforts were directed towards National Defense and building our ability to strike back at our enemies. In this way FDR coined the term “Arsenal of Democracy” and went about spectacularly. He promised and he delivered over 300,000 planes thousands of ships, and an unlimited number of tanks and small arms. He armed both Britain and Russia through Lend-Lease.
II. She did extensive traveling around the USA from 1941-2.
At the start of the national emergency caused by beginning of WWII, the role of the New Deal and domestic liberalism started to wane as national security concerns became more acute. As the war proceeded, Eleanor wanted to visit the wounded in the Pacific. All the brass opposed her trip, but she insisted and FDR approved. Her visits were spectacular and later on all the Admirals agreed that her effort was second to none. The wounded were glad to see her and they knew that their messages to their loved ones and the government would be heard.
III. She wrote and sent, with her staff, over 25,000 letters to the homes of the wounded.
As the war dragged on, the pressure on him was immense, and his health started to suffer. His personal physician Admiral Ross McIntire brought in the young but renowned heart specialist Dr. Howard Bruenn in the spring of 1944. He found that FDR was suffering from high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis and an enlarged heart. He immediately went to work on him. In the meantime, FDR virtually begged Eleanor to return to the White House and help him out with his obligations. He wanted her to drop or suspend her other work and become once again his hostess, confidante and assistant. She had been gone to long, and did not want to give up her efforts and ideals. FDR had lost a great deal of his close advisors over this brutal period and needed help, distraction and relaxation. He finally asked his daughter Anna to serve in the White House in that role.
At this same time in 1944, and after the rejection from Eleanor, and the death of Winthrop Rutherford, he had his daughter arrange new meetings with Lucy Mercer Rutherford. She had always been discreetly invited to all of his inaugurations and had arranged her marriage with the rich, older and widowed Rutherford. There is no evidence that he had ever communicated with her, but he was always aware of her life, family and activities. In February of 1945, he was to embark on what turned out to be, his last foreign trip to Yalta. Eleanor wanted to go badly, but he made the excuse that Churchill was bringing his daughter and not his wife. I believe that he did not want to share the spotlight or felt that she would be lobbying with Churchill and Stalin over different issues. She was terribly disappointed. Therefore Anna went as his personal aide.
After his long trip, he was terribly worn down. After addressing Congress about his 12,000-mile journey to the Crimea, he headed for Warm Springs for some rest and recuperation. It was there at around 1:00 pm, while posing for an oil painting, he collapsed of a cerebral hemorrhage. Around him were his cousins, Laura, “Aunt Polly” Delano, Margaret “Daisy” Suckley, the artist Elizabeth Shoumatoff, his household staff and Lucy Mercer Rutherford who had commissioned the painting. At 3:35 the 32nd President of the United States was gone. Eleanor was called at the Sulgrave Club where she was having lunch next to Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, and was asked to return quickly to the White House by Press Secretary Steve Early. After an anxious cab ride back to the White House, and while upstairs in a sitting room surrounded by 100’s of family photos, the news, she dreaded, was broken to her by Early and Dr. McIntire. She was shocked on one hand, but not insanely surprised. She got her bags together and immediately rode to Union Station and got a train to Georgia. It was not an easy trip. When she arrived at his home, she, then and there, learned how he was stricken and who was there.
V1. The news that Lucy Mercer was there was a great shock to her and it opened an immense rift with daughter Anna. Did she wonder to herself whether she did enough in his final year? Of course she was told by one of FDR’s cousins, the “Handmaidens,” as Eleanor referred to them. Eleanor contained her rage. The cousins may not have known the real story of FDR and Lucy Mercer, few did, and in her diaries Daisy Suckley never seemed aware of FDR’s earlier involvement with Lucy. When Eleanor learned that her daughter, who had known all the time about the affair, had arranged their meeting she was livid. She confronted her, and her daughter claimed that her father needed someone and this inferred that Eleanor had not been there. It was a long time before Eleanor forgave her and they talked again.
Life after FDR and the Post War World 1945-1952
I. After FDR’s death, Eleanor’s post-war work was a reform agenda consistent with her philosophy of the 1930’s. After a period of mourning and public and private grief, she got involved with her projects that had preceded the war. She went ahead even though she really perceived and believed that at age 61 her public career was over and she would be soon forgotten.
II. Eleanor saw the need for a more radical approach to domestic problems
a. She advocated and demanded desegregation in housing education, and other public facilities
b. She demanded social justice for minorities
c. She gegan to lobby President Truman about injustice at home and abroad.
III. Truman then appoints he to be a delegate to the UN
a. Lobbies for and writes Universal Declaration of Human Rights (The Magna Charta for Mankind) She put her heart and soul into this project. Of course it was FDR who had envisioned the birth of the United Nations, who had coined the term and had designed its organization. He had planned to address its opening in May of 1945 in San Francisco. She incorporated FDR’s concept and ideals first expressed in his Four Freedoms address in January of 1941, and his Second Bill of Rights concept.
b. Becomes vocal advocate of Israeli statehood- traveled there with Ruth Gruber and was influenced to support the country through her friendship with Dr. David Gurewitsch.
c. Works to contain the proliferation of nuclear arms
d. Supports the US containment approach to the growing Soviet menace
e. After Eisenhower’s election, and it seems by the insistence of the new Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, the ungrateful President fires her.
Later Years 1953-62
I. Stays active in politic life: supports Adlai Stevenson campaigns for President and even supports him at the 1960 DNC Convention in San Francisco.
II. Writes column and makes hundreds of speeches
a. Insists on Universal Human Rights
b. Fights for Civil Rights in America
c. Speaks out against McCarthyism
d. Fights for social justice
She travels the world as an unofficial ambassador. She is nicknamed by Truman, “The First Lady of the World.” And it sticks forever. She stays friendly with Dr. David Gurewitsch and his future wife Edna. She is welcomed everywhere with open arms and great fanfare and adulation.
He last 17 years are remarkable for the welcome she is given. Her life over those years becomes the greatest life ever lived, with the greatest amount of respect imaginable. Her friendships are everywhere; she is welcomed into every home, institution, school and country. Every door was opened and every honor awarded. She was awarded 35 honorary doctorates, even four more than given her illustrious husband.
III. Appointed by JFK to head Presidents Commission on the Status of Women
A. An early member of Brandeis University, Board of Trustees
B. Received 35 honorary degrees, compared to 31 for FDR. Received the first honorary degree offered by Russell sage College.
C. Ranked #1 for 15 consecutive years as the “World’s Most Popular Woman,” from 1946-61.
But with all of that, it is interesting that she seemed never to find love and fulfillment from those closest to her. She never had it from her parents, or grandmother, and was hurt and disappointed with her husband, who really truly always loved her. She felt inhibited and dominated by her mother-in-law, who really was one of her great supporters. She was disappointed and quite often estranged from her children and disappointed and embarrassed by their numerous failed marriages. She often blamed herself for their problems. Of course it is never easy being the children of famous parents. Also FDR’s illness, and his intense focus on his own recovery, left her alone to cope with five children, with ages from four to fifteen. Later on his public life and ambition along with his responsibilities regarding the aftermath of the crash, the Depression, the recovery and the Second World War did not make her role as a mother easier. He was pretty much absent as a father over the last 25 years of his life.
With all this in mind, she seemed to seek out strong emotional bonds with others. Over the years her name was associated with her NY State trooper bodyguard, Marian Dickerson, Nancy Cook, Lorena Hickock, Malvina Thompson, Joseph Lash, Bishop William Levy and David Gurewitsch.
Beyond her direct and indirect influence, Eleanor Roosevelt has survived as a symbol in the realm of American and international politics and reform. Her achievements remain as an inspiration to fighters for equality, social justice, civil rights, and civil liberties in the United States and abroad.
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “A mature person is one who does not think only in absolutes, who is able to be objective even when deeply stirred emotionally, who has learned that there is both good and bad in all people and in all things, and who walks humbly and deals charitably with the circumstances of life, knowing that in this world no one is all knowing and therefore all of us need both love and charity.”
Books by Eleanor Roosevelt:
This is My Story
This I Remember
On My Own
It’s Up to The Women
Ladies of Courage
Tomorrow Is Now
The Moral Basis Of Democracy
This Troubled World