1945: April–December

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1945: April–December

Eleanor Roosevelt to Lorena Hickok...13
My Day...15
My Day...18
My Day...21
My Day...23
If You Ask Me [excerpt]...25
Harry Truman to Eleanor Roosevelt...27
Eleanor Roosevelt to Harry Truman...28
My Day...33
Harold Ickes to Eleanor Roosevelt...35
Eleanor Roosevelt to Harold Ickes...36
On the Importance of Unions...39
My Day...41
My Day...42
Eleanor Roosevelt to Harry Truman...46
Eleanor Roosevelt to Robert Hannegan...47
Eleanor Roosevelt to Edward Flynn...49
My Day...53
My Day...54
"Tolerance Is an Ugly Word"1...56
Eleanor Roosevelt to Harry Truman...57
Edward Stettinius to Eleanor Roosevelt...59
Edward Stettinius to Eleanor Roosevelt...60
Eleanor Roosevelt to C. B. Baldwin...63
Eleanor Roosevelt to Sidney Hillman...64
"From the Melting Pot—An American Race"...66
My Day...70
Ben L. Rose to Eleanor Roosevelt...71
Eleanor Roosevelt to Ben L. Rose...72
Trude Lash to Eleanor Roosevelt...72
My Day...76
David Dubinsky to Eleanor Roosevelt...77
Eleanor Roosevelt to David Dubinsky...79
Eleanor Roosevelt to David Dubinsky...80
My Day...85
Eleanor Roosevelt to Harry Truman...87
Charles Taussig Conversation with Eleanor Roosevelt...91
Eleanor Roosevelt to James Byrnes...96
Dean Acheson to Eleanor Roosevelt...97
On Full Employment...99
If You Ask Me [excerpt]...101
Public Health...102
My Day...104
Harry Truman to Eleanor Roosevelt...105
Eleanor Roosevelt to Harry Truman...106
My Day...108
"Suspicion as Peace Bar Feared by Mrs. Roosevelt"...111
"Mrs. Roosevelt Says U.S. Must Forget Fears"...114
"Mrs. Roosevelt Speaks Out" [excerpt]...115
Eleanor Roosevelt to Walter Winchell...115
My Day...118
Eleanor Roosevelt and the United Auto Workers Strike...120
Eleanor Roosevelt to Walter Reuther...120
My Day...123
"Mrs. Roosevelt in PAC Talk Here"...125
Eleanor Roosevelt to Harry Truman...130
Harry Truman to Eleanor Roosevelt...131
Eleanor Roosevelt to Dean Acheson...134
Founders' Day Dinner Address, Roosevelt College...136
Eleanor Roosevelt to Harry Truman...139
Harry Truman to Eleanor Roosevelt...141
My Day [excerpt]...145
"Mrs. Roosevelt Hits Mme. Chiang Says She Could Talk About Democracy but Didn't Know How to Live It Cites Hotel Incidents"...147
My Day...149
Walter Reuther to Eleanor Roosevelt...150
On Funding the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration...154
Harry Truman to Eleanor Roosevelt...156
Harry Truman to Eleanor Roosevelt...158
My Day...159
Archibald MacLeish12 to Eleanor Roosevelt...160
Walter White to Eleanor Roosevelt...161
Walter White to Eleanor Roosevelt...162
Eleanor Roosevelt to Orson Welles4...168

"We have to start again under our own momentum and wonder what we can achieve."

Eleanor Roosevelt did not anticipate leaving the White House in 1945. Yet less than four months after Franklin Roosevelt's fourth inauguration, she faced personal, professional, and political crises. As she confided to Lorena Hickok, "Franklin's death ended a period in history and now in its wake for lots of us who lived in his shadow periods come and we have to start again under our own momentum and wonder what we can achieve."1 That same day, in order to quell speculation as to what new career she would pursue, she told her reading public that because she "was the wife of the President, certain restrictions were imposed upon me. Now I am on my own, and I hope to write as a newspaper woman."2

Although undecided about what path her career should take, ER knew that it must include her daily column and the political and policy work to which she had devoted her life. She resisted pressures to run for office, however, telling Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes that her children should have that option and that she felt "very strongly" she could be more useful in other ways. The moment she accepted a party position she "would have to follow the party line pretty consistently" and while she wanted "to continue to work with the Democrats and for them," she thought the public "knowledge that I will be free of any obligation may at times be healthy." Reassuring Ickes that "my voice will not be silent," ER then promised that she would "help the liberals in this country."3 In short, the issue was not what actions ER would take, but what forum (both public and private) she would use to make herself heard.

The following seventy-three documents recount the ways ER used her political voice and managed her new political position. They demonstrate the various vehicles—My Day and If You Ask Me columns, correspondence with world leaders and average citizens, speeches and the question and answer sessions that followed, petitions, and private conversations—ER used to address the issues she thought most critical to securing a just peace at home and around the world. Equal parts policy and politics, the documents also reflect ER's intense party loyalty and the political strategies she thought essential to Democratic victories in 1946 and 1948.

ER initially made My Day the centerpiece of her communications strategy. This nationally syndicated column allowed ER to speak to the American public from her home in Hyde Park, New York, while she helped settle FDR's estate and oversaw the transfer of the president's family home to the government. She used the column in a variety of ways—to support specific legislation, to tutor the American public on the nation's role in the postwar world, to advise (and goad) Congress and the president, to explain the economic underpinnings of international agreements like the Bretton Woods accords, and to rally support for the politics and social action she thought essential to securing prosperity and peace.

In the process, she told her readers why she thought full and fair employment so essential to democracy, why she thought the United Nations crucial to postwar stability, why she feared the atomic bomb, why she did not "fear" American Communists, why she held German citizens accountable for Hitler and the Holocaust, why she had little patience with political squabbles, and why she accepted appointment to the United Nations. Twice, the New York Times found these columns so important that it reprinted them on its front page, despite having to pay a competitor to do so. Yet, as her correspondence with David Dubinsky, Ben Rose, and Harry Truman illustrates, not everyone agreed with her positions—and in those circumstances, the column often spurred extended conversation with colleagues and strangers.

The correspondence included in this section reflects ER's attempt to define a new role for herself while continuing both to influence Truman's legislative and diplomatic policies and shape the Democratic agenda. Although a few letters present a deferential tone, ER's correspondence reflects a sharp political acumen she rarely displayed in public. Whether advising Truman on how best to handle Churchill and manage legislative relationships with Congress, or questioning Sidney Hillman and C. B. Baldwin on how they planned to raise the funds necessary to keep the liberal National Citizens Political Action Committee afloat, or challenging Walter Winchell's coverage of her remarks, ER went straight, but politely, to the point. Moreover, when critiquing the perform-ance of party leaders such as Robert Hannegan, she could be quite blunt. As she wrote Ed Flynn, "Mr. Dewey is capable of playing a clever political game and we will not only have to be good politicians but really make our party honest, standing for the things which most of us as individuals know are right."4

By fall, with her duties to FDR's estate almost completed, ER resumed public speaking in a variety of settings. Although she adjusted her tone to each audience she addressed, she devoted her considerable energies to telling her listeners that American domestic policies have huge international implications. In Boston, she argued that "we are in an important moment in history. What happens here in the United States will either give courage to people in the other parts of the world, or on the other hand, will sap their courage."5 In Newark, she urged her audience to cast out fear: "We must have confidence in one another and must avoid a situation where everybody approaches everyone else with suspicion."6 In Chicago, she confessed that "it takes just as much determination to work for peace as it does to win a war" and she wondered "if we're going to have the courage and the strength to sustain our effort to win the peace."7

Thus by late December, when ER agreed to Truman's request that she join the US delegation to the United Nations, she had reasserted her voice, made her positions clear, and decided on a new political path. She did so, she told her readers, because "I feel a great responsibility to the youth who fought the war … Everyone of us has a deep and solemn obligation to them which we should fulfill by giving all that we are capable of giving to the making of peace so they can feel that the maximum good has come from their sacrifice."8

1. See Document 1, ER to Lorena Hickok, 19 April 1945.

2. See Document 2, My Day, 19 April 1945.

3. See Document 11, ER to Harold Ickes, 26 May 1945.

4. See Document 17, ER to Ed Flynn, 8 June 1945.

5. See Document 55, "Mrs. Roosevelt in PAC Talk Here," 1 November 1945.

6. See Document 47, "Suspicion as Peace Bar Feared by Mrs. Roosevelt," 2 October 1945.

7. See Document 59, Founder's Day Dinner Address, Roosevelt College, 10 November 1945.

8. See Document 69, My Day, 22 December 1945.

Leaving the White House

April 12, 1945, Eleanor Roosevelt held a press conference, discussed Russian war relief with Nina Magidoff and fair employment practices with Malcolm Ross, reviewed FDR's trusteeship plans with Charles Taussig,1 and addressed a fund-raiser for a local charity. At 4:30 pm, FDR's press secretary Steve Early summoned her back to the White House. FDR had died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Warm Springs, Georgia. She telegraphed her sons, "he did his job to the end as he would want you to do" and, with her daughter Anna, sat in her study, waiting to tell Truman that the president had died. After offering her support to the new president, she then left to claim her husband's body in Warm Springs. A little before midnight, after traveling five hours by plane and car, she reached the Little White House, retrieved his casket, and boarded the train for a twelve-hour return trip to Washington.2

After the president was laid to rest in Hyde Park, ER reached out to those whom she and her husband held in high regard. She confided to Harry Hopkins and Trude Lash, as they traveled back to the White House, that she had met with Truman after the service "to offer her help—as far as personalities are concerned, and that [the president] gratefully accepted the offer [or] at least he said he would ask for help." April 15, she wrote General George Marshall relaying how her husband "always spoke of his trust in you and his affection for you" and thanking the general for his "kindness and thoughtfulness in all the arrangements made." April 16, she confessed to Elinor Morgenthau that "readjusting is not so hard physically but mentally. I realize I counted much on Franklin's greater wisdom and it leaves one without much sense of backing." The following day, she wrote Henry Wallace, even though she hoped to see him before she left Washington, to make sure that he knew "that I feel that you are peculiarly fitted to carry out the ideals which were closest to my husband's heart …"3

ER spent her last day in the White House trying to balance "a great sense of relief" she felt after completing her various tasks against the concerns she had for the future. As she later wrote:

I rode down in the old cagelike White House elevator that April morning with a feeling of melancholy and something of uncertainty, because I was saying good-by to an unforgettable era and I had given little thought to the fact that from this day forward I would be on my own.4

Yet as she admitted to her trusted confidante Lorena Hickok, she had already begun to consider what she could accomplish in her own right.

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1945: April–December