Eleanor Roosevelt to Harold Ickes

views updated

Eleanor Roosevelt to Harold Ickes

26 May 1945 [Hyde Park]

Dear Mr. Secretary:

I very much appreciate your letter of the 21st.

I feel very strongly that running for office is not the way in which I can be most useful. My children have labored for many years under the very baffling necessity of considering their business of living as it affected their Father's position and I want them to feel in the future that any running for public office will be done by them.11

That does not mean, however, that I do not feel my responsibility as a citizen, but the minute I accept a position from the party and am a new hand, I would have to be willing to follow the party line pretty consistently. I hope to continue to work with the Democrats and for them but I think the knowledge that I will be free of any obligation may at times be very healthy.

I agree with you that it is important what happens in 1946 and 1948 and I feel strongly that the Democrats should remain in power if we can free ourselves to the extent of at least controlling our reactionary Southerners, but I do not think my running for any office would be useful.

I am not going to do anything for the summer months but in the autumn I shall begin to do speaking12 and perhaps start on some job again by the first of the year when I think what is needed of me for settling the estate will be pretty well accomplished. I may go on a trip for the Red Cross13 or for the syndicate.14

I should be able to help the liberals in the country and if I can write interesting columns and do an article now and then my voice would not be silent.15

I am deeply grateful to you and Jane for your interest. I am not going to make any decisions as to what I will do or what I won't do and no doors are permanently closed, but I feel I ought to tell you that I have no intention of running for public office.

                                      Very cordially yours,


1. Blum, Diaries, 424; Lorena Hickok to ER, 13 April 1945, AERP.

2. Ickes married Jane Dahlman in 1938, three years after his first wife, State Representative Anna Wilmarth Ickes, died in an automobile accident. Jane Dahlman Ickes, a close friend of Anna Roosevelt Boettiger, also felt close enough to ER to seek ER's advice on how she could continue working for "controversial" social causes "without jeopardizing her husband's position." As she grew more at ease in cabinet circles, she became more outspoken in support of conservation, civil rights, and planned parenthood. When Secretary and Mrs. Ickes visited Hyde Park May 14 to discuss the Department of the Interior's impending ownership of Springwood, the Roosevelt ancestral home, Jane Ickes "pressed" ER to run for the US Senate ("Mrs Ickes Dies in Crash of Auto Near Santa Fe," NYT, 1 September 1935, 1; Lash, Eleanor, 456-57; Lash, Years, 27; MD, 14 May 1945).

3. In the 1944 campaign, Dewey often attacked FDR by saying "let's get this straight, the man who wants to be President of the United States for sixteen years is, indeed, indispensable. He is indispensable to Harry Hopkins, to Madame Perkins, to Harold Ickes … to Sidney Hillman and the Political Action Committee … to Earl Browder, the ex-convict and pardoned Communist leader … Shall we … accommodate this motley crew?" Ickes responded by sending the press his "letter of resignation" in which he charged that should Dewey become "our Never-Never President [he] will be besieged by favors from the hordes of hungry politicians" supporting him: Gerald L. K. Smith, Hamilton Fish, publisher Cissy Patterson, and isolationists Stephen Day and Werner Schroeder. In October 1944, Ickes told radio audiences in Newark that he was "glad" that Dewey, who would speak after him, would discuss "'Honesty in Government.' This will be a double adventure into the unknown by Mr. Dewey. He knows little if anything about the Government and, judging by his campaign speeches, he is totally unfamiliar with honesty." FDR, aware of how important Ickes's contributions were to his reelection, wrote his secretary "a personal note" November 27 "to send his compliments to The Curmudgeon on this greatest performance of his career. There is, I understand, some complaint from pieces of Republicans that I have a buzz saw for the Secretary of the Interior. I can't say I blame them and I must say I like it" (Watkins, 813-17).

4. William O'Dwyer.

5. FDR called James Michael Mead (1885–1964), the two-term state assemblyman from Buffalo who became a ten-term congressman and would serve eight years in the US Senate, one of the "best vote getters" in the history of New York. A New Deal Democrat, Mead decided not to seek reelection to the Senate so that he could challenge Dewey in the gubernatorial election of 1946 (Smith, 459-63).

6. Fiorello La Guardia.

7. La Guardia wanted to leave the mayor's office and on May 7 made what the New York Times called his "not quite entirely unexpected announcement" that he would not seek a fourth term as mayor. Much of his agenda had been accomplished, and his last term had been less productive than his previous two, partly because he squandered much good will early in World War II when he ran for a third term while directing the federal Office of Civilian Defense. At the same time, his consistent lack of support for Republican candidates at the state and national level also alienated many state party leaders, who did not want to back him for another term. FDR's untimely death also robbed him of an important ally. However, he gave different reasons to the press: that he believed "in the principle of rotation in office," his age, and that he had "had practically no vacation or rest in twelve years" (FDRE, 232; "Mr. La Guardia's Withdrawal," NYT, 7 May 1945, 16; "New York's Next Mayor" and "Way Now Seems Open for Democratic Mayor," NYT, 13 May 1945, E2 and E10).

8. John and Anna Roosevelt Boettiger and their son, John.

9. When Ickes married Dahlman, Ickes brought his biological son Raymond, his adopted son Robert, his stepson Wilmarth, and his adopted stepdaughter Frances Bryant to their family. Jane and Harold Ickes then had two children of their own, Harold McEwan and Jane Elizabeth (Watkins, 605, 654-56, 713).

10. See n4, Document 2. Anna Roosevelt Boettiger forwarded ER an Interior Department memorandum prepared for Ickes that outlined the supplemental budget necessary both to secure the transfer of the land FDR left to the government and to establish, maintain, and interpret the estate as the Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site. ER wanted to secure the continued employment of those Roosevelt staffers already working on the project, and Ickes wanted her to provide the detailed information requested by the interpretative staff. After each agreed to the other's stipulations, they reached arrangements "very satisfactory" to both parties (A. E. Demaray to Harold Ickes, 21 May 1945; ER to Ickes, 27 May 1945, AERP).

11. At this point, ER's four sons were finishing their wartime service and making postwar plans. When they returned home in 1945, James and Franklin, Jr., quickly began solidifying their political connections. James returned to California as an executive vice president of Roosevelt and Sargeant, an insurance firm, and began planning his successful 1946 campaign to become chair of the California State Democratic Committee. Franklin, Jr., acted much faster than his older brother. Immediately after his October 1945 discharge from the navy, he served as housing chair of the American Veterans Committee. In 1947, he would help organize Americans for Democratic Action. Elliott contracted to edit an edition of his father's correspondence and published his own memoir of his time with his father at the Casablanca and Cairo conferences, As He Saw It, in which he argued for a nonmilitarized, international organization for global peace. John, whose service in the Pacific fleet earned him the rank of lieutenant commander, had little interest in politics and devoted his time to finance and business operations. Anna continued her publishing career by securing, with ER's help, a weekly newspaper in Phoenix, Arizona (FDRE; Asbell, 201, 216, 223).

12. Beginning in 1936, ER did two lecture tours a year until FDR's death; however, she limited her speaking engagements in 1945. Not only did she want to settle FDR's estate as quickly as possible, she also told Anna that she did not want to go "on any speaking trips that required a reservation till the war is over." In October, she resumed her travels lecturing in Illinois, Massachusetts, and New Jersey to raise funds for organizations she supported. (See Document 55, Document 59, Document 63.) In November, she began a series of lectures for the Downtown Community School program at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in New York City. She resumed her lecture tour in late 1946 following her return from the UN General Assembly meeting in London (Lash, Eleanor, 421-24; Lash, World, 226).

13. ER had served World War I soldiers at the Red Cross canteen in Union Station. At the outset of World War II she tried to go to Europe under the group's auspices but Red Cross President Norman Davis and Secretary of State Cordell Hull feared she would be captured. She did visit many Red Cross facilities during her 1942 trip to Great Britain and finally, in summer 1943, she traveled to seventeen Pacific islands, New Zealand, and Australia as the organization's "Special Delegate" (Lash, Eleanor, 690; Roosevelt, Autobiography, 242-43, 254-55).

14. United Features Syndicate, which distributed My Day.

15. ER will make the same argument publicly in June 1946. See Document 137.

About this article

Eleanor Roosevelt to Harold Ickes

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article


Eleanor Roosevelt to Harold Ickes