Roosevelt, Eleanor (1884–1962)
Roosevelt, Eleanor (1884–1962)
American reformer, humanitarian, UN diplomat, and the most effective woman ever in American politics who was frequently called "First Lady of the World." Born Anna Eleanor Roosevelt on October 11, 1884, in New York City; died November 7, 1962 in New York City; daughter of Elliott Roosevelt and Anna Ludlow Hall Roosevelt (both socialites); educated at Allenswood, Wimbledon Park, England; married Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882–1945, governor of New York State as well as U.S. president, 1932–1945), on March 17, 1905; children: Anna Eleanor Roosevelt Dall Boettiger (b. May 3, 1906); James Roosevelt (b. December 23, 1907, a U.S. congressional representative); Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr. (March 1909–November 1909); Elliott Roosevelt (b. September 23, 1910); Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr. (b. August 17, 1914, a U.S. congressional representative); John Aspinwall Roosevelt (b. March 13, 1916).
Served as director, national legislation committee, League of Women Voters (1920); was chair, finance committee, women's division, New York State Democratic Committee (1924–28); was co-chair, bureau of women's activities, Democratic National Campaign Committee (1928); was editor, Women's Democratic News (1925–28); began radio program (1934); wrote newspaper column, "My Day" (1935–62); was a delegate to UN General Assembly (1945–53); served as permanent chair of UN Commission on Human Rights (1947–48); served as chair, John F. Kennedy's Commission on the Status of Women (1961).
It's Up to the Women (Frederick A. Stokes, 1933); (ed.) Hunting Big Game in the Eighties (Scribner, 1933); (edited by Rose Young) Why Wars Must Cease (Macmillan, 1935); This is My Story (Harper & Bros., 1937); This Troubled World (H.C. Kinsey, 1938); The Moral Basis of Democracy (Howell, Saskin, 1940); (with Frances Cooke Macgregor) This Is America (Putnam, 1942); If You Ask Me (Appleton-Century, 1946); This I Remember (Harper & Bros., 1949); (with Helen Ferris) Partners: The United Nations and Youth (Doubleday, 1950); India and the Awakening East (Harper & Bros., 1953); (with William De Witt) UN: Today and Tomorrow (Harpers, 1953); Ladies of Courage (Putnam, 1954); It Seems to Me (W.W. Norton, 1954); On My Own (Harper & Bros., 1958); You Learn by Living (Harper, 1960); The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt (Harper, 1961); (with Helen Ferris) Your Teens and Mine (Doubleday, 1961); Book of Common Sense Etiquette (Macmillan, 1962); Tomorrow is Now (Harper & Row, 1963); Eleanor Roosevelt's Christmas Book (Dodd Mead, 1963); (edited by Maurine Beasley) The White House Press Conferences of Eleanor Roosevelt (Garland, 1983); (edited by Rochelle Chadakoff) Eleanor Roosevelt's My Day; Volume I: Her Acclaimed Columns, 1936–1945 (Pharos, 1989); (edited by David Embridge) Eleanor Roosevelt's My Day; Volume II: The Post-war Years—Her Acclaimed Columns, 1945–1952 (Pharos, 1990); (edited by David Embridge) Eleanor Roosevelt's My Day; Volume III: First Lady of the World: Her Acclaimed Columns, 1953–1962 (Pharos, 1991); (edited by Allida M. Black) What I Hope to Leave Behind: The Essential Essays of Eleanor Roosevelt (Carlson, 1995).
Though it was dusk and the heat in Bombay remained stifling, a thousand Hindus were standing patiently in front of the Taj Mahal hotel. Then a 68-year-old woman, sporting what Time magazine called a "grandmotherly, garden club dress," came out of the hotel and entered an open automobile. When she climbed in, she did not sit down. Instead, she faced the applauding crowd, bowed her head, and folded her hands before her in a Hindu posture called namaskar. The crowd, surging 15 deep against the police lines, roared with delight, jostling across the hotel lawns and smashing flower pots in the process, chanting "Eleanor Roosevelt zindbad!" ("Long live Eleanor Roosevelt"). As the tumult continued, ER (as historians would later call her) straightened and dropped her arms, but the crowd would not let her go. Time and again she would bow her head and fold her arms. Finally she swayed, an aide caught her arms, she sat down unsteadily, and the car drove off. This welcome, given in March 1952, was typical of the reception bestowed upon the woman often called "the first lady of the world."
On October 11, 1884, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born in New York City. (She never used the name Anna except in legal matters.) Her father was Elliott Roosevelt, younger brother of future president Theodore Roosevelt, who was her godfather. Her mother was Anna Hall Roosevelt , scion of Hudson valley aristocracy, being a descendant of the prominent Livingstone family. As her biographer and close personal friend Joseph Lash notes: "To the extent that there has been a ruling class in the United States she was a member by birth." The oldest of three children, Eleanor was caught between a loving, charming, but dissolute father and a cold, disapproving, highly neurotic mother. Possessing a strong inferiority complex, she later recalled herself as "a solemn child, without beauty. I seemed like a little old woman entirely lacking in the spontaneous joy and mirth of youth." "I never smiled," she added. Her mother, thought by Eleanor to be "one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen," nicknamed her two-year-old daughter "Granny," saying, "She is such a funny child, so old-fashioned." Her father, however, was so supportive that ER once said, "He dominated my life as long as he lived and was the love of my life for many years after he died." Yet, exiled from his home because of alcoholism and philandering, he was legally separated from Eleanor. Because of the family's prominence, personal tragedy became widely publicized. A New York Herald headline once read: "ELLIOTT ROOSEVELT DEMENTED BY EXCESSES. Wrecked by Liquor and Folly, He is Now Confined in an Asylum for the Insane near Paris." Only quarrels within the family and disagreement among physicians kept him from being declared insane.
At age 29, Anna Hall Roosevelt died of diphtheria. Because Anna was so socially prominent, the event was covered in the New York press for days. All Anna's children, eight-yearold Eleanor included, were sent to the Tivoli, New York, where they lived with their grandmother, Mary Ludlow Hall (Mrs. Valentine G. Hall). Eleanor's doting father tried to compensate for the loss, writing her frequently and buying her a pony. His visits nonetheless were infrequent. He might leave her outside the door of his club for hours while he became totally inebriated. Living with mistresses and addicted to drugs as well as alcohol, he died of a fall when Eleanor was nine.
Now, more than ever, Eleanor's world was one of seclusion, even if she were surrounded by governesses, tutors, and French and German maids. She was, she later recalled, timid, withdrawn, and frightened of "practically everything"—mice, the dark, other children—as well as of displeasing the adults with whom she lived. To Theodore's wife, Aunt Edith Carow Roosevelt , she was indeed "a poor little soul." Living with Grandmother Hall had its drawbacks, for the budding adolescent was forced to keep her pigtails and wear hideous clothing. As it was believed her spine was curved, she was put into a corrective brace for over a year. Grandmother Hall did exhibit kindness as well as discipline, however, encouraging her in piano, language study, and creative writing. Uncles and aunts were also present, though their reaction to her was decidedly mixed. If uncles Eddie and Valentine were chronic alcoholics, "Vallie" shooting bird shot at her from an upstairs window, aunts Tissie, Pussie, and Maude (Elizabeth "Tissie" Hall Mortimer, Edith "Pussie" Hall Morgan , and Maude Hall Waterbury Gray ) introduced her to opera, theater, and the dance.
When Eleanor reached 15, Grandmother Hall sent her to Allenswood, a finishing school for society daughters just outside London. Head-mistress Marie Souvestre , daughter of a wellknown French philosopher and novelist, was an unmarried and high-minded free-thinker and political liberal. All classes were conducted in French. Souvestre took an instant liking to Eleanor, turning her into a privileged assistant and traveling companion during holidays. At Allenswood, this awkward, shy American girl blossomed, becoming an able student in languages and literature and the idol of younger classmates.
Returning to New York at age 17, Eleanor lived with her cousin Susie Parish and her husband Henry Parish, Jr., and, under pressure from her grandmother, made her debut at the Assembly Ball. She was no longer an awkward adolescent; she had become tall, slender, and "willowy." But she found debutante life stifling, so she involved herself in settlement work. A leader of the Junior League, she visited slum children and taught dancing, literature, and calisthenics at the Rivington Street Settlement. She also joined the Consumers' League, investigating working conditions in garment factories and department stores. Not only did she see how the poor actually lived; she encountered an entire generation of women reformers. "The feeling that I was useful was perhaps the greatest joy I experienced," she once said.
During Eleanor's coming-out period, she got to know her fifth cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt, then a senior at Harvard. Franklin was handsome as he was charming, and the couple soon fell in love. True, as biographer Blanche Wiesen Cook notes, FDR was not the ideal suitor: "He was less serious than many; not as rich as others; was considered
by some frivolous and frothy, and by others arrogant and deceitful." At the same time, Franklin was attentive in the extreme, making no secret of admiring her intelligence and relying on her advice. Furthermore, so Cook writes, "she perceived he needed her, and in many ways Franklin resembled Eleanor's romantic image of her father—that debonair man who had been the first to call her Little Nell." Franklin's mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt , thought the couple too young to marry and insisted that they keep their engagement secret for a year.
Despite Sara's attempts to prevent the union, on March 17, 1905, the 23-year-old Franklin and the 20-year-old Eleanor were married. Uncle Theodore, Franklin's sixth cousin, gave away his niece, stealing the limelight in the process. "Well, Franklin," Theodore quipped, "there's nothing like keeping the name in the family." Press coverage concentrated on Eleanor, not Franklin, for as the direct niece of the incumbent president, she was the Roosevelt who really mattered. FDR biographer Geoffrey Ward notes that Franklin's "love of Eleanor was real, but her closeness to the immediate family of the man he admired most on earth must have been an important part of her dowry."
The newlyweds remained in New York while Franklin studied law at Columbia University. As keeper of the purse strings, Sara totally dominated the couple. Biographer Lash writes of ER, who had been on the verge of forming her own identity: "She totally subordinated herself to her husband and her mother-in-law. Their wills became hers; not what she wanted, but what they wanted, mattered." At first, Eleanor, still starved for affection, welcomed Sara's attention, calling her "Mama" and waiting on her continually. She later recalled with obvious regret that there was always someone "to decide everything for me." The very New York townhouse in which they lived was next to Sara's; the two houses had a common entrance and connecting doors, leading to matching dining and drawing rooms that could be opened for joint entertaining. When Eleanor complained to Franklin that she was living in a house that was "not in any way" hers, one "which did not represent the way I want to live," her husband called her "quite mad" and left the room. Even if Franklin and his mother often differed, ER always felt that their first loyalty was to each other. Only at their summer home at Campobello Island in New Brunswick, Canada, did she feel mistress of her own house.
From 1906 to 1916, ER became mother to six children. In 1909, when one son died of influenza after seven months, she wrongly blamed herself, for she had been unable to breast-feed him. ER later noted, "Franklin's children were more my mother-in-law's children than they were mine." Sara on her part told the children, "I was your real mother. Eleanor merely bore you." Sara's generous gifts to her grandchildren continually undercut Eleanor's efforts to exercise needed parental authority.
In November 1910, with his official residence at Hyde Park, Franklin was elected the Democratic assemblyman from Dutchess County. When FDR briefly became a leader of anti-Tammany forces in Albany, ER found herself an astute firsthand observer of legislative proceedings. Finally away from Sara, Eleanor found her marriage fulfilling for the first time.
President Woodrow Wilson appointed Franklin assistant secretary of the navy in January 1913, and Eleanor successfully assumed the role of Washington hostess. When in April 1917, the United States entered World War I, ER could finally free herself from tedious social duties. Many mornings, she rose at 5:00 am to coordinate the canteen for soldiers arriving at Washington's Union Station, where as many as ten troop trains pulled in each day. With Addie Daniels , wife of Wilson's secretary of the navy and FDR's boss, Eleanor also organized the Navy Red Cross. Even after the Armistice, she fought to improve conditions at St. Elizabeth's Hospital for the mentally ill and daily visited troops in the city's naval hospital.
In September 1918, Franklin returned from an inspection trip to Europe stricken with double pneumonia and influenza, the latter a disease that took a heavy toll as war was coming to an end. While her husband was bedridden, Eleanor discovered love letters written by Lucy Page Mercer , her own personal secretary and a person she had trusted implicitly. ER later confided to a friend: "the bottom dropped out of my own particular world, and I faced myself, my surroundings, my world honestly for the first time." Considering herself a failure as a woman, she offered to divorce Franklin. For a variety of reasons—concern for the children, pressure from Sara, FDR's political ambitions, Lucy's feelings of guilt as a Roman Catholic over marrying a divorced man—the union formally remained intact, but any intimacy vanished. Henceforth, Eleanor resolved to design an independent life for herself. Knowledge of the affair only became public in 1968.
Although learning of Franklin's infidelity briefly led the 30-year-old Eleanor to feel abandoned, the world of politics brought the couple back into the limelight. In 1920, FDR received the Democratic nomination for the vice-presidency. His troubleshooter Louis McHenry Howe, whose gnome-like appearance and brash demeanor ER first found repellent, renewed her interest in politics, consulting her on a variety of campaign matters, including drafts of her husband's speeches. As was also true of her husband, she had originally hoped that Herbert Hoover would receive the Democratic presidential
nomination, saying the Wilson protégé was "the only man I know who has firsthand knowledge of European questions and great organizing ability and understands business not only from the capitalistic point of view but also from the worker's standpoint."
After Franklin lost the vice-presidential race, the Roosevelts returned to New York, where Eleanor became active in the League of Women Voters. At the time of her marriage, she had gone so far as to oppose women's suffrage, thinking it violated the female's traditional role; now she was coordinating the League legislative program. She became particularly close to attorney Elizabeth Read and her lifelong partner, educator and journalist Esther Lape , and their Greenwich Village home served her as a sanctuary for many years. When in 1920, ER prepared a monthly report as director of the League's national legislation committee, Read served as her researcher. In 1922, Eleanor joined the Women's Trade Union League, which sought maximum hours and minimum wages for female employees, and occasionally she even picketed a recalcitrant firm. Her opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment was based on her fear that it would destroy the few laws that protected women in the marketplace. Although she briefly backed prohibition, she soon realized the 18th amendment to the Constitution was unenforceable.
She would rather light candles than curse the darkness.
Other ER causes included the World Court and publisher Edward Bok's award for international peace. She supported American entry into the League of Nations, though in 1920 she had backed the reservations put forth by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge and wanted assurances that Congress alone retained the power to declare war. In 1931, she claimed that men could not be trusted to work for peace. "Any successful crusade," she told the City Club of New York, "must be conducted by the women of all countries." Because of her peace activities, J. Edgar Hoover, director of the newly created Federal Bureau of Investigation, began a detailed file on her in 1924. "One of the wonders of modern history," according to biographer Cook, it ended up totaling about 4,000 pages.
In the summer of 1921, while sailing at Campobello, Franklin contracted polio, which left his lower limbs useless. Hour by hour, through long nights, Eleanor continually nursed him. Cooperating with Louis Howe, she successfully fought Sara's efforts to relegate him to the life of a country squire. Franklin, she believed, could only find fulfillment by reentering politics.
Mastering public speaking and political organization under Howe's skillful tutelage, ER represented her husband until he could resume normal activity. She first mobilized the women of Dutchess County, then served as financial chair of New York state's Democratic Party. Especially active in Al Smith's 1924 campaign for governor of New York, she fought in vain to have the national party platform endorse such reforms as equal pay for women workers and a 48-hour work week. From 1925 to 1928, she edited the Women's Democratic News, after which she executed her leadership of the monthly surreptitiously.
In 1922, Eleanor Roosevelt had made the acquaintance of two women who, for a decade, were her closest friends: former suffragists Nancy ("Nan") Cook and her lifelong partner, Marion Dickerman . Dickerman, an educator and social worker, had run unsuccessfully for the New York legislature in 1919. Together with Caroline O'Day , later congressional representative from New York, and Elinor Morgenthau , whose husband became FDR's secretary of the treasury, ER, Cook, and Dickerman dominated the women's division of the state Democratic Party. All during the 1920s, the five toured each county into the state, agitating for a host of reforms—public housing, unemployment insurance, worker's compensation, child labor legislation, the eight-hour day.
With Cook and Dickerman, ER moved in 1926 into Val-Kill, a stone cottage just constructed at Hyde Park. There the three women jointly managed a nonprofit crafts factory that reproduced early American furniture and employed farm laborers jobless in winter. Although they dissolved Val-Kill industries only in 1938, the close friendship was already unraveling by 1932. Eleanor thought that Cook and Dickerman were becoming too susceptible to the charm of her husband Franklin. Furthermore, the two intensely disliked a new woman in ER's life, Associated Press correspondent Lorena ("Hick") Hickok , who first became close to ER during the 1932 presidential race and who resided in the White House from 1941 to 1945.
In 1926, ER and Dickerman also purchased Todhunter, a private progressive school for girls in New York City. Eleanor only severed ties in 1938. Deliberately modeling herself after Mme Souvestre, she served as vice-principal. Even while Franklin was governor of New York, ER spent three days a week at Todhunter, teaching history, sociology, economics, and government. By this time, FDR's unmarried secretary, Marguerite ("Missy") LeHand , was serving as his hostess. At Hyde Park and later at the "Little White House" in Warm Springs, Georgia, ER was treated increasingly as a visitor, albeit an honored one.
Eleanor Roosevelt co-chaired the women's division of the Democratic Party in 1928, putting the bulk of her time on Al Smith's bid for the presidency. Given her other party activities, she occupied the most powerful political positions ever held by a woman. Though Smith lost, FDR was chosen governor of New York in that very election. Eleanor quickly became the "legs and ears" of her husband, accompanying him on inspection trips to homes for the aged, state hospitals, and prisons. By then, she was becoming financially independent of Franklin, never a good businessman. Her writing for McCall's and Red-book brought her thousands of dollars. On the lighter side, in June 1932 she edited a short-lived magazine entitled Babies, Just Babies. During the 1932 campaign that propelled Franklin to the White House, ER again organized the women's division of the Democratic National Committee, working with party activist Molly Dewson to mobilize thousands of female precinct workers.
Once first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt broke precedent in several significant ways. The earliest involved efforts to publicize her views. She was the first president's wife to hold weekly press conferences, limited to women reporters and often centering on women's issues. On December 30, 1935, she began her newspaper column "My Day," distributed through United Features Syndicate. For its first three years, the column centered on domestic matters, and she was not above describing family scrambledegg feasts on Sunday evenings. By 1939, however, ER addressed general political topics, ranging from pleas for larger welfare appropriations to attacking the anti-interventionist foreign policy of Herbert Hoover. She would continue the column until September 14, 1962, less than two months before her death. Over the years, she wrote monthly columns for Women's Home Companion, Ladies' Home Journal, and McCall's. Her tone might have been naive and her prose full of clichés but she always communicated warmth, sincerity, and genuine concern. The same could be said about her radio program, begun in 1934 and whose profits went directly to the American Friends Service Committee. By 1939, she was so popular that WNBC dubbed her "The First Lady of Radio." In 1935, she contracted with a lecture agency to engage in two tours per year; here, she drew $1,000 per lecture, stupendous in depression America and some of which remained private income.
Second, ER cracked the tradition that the first lady was primarily the social leader of Washington, whose activities were supposedly limited to receiving foreign diplomats, members of Congress, and top administrators—and their spouses. While she certainly did her share of state entertaining, she was forever on the road, so much so that no one knew where "Eleanor Everywhere" would appear next. The most famous cartoon of the decade showed a grinning coal miner, laboring in the bowels of the earth and crying out in astonishment, "For gosh sakes, here comes Mrs. Roosevelt." It was rumored that Arctic explorer Admiral Richard Byrd always set up two places for dinner at the South Pole "in case Eleanor should drop in." One weary reporter who had been following her slavishly said, "Please make Eleanor tired, just for one day." In 1940, Life magazine reported:
During the last seven years, Mrs. Roosevelt has, at a temperate estimate, traveled 280,000 miles, written one million words, earned and given away over half a million dollars, delivered several hundred lectures, radio speeches and interviews to the press; knitted several dozen tiny garments for Roosevelt babies, cooked hot dogs and poured a second cup of coffee at several dozen picnics and probably not wasted as much time as the average person does in one week. With the unaccountable exception of South Dakota, she has visited every State in the Union, most of them more than once. She has talked, intimately, to more people, and covered, attentively, more American territory than the most garrulous and peripatetic Fuller Brush man.
Third, ER was a most vocal advocate for groups that she believed her husband was over-looking. She found government posts for many women, strongly supported the arts and writers' projects of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and brought Southern sharecroppers and Northern garment workers to the White House. Hearing about the struggle of Appalachian farmers to reclaim their land, she became a champion of a model subsistence homestead community at Arthurdale, West Virginia. Here, she sought, without significant success, to construct model homes and recruit industry to aid stranded coal miners living on a tributary of the Monongahela River. At times, she would even send a personal check to a letter writer in need. According to New Deal official Will Alexander, whenever she received a missive pleading for aid:
She looked at the thing and decided whose business it was in the government to find out about it, and sent that letter with her own initials on it and wrote, "Find out about this letter. You know what it's all about." You'd better do it. She never forgot.
Fourth, few New Dealers did as much to advance the status of African-Americans. Fighting to assure equal access to blacks in New Deal relief programs, Eleanor Roosevelt said, "It is a question of the right to work and the right to work should know no color lines." She sought vigorously but unsuccessfully to obtain Franklin's support for legislation defining lynching as a federal crime. As World War II approached, she strongly argued for eliminating discrimination in the armed forces and in defense employment. At the same time, in June 1940, she urged black labor leader A. Philip Randolph to forego his threat of a mass march on Washington to gain defense jobs, arguing that the protest would backfire. In 1939, she resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution in protest of the DAR's denying black artist Marian Anderson permission to perform at Washington's Constitution Hall, an auditorium owned by the organization. Anderson ended up singing to 75,000 people from the Lincoln Memorial, in part through ER's intervention.
Fifth, ER saw herself as a strong protector of America's youth. Above all, she feared that continued depression might make young people susceptible to extremist movements. The National Youth Administration of 1935 was basically her creation. It employed thousands of high school and university students, thereby enabling them to continue their studies. In 1940, ER endorsed a form of compulsory youth service for both sexes. Two years later, she wrote in "My Day," "all of us—men in the service and women at home—should be drafted and told what is the job we are to do. So long as we are left to volunteer we are bound to waste our capacities and to do things which are not necessary." In 1944, she wanted continuation of the draft after World War II ended, recommending a year of military service for all males. In 1953, she came out for universal military training. Such ideas always remained with her. When, for example, the Peace Corps was formed in 1961, she wanted it mandatory for every American youth and to include possible service within the United States.
Between 1936 and 1940, ER ardently supported the American Student Union (ASU) and the American Youth Congress (AYC), both prone to heavy Stalinist influence. She was dismayed, however, when in February 1940 the Communist-dominated AYC booed the president and took a "Yanks-are-not-coming" posture. Soon afterwards, she quietly severed her ties, transferring her energies to the International Students' Service. At that time, she became devoted to the ASU's former executive secretary, Joseph Lash. An idealistic young man of strong reformist bent, Lash had resigned his post in protest against Communist infiltration. Deeply disappointed in the shady business careers and frequent marriages of her sons (eighteen marriages among four sons), ER found in Lash not only ideological compatibility but the "good son" she never had.
In 1939, Gallup polls found Eleanor leading Franklin in popularity 67% to 58%. Yet, as was the case with her husband, ER drew bitter opposition as well as strong support. Her pro-black positions led to accusations that she favored miscegenation. Her support for such groups as the AYC created the charge of being a Soviet "fellow traveler." Her radio, journalistic, and lecture activities brought charges that she was "cashing in" on her role as first lady. Even in a generally favorable cover story published in 1952, Time quoted her as having once said, "Though Mr. Stalin is a dictator, his efforts have been to help the people prepare themselves for greater power." Offering a parody of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven," one writer found her overbearing in her willingness to bestow advice:
And this expert ever flitting,
Never sitting, never quitting,
Never tending her own knitting,
Doles her pills of fancied knowledge,
Wisdom from her bursting store.
In all her reformist efforts, it was Eleanor who uniquely had Franklin's ear. At times acting as if she were assistant president of the United States, ER continually sought to bring the cause of the oppressed to her husband's attention, allowing him in turn to use her activism as a liaison to the left. The president, however, frequently refused to act as she wished. Once he manifested genuine fury when she interrupted his 20-minute cocktail period by bringing him a sheaf of papers. She remained, however, "the conscience of the administration." Concerning the New Deal in general, she said that its measures "helped but did not solve the fundamental problems." In speaking of the general American experience, "We had bought ourselves time to think." Writing later about her relationship with Franklin, she said:
He might have been happier with a wife who had been completely uncritical. That I was never able to be and he had to find it in some other people. Nevertheless, I think I sometimes acted as a spur, even though the spurring was not always wanted or welcome. I was one of those who served his purposes.
In the wake of World War I, ER found armed conflict absolute folly, going so far as to oppose the sale of toy soldiers and to resolve never again to sell a war bond. In 1929, when she took her sons to Europe, she made sure that they visited the military cemeteries. In 1935, she supported passage of the first neutrality act, though she soon sought a law that would distinguish between aggressor and victim. "The war idea is obsolete," she said. Two years later, she served with Admiral Byrd as co-chair of the No-Foreign-War Crusade, a group opposing increased armament. Like Franklin, Eleanor hoped that the Munich Conference of September 1938 would avoid war.
Already, however, ER's pacifism was yielding to her anti-fascism. In October 1935, she supported sanctions against Italy, then in the process of invading Ethiopia, and during that same year she endorsed her husband's program of naval rearmament. Appalled by the bombings of China and Spain, she wrote a friend early in 1938:
I have never believed that war settled anything satisfactorily, but I am not entirely sure that some times there are certain situations in the world such as we have in actuality when a country is worse off when it does not go to war for its principles than if it went to war.
Little wonder ER sought the lifting of the arms embargo on Republican Spain and later regretted she did not push Franklin harder. Once World War II broke out, she backed the interventionist policies of her husband. In December 1939, she wrote in her column, "We must now weep for Finland," just invaded by the Soviet Union. By 1940, she was spearheading the effort to open the nation's doors to Europe's refugee children and to Jewish fugitives from Hitler.
Eleanor opposed a third term for Franklin in 1940, finding the temptations of power too great. Yet, once her husband had made up his mind to run again, she acquiesced. When Franklin sought his liberal secretary of agriculture, Henry A. Wallace, as running mate, he had ER address a reluctant Democratic convention over the matter. Without her, many said, Wallace could not have carried the convention.
In September 1941, ER became deputy director of the Office of Civilian Defense (OCD), whose director was Fiorello La Guardia. It was the only official job she ever held during her husband's presidency, and she was far from successful in the post. She had hoped to use the OCD as a major New Deal agency, one serving to alleviate wartime stresses of migration, unemployment, housing, and health. New York's flamboyant mayor, however, was more interested in such mundane matters as fire-fighting equipment. In February 1942, she resigned under congressional fire, saying, "I offered a way to get at the President and in wartime it is not politically wise to attack the President."
If ER was ever compromised, it was over the administration's internment of Japanese-Americans, many of them bona fide United States citizens. Over 100,000 people were ejected from their homes on the West Coast and forced to live in "relocation centers" in Western deserts and Arkansas swampland. In April 1943, at Franklin's request, Eleanor visited the detention camps. That October, in an article for Collier's magazine, she claimed that the evacuation was carried out with "remarkable skill and kindness." In press accounts, she stressed their gardening skills and emphasized that their "loyalty" must be assured before they could return home. Never once did she publicly express disapproval. Nonetheless, from the start, she was personally shaken by the internments. When, however, she protested privately to her husband, he rebuffed her icily.
With the onset of World War II, ER took a maternal interest in America's GIs. In one column she disparaged the booster tone of war reporting, such as a dispatch reading, "Only six bombers failed to return." She responded, "That little word 'only,' when it is read by a woman whose son or whose husband was on one of those lost bombers, creates a deep sense of bitterness." During the summer of 1943, in a 23,000-mile trip, she visited field hospitals and front-line installations in Australia and the South Pacific. Commented the hard-bitten Admiral William F. ("Bull") Halsey:
When I say she inspected those hospitals, I don't mean that she shook hands with the chief medical officer, glanced into a sun parlor, and left. I mean that she went into every ward, stopped at every bed, and spoke to every patient: What was his name? How did he feel? Was there anything he needed? Could she take a message home for him? I marveled at her hardihood, both physical and mental. She walked for miles, and she saw patients who were grievously and gruesomely wounded. But I marveled most at their expressions as she leaned over them. It was a sight I will never forget.
When Franklin died of a cerebral hemorrhage at Warm Springs, Georgia, on April 12, 1945, Eleanor bore the news with discipline and dignity. "The story is over" was all she told one reporter, an understandable comment as she had just discovered that Lucy Mercer, whose last name was now Rutherford, had been with Franklin when he died. Writes biographer J. William T. Youngs in summarizing their marriage, "No one word seems to describe their complex relationship: neither love, nor hostility, nor admiration, nor annoyance was the all-encompassing ingredient of their life together."
If anything, after Franklin's death, ER increased her public activity. She resumed her radio shows and lecture tours, in time adding a program in a new media called television. She feared that her husband's successor, Harry S. Truman, was a mere political hack; in 1944, she had wanted the Democratic convention to renominate Wallace for the vice-presidency. In 1948, while she was openly supporting Truman's election, her endorsement was belated and unenthusiastic. Privately she referred to him as "a weak and vacillating person [who] made such poor appointments in his Cabinet." She would continually write long letters to the new president, imploring him to maintain the Fair Employment Practices Committee, desegregate housing and education, develop a genuinely internationalist foreign policy, and work towards nuclear disarmament.
Early in December 1945, Truman appointed ER one of the five U.S. delegates to the first United Nations General Assembly in London. As she stood for the remnants of New Deal liberalism and still drew much popularity, the appointment was obviously political. Yet she worked hard enough to win the respect of such prominent Republican delegates as John Foster Dulles and Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg. In April 1946, she began work on the U.N. Human Rights Commission, where as chair she was entrusted with drafting an international bill of rights. Finally on December 10, 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights passed the General Assembly. Unquestionably she had been its driving force. That October, Time magazine suspected she was the best-known woman in the world.
When World War II first drew to a close, Eleanor Roosevelt feared the breakup of the wartime alliance. She initially favored sharing atomic secrets with the Soviets and opposed the abrupt severance of lend-lease to that nation. Hence, in March 1946, she opposed Winston Churchill's "Iron Curtain" speech, which called for an Anglo-American military alliance and a showdown with the Soviet Union. Germany, she claimed, should never be permitted again to engage in heavy industry, much less rearm. In 1947, she found the Truman Doctrine and a naval show of force in the eastern Mediterranean too strident. Within a year, however, she was supporting the broad outlines of the U.S. response to the Soviet Union, including the Marshall Plan, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and American entry into the Korean War. More than once, she responded to Soviet charges of American injustice by proposing that each country submit to investigation of its social conditions. Her formula for getting along with the Russians: "Have convictions; Be Friendly; Stick to your beliefs as they stick to theirs; Work as hard as they do."
In 1947, ER refused to support the newly formed Progressive Party, with its platform of accommodation towards the Soviet Union, instead helping to spearhead the Americans for Democratic Action, a group which espoused domestic social reforms and support of Truman's foreign policy. To the end of her life, she remained its honorary chair. At the same time, she strongly opposed the activities of Wisconsin Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, whom she saw as suppressing legitimate dissent by trampling heedlessly on civil liberties. Believing Alger Hiss innocent of treason, she refused to condemn the former State Department official while manifesting a strong dislike for Hiss' major foe, California Congressional Representative Richard Nixon.
By the 1940s, ER was headed towards a confrontation with the Roman Catholic Church. Her support for Republican Spain, sponsorship of the American Youth Congress, protests against censorship, discreet support of birth control, and outspoken opposition to federal aid to parochial schools all created tensions with the Roman Catholic Church. In July 1949, America's most powerful Catholic cleric, Francis Cardinal Spellman, denounced her "record of anti-Catholicism" as "discrimination unworthy of an American mother." She defended herself in a column that ended, "The final judgment, my dear Cardinal Spellman, of the worthiness of all human beings is in the hands of God." At the behest of Pope Pius XII and Democratic Party boss Ed Flynn, the cardinal made his peace, but the episode left its scars.
During the 1950s, Eleanor Roosevelt remained very much in the public eye, even though in 1952 newly elected president Dwight D. Eisenhower failed to reappoint her to the U.N. She immediately became the unofficial ambassador-at-large of the American Association for the United Nations, in which capacity she visited the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. By 1954, ER was finding the atomic bomb an instrument of genuine deterrence. Opposing unilateral nuclear disarmament, she went so far as to call the Abomb
"the one real assurance of peace on earth." Two years later, she defended its use in 1945 as being necessary to end the Pacific war quickly. As Eleanor Roosevelt entered her 70s, she continued her travels—to India, Japan, and twice to the Soviet Union, where she interviewed Nikita Khrushchev.
Throughout the postwar years, ER ardently supported Zionism and the nation-state of Israel. She rejected repatriation for Palestinian refugees, claiming Israel would be foolish to "take people who would be dangerous citizens, antagonistic to them and their ideas." Similarly she opposed arms shipments to Arab states, some of which, she said, were under Soviet control. When in 1956 the Eisenhower administration condemned the joint British-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt, she accused the president of siding with "the Kremlin" and "dictator" Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Always a power in the Democratic Party, from 1952 through 1960 ER strongly supported the bids of the witty and urbane governor of Illinois, Adlai Stevenson, for the presidency. She initially opposed the presidential candidacy of John F. Kennedy, intensely disliking his father Joseph, finding the young Massachusetts senator evasive on McCarthy, and fearing the political influence of the Roman Catholic Church. During the 1960 campaign, however, she endorsed his election. In 1961, Kennedy appointed her to a Special Session of the U.N. General Assembly and made her chair of his Commission on the Status of Women. Appalled by the Bay of Pigs invasion of that year, she served on the abortive "Tractors for Freedom" Committee, formed in order to negotiate with Fidel Castro over prisoners taken in its wake. She called for the demilitarization of Central Europe, pleaded for a test-ban treaty, and sought to have the budding Vietnam crisis turned over to the U.N.
Around 1947, at age 63, ER had fallen in love with her physician, David Gurewitsch, who was 15 years her junior. Conducting a discreet romance, the couple would travel together. When Gurewitsch married in 1958, Eleanor shared a home on Manhattan's East Side with the couple. On November 7, 1962, age 78, Eleanor Roosevelt died at her home in New York City from a rare bone-marrow form of tuberculosis.
Black, Allida M. Casting Her Own Shadow: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Shaping of Postwar Liberalism. NY: Columbia University Press, 1996.
Cook, Blanche Wiesen. Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume One, 1884–1933. NY: Viking, 1992.
Goodwin, Doris Kearns. No Ordinary Time; Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II. NY: Simon & Schuster, 1994.
Lash, Joseph P. Eleanor and Franklin: The Story of Their Relationship Based on Eleanor Roosevelt's Private Papers. NY: W.W. Norton, 1971.
——. Eleanor: The Years Alone. NY: W.W. Norton, 1972.
Roosevelt, Eleanor. On My Own. NY: Harper, 1958.
——. This I Remember. NY: Harper and Bros., 1949.
——. This is My Story. NY: Harper and Bros., 1937.
Asbell, Bernard, ed. Mother and Daughter: The Letters of Eleanor and Anna Roosevelt. NY: Coward, Mc-Cann, & Geoghegan, 1982.
Berger, Jason. A New Deal for the World: Eleanor Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy. NY: Columbia University Press, 1981.
Cook, Blanche Wiesen. Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume II, 1933–1938. NY: Viking, 1999.
Glendon, Mary Ann. A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. NY: Random House, 2000.
Hareven, Tamara K. Eleanor Roosevelt: An American Conscience. Chicago, IL: Quadrangle, 1968.
Hoff-Wilson, Joan and Marjorie Lightman, eds. Without Precedent: The Life and Career of Eleanor Roosevelt. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1984.
Lash, Joseph. Love, Eleanor: Eleanor Roosevelt and Her Friends, 1943–1962. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1982.
——. A World of Love. NY: Doubleday, 1982.
Roosevelt, Elliott, and James Brough. Mother R.: Eleanor Roosevelt's Untold Story. NY: Putnam, 1977.
——. An Untold Story: The Roosevelts of Hyde Park. NY: Putnam, 1973.
Roosevelt, James, with Bill Libby. My Parents: A Differing View. Chicago, IL: Playboy Press, 1976.
Streitmatter, Rodger, ed. Empty Without You: The Intimate Letters of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok. NY: Free Press, 1998.
Ward, Geoffrey C. Before the Trumpet: Young Franklin Roosevelt, 1882–1905. NY: Harper and Row, 1985.
——. A First-Class Temperament: The Emergence of Franklin Roosevelt. NY: Harper and Row, 1989.
Youngs, J. William T. Eleanor Roosevelt: A Personal and Public Life. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1985.
"Eleanor and Franklin" (television docudrama), starring Jane Alexander (Eleanor), Edward Herrmann (Franklin), Rosemary Murphy (Sara Delano), Mackenzie Phillips (Eleanor in younger years), script by James Costigan, directed by Daniel Petrie, 1976.
"Eleanor, First Lady of the World" (television docudrama), starring Jean Stapleton (Eleanor); Gail Strickland (Eleanor's daughter Anna Roosevelt Dall Boettiger), script by Caryl Ledner and Cynthia Mandelberg , directed by John Erman, 1982.
"The Eleanor Roosevelt Story" (Oscar-winning documentary film), narrated by Archibald MacLeish, Eric Sevaried, Francis Cole, directed by Richard Kaplan, 1965.
Sunrise at Campobello (play), written by Dore Schary, 1957.
Sunrise at Campobello (film), starring Greer Garson (Eleanor), Ralph Bellamy (Franklin), Hume Cronyn (Louis Howe), Ann Shoemaker (Sara Delano), written and produced by Dore Schary, directed by Vincent J. Donehue, 1960.
The papers of Eleanor Roosevelt are in the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, Hyde Park, New York.
Justus D. Doenecke , New College of the University of South Florida, Sarasota, Florida