Eleanor Roosevelt Commemorates World Children's Day

Eleanor Roosevelt Commemorates World Children's Day

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"First Lady of the World" Eleanor Roosevelt reads a statement regarding child welfare in honor of World Children’s Day, which was first celebrated one year earlier on October 4, 1953.

The Paradox of Eleanor Roosevelt: Alcoholism’s Child

Somewhere between the two extreme images of Eleanor Roosevelt—that of the shallow busybody first lady and that of the humanitarian reformer and consummate politician—stands a complex figure full of contradictions and paradoxes,” observed Tamara Hareven in the anthology that marked the centenary of Eleanor’s birth in 1984. The collection was titled Without Precedent, and Hareven’s essay on “ER and Reform” led off the volume’s concluding section on “Paradoxes.” Author of an admiring biography, Eleanor Roosevelt (1968), Hareven conceded in 1984 that Eleanor’s “omnipresence and involvement in many different causes, her paradoxical statements, and her support of seemingly contradictory causes bewildered her contemporaries and left even her Supporters feeling that her activities had no coherent pattern.” The editors of Without Precedent explained that a scholarly reassessment was needed because the contradictions in Eleanor Roosevelt’s long and eventful life were not explained by the soap opera elements of the standard litany. According to this melodrama, Eleanor survived an orphaned and loveless childhood, a faithless husband and domineering mother-in-law, and emerged as an independent personality only after her husband was felled by polio in 1921. Her need to serve so long as Franklin’s eyes and ears transformed the shy Eleanor into an autonomous public leader. It was a triumphant process that reached full flower after she was widowed in 1945 and that was sustained through worldwide acclaim until her death in 1962.

But beneath the soap opera scenario, Eleanor’s extraordinary career was marked by a series of interlocking paradoxes that produced a contradictory symbolism. She was a crusading idealist yet also a shrewd political pragmatist, an aristocrat with leftist persuasions, an aggressive liberal reformer who symbolized the liberated woman, yet who opposed the Equal Rights Amendment. She was inherently shy, yet she constantly pressed herself upon the public consciousness with her ubiquitous speeches, press conferences, and publications. She was accused by her conservative detractors of being a busybody do-gooder who loved the whole world, yet even to her loved ones Eleanor seemed unable to express emotions spontaneously. “Mother was always stiff, never relaxed enough to romp,” her daughter Anna recalled. “Mother loved all mankind, but she did not know how to let her children love her.”

Roosevelt scholars have explained the origins and persistence of these contradictory tendencies in basically three ways. One explanation is primarily political and generational, and seeks to explain why Eleanor was so slow to support such major female reform issues as suffrage, peace, child-labor laws, and the ERA. It accounts for Eleanor’s extraordinary career as a transitional bridge, linking the elite social reformers of the Progressive era to the modern equalitarian feminists through acts of individual achievement, while aggressive and collective feminism, which had won the suffrage, lay dormant for 40 years. A Victorian child of the late 19th century, Eleanor grew up with her agrarian party in the maturing 20th-century urban nation hence her ideological time lags were but growing pains, paralleling the Democratic transition from Jeffersonian states rights to the nationalist reforms of the New Deal. Her steadfast opposition to the ERA embarrassed modern feminists, but the protective legislation that it threatened understandably represented the liberal triumph of her generation.

A second explanation is structural. It accounts for the differing social functions and degrees of freedom permitted to a woman whose place had been defined in general by America’s inherited patriarchal values, and specifically by her famous uncle and husband, from whom her escalating status was derived. In this stepwise transition, Eleanor became first the First Lady of New York, then of the White House and the nation, later of the United Nations, and ultimately of world humanitarianism in general. The “office” of First Lady was itself a paradox, requiring of serious and purposeful occupants a petticoat pretense to the contrary. Empowered vicariously by FDR, Eleanor ultimately found in widowhood her greatest freedom and fulfillment. She lacked the freedom of an Alice Paul, but the many restrictions of her ascribed status were balanced by its unique visibility as a bully pulpit.

A third explanation for Eleanor’s contradictions has necessarily been psychological. Yet unlike most such explanations, where psychohistorians and their detractors have clashed over what deeper and (usually) darker impulses drove a Jefferson or Lincoln or Wilson, the psychological assessment of Eleanor Roosevelt has been strikingly consensual. Eleanor was a first-born female followed by favored sons in Victorian America’s male-dominated society. In her Autobiography (1961), she recalled herself as a “shy, solemn child even at the age of two, and I am sure that even when I danced I never smiled.” Moreover, from the earliest age she felt profound emotional rejection because she was “without beauty. I seemed like a little old woman entirely lacking in the spontaneous joy and mirth of youth.” Her mother, Anna Hall Roosevelt, whom Eleanor called “one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen,” even called her plain little daughter “Granny,” and Eleanor “wanted to sink through the floor in shame.” Joseph Alsop recalled that once, when his mother was having tea with Anna, who was her cousin, Anna turned to her little daughter and matter-of-factly remarked: “Eleanor, I hardly know what’s to happen to you. You’re so plain that you really have nothing to do except be good.” From the palpable bond of regal mother and preferred sons, homely little Eleanor felt emotionally excluded by a “curious barrier between myself and these three.” “I felt I was apart from the boys,” she said, and “something locked me up.”

Modern feminist scholarship has of course had much to say about the implicit centrality of women’s subordination in these political, social, and psychological explanations. Feminist reassessments of Eleanor’s role tend to emphasize the liberating role of her extensive network of close female friends, in whose special feminist nurture Eleanor’s wounded independence was reinforced. But the psychological consensus rests on Eleanor’s formative years, especially on the unusual influence of the women who governed the child’s life. Eleanor’s own autobiographical accounts and the reconstructions of her biographers have emphasized her rejection by a series of exceptionally beautiful, cold, and dominant women. In sharp contrast, these same sources celebrated the intense bond of love between little Eleanor and her warm and gentle father, who alone seemed to build her battered self-esteem.

First among the hard women was Anna Roosevelt, Eleanor’s critical and demanding mother who was often subject to headaches and depressions, and who so clearly seemed to prefer the company of her two sons. In FDR: A Centenary Remembrance (1982), Joseph Alsop recalls Anna Roosevelt unflatteringly as “a rigidly conventional woman who somehow combined religious devotion and intense worldliness,” but whose most ostensible characteristic was her stunning beauty and its accompanying vanity. Anna’s brother-in-law, Theodore Roosevelt, despised her frivolity, which “had eaten into her character like a cancer.” But Anna suddenly died of diphtheria when Eleanor was only eight years old, and Eleanor and her baby brothers were abruptly shipped off to her “stern grandmother,” Mary Livingston Ludlow Hall, who was “extremely severe toward her daughter’s brood.” As the beautiful daughter of a Livingston and the widow of Valentine Hall, Eleanor’s “incompetent” grandmother “distractedly” presided over a feckless household in which her six strikingly beautiful children were spoiled. But the poor orphaned grandchildren felt the nay-saying brunt of their dour grandmother, who according to Alsop’s mother possessed “the greatest knack for making her surroundings gloomy of all the women in New York.” In the austere Victorian atmosphere of upper class society in New York and Oyster Bay, Eleanor was “surrounded by carefree selfish aunts,” and subjected to the “stern supervision” of “impatient maids and strict governesses.” Finally, there was Eleanor’s marriage at the age of 19 to her distant cousin Franklin, and with it a prolonged thralldom as daughter-in-law to the domineering and disapproving Sara Delano Roosevelt. Lacking self-confidence and a natural maternal touch, Eleanor yielded her children’s nursery to English governesses. Franklin’s strong willed and elegant mother in effect expropriated Eleanor’s children, referring to them as “my children,” and explaining to them that “your mother only bore you.”

Lonely, insecure, and rejected as a female ugly duckling, little Eleanor’s sole vital source of reassurance and affection was her beloved father, Elliott: “He dominated my life as long as he lived, and was the love of my life for many years after he died.” Theodore’s younger brother, Elliott, was remembered by Eleanor as “charming, good-looking, loved by all who came in contact with him, high or low.” Whereas her mother Anna loved high society, Eleanor recalled, her father “had a background and upbringing which were alien to my mother’s pattern.” Unlike status-conscious Anna, Elliott possessed the common touch. He seemed equally at home with his fellow polo players and huntsmen, the crippled children in the Orthopaedic Hospital, the street urchins in the Newsboys’ Lodging House. Unlike Theodore, whose combativeness could be tinged with bombast and a certain self-righteous priggishness, Elliott generated an infectious warmth. Frequently described as “lovable,” like his father, Robert Roosevelt, Elliott as a young man was known for his generosity and humor—and for his glamor, among the young ladies. His mother and his sister adored him, and his letters reflect a wellspring of gentleness that sustained the affection in which he was so widely held. Elliott married Anna after a brief and formal courtship. Their firstborn child, Eleanor, bonded profoundly with her father, and he called Eleanor his “gay Little Nell.” “He also gave her the ideals that she tried to live up to all her life,” her biographer Joseph Lash believed, “by presenting her with the picture of what he wanted her to be—noble, brave, studious, religious, loving, and good.”

Thus Eleanor’s childhood memories and the reconstructions of biographers and historians have pictured a child’s world that was physically and psychologically dominated by beautiful women who were stern, cold, austere, even cruel. This severe environment was relieved only by the adoring and adored Elliott, who was the love of young Eleanor’s life—and so remained, singular and forever, after her shattering discovery in 1918 of her husband Franklin’s affair with her social secretary, Lucy Mercer. Franklin’s infidelity is one of only two major, male-centered blots on a record of childhood and young adulthood that otherwise is dominated by almost unrelieved matriarchal oppression. But the other has largely remained a closet phenomenon, because it involved the indisputable alcoholism of her beloved and shining father, Elliott.

Much has been made of the crushing impact of Franklin’s self-indulgent love affair, of how it confirmed Eleanor’s profound sense of inadequacy as wife and mother, and how she subsequently sublimated her emotional needs by seeking personal fulfillment through social and political action in the public arena. Recent biographers of the Roosevelts have been generally aware of Elliott’s closet alcoholism. In Eleanor and Franklin (1971), for instance, Lash described Elliott’s disastrous self-destruction in brief but brutal detail. David McCulloch was even more explicit in Mornings on Horseback (1981), and both Edmund Morris, in The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (1979), and Geoffrey Ward, in Before the Trumpet (1985), devoted an entire chapter to Elliott and his tragic demise. These recent reassessments have treated Eleanor’s damaging childhood with becoming sensitivity. But few biographers have felt impelled or perhaps qualified to draw major clinical conclusions from Elliott’s severe drinking problem. The Roosevelt literature most typically draws a common-sensical surmise that Eleanor’s encounter with her father’s shadow weakness endowed her with a special sensitivity to grief and suffering. This painful but character-building experience was said to have strengthened her resolve to exercise personal responsibility and to avoid the tragic deterioration she had witnessed from weakness, self-pity, and self-indulgence. Alsop even speculated that “the beauty of Eleanor Roosevelt’s mother must have been harder on her than her father’s alcoholism,” and that the oppressive period under her grandmother Hall may have been “far worse.”

Yet consider Eleanor’s own mature recollections of the extraordinary intensity of this father-daughter bond. She not only cherished every joyous moment with him but was also truly “desperate to please him.” She remembered with painful vividness those instances where her lack of physical courage had failed and thereby disappointed and even angered him, as once on a donkey ride, and again in a shipboard accident at sea—something a strong son would surely never have done. Even when Elliott’s drinking bouts were causing a great deal of family anxiety, as when his second son (and third child), her brother Hall, was born and Elliott returned from one of his periodic seclusions in a sanitarium, Eleanor remembered that “he was the only person who did not treat me as a criminal!” When her mother died so suddenly in 1892, Eleanor recalled with astonishing candor that “death meant nothing to me, and one fact wiped out everything else. My father was back and I would see him soon.” She and Elliott formed a “secret pact,” wherein father and daughter would be left alone forever “to live in a dream-world in which I was the heroine and my father was the hero. . . . Into this world I withdrew.”

Withdrawal was required, because Anna had decreed, with Theodore’s insistence, that upon her death, the children were to be raised by their grim maternal grandmother, Mrs. Valentine Hall, and Elliott was to be exiled. Eleanor realized “what a tragedy of utter defeat this meant for him. . . . He had no wife, no children, no hope.” Two years later Elliott himself was dead, and little Eleanor, ten years old and orphaned, had seemingly no hope also: “Attention and admiration were the things through all my childhood which I wanted, because I was made to feel so conscious of the fact that nothing about me would attract attention or would bring me admiration.” But Eleanor admonished her mother even in her grave for responding to her father’s drinking less with love than with high-minded strength.

But what was Elliott really like? Clearly he was, by all contemporary accounts, uncommonly blessed with wealth and station, warmth and charm, dashing good looks, and sporting bonhommie. But something was wrong. Inexplicable symptoms of troubled behavior occasionally surfaced from an early age, and although they were variously dismissed or explained away in Elliott’s youth, especially by devoted family and friends, their clarity today derives from a modern retrospective. As a boy, Elliott was said to suffer from periodic “rushes of blood to the head.” As a young man hunting tigers in India, he was seized by a “fever” of exotic origin and recurring treachery. A splendid athlete, Elliott was curiously accident-prone, and his excessive falls from horseback were eventually attributed by family and friends vaguely to “semi-epileptic seizures.” Eleanor herself shared a belief that some sort of tumor in the brain may have helped explain her father’s strange inner weakness. His increasingly disturbed behavior included, beyond physical symptoms, recurrent bouts of depression, and a generalized inability to hold steadfast to his goals or fulfill his plans. Elliott dropped out of St. Paul’s, never attended college, couldn’t seem to write his promised book on big-game hunting, failed to sustain his business enterprises.

Increasingly, as Elliott persisted in his lively but unfocused bachelorhood through his early twenties, his drinking drew troubled commentary. A closet malady, it was explained as an apparent consequence of his epilepsy or tumor or whatever (Elliott was given to invoking “my old Indian trouble”). In hindsight, the severity of his affliction became clearer to his contemporaries, especially in response to the embarrassment and shame it was to visit upon the Roosevelt gentry. As Edith Carow Roosevelt later recalled: “He drank like a fish and ran after the ladies. I mean ladies not in his own rank, which was much worse.” In her biography of Theodore’s wife, Edith Kermit Roosevelt (1980), Sylvia Jakes Morris describes how Theodore and Edith “dreaded having him to dinner, and saw as little of him as possible.” They deplored the “racy Long Island circles in which he and his society-loving wife moved,” and despaired that the “utterly frivolous” Anna would ever act as a stabilizing influence.

Initially, Elliott’s story-book marriage to the lovely Anna gave promise of deliverance from prolonged youthful follies to a new and sober maturity. But it was not to be, for Elliott was dying from a fatal illness. We shall doubtless never know for certain whether there was any medical substance to the various notions about epilepsy or tumor or mysterious fever, although it is highly unlikely. Such more socially acceptable explanations have commonly been summoned, especially by the gentry, to avoid the dreaded stigma of drunkenness. But the essential malady was clear: Elliott was a chronic alcoholic. Early in his marriage he renewed his reckless sprees with his hunting and polo friends. He grew increasingly nervous and moody, spinning downward, through Eleanor’s childhood, toward the acute stage that was to end disastrously, as was the nature of his devastating and incurable disease, in mental disintegration and death. In 1888 he fell from a trapeze during amateur theatricals. His broken ankle was misdiagnosed, requiring it to be rebroken and reset, and generating an agony that added the commonly available narcotics laudanum and morphine to his alcoholic addiction. He became increasingly hostile and depressed, given over to drunken rages, and by 1890 was in a state of collapse that included even threats of suicide.

On the family’s desperate trip to Europe in 1890, Elliott began with a solemn oath of abstinence. But soon he succumbed to violent binge behavior. This led to a bizarre series of events, which Theodore called his “nightmare of horror.” It included Elliott’s commitment to a sanitorium in Vienna a mad-dash escape spree to Paris, where Elliott took up with an American mistress the panic of newly pregnant Anna, who rushed home with the children to sue for divorce on grounds of insanity the violently drunken Elliott’s internment in a secure Paris “asylum” and, to cap off a drama more fit for pulp fiction, the blackmail threat of a paternity suit by a pregnant servant girl in New York, Katy Mann. To the enraged Theodore, his brother’s spectacularly immoral behavior constituted an “offense against order, decency, and civilization” and a desecration of the “holy marriage-bed” by his “flagrant man-swine” brother, Elliott, who had thereby forfeited all family place.

Abandoned in the Paris asylum, the disintegrating Elliott alternated between periods of guilt-ridden penitence with solemn pledges of reform to Anna, and violent raging that she had betrayed and “kidnapped” him. When the divorce suit caused a press sensation over the public humiliation of the prominent Roosevelts, Theodore sued for a Writ of Lunacy against his brother. He then fetched Elliott home from Paris a broken man, who in return for the quashing of the divorce and lunacy suits, forfeited most of his property and family rights, and agreed to submit to “Dr. Keely’s Bi-Chloride of Gold Cure.” This was an expensive, five-week treatment offered in Dwight, Illinois, and based on the body’s temporary, chemically-induced rejection of alcohol its effect was similar to the modern drug antabuse, in which the traumatic rejection quickly passes with the cessation of injections. The devastated Elliott also accepted exile to a family hide-away near Abingdon, Virginia. Alsop described the mountainous property on the Virginia-West Virginia border as a lumber tract “long used as a place to store family drunkards”—who were “numerous” among the extended Roosevelt clan.

Elliott strove heroically during his early stay in Virginia to live a respectable and abstinent life and to earn Anna’s forgiveness. As always, his vows soon collapsed before the power of his addiction. Then Anna’s sudden death from diphtheria in 1892 was followed shortly thereafter by the death from scarlet fever of their firstborn son, Ellie, and following these terrible blows Elliott slid into the protected nether world of a well-heeled alcoholic derelict. In devoted letters to Eleanor he promised to visit “Father’s Own Little Nell” frequently. But he did so irregularly, often forgetting his promises in blackouts, and once abandoning her for six hours with the doorman at New York’s Knickerbocker Club while he got drunk and passed out inside. By 1894 he was living in New York City under an assumed name with a mistress—”like some stricken, hunted creature,” Theodore said, who “can’t be helped,” and should be left alone to drink himself to death. When Elliott died from delirium tremens and a drunken fall in August 1894, little heartbroken Eleanor was not even taken to his funeral.

What are we to make of the extraordinary dissonance between this catastrophic plunge by Elliott the alcoholic, and Little Nell’s knightly vision of her adored father? Elliott Roosevelt was truly a pathetic figure who, despite his wealth and privilege, suffered like millions of his fellow alcoholics from an ancient disease that was publicly regarded not as a disease at all but rather as a shameful mark of moral degeneracy. He lived in a not so private hell and died a full generation before a nonmedical program of recovery was found that could successfully arrest this incurable disease. Since the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935, which was based on psychological and spiritual principles rather than on scientific knowledge, another generation of study and treatment has produced the beginnings of a modern scientific understanding that alcoholism in the chemically dependent individual appears to have biological origins as well as psychological predispositions, including probable genetic roots. The American Medical Association did not even recognize alcoholism as a disease until 1955.

By the 1960’s the clinical treatment of alcoholism had produced an awareness that the alcoholic’s family develops a parallel psychopathology of its own, which was referred to as co-alcoholism or co-dependency. Initial investigation of this phenomenon concentrated on the spouse of the alcoholic. But in the 1970’s a new body of clinical literature began to describe parallel patterns of breakdown throughout the alcoholic’s family, with special attention to the vulnerable children of alcoholics. Recent clinical research has concentrated on these children, even through their adulthood, when the proximate cause of their dysfunction had often been long removed. The clinical and social implications and treatment of this phenomenon are explored in such clinically-based books as Janet G. Woititz, Marriage on the Rocks (1979), Toby R. Drews, Getting them Sober (1980), Sharon Wegscheider, Another Chance: Hope and Health for the Alcoholic Family (1981), and Woititz, Adult Children of Alcoholics (1983).

So within the past generation treatment and research in alcoholism as a biophysical disease has greatly diminished the causal role of psychological factors in creating chemical dependency. But at the same time this experience has produced a clinical understanding that alcoholism is essentially a family disease in its social context. This in turn has enhanced the role of psychological factors in conditioning the co-dependent behavior of family members in general, and in particular it has revealed unanticipated patterns of thought and behavior in the adult children of alcoholics that often persist with astonishing and crippling tenacity. In Eleanor Roosevelt’s case, Elliott was the immediate alcoholic (somewhat removed were Eleanor’s uncles, Edward and Valentine Hall, whose addiction and behavior paralleled Elliott’s, and of whom Alsop reports: “both these handsome men became drunkards at an early age”). Elliott’s disastrous decline fits the classic pathological pattern with cruel fidelity. But what about its impact on Elliott’s spouse and children—specifically upon Anna and Eleanor?

In recent years the accumulation of thousands of case histories of alcoholic families in clinical records has produced a taxonomy of family roles or models of distorted adjustment that were defined by the controlling behavior of the alcoholic parent. His role (in Elliott’s case, the father’s— although alcoholism appears to be a sex-neutral disease) centers on denying his alcoholism, both to himself and to others. This leads to a familiar pattern of hiding, lying, morning drinking, blackouts, and generally deteriorating physical symptoms that typically trace a fever chart that plunges pathologically downward. But the concept of alcoholism as psychologically a family disease means that the lives of all family members are fundamentally distorted by the behavior of the chemically dependent parent. The first secondary victim is the spouse, who paradoxically functions, in the taxonomy of co-alcoholic roles, as the Enabler.

The Enabler is chief of the supporting cast, shielding the alcoholic spouse from the consequences of his irresponsible and antisocial behavior. Her role (the spousal role of wife predominated in the early case studies, but the Enabler is no more inherently female than the alcoholic is male) is paradoxical because her instinctive protection helps prolong the agony of mutual family destruction. She pinch-hits for her alcoholic spouse, hides his mistakes, alibis and lies for him, even to herself. As a result she pays an enormous price, the least but most obvious being embarrassment and shame in facing family, friends, creditors, and the larger community. As the alcoholic increasingly relieves his own pain by projecting his guilt and self-hatred onto her, she becomes exhausted and filled with self-doubt. To endure these painful attacks from within, she does exactly what her alcoholic spouse has done—she turns off her feelings. She turns them off, that is, except for the swelling and corrosive anger, which she alternately bottles up and heaps back on him.

We can recognize these symptoms in the miserable Anna Roosevelt, whose extreme stress made her nagging, severe, cold—Eleanor’s “critical, demanding mother who was often subject to depressions and headaches.” The accelerating stress of living with an alcoholic spouse often wreaks havoc with the Enabler’s health, leaving her exhausted and physically vulnerable. In Wegscheider’s description of this dangerous but familiar syndrome in Another Chance, the Enabler “experiences one or several of the familiar stress-related conditions—digestive problems, ulcers, colitis headaches and backache high blood pressure and possible heart episodes nervousness, irritability, depression.” By 1892, when Anna was only 29, her headaches and backaches were so severe that eight-year-old Eleanor slept in her room and would spend hours stroking her mother’s head. By the end of the year the exhausted Anna had succumbed to diphtheria and died.

Within two years of Anna’s untimely death, both the alcoholic father and his first-born son were dead. Eleanor’s baby brother, Ellie, died of scarlet fever complicated by diphtheria, and her youngest and surviving brother, Hall, inherited both his father’s personal gifts and his curse as well. A charming lad of great promise, Hall slowly drank himself to death, succumbing at last to a failed liver in 1941. Eleanor herself was so emotionally close to her father that she was especially vulnerable to the family pain, which according to the clinical literature has tended to drive the children of alcoholics to adopt one or more of four basic roles in response to the family disruption and anguish. All of the roles serve an immediate need to adjust to an abnormally stressful situation, but all thereby exact a long-run price by distorting personality and behavior. One common role is the Mascot, who is driven by fear of rejection into acting the clown, thereby gaining attention by providing amusement, but paying the price of arrested maturity. A second is that of Scapegoat, the wild child who reacts to the pain and guilt with delinquent behavior, thereby gaining negative attention, but at a price of self-destructive behavior. But both roles were alien to the inner nature of quiet little Eleanor, who sought so hard to be a good girl. Instead, Eleanor appeared to have followed two other common yet ostensibly contradictory roles.

The first was that of the Lost Child, escaping into solitude, lonely and shy. Eleanor made her secret, sacred pact with her father, and into that dream world she withdrew. But the other and later role, which marked her transition to womanhood, and flowered slowly as she overcame her awkward shyness, was that of Hero. In the clinical literature, the Hero is driven by feelings of guilt to become a compulsive overachiever. Such achievements would provide Eleanor with the attention and admiration that she felt she had lacked all through her childhood. But the Hero, like the other distorted role-playing models, pays a high inner price. The ultimate goal of her achievements is not to satisfy her own needs, but rather to make up for the massive deficit of self-worth that the alcoholic so dear to her and the alcoholic family around her has created. In this view, and especially in light of the profound bond between father and daughter, Eleanor’s primal deficit drove her to an extraordinary life of compulsive overachievement that could never succeed in paying off the debt and assuaging the guilt, and thereby allow her to acknowledge her own terribly damaged self-esteem, or her own deeply buried anger at her father for betraying her love and abandoning her.

Joseph Lash, who was Eleanor’s close friend as well as biographer, sensed the punishing measure of unrealistic expectations and inevitable frustrations that were fused into Eleanor’s heroic role-playing. Because she so idolized her father,

she would strive to be the noble, studious, brave, loyal girl he had wanted her to be. He had chosen her in a secret compact, and this sense of being chosen never left her. When he died she took upon herself the burden of his vindication. By her life she would justify her father’s faith in her, and by demonstrating strength of will and steadiness of purpose confute her mother’s charges of unworthiness against both of them.

to overestimate and misjudge people, especially those who seemed to need her and who satisfied her need for self-sacrifice and affection and gave her the admiration and loyalty she craved. Just as her response to being disappointed by her father had been silence and depression because she did not dare see him as he really was, so in later life she would become closed, withdrawn, and moody when people she cared about disappointed her.

Throughout her adult life Eleanor understandably demonstrated a powerful aversion to alcohol itself, the savage agent of so much of her heartbreak and misery. “Eleanor had not a single close male relation of her own generation or the preceding one,” Alsop asserts, “who did not end as a drunkard, with the sole exception of her President-uncle and her President-to-be-husband. No wonder she loathed the sight of any form of drink as long as she lived.” But at a deeper level, she also demonstrated to a high degree throughout her career so many of those traits and attributes that are clinically associated with the adult children of alcoholics. The inventory of symptoms includes difficulty with intimate relationships, tendencies toward both impulsiveness and being super responsible (or super irresponsible), extreme loyalty even in the face of evidence that the loyalty is undeserved, and a constant quest for approval and affirmation.

But cautions are in order. The chief caveat is against a crude reductionism that would appear to explain away Eleanor Roosevelt’s entire rich career, as if it were merely derivative of a darker, monocausal force, an acting out of a path foredoomed by her father. Eleanor Roosevelt was a strong woman of firm Victorian moral beliefs, who continued to grow throughout her amazing fourscore years. Unlike many children of alcoholics, Eleanor was not so crippled that her talents were buried and her life severely disrupted. Unlike many adult children of alcoholics, she did not tend to lie, or to have difficulty following a project through from beginning to end. Unlike many Heroic role-players, she did not burn out her health—indeed, she had a constitution of iron.

Eleanor’s compulsion to pursue her causes prompted Franklin Roosevelt’s immortal prayer: “O Lord, Make Eleanor tired.” But Eleanor would not, could not tire. Toward the later war years Franklin sought refuge from the relentless single-mindedness with which she pursued her causes. He sought instead the company of his daughter Anna and Lucy Mercer Rutherford, who provided him with what his son Elliott called “a woman’s warm, enspiriting companionship, which my mother by her very nature could not provide.” Eleanor’s inability to find emotional fulfillment in her marriage reinforced her long quest for special personal relationships with a series of quite different men (Louis Howe, John Boettinger, Earl Miller), but especially with women. The latter frequently came in pairs of “Boston marriages” (Esther Lape and Elizabeth Read, Nancy Cook and Marion Dickerman), but also singly, as with the extraordinary Marie Souvestre, the headmistress of Allenswood finishing school near London, and later with Rose Schneiderman, Molly Dewson, Lorena Hickok.

In 1980 Doris Faber published her controversial biography, The Life of Lorena Hickok: E.R.’s Friend, which explored the possible lesbian relationship between Hickok and Eleanor, and prompted Joseph Lash’s spirited denial in Love, Eleanor: Eleanor Roosevelt and Her Friends (1982). Hickok’s lesbianism seems clear enough. But the lesbian claims on Eleanor, beyond fond Platonic ties, are implausible. Historian William Chafe has concluded that “the preponderance of evidence suggests that Eleanor Roosevelt was unable to express her deep emotional needs in a sexual manner.” Such intimacy seemed beyond her inner reach, whoever the presumed partner. Eleanor eventually pulled back from the overpossessive Hickok, as she seems to have ultimately withheld herself in all of her close personal relationships. “I know you often have a feeling for me which for one reason or another I may not return in kind,” she wrote Hickok. “I am pulling back in all my contacts now. I have always done it with the children, and why I didn’t know I couldn’t give you (or anyone else who wanted or needed what you did) any real food, I can’t now understand.” Eleanor simply could not let herself go emotionally, whether with Hickok or Franklin or Earl Miller or even with her own children.

But what she could do, with an iron discipline and determined self-control, was to seek vicarious fulfillment through her public causes. During her early widowhood, her normal work routine consisted of approximately a half dozen full-time jobs hopelessly interrupted by constant travel. This included the UN Human Rights Commission, a tight schedule of lecture tours, a regular radio commentary with her daughter Anna and a television show under her son Elliott’s management, a daily column published in 75—90 newspapers, a monthly question-and-answer page in the Ladies Home Journal and later McCall’s, writing the second of three autobiographies, and attending to board meetings and assorted support and fund-raising appeals for the American Association for the United Nations, Brandeis University, Americans for Democratic Action, the United Jewish Appeal, the NAACP, the Citizens Committee for Children, and on and on. Eleanor’s children frequently upbraided their mother for her insistence that no meeting was too small and no worthy cause too obscure to merit her attention. She replied to their resentment with the lame if not fantastic explanation that she had to accept such invitations because “I need the publicity,” or “Because nobody else will go. It’s important they should know someone cares.” Lash found Eleanor fallen into her mood of deepest depression over her children’s frequent quarrels and divorces. Yet she never changed a life style that constantly took her away from them and led her to respond to countless invitations from groups weighty or marginal in an unending search to bolster a self-esteem that was so terribly damaged in childhood.

Eleanor’s hectic schedule and reputation for availability not surprisingly generated a deluge of correspondence, and it was her unbreakable rule not only that engagements must be kept, but also that letters must be answered—the latter often averaging from 50 to 100 a night. Small wonder that her avalanche of speeches and writings said little that was novel or original or of lasting value. For all her empathic instincts, Eleanor lacked a mind of exceptional or creative ability, and her grueling regimen guaranteed that her speeches and writings would rarely soar above the commonplace. Small wonder, also, that her critics, who often mainly despised her left-wing causes, accused her of cheapening the office of First Lady by constantly galavanting about the globe while her children were improperly raised, by writing articles for pay, making broadcasts, even appearing in paid commercials. “The First Lady presented an image,” Hareven conceded, “not of serene domesticity but of hectic travel, disorganized activities, and busybody occupations.”

In light of all the blows and disappointments that she suffered throughout her life, and also in light of her rather normal intellectual gifts, Eleanor Roosevelt’s achievements remained astonishing. While the devastating impact of her father’s alcoholism appears to have exacted a high and unfair price in damaging her self-worth and blocking her emotional release and private fulfillment, it seems also to have fueled a rare lifetime of top-speed striving for purposes that were both worthy of the effort and much in need of champions with prestige, energy, and a stout heart. Chief among Eleanor’s prescient understandings were her conviction that women were to be taken seriously and must play a serious role in public affairs, that America’s treatment of its black citizens was a moral abomination, and that guardianship of human rights was a global responsibility that transcended traditional nationalisms. That her astounding drive in this higher calling was heavily derived from the childhood pain of an alcoholic family is also testimony to her strength and capacity for growth and should not detract from the power of her symbolism to those whose causes she championed.

Painfully shy but publicly loquacious, loving mankind but with bottled-up emotions, moved by compassion yet impelled by an innocent childhood’s inheritance of guilt, this paradoxical woman drove through life in an endless quest. In the process she surmounted a tragic and crippling legacy with becoming strength for an enriching 78 years. Peace, to her restive spirit.

Eleanor Roosevelt Commemorates World Children's Day - HISTORY

Eleanor Roosevelt and Fala
by Unknown
  • Occupation: First Lady
  • Born: October 11, 1884 in New York City, New York
  • Died: November 7, 1962 in New York City, New York
  • Best known for: Being an active first lady who worked for human rights.

Where did Eleanor Roosevelt grow up?

Eleanor Roosevelt was born in New York City on October 11, 1884. Although she grew up in a fairly wealthy family, she had a tough childhood. Her mother died when she was eight and her father when she was only ten.

While her parents were alive, her mother treated her poorly, calling her "Granny" because she thought Eleanor was so serious and old-fashioned looking. Eleanor had few friends her age and was a quiet and frightened child. Her father was more encouraging, but wasn't around much. He would send her letters that she kept for the rest of her life.

When Eleanor turned fifteen her grandmother sent her boarding school near London, England. At first Eleanor was scared, however the headmistress took a special interest in her. By the time she graduated, Eleanor had gained confidence in herself. She had learned a lot about herself and life. She returned home a new person.

Upon her return to the United States, Eleanor began to date her distant cousin Franklin Roosevelt. He was a handsome young man attending Harvard University. They spent a lot of time together and Franklin fell in love with Eleanor. They were married on March 17, 1905. Eleanor's Uncle Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States, gave away the bride in the wedding.

Once married, the couple began to have children. They had six children including Anna, James, Franklin (who died young), Elliott, Franklin Jr., and John. Eleanor kept busy running the household and taking care of the children.

Franklin had become a famous politician. His goal was to become president. However, Franklin became very sick one summer with a disease called polio. He nearly died. Although Franklin lived, he would never walk again.

Despite his illness, Franklin decided to stay in politics. Eleanor was determined to help him in any way she could. She became involved in a number of organizations. She wanted to help poor people, black people, children, and women have better lives.

A New Kind of First Lady

Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated as President of the United States on March 4, 1933. Eleanor was now the First Lady. The job of the First Lady had always been to host parties and entertain foreign dignitaries and political leaders. Eleanor decided she could do more than this.

At the start of Franklin's presidency, America was in the middle of the Great Depression. People around the country were struggling to find jobs and even to have enough to eat. Franklin created the New Deal to try and help poor people recover. Eleanor decided to travel around the country to see how people were doing. She traveled thousands and thousands of miles. She let her husband know where people needed help and where his programs were and weren't working.

When Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor, Franklin had no choice but to declare war and enter World War II. Eleanor didn't stand still or stay at home in safety. She went to work for the Red Cross. She traveled to Europe and the South Pacific to visit the sick and the wounded and to let the troops know how much they were appreciated.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt Flying
from the National Park Service

On April 12, 1945 Franklin died of a stroke. Eleanor was sad, but she wanted to continue their work. For seven years she represented the United States at the United Nations (UN), which was created in large part by her husband. While a member, she helped to write the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which described that people throughout the world should be treated fairly and had certain rights that no government should be able to take away.

Eleanor also wrote a number of books including This is My Story, This I Remember, On My Own, and an autobiography. She continued to fight for equal rights for black people and women. She served as chair for the Commission on the Status of Women for President Kennedy.

Eleanor died on November 7, 1962. She was buried next to her husband Franklin. After her death Time Magazine called her the "world's most admired and talked about woman".

The Children of FDR

Franklin Delano Roosevelt had six children with his wife, Eleanor, although the first FDR Jr., born in 1909, also died that year. A second FDR Jr. would eventually be christened in 1914. Thus five of his children survived into adulthood, all of whom lived to advanced ages during a tumultuous century.

His firstborn, a daughter named Anna, emerged into the world only 14 months after her parents' marriage. During two marriages, first to a stockbroker and then to a newspaper editor, she was active in both writing and editing. As Eleanor Roosevelt began to take a more active interest in social causes, FDR invited Anna to move into the White House and serve as the official hostess. Thus Anna was preset at the Yalta Conference and for many of the major political functions during WWII. Eventually she and her third husband became active in labor relations, the Kennedy Administration, and various other political and public relations enterprises. She died in 1975 of throat cancer at the age of 69.

FDR welcomed his first son into the world a year after Anna. After attending Harvard and the Boston School of Law, James Roosevelt campaigned for his father's 1932 election. His business in insurance became so successful that he dropped out of law school and began working full-time for his father's administration in 1937, first as Presidential Secretary. He became a commissioned Lieutenant Colonel in the Marine Corps, serving first as an attache to British forces before requesting an active duty post. He served with the controversially forward-thinking Marine Raiders and earned the Silver Star, eventually retiring as a Brigadier General in 1959. He also went to Hollywood, then served as a US Representative from California between 1955-65, during which time he actively spoke against Joseph McCarthy. He eventually published several memoirs, married four times, and fathered seven children. He died at age 83 in 1991 of Parkinson's, the last of FDR's children.

Elliott Roosevelt was born in 1910, eventually following in his older brother's footsteps by becoming an active member of the Armed Forces during WWII. He enlisted in the US Army Air Corps, the forerunner to the Air Force, and served as a pilot and commander. After flying over 300 combat missions, he retired a brigadier general upon the war's conclusion. He never achieved the same level of success in civilian life. He raised horses in Portugal, worked on a ranch in Texas, and lived on the property Eleanor bought on his behalf. He died in 1990 at age 80, after having been married five times. He fathered five children and adopted four.

FDR's third surviving son, name FDR Jr., contracted a serious strep infection in 1936 that was successfully treated with new sulfonamide antibiotics. Because of his father's fame, FDR Jr.'s recovery and the press that followed ushered in a new era of antibiotic acceptance among the US public, which greatly aided in wartime medicine. He eventually married five times and fathered five children, with his primary life's work revolving around politics and the law. He also imported cattle and Fiats, until his death in 1988 of throat cancer on his 74th birthday.

The last child born to FDR and Eleanor was John Aspinwall Roosevelt. He served in the US Navy as a lieutenant and received the Bronze Star. After marrying a woman whose father was staunchly Republican, John "defected" to the Republican Party, which caused considerable friction in his solidly Democratic family. That tension only increased as he actively campaigned for the likes of Eisenhower and Nixon. Despite his active interest in politics, he was the only of his brothers who never campaigned for public office. He retired as vice president of an investment firm in 1980, before heading up various charity organizations. He married only twice and fathered four children before his death in 1981 at age 65.

What I find most fascinating about the Roosevelt children is the participation in armed service. Can you imagine the children of any modern-era president serving on the front lines of a major conflict, or even being allowed to do so? Amazing, really!

SONG OF SEDUCTION's sequel from Carina Press, PORTRAIT OF SEDUCTION, is now available! Later this year watch for Carrie's new Victorian series from Pocket, as well as her "Dark Age Dawning" romance trilogy from Berkley, co-written with Ann Aguirre under the name Ellen Connor. "Historical romance needs more risk-takers like Lofty."

Civil Rights

In 1945, she had joined the NAACP, increasing her involvement in the civil rights movement. Eleanor hated violence and especially detested lynching. She worked with Thurgood Marshall and helped with housing and community planning for African Americans. “Black Americans appreciated Eleanor Roosevelt’s unflinching connection of housing rights to civil rights” (Black 104). She also supported the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and fought against the discrimination and segregation of public schools. When she visited the segregated First Methodist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, she refused to sit on either the white or black side and had her chair placed in the center aisle between two sides. Throughout the 1950s, Eleanor Roosevelt was interviewed frequently on radio and television, and she used such programs to promote different causes. Eleanor continued to work for the Democratic Party, and emphasized that civil rights and civil liberties were the most important aspects of democracy. As she became older, she became even more liberal in her outlook. Some of her critics even accused her of being responsible for black riots.

Eleanor and JFKThe FBI had a file on her of over 4,000 pages which contained her letters and her work, including her controversial opinions against racism and lynching. During the “Red Scare” about Communism in America throughout the 1950’s, Eleanor was caught in the middle. She defended the students accused of being Communists because she saw them as idealists, and she stressed their right to freedom of speech. Although she was anti-Communist, she strongly disagreed with Senator Joseph McCarthy’s tactics of accusing people, especially students, of being un-American if they supported liberal causes. To win the 1960 Democratic nomination, Senator John F. Kennedy knew that he needed to gain Eleanor’s support. The Democratic Party was split on the issue of civil rights. Eleanor wanted Adlai Stevenson to win the Democratic nomination that year, but Kennedy was nominated instead. Kennedy had to go to Val-Kill to gain Eleanor’s support, because he wanted to win the votes of African Americans. After he was elected President, Eleanor was disappointed that Kennedy’s administration was not initially supportive of civil rights in general and the Freedom Riders in particular – causes which were very important to her. She was, on the other hand, delighted with the creation of the Peace Corps under Kennedy’s influence and became an enthusiastic supporter of the agency. President Kennedy appointed her to the Peace Corps Advisory Board and to the chairmanship of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women.

Throughout her life, Eleanor fought for issues that she felt were necessary to address, like racial equality and worldwide Eleanorhuman rights. She served on the Board of the NAACP and “labeled racial prejudice undemocratic and immoral” (Black, 37). After World War II, Eleanor focused on racial discrimination, not just in the U.S., but internationally as well. By fighting for worldwide human rights, Eleanor became known as the “First Lady of the World.” She continued “discussing their problems in her speeches, columns, and articles,” and fought for human rights both nationally and abroad (Black 94). Ever since she was young, she had believed that everyone has the right to speak his or her mind, and in her last book, Tomorrow is Now, she stressed the necessity of individual action. By emphasizing the fact that one should not do just what everyone else is doing, she wrote, “we have to learn to think freshly about our new revolutionary world, to free our intelligence from the shackles of fear, and set it to work on the most challenging problem we have ever faced: the preservation of civilization” (Roosevelt, Tomorrow is Now, 26). Along with emphasizing the ideas that the state is supposed to serve the people and the citizens are supposed to be informed, she expressed the importance of having respect for other nations and other people.

She remained intensely involved with the United Nations because she saw the organization as a “reflection of the whole world,” which was very important to her (Roosevelt, Tomorrow is Now, 113). Eleanor Roosevelt died on November 7, 1962 at the age of 78. When remembering their mother, her children stated, “we were the most important thing in her life in our opinion-- and that’s the way she made everybody throughout the world feel” (Flemion and O’Connor, 44).

Eleanor Roosevelt Commemorates World Children's Day - HISTORY

As the chair of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, Eleanor Roosevelt was the driving force in creating the 1948 charter of liberties which will always be her legacy: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Born in New York City, Eleanor married rising politician Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1905 and became fully immersed in public service. By the time they arrived in the White House in 1933 as President and First Lady, she was already deeply involved in human rights and social justice issues. Continuing her work on behalf of all people, she advocated equal rights for women, African-Americans and Depression-era workers, bringing inspiration and attention to their causes. Courageously outspoken, she publicly supported Marian Anderson when in 1939 the black singer was denied the use of Washington’s Constitution Hall because of her race. Roosevelt saw to it that Anderson performed instead on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, creating an enduring and inspiring image of personal courage and human rights.

In 1946, Roosevelt was appointed as a delegate to the United Nations by President Harry Truman, who had succeeded to the White House after the death of Franklin Roosevelt in 1945. As head of the Human Rights Commission, she was instrumental in formulating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which she submitted to the United Nations General Assembly with these words:

“We stand today at the threshold of a great event both in the life of the United Nations and in the life of mankind. This declaration may well become the international Magna Carta for all men everywhere.”

Called “First Lady of the World” by President Truman for her lifelong humanitarian achievements, Roosevelt worked to the end of her life to gain acceptance and implementation of the rights set forth in the Declaration. The legacy of her words and her work appears in the constitutions of scores of nations and in an evolving body of international law that now protects the rights of men and women across the world.

“Do what you feel in your heart to be right—for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.” —Eleanor Roosevelt

This Week in Roosevelt History: March 15-21

March 15, 2010 in This Week in Roosevelt History | Tags: ER, FDR | by fdrlibrary | Comments closed

March 17, 1905: FDR and ER are married in New York City by President Theodore Roosevelt.

Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt at “Algonac” in Newburgh, NY.
May 7, 1905
FDR Library Photo Collection. NPx 63-536.

Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt pictured shortly after their marriage in March 1905.
March 1905
FDR Library Photo Collection. NPx 62-41.

The First Lady

Upon moving to the White House in 1933, Eleanor Roosevelt informed the nation that they should not expect their new first lady to be a symbol of elegance, but rather "plain, ordinary Mrs. Roosevelt." Despite this disclaimer, she showed herself to be an extraordinary First Lady.

In 1933, Mrs. Roosevelt became the first, First Lady to hold her own press conference. In an attempt to afford equal time to women--who were traditionally barred from presidential press conferences--she allowed only female reporters to attend. In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused to allow Marion Anderson, an African American singer, to perform in their auditorium. In protest, Mrs. Roosevelt resigned her membership in the DAR.

Throughout Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency, Eleanor traveled extensively around the nation, visiting relief projects, surveying working and living conditions, and then reporting her observations to the President. She was called "the President's eyes, ears and legs" and provided objective information to her husband. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States entered WWII, Mrs. Roosevelt made certain that the President did not abandon the goals he had put forth in the New Deal. She also exercised her own political and social influence

She became an advocate of the rights and needs of the poor, of minorities, and of the disadvantaged. The public was drawn in by the First Lady's exploits and adventures which she recounted in her daily syndicated column, "My Day". She began writing the column in 1935 and continued until her death in 1962.

During the war, she served as Assistant Director of Civilian Defense from 1941 to 1942 and she visited England and the South Pacific to foster good will among the Allies and to boost the morale of U.S. servicemen overseas.

Web Content Display Web Content Display

When was Eleanor Roosevelt born?
Eleanor Roosevelt was born October 11, 1884 in New York City.

Who were Eleanor's parents?
Eleanor's parents were Elliott and Anna Hall Roosevelt. Elliott was the younger brother of Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt, the twenty-sixth President of the United States. Anna Hall was descended from the Livingston family. The Livingstons, an old Hudson River family, played an important role in the formation of the new republic: one Livingston administered the oath of office to George Washington, another signed the Declaration of Independence, still another became a Supreme Court justice.

Was Eleanor an only child?
No. Eleanor had two brothers Elliott Roosevelt (1889-1893) and Gracie Hall Roosevelt (1891-1941), who was known as Hall. A few months after their mother's death in 1892 both boys contracted scarlet fever. Hall recovered, but Elliott did not.

When did Eleanor's parents die?
Eleanor's mother died of diphtheria following an operation on December 7, 1892, when Eleanor was eight years old. Her father died on August 14, 1894, less than two years later when Eleanor was not quite ten years old.

Where did Eleanor go to school?
After her mother's death, Eleanor went to live with her grandmother, Mrs. Valentine G. Hall, in Tivoli, New York. She was educated by private tutors until the age of 15, when she traveled to England to attend Allenswood, a preparatory school for girls run by a progressive headmistress, Marie Souvestre. Eleanor was very studious but also very popular at Allenswood and many believe that she gained much self-confidence during her time there. She later wrote that Marie Souvestre was an important role model and perhaps one of the most influential people in Eleanor's life.

What sport did Eleanor participate in at Allenswood?
Eleanor played varsity field hockey.

Did Eleanor go to college?
No, but Allenswood provided a serious collegiate environment with high scholastic standards.

What did Eleanor do after her coming out party?
After her debut into New York society, Eleanor found herself caught in a whirl of debutante parties, an ordeal she later termed "utter agony." The following year Eleanor turned to other acceptable activities for young socialites, joining the Junior League and teaching calisthenics and dancing to the children at the Rivington Street Settlement House in New York City's Lower East Side. She also became a member of the Consumers League, participating in the investigation of sweatshops in the city.

Could Eleanor dance?
Eleanor was an excellent dancer. The Eleanor Roosevelt Reel was named in her honor.

What people influenced Eleanor's life?
In a 1951 Look Magazine article, Eleanor Roosevelt listed seven people who, in her estimation, shaped her life. The first two were her father and mother: her father provided her love and reassurance, and her mother gave her the unattainable goal of perfection. Madame Marie Souvestre, headmistress and a teacher at Allenswood School, gave her a sense of confidence, and her Aunt Pussie (Mrs. W. Forbes Morgan) taught her discipline.

But, she said, it was the personalities of her husband and her mother-in-law that exerted the greatest influence on her development. It was their influence that made her "develop willy-nilly into an individual." Lastly, Louis Howe, her husband's political advisor, pushed her into taking an interest in politics.

Did Eleanor want FDR to be President?
In her autobiography This I Remember, Eleanor wrote: "From a personal standpoint, I did not want my husband to be president. I realized, however, that it was impossible to keep a man out of public service when that was what he wanted and was undoubtedly well equipped for. It was pure selfishness on my part, and I never mentioned my feelings on the subject to him."

Did Eleanor ever run for President?
No. President Truman indicated that she would be acceptable to him as a vice-presidential candidate, but Eleanor made it clear that she did not wish to seek elective office.

What was the relationship between Sara Delano Roosevelt, FDR's mother, and Eleanor?
The relationship between Eleanor and her mother-in-law was a complex, changing one. At the time of her engagement, Eleanor was a shy, insecure girl looking for love and acceptance. Sara Roosevelt dominated her and Franklin's world and when Eleanor entered it, she dominated her as well. It was her husband's illness, Eleanor said, that made her stand on her own two feet in regard to her husband's life, her own life and the rearing of her children. Her mother-in-law was "a very vital person [whose] strongest trait was loyalty to her family," Eleanor wrote in her My Day column on Sara's death.

What role did Eleanor play in FDR's presidency?
According to The Eleanor Roosevelt Encyclopedia, Eleanor "exerted considerable influence on the New Deal. As First Lady, she served as both an advocate for, and a critic of, FDR's developing reform program. While she neither drafted legislation nor held elective office, she worked with other reformers outside and inside the administration to shape the contours of the New Deal."

Who was Lorena Hickok?
Lorena Hickok was a top newspaperwoman who was assigned to cover Eleanor Roosevelt for the Associated Press (AP) during FDR's first campaign in 1932. She developed a deep attachment to Eleanor which compromised her objectivity and she resigned from the AP. It was "Hick" who suggested that the First Lady hold White House press conferences for women reporters only. She then went to work as the chief investigator of relief programs for Harry Hopkins, head of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. Her major duty was to travel around the country and report on the effectiveness of local relief administrations. She died in Hyde Park, New York in 1968.

What is "My Day"?
"My Day" was a syndicated column that Eleanor wrote six days a week from December 1935 until her death in 1962. The column was her public diary. She used it as a pedagogical device, a political tool, and a medium for communicating the liberal ethic to her readers.

Following is an excerpt from her column:

NEW YORK, OCTOBER 21, 1960 - As we watch the Presidential campaign unroll, I wonder how many have noticed one rather interesting change in the modern type of campaign. This was brought to my attention the other day when a young newspaper reporter said to me: "Do you really think that the decision as to a man's fitness for the office of President should depend, in part at least, on what kind of a President's wife his wife will be?"

I looked at her in surprise for a moment, because it had not dawned on me what changes had come about since Mr. Eisenhower's first campaign.

Apparently we have started on a new trend. I can't remember in my husband's campaign, nor in Mr. Truman's, that such a question could be asked. Some of the children or I would accompany my husband on the various campaign trips, and if we were around at railroad stops he would introduce us to the crowd in a rather casual manner. He often said "My little boy, Jimmy," when Jimmy was as tall as he was!

My husband insisted always that a man stood on his own record. He did not bring his family in to be responsible in getting him votes or in taking the blame for his decisions. I think he sometimes found it amusing to let me do things just so as to find out what the reaction of the public would be. But nothing we did was ever calculated and thought out as part of the campaign in the way we feel that Mr. Nixon plans every appearance with his wife.

There must be times when the whole situation becomes practically unbearable, I would think, for the woman of the family. And I hope that we will return to the old and rather pleasant way of looking upon White House families as people who have a right to their own lives.

The wives, of course, have certain official obligations, but they are certainly not responsible for their husband's policies. And they do not have to feel that sense of obligation at every point to uphold the ideas of the man of the family.

With so many people around a President who say "yes" to everything he says, it is fun sometimes for the family around him to say "no" just for the sake of devilment--but that should be a private family relaxation.

What did Eleanor do after FDR's death?
After Mrs. Roosevelt left the White House in 1945, her life was busier than ever. She continued to be an influential figure in the Democratic Party. President Truman appointed her a member of the first U.S. delegation to the United Nations in 1945 and she served as chairman of the Human Rights commission.

She gave public lectures and speeches, supported organized labor, and worked on behalf of a variety of causes, such as child welfare, displaced persons, minority rights, and women's rights. She continued to write books and her syndicated My Day column.

When did Eleanor Roosevelt die?
Eleanor died on November 7, 1962, in New York City from aplastic anemia, tuberculosis, and heart failure. She was 78 years old.

Eleanor Roosevelt

A shy, awkward child, starved for recognition and love, Eleanor Roosevelt grew into a woman with great sensitivity to the underprivileged of all creeds, races, and nations. Her constant work to improve their lot made her one of the most loved—and for some years one of the most reviled—women of her generation.

She was born in New York City on October 11, 1884, daughter of Anna Hall and Elliott Roosevelt, younger brother of Theodore. When her mother died in 1892, the children went to live with Grandmother Hall her adored father died only two years later. Attending a distinguished school in England gave her, at 15, her first chance to develop self-confidence among other girls.

Apprehensive at the thought of being a wallflower, she returned for a debut that she dreaded. In her circle of friends was a distant cousin, handsome young Franklin Delano Roosevelt. They became engaged in 1903 and were married in 1905, with her uncle the president giving the bride away. Within 11 years Eleanor bore six children one son died in infancy. “I suppose I was fitting pretty well into the pattern of a fairly conventional, quiet, young society matron,” she wrote later in her autobiography.

In Albany, where Franklin served in the state Senate from 1910 to 1913, Eleanor started her long career as political helpmate. She gained a knowledge of Washington and its ways while he served as assistant secretary of the navy. When he was stricken with poliomyelitis in 1921, she tended to him devotedly. She became active in the women’s division of the State Democratic Committee to keep his interest in politics alive. From his successful campaign for governor in 1928 to the day of his death, she dedicated her life to his purposes. She became his eyes and ears, a trusted and tireless reporter.

When Mrs. Roosevelt came to the White House in 1933, she understood social conditions better than any of her predecessors and she transformed the role of first lady accordingly. She never shirked official entertaining she greeted thousands with charming friendliness. She also broke precedent to hold press conferences, travel to all parts of the country, give lectures and radio broadcasts, and express her opinions candidly in a daily syndicated newspaper column, “My Day.”

This made her a tempting target for political enemies but her integrity, her graciousness, and her sincerity of purpose endeared her personally to many—from heads of state to servicemen she visited abroad during World War II. As she had written wistfully at 14: “no matter how plain a woman may be truth loyalty stamped upon her face all will be attracted to her.”

After the president’s death in 1945 she returned to a cottage at their Hyde Park estate she told reporters: “the story is over.” Within a year, however, she began her service as American spokesman in the United Nations. She continued a vigorous career until her strength began to wane in 1962. She died in New York City that November, and was buried at Hyde Park beside her husband on the grounds of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum.

Watch the video: Why 30 is not the new 20. Meg Jay


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