Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962), reformer and First Lady of the US from 1933 to 1945 as wife of US President Franklin D Roosevelt who was president from 1933 to his death in 1945
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Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born 11 Oct 1884 in "her maternal grandmother's mansion overlooking the Hudson River, about a hundred miles north of New York City". (Farber, p 20). Farber is no doubt here describing the village of Tivoli or more colorfully called "Tivoli-on-Hudson". Neither Eleanor herself in her own autobiography, nor her biographer Blanche Weisen Cook mentions specifically where she was born.
Eleanor was the daughter and eldest child of Elliott Roosevelt and his wife Anna Rebecca Livingston Ludlow Hall who had married in New York City on 1 Dec 1883. Elliott and Anna had another child Paul born in 1890. All was unwell however, for Elliott had a weakness for liquor and a precarious mental condition. Doris Faber describes his wife Anna as exhibiting a "chill religiosity", and that after several increasingly tense years "she all but banished him."
|Eleanor in her own autobiography states that they went to Italy where she remembers being with her father when they visited Vesuvius, and that for several months her mother settled in a house in "Neuilly, outside of Paris." A third child was on it's way, and Elliott was at this time, apparently temporarily in an asylum. In an 18 Aug 1891 New York Times article, Theodore Roosevelt, who would be elected President in 1900, petitioned the New York Supreme Court to have his brother Elliott declared insane and for a commission "...to legally pass upon his condition in order that a committee may be appointed to take charge of his person and estate....Three times he threatened to commit suicide." Elliott was then living in a private asylum in France.|
Upon their return from Europe, Anna and Eleanor lived with her widowed mother Mrs. Ludlow, for a short time. "We moved back to New York, the autumn that I was seven, to a house which my mother had bought and put in order on East 61st Street, two blocks from Auntie Bye..." (Autobiography, p. 8) She then however discusses incongruously and without explanation her life in the house on 37th street with her grandmother Ludlow and her mother's sisters. Her father although not then living there, was a frequent visitor.
Eleanor's mother Anna died on 8 Dec 1892, of a fever when Eleanor was eight "at her home 52 E 61st St", so reports her obituary in the New York Times published the next day. Elliott followed her to the grave two years later, his obituary in the New York Times dated 16 Aug 1894 describes his death from heart disease "at his home 313 West 102nd St". Probably from before her mother's death, Eleanor lived with both her mother and grandmother, but certainly afterward she was placed in the custody of grandmother Hall. Mrs Hall sent her for "finishing" to school in England in the Autumn of 1899. She boarded at Mlle. Souvestre's school "Allenswood," in South Fields near London. Upon her return for her "society debut" she met again Franklin Delano Roosevelt her distant cousin, then in school at Harvard University.
|Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born 30 Jan 1882 at Hyde Park, Dutchess County, New York, to James Roosevelt (1828-1900) and his wife Sara Delano (1854-1941). Many people assume that the Roosevelt's met because of their shared Roosevelt surname and it ties, but they were very distant Roosevelt fifth-cousins. They actually met because Sara Delano and Anna Roosevelt Elliott's sister were best friends from before Sara's marriage to Elliott. When Franklin was born, Elliott Roosevelt was his godfather. The families then remained close because of this friendship, which eventually resulted in Franklin and Eleanor knowing each other somewhat as they grew.|
Eleanor's uncle Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt became US President in 1901. When on 17 Mar 1905 Franklin Roosevelt married Eleanor Roosevelt, it's been reported that Teddy who was present at the wedding, got more attention than the married couple.
Franklin Roosevelt and Eleanor had six children:
- Anna Eleanor "Sis" Roosevelt (1906-1975) who married three times Curtis Bean Dall, John Boettiger, and Dr John Addison Halsted;
- James Roosevelt (b. 1907) who married twice Elizabeth Cushing and Romelle Schneider;
- a boy who was born in 1908 or 1909 and died "less than eight months old";
- Elliott "Bunny" Roosevelt (b. 1910) who married four times Elizabeth Donner, Ruth Googins, Faye Emerson and Minnewa Ross;
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr (b. 1914) who married twice Ethel Dupont and Suzanne Perrin;
- John Aspinwall Roosevelt (b. 1916) who married twice Anne Lindsay Clark and Irene Boyd McAlpin.
The three eldest children were all born in New York City. Eleanor and Franklin lived on East 36th Street in "Murray Hill" a neighborhood of Manhattan. Franklin was finishing up his law schooling and then started in the law trade. Franklin's Roosevelt relatives also had a summer place at Campobello, Maine and this is where their fourth child Franklin Jr was born.
About this time, Franklin made his political debut in the New York State Senate, and the family moved to Albany, the capital of New York. Shortly afterward, Franklin's support of US Presidential hopeful and then New Jersey governor Woodrow Wilson meant a rewarded Franklin was now Assistant Secretary of the Navy in the new Wilson administration, and the family moved again, this time to Washington DC.
About 1915, Eleanor discovered that Franklin had had an affair with her social secretary Lucy Mercer, and their own romatic relationship was said to have cooled or even ceased at that point. She offered him a divorce, but they did not. Eleanor devoted herself, during World War I to volunteer efforts which resulted in her becoming involved with the League of Women Voters, the Women's Trade Union League and the women's division of the New York State Democratic Committee.
In 1920, Franklin had run unsuccessfully for the vice presidency. Some time later, he was attacked by polio. "Her part in helping her husband overcome the crippling effects of polio had yet to attract any widespread notice." (Farber, p. 72)
It was while she was director of women's activities for the Democratic Committee that Eleanor met her soon-to-be long-time companion Lorena Hickok, one day in Sep 1928. (Farber, p. 72) This was the year that Franklin ran for, and was elected governor of New York. At this time the Roosevelt's were living, at least part-time, in a township on East 65th in Manhattan, but then for the next four years, spent part of their time obviously in Albany at the state capital.
The 1932 Democratic party convention was held in Chicago. Eleanor and Franklin were not present, they were in Albany awaiting word that the party would choose Franklin to run for US President that year. Three ballots went and still there was no conclusive choice. Nancy Cook and Marion Dickerman however were there and when a letter arrived from Eleanor expressing her profound unhappiness about the possibility of Franklin being chosen, they showed it to Louis Howe. Promptly destroying it, he ordered them never to mention the contents of that letter to anyone. (Farber, p. 86) Eleanor's son-in-law Curtis Bean Dall who had married Anna, relates an interesting story about how "Missouri came in early" for Roosevelt, due presumably to Curtis' intervention.
Franklin however was chosen, and flew to Chicago to accept the nomination. Now the campaign began in earnest, with FDR, Eleanor and family on a cross-country train trip to shake hands and kiss babies. It was now that the relationship between Eleanor and Lorena Hickok, a female journalist for AP, assigned to cover part of the Roosevelt story began to deepen. They had known each other, and of each other, in passing for several years, but never in close quarters. The confines of a long train-trip tend to make quick friends of acquaintances.
Another relationship was forming on that cross-country train as well. Mrs. Anna Dall, the married daughter of FDR and Eleanor, met and fell in-love with journalist John Boettiger, assigned by the Chicago Tribune. In 1932, Franklin was handily elected US President and the family moved into the White House, in Washington, DC. Some months later, Anna Dall seperated from her husband Curtis, and moved into the White House with her parent and her two children. Anna would then obtain a Nevada divorce and in early 1935 marry Boettiger. The delay perhaps being primarily because the Roosevelt's did not two of their children divorcing so quickly.
- Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume One 1884-1933", by Blanche Wiesen Cook. Viking 1992.
- The Life of Lorena Hickok, E.R.'s Friend, by Doris Faber. William Morrow and Company, New York, 1980. ISBN 0688036317
- The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt, by Eleanor Roosevelt
- F.D.R. My Boss, by Grace Tully (Private Secretary to the President 1932-45). Peoples' Book Club, Chicago. Copyright 1949