David McCullough, Historian: Hello and welcome to the American Experience. I'm David McCullough.
She was a Roosevelt who married a Roosevelt. But it's important to know she was a Theodore-Roosevelt Roosevelt and certain traits from that side of the family were strong in her.
"Get action!" Seize the moment!" had been by-words for generations. "Man was not meant to be a oyster," her grandfather was famous for saying; nor were women either, she was to show.
The old ideal of noblesse oblige was gospel: With privilege went the obligation of honorable, generous, and responsible behavior. Like her Uncle Theodore, she triumphed against the odds.
She wore frumpy clothes. Her teeth needed straightening. But in all, in her way, she was beautiful, radiant. There were never any makeovers, no Hollywood savvy. (In one of the most endearing moments in the film that follows, she has to be told who Frank Sinatra was.)
She was terrified of speaking in public at first, and her high-pitched voice could sail off uncontrollably. Yet she became one of the most effective speakers of her time.
She was a wife, a mother, teacher, first lady of New York, first lady of the land, newspaper columnist, author, world traveler, diplomat, and a tough seasoned politician.
I once asked a friend who knew her, who was a neighbor at Hyde Park, what word came to mind when remembering her. "Thoughtful," he said. "She was always dropping by with something for us, and she always did it herself, never sent somebody else, as she could have so easily."
It's been said that no one was ever great by imitation. Easy to imitate, she never imitated anyone. She was ever and entirely herself, and a very great woman..."Eleanor Roosevelt" is directed by Sue Williams.
Narrator: Few people were neutral about Eleanor Roosevelt.
Nina Gibson, Granddaughter of Eleanor Roosevelt: People were absolutely drawn to Eleanor Roosevelt. Her presence was felt the minute she came into the room. She sparkled.
William Rusher, Son of Landon Supporters: She had an up-country aristocratic attitude that turned a lot of people off. She had buckteeth; her voice kind of quavered so that it was easy to imitate and to mock.
Narrator: For more than 30 years Eleanor Roosevelt was the most powerful woman in America. Niece of one president, and wife of another, Eleanor was shaped and driven by politics.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (synch): I'm very glad to tell you about the conditions.
Geoffrey Ward, Historian: One of the things people don’t understand about Eleanor Roosevelt, because she seemed so ladylike, and she has that aristocratic voice and that manner: she was tough as nails. In fact she was one of the best politicians of the 20th century.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (voice-over): We must have equal citizenship for everybody in our country.
Narrator: She was a voice for those who often had none. But her idealism cost those closest to her dearly.
Larry Fuchs, Friend: She was a loving person; she may not have been loving enough for her husband. And that was a tragedy. She was tender to her friends; she may not have been tender enough to her sons and her daughter.
Blanche Wiesen Cook, Eleanor biographer: There is a tremendous amount of conflict and hurt in her life and a great sense of loss and struggle. She was happiest in the public arena, she was least happy in her most intimate private life.
Narrator: Few people knew the real nature of her marriage to Franklin Roosevelt, or of the deep friendships she shared with others. Determined to live life on her own terms, Eleanor Roosevelt travelled far from her beginnings, to become the most admired - and the most controversial woman in America.
Slate: Eleanor Roosevelt - Part One
Narrator: All her life Eleanor Roosevelt remembered an afternoon from her childhood. She was waiting for her father, the person she loved most in the world. When he arrived she rushed into the warmth of his arms. Eleanor delighted in her father's laughter and tenderness, and his stories of exotic travel, of hunting in India, of the beauty of the Taj Mahal. One day, he promised, he would take her there and they would see it together. Her father never kept his promise, but Eleanor treasured the memory of it for the rest of her life.
Eleanor Roosevelt was born on October 11, 1884 into one of the oldest and wealthiest families in New York. She was a sensitive, timid child, and from her earliest years Eleanor knew she was a disappointment to her mother, Anna Hall Roosevelt.
Trude Lash, Friend of Eleanor Roosevelt: Anna would look at Eleanor sort of coolly and worry that she would never be a beauty, because she looked so homely. And she would even discuss it in front of Eleanor with her friends. Eleanor remembered that, that she had the feeling from the very beginning: "I’m ugly."
Narrator: Beauty was important in the world in which Eleanor was raised. In New York high society, girls were brought up to find husbands, have a family and preside over a household. Their chief asset was their looks. If they were beautiful, their lives would be made for them.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Niece of Eleanor Roosevelt: Anna couldn’t imagine having a child that wasn’t as vivacious and beautiful as herself. She really couldn’t understand this shy, awkward little person whom she called 'Granny' to her face.
Geoffrey Ward, Historian: Eleanor desperately tried to please her mother. And she did find one way to do it, which was that her mother was subject to migraines, and Eleanor would come and sit and rub her brow for hours and learned from that, that the way to be loved was to be useful. And I think that was a lesson that stayed with her all her life.
Narrator: To Eleanor it seemed that Anna was happier with her two younger brothers - Elliott Jr. and Gracie Hall.
Everything was different with her father, Elliott, who doted on his daughter. Charming and popular, Elliott was the younger brother of Theodore Roosevelt. Like many men of his class, he had no real profession. He dabbled in real estate, played tennis, and rode to hounds.
Nina Gibson, Granddaughter of Eleanor Roosevelt: Her father made her feel special. He called her "his little Nell." And he made her feel loved. He didn’t make her feel unattractive or shy. She felt very secure in his presence.
Narrator: But Elliott was rarely at home. He was an alcoholic. Irresponsible, often erratic, he would disappear on drunken binges for days at a time. Anna tried to shelter Eleanor from his wild behavior. But by August 1892, the family was breaking apart.
New York Herald article: August 18, 1892
Elliott Roosevelt demented by excess... Wrecked by liquor and Folly he is now confined in an Asylum for the insane...
The Roosevelts feared that Elliott was squandering his inheritance and ruining their reputation. They had him confined to a mental institution.
Just four months later, when Eleanor was barely eight years old, her mother died - suddenly - of diphtheria. Eleanor felt strangely unmoved. "One fact wiped out everything else,” she later wrote. "My father was back, and I would see him soon."
Franklin D. Roosevelt 3rd, Grandson of Eleanor Roosevelt: Elliott reappeared briefly and swept Eleanor up in his arms, told her again how wonderful she was, and that everything was going to be all right, and they would go off, and they would take care of her little brothers, and they would have a family. And so that meant the world to her. And that really gave her the hook on which she could hang her life.
Narrator: Elliott was considered unfit to care for his children. Eleanor and her brothers were sent to live with Anna's mother. Grandmother Hall was a widow in her early 50s. She lived in New York City, and spent summers at Tivoli, in upstate New York.
Trude Lash, Friend of Eleanor Roosevelt: Her grandmother was very religious and took her responsibility towards the children very, very seriously. But she was stern; she was rigid.
Geoffrey Ward, Historian: Her grandmother spent most of her time in her room. There were these two drunken and really dangerous uncles, one of whom used to shoot at the neighbors and even at the children with a shotgun from the upstairs window.
Blanche Wiesen Cook, Historian: Grandmother Hall really imagines that she can raise Eleanor and her two brothers differently if she is very strict and everything is regimented. But despite the order and the discipline, her grandmother did love her and gave her a sense of family love.
Narrator: Eleanor fought the discipline in small ways. She put hot water into her icy washbasin, stole candies from the kitchen, and read in secret on Sundays.
She lived for her father's rare visits. Sometimes he would promise to come, but not appear. One day Elliott took her out and stopped at his club. Saying he would not be long, he left her outside waiting. And Eleanor waited, and waited, for hours on the steps.
Curtis Roosevelt, Grandson of Eleanor Roosevelt: Finally the doorman said, "Young lady, who are you waiting for?" And she said, "I’m waiting for my father, Mr. Roosevelt." And he raised his eyebrows probably, and he said, "Well, young lady, I think we’d best get you a taxi and send you home, because your father left quite a while ago." What he didn’t say is that Elliott Roosevelt had been put in a taxi, dead drunk, some time before.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Niece of Eleanor Roosevelt: She wrote to her father frequently. And she just wanted desperately to go and live with him, and told him in her letters, 'please, could she come and take care of him and keep house for him?' She was nine years old.
Narrator: Eleanor spent much of the summer of 1894 at her grandmother's home in Tivoli.
"August 13, 1894. Darling Little Nell, What must you think of your father who has not written for so long... I have after all been very busy, quite ill, at intervals not able to move from my bed for days... How is your pony and the dogs at Tivoli too? .... With tender affection, Ever devotedly, your father "
Just hours after writing this, Elliott died. When she was told of his death, Eleanor's only words were, "I did want to see father once more."
After her father's death Eleanor found comfort in romantic novels and in a dream world where her father was still alive. As she wandered the woods around Tivoli, she invented stories of a life together they never had, where he was the hero and she the heroine. The memory of her father's love - and of its loss - would haunt Eleanor for the rest of her life.
In 1899 Eleanor turned 15.
Blanche Wiesen Cook, Historian: Things really do get worse at Tivoli. Her uncles are more and more out of control. At some point, locks appear on her door, presumably to keep her uncle Vallie, who is an out-of-control alcoholic, out of her room.
Geoffrey Ward, Historian: Her grandmother thought it would be dangerous to have her in a house she couldn’t control, where her own grown children were acting so bizarrely. She thought it was best to get Eleanor out of there.
Narrator: Grandmother Hall decided to send Eleanor to England, to a boarding school just outside of London called Allenswood. Allenswood was run by a charismatic Frenchwoman in her late 60s, Marie Souvestre. Souvestre was fiercely committed to social and political justice. Under her influence, girls received a progressive education and were taught to be independent and politically aware.
Nina Gibson, Granddaughter of Eleanor Roosevelt: Suddenly the important things were not the social things. She was with people who valued her friendship, her loyalty, her intellect.
Trude Lash, Friend of Eleanor Roosevelt: Everybody liked her because there was not a mean streak about her. She was loyal. She always did what she said she would do.
Narrator: For the first time in her life, Eleanor belonged. Girls came to her for comfort when they were homesick or needed advice. On weekends they bought bunches of flowers for girls they had crushes on and Eleanor's room was filled with posies and gifts. Most important of all, she became the favorite of Mlle. Souvestre.
Trude Lash, Friend of Eleanor Roosevelt: Mlle. Souvestre saw immediately that here was a very special child, young woman; that she was in some ways mature beyond her years, but wasn’t very knowledgeable about a great many things, but there was this thirst for learning.
Nina Gibson, Granddaughter of Eleanor Roosevelt: My grandmother was absolutely taken by Mlle. Souvestre, because she saw this elegant, brilliant woman who was interested in her and what she had to say. And she blossomed at Allenswood. She became the beginnings of the woman that she would become later in life.
Narrator: During school vacations Souvestre took Eleanor travelling on the continent. In Paris, she helped order her first fashionable clothes. Souvestre encouraged her to visit museums by herself and to adjust their itinerary to suit their whims. "Never again," Eleanor wrote, "would I be the rigid little person I had been."
In 1902, after three years at Allenswood, Eleanor returned to New York. Theodore Roosevelt was now the president of the United States. Boisterous and energetic, "Uncle Ted" always called Eleanor his favorite niece. She recalled her childhood visits with him as terrifying.
"He was horrified that I didn’t know how to swim." she said. "So he thought he’d teach me as he taught all his own children, and he threw me in. And I sank rapidly to the bottom. Then he fished me out and lectured me on being frightened."
Narrator: Uncle Ted drove home the Roosevelt rule: never show fear. And like all Roosevelt children, Eleanor was taught a strong sense of social responsibility.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Niece of Eleanor Roosevelt: They accepted the servants and the big house and their position in society. But part of that also was that you owed something back to people less fortunate than yourself.
Narrator: Eleanor took this sense of duty seriously. Twice a week she rode the public trolley downtown to the grimy, teeming slums of the Lower East Side. There, at the University Settlement House, she did volunteer work with young immigrants, helping them adapt to life in America. She taught dance and calisthenics. She thought of her work as the "highlight" of her week.
Trude Lash, Friend of Eleanor Roosevelt: It was not unusual that society people came from time to time and looked at what was going on. It was unusual that somebody came on a regular basis and really worked there and considered this a job for which she had taken responsibility. That was unusual.
Narrator: She joined the New York Consumers' League, an organization which exposed harsh working conditions for women and children. She saw things she would never forget -- sweat shops where women labored long hours for subsistence wages; tenement homes where children made artificial flowers for hours on end, until they dropped with exhaustion.
Now 18, Eleanor was expected to make her formal debut into society and find a husband. Because she was the president's niece, her "coming out" in 1902 was closely watched.
Trude Lash, Friend of Eleanor Roosevelt: She hated coming out. She never knew how to do gossip. She just didn’t know how to do that. She liked to talk about things; she liked to talk about people; she liked to talk about what she had read. But just small talk didn’t interest her at all, ever.
Narrator: Eleanor remembered how awkward she felt.
Slate: Voice of Eleanor Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (synch): Everything you did was so that you would grace society. If you were ugly you tried to make up for it by being well educated and having very good manners.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Niece of Eleanor Roosevelt: My aunt didn't think much of herself but she was slim and she was tall, and she had a lot of blonde hair, done very nicely. And she loved to dance. She danced very well. And she probably cut really quite a stunning figure on the ballroom.
Narrator: Several young men soon started to court her. One was her distant cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a 20-year-old student at Harvard. They had known each other as small children and had met again at a party when she was 14. "He was young and gay and good looking," she recalled, "and I was shy and awkward and thrilled when he asked me to dance."
Unlike Eleanor, Franklin had a stable, loving childhood growing up on his parents' estate in Hyde Park, New York. He had little contact with other children until he was 14 when he was sent to boarding school. There and at Harvard he had difficulty fitting in, but he learned to hide his feelings behind a charming exterior.
Edna Gurewitsch, Friend of Eleanor Roosevelt: He was very attractive, very outgoing -- a dashing personality, someone who laughed and who was easy with people. And she was flattered by the attention and she fell in love with him. It wasn't hard to do.
Narrator: Several times, Franklin met Eleanor after her classes at the settlement house, and she introduced him to a world he had never seen. Once they helped a girl who was sick back to her dark, crowded tenement home. Franklin was shocked by what he saw and afterwards kept repeating that he, "could not believe human beings lived that way."
Nina Gibson, Granddaughter of Eleanor Roosevelt: He was fascinated that a young woman of his social class was the one who was showing him things that moved him. She wasn’t the light, funny, socialite that people expected he would be interested in. But I think there was a piece of FDR, a very large piece that was far more interested in the realities of life.
Narrator: Franklin proposed in November 1903, and Eleanor immediately accepted. He declared himself the happiest man on earth. To Franklin: "Oh darling, I miss you so, and I long for the happy hours which we have together. I am so happy, so very happy in your love, dearest, and all the world has changed for me. If only I can bring to you all that you have brought to me, all my dearest wishes will be fulfilled. Goodbye, dearest boy. Your devoted little Nell."
On March 17th, 1905, Eleanor and Franklin were married. President Theodore Roosevelt gave the bride away. "When the wedding was over," Eleanor recalled, "we suddenly discovered that the minute Uncle Ted left us everybody else left us too. It was really much more important that Uncle Ted was there than that we were being married."
Eleanor and Franklin's early-married life was dominated by another powerful Roosevelt - Franklin's mother, Sara.
Franklin D. Roosevelt 3rd, Grandson of Eleanor Roosevelt: Franklin was Sara’s only child and she was extremely possessive and did not want him to go off and marry somebody else and have some other life.
Narrator: Eleanor did everything she could to win Sara's affection. On their honeymoon, she wrote her mother-in-law almost daily. "Thank you so much, dear, for everything you did for us. You are always just the sweetest, dearest Mama to your children, and I shall look forward to our next long evening together, when I shall want to be kissed all the time!"
Eleanor Roosevelt, Niece of Eleanor Roosevelt: She hoped that her mother-in-law would replace her mother. She hoped her mother-in-law would love her with the unconditional love that she had wanted from her own mother but never received.
Narrator: But their relationship was often awkward. Sara tried to run the young couple's life as she had Franklin's, and she had the power to do it: she controlled her son's finances.
Franklin D. Roosevelt 3rd, Grandson of Eleanor Roosevelt: She bought them a townhouse and also bought the adjoining townhouse for herself, and had doors built on each floor connecting the two houses. So there was no privacy from the mother-in-law. And the mother-in-law hired the servants and furnished the house. She was a doer. She wanted Franklin to be part of her world and for the most part, she got her way.
Narrator: Sara insisted Eleanor give up her social work and stay at home. Eleanor reluctantly acquiesced. In 1906, the Roosevelts' first child, Anna, was born. James was born the next year. Eleanor was uneasy in her new role.
Trude Lash, Friend of Eleanor Roosevelt: She loved her children, and she wanted to do well, but she was not knowledgeable. And so she imposed rules on them which even then were not very usual. For instance, that she tied the thumbs down so that they couldn’t suck their thumbs; or she’d put a cradle out in front of a window like a window box, so that the child would get air, which is a scary idea.
Narrator: Her feelings of insecurity about motherhood only grew with the birth in 1909 of their third child, Franklin Jr. From the beginning he seemed delicate, to have one illness after another. When he was just seven months old, he died.
Eleanor Seagraves, Granddaughter of Eleanor Roosevelt: It was a devastating thing. I mean because, she tended to blame herself for everything that went wrong in the household. So she thought there must have been something she could have done. She could have contacted this doctor or that doctor. She was really very depressed.
Narrator: Elliott was born a year later.
Sara hired and fired the nannies. She spoiled the children with treats and comforted them when they were hurt. She even told them to think of her as their real mother; "your mother only bore you," she said.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Niece of Eleanor Roosevelt: They learned early that if their mother wouldn’t give them something, all they had to do was to go see Granny. And they could charm Granny out of anything they wanted. Granny wanted the children to love her, as though they were her children. And my aunt wanted them to grow into good people, and felt she had to be the disciplinarian, and that it wasn’t quite fair.
Edna Gurewitsch, Friend of Eleanor Roosevelt: That must have been very frustrating for a young married woman to express her difficulties with a mother-in-law to a man who would not confront his mother.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (voice-over): If something was unpleasant and he didn't want to know about it, he just ignored it. He always thought that if you ignored a thing long enough, it could settle itself.
Geoffrey Ward, Historian: Eleanor Roosevelt is often blamed for being a bad mother. Her husband was not a very good father, and expected her and his mother to do all the parenting, and he was supposed to come home and have fun with the kids. And he did. They adored him. But when that was over, he wasn’t really very interested in helping them much. And I think the children suffered from the problems both their parents had.
Narrator: FDR had trained as a lawyer, but his ambition was to be president. He began his political career serving a term in the New York State Senate. Then in 1913, he was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy.
Eleanor moved the family to Washington, D.C.. She would have two more children, a second Franklin Jr. in 1914, and John, two years later.
Franklin D. Roosevelt 3rd, Grandson of Eleanor Roosevelt: This was a young couple on the move. FDR’s career was really taking off. There were a lot of things expected of the wife of such an up-and-coming young government official that she had to do just out of duty.
Narrator: She hired a social secretary -- Lucy Mercer -- to help her. Charming, intelligent, warm and reliable, Lucy fit easily into the bustling Roosevelt household. Washington etiquette required Eleanor to make dozens of social visits, leaving calling cards at the homes of other officials' wives.
Eleanor Seagraves, Granddaughter of Eleanor Roosevelt: That was the proper thing to do. If they had dropped them at your house, you had to return the compliment. You had to have an open house day when people came, dropped in for tea and that sort of thing. She really didn't appreciate it, she didn’t like it. She knew she had to do it, and she did it probably with a rather stiff grace.
Narrator: In the evenings there were cocktails, dinners and dances. Franklin always enjoyed himself; Eleanor often did not.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Niece of Eleanor Roosevelt: My aunt Eleanor had a distinct aversion to alcohol because it had affected so many people in her family. Her father had died of alcoholism. Her brother Hall, my father, would die of alcoholism.
Geoffrey Ward, Historian: The whole idea of people being out of control terrified her and made her terribly uneasy. And so she found being at parties at which her husband and other people got pleasantly tipsy, it wasn’t pleasant to her.
Nina Gibson, Granddaughter of Eleanor Roosevelt: He loved having fun. He enjoyed his cocktail hour. He enjoyed poker games. He loved good gossip.
Edna Gurewitsch, Friend of Eleanor Roosevelt: He liked to flirt with women. He was just amusing himself and others. And Mrs. Roosevelt got jealous. He, after all, was a man who never really confided, never confided in his mother with whom he was so close. And she craved intimacy. And that’s the one thing that her husband couldn’t give her.
Narrator: In the summer of 1917 Eleanor took the children north - to Campobello, the Roosevelts' sprawling summer home off the coast of Maine. Franklin stayed behind working in Washington. So did Lucy Mercer.
Trude Lash, Friend of Eleanor Roosevelt: Mrs. Roosevelt went away for the summer. There was Lucy in the house, and there was lonely Franklin, and I think this developed the way things do develop, with nobody planning them. They just happen.
Narrator: The next summer Franklin visited American troops in Europe.
Franklin D. Roosevelt 3rd, Grandson of Eleanor Roosevelt: When he got home Eleanor was left with the job of unpacking his suitcase. But in the course of putting his clothes away and so on, she came across a little packet of letters. And without really wanting to be nosy, she couldn’t help but see that here was a whole bunch of letters between Franklin and Lucy, which upon closer examination revealed that there was something seriously going on here.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Niece of Eleanor Roosevelt: The way that my Aunt Eleanor felt about Franklin was the way she had felt about her father. It was the fantastic love that she felt would be total. When she discovered that Franklin had an affair, she was so stunned and didn’t know where to put this hurt.
Trude Lash, Friend of Eleanor Roosevelt: I think the greatest hurt was that Franklin had broken his word. It was like her father, who had made promises and not kept them.
Franklin D. Roosevelt 3rd, Grandson of Eleanor Roosevelt: She confronted him and said, "You can have a divorce." But at the same time, Sara was informed, and she said, "No way. We don’t do divorce in this family. And Franklin you'd better straighten up and fly right."
Narrator: Franklin realized a divorced man could never be elected president. After he promised never to see Lucy again, Eleanor agreed to go on with the marriage. But they never lived together as husband and wife again. And never, in all her writings, all her memoirs, articles and interviews, did Eleanor ever mention Franklin's betrayal.
A year later, Grandmother Hall died. Eleanor went to Tivoli for the funeral. Still devastated by Franklin's affair, she could not eat, she was lonely and exhausted.
Blanche Wiesen Cook, Historian: Out of her grief she begins to compare her life to her grandmother’s life. Her grandmother could have been a painter. Her grandmother could have done so much more than she did. And it’s very clear to her that being a devoted wife and a devoted mother is not enough. And Eleanor Roosevelt decides she is going to do everything possible with her life. She’s going to live a full life.
Narrator: Eleanor and Franklin moved back to New York in 1920. Eleanor, now 36 years old, embarked on a new life. She took a secretarial course; she joined the League of Women Voters, and the Women's City Club.
Eleanor Seagraves, Granddaughter of Eleanor Roosevelt: She went into this work doubting that she could be of much help and found that she had a quick mind. And people began to appreciate her. And when that happened, she began to appreciate herself a little, and it was kind of a snowballing thing.
Blanche Wiesen Cook, Historian: She is a terrific fundraiser and organizer and very quickly she meets other women in New York: They remind her of the circle that she left at Allenswood: independent women. And it’s a world that she relishes and enjoys.
Narrator: But almost immediately, the Roosevelts were engulfed in another family crisis. In the summer of 1921 they vacationed at Campobello.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (voice-over): It was getting near to supper time. Franklin started to go upstairs and said his back ached, and he didn't feel very well. And by the next morning, he could hardly stand, and by the next day, he could not stand at all.
Nina Gibson: Granddaughter of Eleanor Roosevelt: My grandmother was terrified for him. She wasn’t really sure what it was. Would he live? Would he die? Would he ever walk again?
Franklin D. Roosevelt 3rd, Grandson of Eleanor Roosevelt: She went into action and she just did everything she could to keep him alive, to bring his fever down, somehow try to make him comfortable, to change his bed clothes.
Nina Gibson, Granddaughter of Eleanor Roosevelt: At the same time, she has five children who are saying, "What’s wrong? What’s wrong?" They knew something terrible was happening.
Narrator: Franklin's illness was diagnosed as polio. His legs were left withered and useless. He had to be carried off the island to return to New York .
Geoffrey Ward, Historian: There was a real battle in the Roosevelt family over Franklin’s future. His mother thought that he should come home to Hyde Park and become a country gentleman and be a happy invalid. He didn’t want to do that. He loved Hyde Park. But he didn’t want to be there forever. Eleanor Roosevelt backed him. She felt that if he wanted to try to get back into politics, he should be allowed to try.
Edna Gurewitsch, Niece of Eleanor Roosevelt: Eleanor didn’t want to go back to the country with an invalid after she had come that far to free herself. Bringing him back into functioning was part of bringing herself back into an independent, functioning person.
Narrator: Sara and Eleanor were each certain they were right and acting in Franklin's best interests. In her distress, Eleanor became cold and silent. In the spring of 1922 the atmosphere in the Roosevelt house was filled with tension.
One day as Eleanor was reading to her younger sons, she broke down. The family was stunned. She fled to a quiet room. For the first time in her life, she could not stop crying.
Blanche Wiesen Cook, Historian: She just breaks down. It’s a warning to her. She’s really exhausted and she’s going to have to get out there and heal herself as well.
Narrator: As the crisis of FDR's illness subsided, Eleanor and Franklin moved more and more in separate worlds. He spent most of his time in the south - first in Florida, and later in Warm Springs, Georgia, trying to regain the use of his legs. He was still determined to run for president one day. His secretary, Missy LeHand, stayed with him, and was now his closest companion.
Eleanor remained in New York. She did not share Franklin's belief that he would one day walk again, but she did not try to make him come home.
Geoffrey Ward, Historian: I think they found life apart easier than life together. Both of them had causes to which they could devote themselves. They would come together periodically and then float apart again. The Roosevelts remained very fond of one another. I think that’s the way that they made their marriage work.
Narrator: Eleanor tried to make up for Franklin's absence. She tried to be more open with her children, especially Anna. She even learned to swim, and to play with her younger boys. And she threw herself into politics. She was helped by FDR's closest advisor, Louis Howe. A former journalist, Howe was a chain smoker whose clothes were always covered in ash; he was untidy and disheveled, and he had one of the shrewdest political minds in America.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (voice-over): After the polio attack, Louis Howe was always convinced that Franklin's political career must be continued and he decided that I should work with the Democratic Party as a whole and keep the contacts alive for Franklin.
Narrator: In the spring of 1922 she was asked to address a Democratic Party fundraiser. She was terrified of speaking in public, but Louis Howe encouraged her to accept.
Blanche Wiesen Cook, Historian: Eleanor Roosevelt really does not like at first to speak in public. And she has a very high, uncontrollable voice that goes up and down. And then, because she’s nervous, she laughs at the wrong times. And Louis Howe would sit in the back and make faces and gestures and, "Get that voice low, and get it under control." And he watches every word, and they write her speeches together.
Narrator: The early 1920's were a contradictory time for American women. They had won the battle for suffrage, but women who wanted social reforms still had trouble making their demands heard by the men who ran party politics.
Franklin D. Roosevelt 3rd, Grandson of Eleanor Roosevelt: She got together with some other very capable women. And they insisted on a role for women in the Democratic Party. She was out there on the front lines of politics; helping women organizing labor unions, deal with abuses in the workplace, child labor.
Narrator: In 1924, as elections approached, Eleanor was determined that she and her colleagues would have more than a token presence at the convention.
Geoffrey Ward, Historian: Charles Murphy was the boss of the Democratic Party in New York. And he insisted that he be allowed to choose the women delegates to the coming convention. And Mrs. Roosevelt insisted that women would choose them. And in the most genteel and polite and ladylike way, she suggested that if he didn’t give in to her, she would have to go to the press.
Narrator: Charles Murphy held his ground, and Eleanor carried out her threat. "Women must gain the respect of men." she declared in a blunt speech. "We will be enormously strengthened if we can show that we are willing to fight to the very last ditch for what we believe in." The battle made front page news.
Geoffrey Ward, Historian: The boss caved. It was really her first taste of political blood. She had beaten a formidable foe, right out of the box. And she had enormous pleasure in reporting this to Franklin, that she’d beaten this man.
Franklin D. Roosevelt 3rd, Grandson of Eleanor Roosevelt: The cover for it, the line which she herself put forth all the time was that she was only doing it for the sake of Franklin and Franklin’s career. But in fact, she was enjoying it.
Narrator: Through her work, Eleanor made a circle of close friends - politically sophisticated, independent women like Nancy Cook. Cook was a creative, energetic organizer in the state Democratic party. She lived in Greenwich Village with her partner Marian Dickerman. Dickerman was a teacher and the first woman to run for the New York State legislature.
When Dickerman took over the private Todhunter School in New York, Eleanor joined her teaching literature and history three days a week.
Helen Offenhauser, Student at Todhunter: She was a fascinating teacher. I was not very good at math, and I was about to take college boards. So the school suggested that I drop Mrs. Roosevelt’s course, English, and take more math. I said, "No, I do not want to give up Mrs. Roosevelt’s class."
Narrator: Franklin supported Eleanor's independence and enjoyed her new friends. In 1925 he even built them a small stone house, called Val Kill, near his mother's Hyde Park estate.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Niece of Eleanor Roosevelt: My aunt Eleanor had never had a home of her own. She had always longed for one. I mean, here was a grownup woman with five children and a husband, and she never had lived in her own house. And this was her dream.
Narrator: It was an unusual arrangement. Sometimes Franklin joined them for meals and picnics. When occasion demanded Eleanor would entertain with Franklin at Sara's house nearby. But Val Kill was Eleanor's, and she would think of it as her real home for the rest of her life.
Geoffrey Ward, Historian: Within her private world at Val Kill, with very, very close friends, she was clearly having a wonderful time. And part of her joy is the fact that she’s having a good time. She is surprised and astonished and delighted to be having a wonderful time.
Narrator: By 1928 Eleanor was director of the Bureau of Women's Activities for the Democratic Party, and one of the most powerful and well known women in national politics. She published articles in major magazines - on everything from parenting to foreign policy, to the changing role of women in society. She was asked to endorse products and her first ads for the Simmons Mattress Company appeared in Vogue magazine.
That same year FDR decided to reenter politics and run for Governor of New York. To dispel rumors that he was still sick, he ran an energetic campaign, and he won. For the first time in nearly a decade, Eleanor was a political wife again. She moved the family to Albany, and divided her time between her duties as the Governor's wife and her own activities.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (voice-over): Franklin and I had a desire to see improvements for people. I knew about social conditions, perhaps more than he did. But he knew about government and how you could use government to improve certain things. And I think we began to get an understanding of teamwork.
Narrator: FDR could not walk and it was difficult for him to go inside the schools, hospitals, and state institutions he wanted to visit.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (voice-over): Franklin started training me as an observer. He sent me in the first time. Afterwards, he began to ask me questions. 'What was the food like?' I said, 'Oh, I looked at the menus and they seemed very adequate.' And he said, 'I didn't ask you about the menus. I asked you what the food was like. You should have looked in the pots on the stove.' After that I was very much better as an inspector."
Nina Gibson, Granddaughter of Eleanor Roosevelt: They were able to forge a partnership, and through that partnership they became closer. It took time, but I think they came to the realization that their love for each other truly hinged on values that were very deep.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (synch): We older people must not try to make the younger generation do things the way we did them.
Narrator: Eleanor was 46 years old. Her poise in front of the cameras was new and striking. The change was partly due to the encouragement of Earl Miller, a New York State trooper whom Franklin assigned to be her bodyguard. Miller saw that she was sometimes still overcome by shyness. "Smile, just for one picture" he would coax her, often clowning behind the cameras to make her relax. Miller was an amateur boxer and a talented athlete. He encouraged her to take up riding again. He helped her swim better, drive better. He even taught her to shoot. He boosted her confidence and made her laugh. People gossiped about Eleanor and Earl, as they did about FDR and Missy LeHand. Miller always dismissed the rumors: "You don't go to bed with someone you call Mrs. Roosevelt" he said.
FDR, Archival (synch): That's perfectly fine. On the condition that you'll come back and visit me in Albany and why where at least I can give you some very wonderful scenery
Governor, Archival (synch): Either Albany or Washington.
FDR, Archival (synch): Well, I think if it were Washington, we might almost toss a coin.
Narrator: Eleanor dreaded the idea of being First lady, of a life defined by teas and receiving lines.
FDR, Archival (newsreel synch): Even as the governor’s wife she had still quite an independent life. And she was a bit distraught about the idea of being totally immersed in this goldfish bowl of the White House. The day she realized that she was going to be the wife of the president was a traumatic day for her.
Narrator: "I knew what traditionally would lie before me," Eleanor remembered, "and I cannot say I was pleased with the prospect. The turmoil in my heart and mind was rather great that night."
In 1933 when Franklin Roosevelt became president, America was paralyzed by the Great Depression. Millions had lost their jobs, their homes, and their trust in government. With his buoyant smile and boundless confidence, Roosevelt made Americans feel he understood them and that he would make their lives better. He would lead the country out of the crisis with an immediate, progressive plan of action. Eleanor was still struggling with her new role as First lady. Desperate for something useful to do, she even offered to help Franklin with his mail. He refused, saying it would undermine his secretary Missy Lehand. Worse, he asked her to resign from teaching and from the political activities she loved.
Newsreel (archival): Mrs. Roosevelt is surprising Washington by taking her initial horseback ride as the First lady of the land.
Narrator: As she searched for a meaningful role newsreel crews seemed to follow her every move. The press described a White House that was full of energy, teeming with Roosevelt children and grandchildren. But to Eleanor it seemed her life and family were falling apart. Her daughter Anna, was in the midst of a divorce, and moved into the White House with her two children. Third son Elliott was leaving his wife Betty. Now, one of Eleanor's "Griselda moods" as she called them, threatened to overwhelm her.
"If anyone looks at me," she wrote, "I want to weep. My mind goes round and round like a squirrel in a cage. I want to run and I can't, and I despise myself."
She confided these feelings to the woman who had become her closest friend -- Lorena Hickock or "Hick," as Eleanor called her. Like Eleanor, Hick had a traumatic childhood. Her father beat her regularly. After her mother died, she ran away from home. She became a top reporter for the Associated Press. During the presidential campaign, she was assigned to cover the candidate's wife and she fell passionately in love with Eleanor.
Geoffrey Ward, Historian: Hickock is entirely and totally devoted to her. And that, Mrs. Roosevelt really had never had in her life. No one else had been fully devoted to her. Not her parents, not her husband, not her children, not her grandmother. She had always been on her own.
Franklin D. Roosevelt 3rd, Grandson of Eleanor Roosevelt: Hick was a single woman, she didn’t have her own attachments, and she needed Eleanor as much as Eleanor needed her. These were two needy people and they discovered that they could fulfill each other’s needs.
Narrator: Hick hated to be photographed and she tried to hide from the cameras that followed the First lady everywhere. She felt her love for Eleanor compromised her as a journalist and she gave up her job.
Eleanor clearly loved Hick in return. "Hick darling, All day I've thought of you and another birthday I will be with you. Tonight you sounded so far away and formal. Oh, I want to put my arms around you. I ache to hold you close. Your ring is a great comfort. I look at it and think, ‘She does love me,’ or I wouldn’t be wearing it."
Franklin D. Roosevelt 3rd, Grandson of Eleanor Roosevelt: It shows that she was certainly capable of a very intense emotional relationship, and expressing great love, and being there for someone else, and expecting someone else to be there for her. And so in that way, she developed emotional capacity which had not always been there.
Trude Lash, Friend of Eleanor Roosevelt: Hick was a lesbian, and Mrs. Roosevelt was very affectionate and quite demonstrative, not only to Hick, to other women, to men. She showed her warmth. But she was definitely not a lesbian.
Nina Gibson, Granddaughter of Eleanor Roosevelt: I have no idea whether Lorena Hickock had a homosexual relationship with my grandmother or not. And my feeling about that is kind of: Who cares? They were very good friends. And if they could make each other happy in any way, then that's what's important.
Narrator: In February 1934 the two women went on a fact finding trip and holiday to the Caribbean. Several women journalists accompanied them, and filmed part of the trip. Eleanor had never looked happier.
Hick helped Eleanor define her role as first lady. She taught her how to work with the press.
Off Camera Journalist, Archival: Mrs. Roosevelt, would you give us just a little wave good bye?
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (synch): Not again!
Narrator: Together they orchestrated one photo opportunity after another. In San Juan, Puerto Rico, when they toured the city's worst slums, Eleanor told the photographer to take her picture: "I want the American people to see what it's really like here!"
The trip was a public relations coup for Eleanor, and by extension, for Franklin. For two weeks solid the papers carried stories about her and the President's concern for the region. When Eleanor and Hick returned, Franklin met them at the station. It was, the press noted, the Roosevelts' 29th wedding anniversary.
At Hick's suggestion Eleanor held press conferences for women only. She urged her husband to appoint women to government positions. She argued that everyone -- young people, women and African Americans -- should be included in FDR's programs putting people back to work. She was soon recognized as a new kind of first lady.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (synch): This industry, which we will be encouraging.... I'm sorry that I have to go....
Geoffrey Ward, Historian: Eleanor Roosevelt had phenomenal, unprecedented energy. She was in action, in motion, it seems, 24 hours a day. That allowed her to do enormous amounts in her life. It was also probably evidence of someone who is terrified to sit still and be alone, for fear depression will just blanket them. She did have depressive bouts and I think she fended them off wonderfully by this ceaseless, ceaseless activity.
Narrator: In one three month period she logged 40,000 miles, giving lectures, visiting schools and factories, opening fairs. Six days a week, no matter where she was, she wrote a newspaper column called, "My Day." She talked to people from all walks of life. She saw first hand the new government programs at work, and reported back to FDR.
Mary Bain, National Youth Administration: Every time we had meetings with Mrs. Roosevelt, we’d all sit back and think that we were going to get told how wonderful we were and what a great job we were doing. And that was just perfunctory. "That’s good. That’s fine, that’s fine. But now let’s see what else we can do." And she did prod us and push us, and she made us all reach for the stars. And after one of these meetings, we’d all think about how she would go back and say to the President, "Now Franklin, these people need more money, and you’ve got to be sure that they’re in the budget." And we all imagined that she was just giving him fits.
Narrator: In her travels, Eleanor saw how the Depression had devastated entire regions and industries - like Scott's Run, a mining community in West Virginia.
Fletcher Collins, Teacher: The miners were half starved for several years, living with their children who were half starved. And they had absolutely nowhere they could go, they had no way to get out of it.
Glenna Williams, Miner's Daughter:
For to wash our clothes, we caught rainwater, if it rained. The barrel was outside. That’s how you washed dishes. That’s how you got water to take your bath. For to drink, there was a well up on the hill. It had sulfur water and it tasted like rotten eggs. It was like existence. You existed, yes. We existed. But it wasn’t a very pleasant one.
Narrator: Eleanor visited Scott's Run and was moved by the miners' plight. She thought they were perfect candidates for FDR's new Subsistence Homesteads Program. The program aimed to ease rural poverty by building planned communities where people would farm small plots, and work in factories nearby. The communities would provide health care and progressive schools.
In 1933 families from Scott's Run began construction on the program's first community -- called Arthurdale. With Eleanor as their champion, they built dozens of clean modern homes, each with a garden large enough to grow vegetables. A year later, the first families moved in.
Glenna Williams, Miner’s Daughter: That day changed our life completely. There was our little white house set against this backdrop of green trees and green grass. And everything was nice and white and clean, and there was a bathroom! Of all things, a bathroom! And it was ours.
Narrator: Arthurdale, Eleanor hoped, would show that people could lift themselves out of poverty if given a chance.
Fletcher Collins, Teacher: She came very often, I would say once a month. She knew them immensely well. Mrs. Degolier would come up to her, one of the homesteaders, and say, "Hello, Mrs. Roosevelt." "Oh hello, Ms. Degolier. How are you doing? Your son, he had the measles when I was last here. She was on a one to one warm basis. She had no side. She was what I call "old shoe."
Narrator: Eleanor tried to use her connections to bring in industry. She even paid teachers' salaries herself. But the project had not been fully thought through. The homesteaders could not grow enough to feed themselves. Business failed to take root, and many residents remained on relief. By the early 1940's, Congress lost interest and federal aid to Arthurdale ended.
Blanche Wiesen Cook, Historian: Eleanor Roosevelt learned that she could not, just because she was nominally in charge, she could not make some things happen. And it doesn't work. And she really learned about the limits of power and influence from Arthurdale.
Narrator: In 1936, FDR ran for a second term. His opponent, Republican candidate, Alf Landon attacked New Deal programs like Arthurdale.
Alf Landon, Archival (synch): A lot of the money spent in the name of relief has nothing to do with relief. And a lot of the money has been wasted.
Eleanor's activist role as first lady became a campaign issue. Newsreels contrasted her to Mrs. Alf Landon. Mrs. Landon, Republicans assured voters, was a traditional wife and mother.
Helen Offenhauser, Student at Todhunter: A lot of our friends were Republicans, and they would refer to him - "That man in the White House" was the least unflattering thing they said about him. And she, I think some people thought she was a busy-body and they thought of the Roosevelts as more or less traitors to their class.
William Rusher, Son of Landon supporters: It has been said that Eleanor Roosevelt viewed the world as one vast slum project. She was always flitting around here and there, coming to some community whose condition she didn’t like, and tut-tutting about it and insisting that something must be done. She seemed to have a large political equivalent of the housewife’s desire to redecorate.
Narrator: Eleanor's visit to a mine was satirized in a famous cartoon. "It was indicated to me," she responded, "that there was certainly something the matter with a woman who wanted to see so much and know so much." Later she added, "Every woman in public life needs to develop skin as tough as rhinoceros hide."
But the controversies swirling around Eleanor's role as first lady did not damage FDR. He won by a landslide.
The Roosevelts had become extraordinary political partners.
Geoffrey Ward, Historian: She kept at him on issues, which he might have, in rush of business, wanted to overlook. She kept him to a high standard. Anybody who ever saw her lock eyes with him and say, 'Now Franklin, you should...' never forgot it. And even though he thought her unrealistic sometimes, he never lost his affection, or his wish to do what he should do because she wanted him to do it.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (voice-over): Very often he would bait me into giving an opinion by stating as his own a point of view with which he knew I would disagree. I remember one occasion, I became extremely vehement and irritated. The next day to my complete surprise he calmly stated as his own the arguments that I had given him!
Henry Morgenthau, Jr., Writer: I think they played a game on this thing, that she would state her own position, and if it got shot down and Roosevelt was criticized, he would just turn around and say, "Oh, you know my missus." In other words, FDR used Eleanor to test the limits. One instance, I think, where she was testing limits was in the Marian Anderson affair.
Narrator: In 1939, the African American singer Marian Anderson was denied permission to perform in Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., by the Daughters of the American Revolution. Eleanor, whose family had fought in the revolution, belonged to the DAR. In protest, she resigned her membership.
Nina Gibson, Granddaughter of Eleanor Roosevelt: By then, she had the self-confidence and the strength to stand alone because she knew, in the depths of her soul, that this was wrong.
Narrator: Eleanor worked quietly behind the scenes. She helped arrange for Anderson to sing at the Lincoln Memorial.
Narrator, Archival: 75,000 mass before the Lincoln Memorial to hear Marian Anderson, colored contralto, make her capital debut at the great emancipator's shrine.
James Farmer: 'My country ‘tis of thee,' her first song. She put such great emphasis upon "liberty!" The DAR’s refusal to allow her to sing was a breach of that liberty. "Sweet land of liberty." There were tears in my eyes. I think there were tears in the eyes of almost everyone in that huge crowd.
Vernon Jarrett, Writer: I am not too sure that America realized what that concert symbolized, because it struck at the very depths of racism in America. And everybody knew that Mrs. Roosevelt was behind this.
James Farmer: This was something unique having a first lady in the White House who was a good friend. She was much more of a friend than Franklin. Franklin was a politician and he weighed the political consequences of every answer and every step that he took. He was a good politician, too. But she spoke out of conscience. And acted as a conscientious person. That was different.
Narrator: That Easter Sunday in 1939, the world was just months away from the start of war in Europe. The New Deal programs that Eleanor Roosevelt had worked so hard to foster were already being cut back as her husband struggled to arm America. In the turbulent times ahead. Eleanor would be bitterly attacked for what she believed in, and once again, she would face loss and betrayal.
On July 17th, 1940 Eleanor Roosevelt was at her home, Val Kill, listening to the radio broadcast of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
With the world at war in Europe and Asia, the delegates had nominated Franklin Roosevelt to run for an unprecedented third term as president. Now he sent word that he wanted the controversial Secretary of Agriculture, Henry Wallace, as his running mate. The delegates threatened to revolt. From the White House, Roosevelt threatened not to run. The convention was spinning out of control. Party leaders and an anxious FDR turned to his strongest ally to help hold the convention together.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (voice-over): I got a call from the convention begging me to come out. I called Franklin, and he said, "Well, would you like to go?" and I said, "No, I wouldn't like to go. I'm very busy, and you told me I didn't have to go." He said, "Well, perhaps they seem to think it might be well if you came out." And I said, "But do you really want me to go?" and he said, "Well, perhaps it would be a good idea." So that meant, I suppose, that I had to go.
Pandemonium had broken loose in the hall. You couldn't hear yourself speak. The noise was something terrible. I went forward and stood and, to my surprise and everyone else's, I imagine, there was silence in a very short time.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (synch): "Delegates to the convention. This is no ordinary time. You cannot treat it as you would treat an ordinary nomination in an ordinary time"
Trude Lash, Friend of Eleanor Roosevelt: She talked very briefly, without notes, though she had very carefully prepared it.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (synch): You will have to rise above considerations which are narrow and partisan. You.
Mary Bain: She just brought us all up. She was just electric, is about the only thing I can think of.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (synch): This is only carried by a united people who love their country and who will live for it to the fullest of their ability, with a determination to bring the world to a safer and happier condition
Trude Lash, Friend of Eleanor Roosevelt: There was pandemonium, so much applause. She pulled it together. They agreed to the President’s choice for Vice-President. And it was a miracle.
Mary Bain: People loved every minute of it. Some people cried and some people just... It was just amazing.
Trude Lash, Friend of Eleanor Roosevelt: The President called her and said this was a job wonderfully done. It was just marvelous. And Mrs. Roosevelt sat there and beamed.
Narrator: Eleanor exulted in her triumph, but the election itself filled her with dread. More than a quarter century in politics had taken a heavy toll on her family. Just before Election Day Eleanor wrote, "From a personal standpoint I'd give anything to leave Washington and, if Franklin is elected, I wonder if the amount he can do will be worth the sacrifice that all of us have to make."
Publicly Eleanor did not reveal how much she worried about her family. All the Roosevelt children had troubled lives. They struggled with feelings of jealousy, with failed marriages, and financial difficulties.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Niece of Eleanor Roosevelt: Among the five children, there were 19 marriages. Partly that might be due to the puzzlement of being children of famous people, and not knowing who was your friend really, or who wanted to get close to your parents.
Trude Lash, Friend of Eleanor Roosevelt: Mrs. Roosevelt tried very hard to make it clear to them that access to their father was really often the main purpose of why people fell all over themselves for them. But it was difficult for them to believe. The White House is a very seductive place to be.
Nina Gibson, Granddaughter of Eleanor Roosevelt: It was very difficult for them, as the children not just of the president of the United States but of Eleanor Roosevelt as well. I mean, they sort of had a double whammy.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (voice-over): If they wanted to really talk to their father, they had to ask for an appointment. And even when they got the appointment, sometimes affairs of state would be so important that they didn't get the full attention of their father. And this is a very difficult thing for youngsters to accept.
Narrator: Now 56, Eleanor still blamed herself for not having been a better mother. Feelings of guilt and inadequacy continued to send her into fierce depressions.
Trude Lash, Friend of Eleanor Roosevelt: When she had one of her Griselda moods, there was practically nothing you could do. I never fully understood what brought on this great sudden sadness and withdrawal. She could turn to ice. I was scared to death of those moods.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Niece of Eleanor Roosevelt: I think that she was a moody, even maybe sad person, because she felt in herself a lack of ability to be to be spontaneous. I think she wanted to be a happy person. I have an image of her in the White House; I was leaving and she came to the door and she stood out under the portico and just stood there waving goodbye while we drove down the driveway. And I had a terrible feeling of a lonely, lonely person.
Slate: Eleanor Roosevelt broadcast on Dec 8, 1941
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (voice-over): I am speaking to you tonight at a very serious moment in our history. Army and Navy officials have been with the President all afternoon. In fact the Japanese ambassador was talking to the President at the very time that Japan's airships were bombing our citizens in Hawaii.
Narrator: The attack on Pearl Harbor that brought America into World War II changed Eleanor and Franklin's political partnership. FDR's priority now was to win the war and he had less and less time to spend on domestic issues with her. As the country mobilized, their four sons enlisted.
Trude Lash, Friend of Eleanor Roosevelt: She knew they all would have to go to war. American young people, so many of them, she had the feeling, would die. And she was deeply disturbed. She feared that her sons wouldn’t all come back, because the probability was, they wouldn’t. And it undid her.
Narrator: Eleanor still confided many of her feelings to Lorena Hickock but the intensity of their relationship had diminished over the years. Now Eleanor often turned for emotional support to a young man the same age as her sons -- Joseph Lash.
Lash had been a student leader, affiliated with the American Youth Congress. When a Congressional committee investigated foreign influence on American political groups, the Youth Congress was targeted. Despite warnings that many of its members were Communists, Eleanor believed that they were simply idealistic and she defended their right to free speech.
Joe Lash 1972 Interview, Archival: When I was testifying, Mrs. Roosevelt appeared and the hearings weren't finished and we were supposed to come back the next day. She said, "I can take six of you." So she scooped us into her limousine. And lo and behold we were having dinner with the President. And that night we spent at the White House and the next morning she came to the hearings again. The hearing room came alive. Everyone was on their toes.
Joe Lash, Archival (synch): I didn't say that. I just agreed with what you said...
Joe Lash 1972 interview, Archival: We somehow sort of hit it off right from the beginning. From that point on it became I think for several years her closest friendship.
Lou Harris: They enjoyed the same kind of jokes, the sense of humor. Above all, they belonged to the same part of the human equation, and they had the same kind of mission, the same kind of way of looking at the world.
Trude Lash, Friend of Eleanor Roosevelt: It was real love, on both sides. Joe adored her. I mean, here was someone like nobody he had ever seen. Certainly it was a friendship between a man and a woman, but there was no sexual part to it. And it made both of them very eager to see each other and to talk together
Narrator: Eleanor did not seem to realize their friendship might be misconstrued. In 1942 Lash was assigned to an air base in Illinois. Because of his radical background, military counter- intelligence monitored his activities- including two weekends he spent with Eleanor - one at the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago.
Trude Lash, Friend of Eleanor Roosevelt: Joe had a room next to hers and came into her room. He was very tired. He had not slept all night. And she said, "Why don’t you lie down, Joe," and sat on the bed next to him and talked with him. And I’m sure that was all.
Athan Theoharis, Historian: Mrs. Roosevelt was advised by officials of the Blackstone Hotel that military intelligence had been monitoring her during her stay. Eleanor Roosevelt had real difficulties with the surveillance of her activities. She wanted to preserve her privacy and she wanted to have the freedom to move around as any other American. She complained to White House aide Harry Hopkins, who in turn conveyed her displeasure to General of the Army, George Marshall.
Narrator: Marshall put a stop to the surveillance. But the agents gave their file with its allegations of a sexual affair to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.
Trude Lash, Friend of Eleanor Roosevelt: If they had listened to how they talked, they would have found out what this relationship was all about: close. She might have called him "Joe dearest," as she did. But this was then the Hoover interpretation. Hoover knows everything about all what goes on in all the bedrooms in the nation. And if he didn’t know, he’d invent it.
Narrator: This was not the FBI's first report on Eleanor.
Blanche Wiesen Cook, Historian: Eleanor Roosevelt’s FBI file is one of the wonders of the Western world. It is one of the largest individual files that Hoover compiled. And it goes on for over 3,000 pages. She writes to Joe Lash, the letter is in the file. She visits with Joe Lash, the visit is in her file. Anything she says against segregation, against lynching, is in that file. They are following her everywhere.
Narrator: Hoover's notes reveal his intense dislike of Eleanor, and the FBI would watch her for the rest of her life.
Athan Theoharis, Historian: It reflected a conviction on the part of senior FBI officials that Mrs. Roosevelt’s advocacy of racial equality was inimical to the national interest. He found her a threat to American society and values.
Narrator: For Eleanor, the war against fascist Germany and Japan made America's own failings -- especially racism -- even more intolerable. Her public support of racial equality enraged many Americans.
Vernon Jarrett, Writer: World War II exposed a great contradiction in American life. Here you were fighting Hitler, the world’s premier ideologue of racism. And in your own country, if you were a black soldier in a uniform, you had to be very cautious about your life. They were still lynching African Americans, hanging them up, setting them on fire, shooting them like they were garbage and dogs.
Narrator: During the war thousands of people -- black and white -- moved to northern cities like Detroit to work in defense industries.
Vernon Jarrett, Writer: In Detroit, you had a lot of workers there that said, "We just can’t accept black people. We cannot accept black people in any kind of jobs that we had declared rigidly in our minds not to be black jobs."
Narrator: By 1942 the atmosphere in Detroit was ugly. Blacks and whites clashed in housing projects and on street corners. Again and again Eleanor called for tolerance, for equal housing and job opportunities for all Americans. And she wrote one memo after another warning FDR about rising racial tensions.
On June 20th, 1943, Eleanor's worst fears came true. Riots ripped through Detroit. White mobs roamed the streets, hauling blacks out of cars and beating them. African Americans responded in kind.
The next morning federal troops arrived, and restored order. Nearly one thousand people were injured; 25 blacks and nine whites were dead. As America tried to understand what had happened, southern newspapers found an easy scapegoat.
Vernon Jarrett, Writer: And of course, who did they blame? Eleanor Roosevelt. And they laid it on her. They accused her of being a communist. They accused her of everything.
Lou Harris: I asked Mrs. Roosevelt one day, I said, "Why do you do so many things that make you so controversial?" She said, "I have access to the President. And if I don’t use that access to do things that need to be done in this country, need to be done for people, I would be sorely remiss and irresponsible."
Narrator: In the weeks following Detroit, Eleanor and civil rights leaders appealed to FDR to speak to the nation about the problem of race. But Roosevelt felt his hands were tied by powerful white southerners in Congress whose votes he needed for the war effort. He had a war to win, he said.
FDR, Archival (synch): Our ultimate objectives in this war continue to be Berlin and Tokyo.
Narrator: The campaign in the Pacific was one of the toughest and bloodiest of the war. For months, Eleanor had wanted to visit the troops fighting there. Now FDR agreed, thinking the trip might reduce her negative press. In August 1943 she set off alone, without even her secretary. She went with trepidation -- she knew that vicious "Eleanor" stories were common among the men.
Edna Gurewitsch, Friend of Eleanor Roosevelt: Word had got out that a woman was arriving. For security reasons, they couldn’t say it was the president’s wife. And she said she always felt how disappointed they would be because they were expecting a Hollywood starlet and all they got was her.
Narrator: On the advice of her sons, who were all serving in the military, she insisted on spending time, not just with the officers, but with the enlisted men.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival: Just as the Marines were ordered to leave Guadalcanal, an officer found a private looking very sad, very depressed. He said, 'What's the matter with you?' And he said, 'I haven't shot a Jap.' So the officer said, 'Well, listen, I tell you what to do. You go up that ridge over there and jump up all of a sudden and say, 'To hell with Hirohito!' and they'll jump up other people all around and you'll get a Jap.' So he goes off and a little while later the officer sees him again and was still very gloomy and he says, 'Did you do what I told you to do?' He says, 'Yes sir, I did just what you said. I said, 'To hell with Hirohito!' and they all jumped up just as you said they would but they all shouted, 'To hell with Roosevelt!'
Narrator: The men loved her. Admiral Halsey, commander of the Pacific fleet had opposed her visit but he changed his mind. "I marveled at her hardihood, both physical and mental," he reported. She saw patients who were grievously wounded. I marveled most at their expressions as she leaned over them. It was a sight I will never forget. She alone accomplished more good than any other person who passed through my area. "The suffering of the men," Eleanor said, "left a mark from which I think I shall never be free."
By 1944 the war had taken its toll on FDR. Sixty two years old, he had been president for 11 years. Now he sought a fourth term.
Trude Lash, Friend of Eleanor Roosevelt: Eleanor Roosevelt felt that he desperately needed rest. On the other hand, she did not feel that she could say or push very hard against his running, because the war was on and he felt he had to finish the job.
Slate: January 1945
FDR, Archival: As I stand here today having taken the solemn oath of office in the presence of my fellow countrymen...
Eleanor Seagraves, Granddaughter of Eleanor Roosevelt: The grandchildren came back for the inauguration - there were 13 or 14 of us. We brought our homework with us and stayed a month at the White House. And then when I had to go back to school in San Francisco, I popped into the Oval Office and said good-bye. And I said, "I’ll see you this summer, Papa." And he said, "Yes. Good-bye, old thing." But I noticed how thin he looked. He didn’t quite fill out his clothes. And I wondered how long he can go on.
Geoffrey Ward, Historian: Franklin Roosevelt was ill and suffering from heart disease. And Eleanor seemed oddly oblivious of this and would nag him to do things: helping a particular group of refugees, that sort of thing when he was trying to (A) stay alive and (B) keep the big picture in his mind.
Curtis Roosevelt, Grandson of Eleanor Roosevelt: Very rarely did she bring in papers to the cocktail hour, because that was his hour. But in one instance, my grandmother did bring a lot of papers in. And he must have been very, very tired, and so he picked up the papers and he flopped them down in front of Anna, my mother and said, "Sis, you handle these." And it was totally out of character for him. So my grandmother just left in hurt and went back to her study. And my mother did say to her father, "Pa, I think you’ve got to make amends." And he said, "Yes, I know." So he had himself wheeled in, and no one knows what he said, but she came down to supper with him.
Narrator: FDR depended more and more on their daughter Anna. Unlike her mother, Anna made no demands on her father. She was warm and cheerful, and she carefully watched his health. To Eleanor's great disappointment he asked Anna, not her, to accompany him to Yalta for his meeting with Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill.
FDR, Archival: Mr Speaker, members of the Congress...
Narrator: After FDR returned his failing health was apparent to all.
FDR (Archival): I hope that you will pardon me for an unusual posture of sitting down during the presentation of what I want to say but I know that you will realize that it makes it a lot easier for me .....
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (voice-over): When Franklin went to Warm Springs in April of 1945, he said to me that he felt that there were certain things I had to do and I had better wait and come down later. He would take two people whom he enjoyed having with him, Margaret Suckley and Laura Delano and he said in an amusing way that he did not have to make any effort with either of them.
Narrator: Eleanor stayed behind in Washington. On April 12th she attended a fundraising event at the Sulgrave Club. Just before five o'clock, she received a telephone call telling her to come home immediately. "I got into the car and sat with clenched hands all the way to the White House. In my heart of hearts, I knew what had happened."
Franklin had died that afternoon of a brain hemorrhage. Eleanor travelled through the night to Warm Springs. And there she learned why he had discouraged her from going with him.
Franklin D. Roosevelt 3rd, Grandson of Eleanor Roosevelt: Laura Delano made it her business to tell Eleanor that Lucy Mercer was with FDR when he died in Warm Springs, which was devastating for Eleanor to learn that the woman FDR had first had an affair with in 1917 was there at his side when he died.
Blanche Wiesen Cook, Historian: And she discovers also that her daughter Anna had arranged for many other visits during the war years, between Lucy Mercer and her husband. And this is a very big blow to her pride, to her heart.
Narrator: As Franklin's body was carried on the journey to Washington, Eleanor was barely seen.
For more than 40 years, for better and for worse, Eleanor's life had been intertwined with Franklin's. Now, her anger she felt numb, detached from the nation's sorrow. "It was almost as though I had erected someone a little outside of myself, who was the president's wife," she wrote. "I was lost somewhere deep down inside myself."
Just days after FDR's funeral, Eleanor moved out of the White House back to her home, Val Kill. She had time to reflect on Franklin's death, his final betrayal, and Anna's complicity.
Blanche Wiesen Cook, Historian: Her heart has been really shredded. It took a long time for her to forgive her daughter. And she does forgive her and she even understands how it happened.
Narrator: As she struggled with her feelings, the depth of her mourning surprised her. "My husband and I had come through the years with an acceptance of each other's faults and foibles, warm affection and agreement on essential values. We depended on each other."
Trude Lash, Friend of Eleanor Roosevelt: She actually was much more intimately connected with the President than she thought. She took it for granted that she could go to the Oval Office and ask him questions that he knew the answers to and nobody else did. She felt that the warmth, of going to the President’s bedroom in the morning and of talking with him, of joking with him at the dinner table. All that had been there and not questioned, and not particularly acknowledged, but now it wasn’t there.
Narrator: In May 1945, just one month after Franklin's death, Germany surrendered to the Allies. By August, World War II was finally over. Eleanor was relieved, but she did not feel like celebrating. "I miss Pa's voice" she wrote Anna, "and the words he would have spoken."
Franklin and Eleanor had experienced two world wars; they had witnessed unimaginable destruction, and millions of senseless deaths. For years they had talked about how to prevent another war and FDR had laid the groundwork for the United Nations.
President Truman, Archival: May Almighty God give us the wisdom to carry on in the way of FDR.
Narrator: In December 1945, the new president, Harry Truman asked Eleanor to be a delegate to the UN's first meeting in London.
Eight months after Franklin's death, Eleanor arrived in England to begin a new career.
Margaret Bruce, Former Secretary at United Nations: She was a very impressive figure, someone that people queued up to see. Of course in England, Franklin Roosevelt was a great hero. We thought he was wonderful, the way he had come to the help of Britain. And Eleanor came as his widow at that time. She was not completely playing her own role.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (synch): I knew that as the only woman, I 'd better be better than anybody else. So I read every paper. And they were very dull sometimes, because State Department papers can be very dull. And I used to almost go to sleep over them, and– [laughs] But I did read them all. I knew that if I in any way failed, it would not be just my failure; it would be the failure of all women. There’d never be another woman on the delegation.
We will now come to order.
Margaret Bruce, Former Secretary at United Nations: They assigned her to one of the committees, the Social, Humanitarian and Cultural because they didn’t think she could do much harm there.
Curtis Roosevelt, Grandson of Eleanor Roosevelt: The condescension of the other male delegates was fairly obvious because they didn’t know of the Eleanor Roosevelt who was a political pro.
Narrator: The United Nations quickly became the diplomatic battleground of the new Cold War between the Soviet Union and the West. Eleanor's tough sparring with her Russian counterpart became the talk of the assembly.
Soviet Delegate Vishinski, Archival (synch): Americanski delegacione.
Margaret Bruce, Former Secretary at United Nations: She countered sometimes very violent attacks with firmness and diplomatic politeness, but nobody was under any misapprehension of where she stood.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (synch): I'm extremely sorry that we have to take up your time to go in again to a discussion, which has been thoroughly covered for two weeks...
Curtis Roosevelt, Grandson of Eleanor Roosevelt: When she got into the brickbats and in-fighting in the UN Committees and so forth, Eleanor Roosevelt knew how to handle it far better than some of these chaps did.
Narrator: The delegates were so impressed with Eleanor's performance they elected her to chair the committee drafting a Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (voice-over): There are many parts of the world that had not even an elementary understanding of what human rights really meant. There was a feeling that one needed to define more clearly what human rights and freedoms were to mean.
Narrator: It took a year of relentless negotiating.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (synch): The Soviet amendment of Article 22 introduces few elements into the article...
Curtis Roosevelt, Grandson of Eleanor Roosevelt: All of the naiveté that sometimes people attribute to her in the 1930’s or even 1940’s, had passed away.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (synch): An identical text was rejected in Committee Three.
Curtis Roosevelt, Grandson of Eleanor Roosevelt: And she was able to see what’s possible. How far can I push this? How can I get that? How can I keep from losing something over here?
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (synch): The question of discrimination is comprehensively covered in Article Two of the Declaration.
Margaret Bruce, Former Secretary at United Nations: Every comma was argued over in all the languages. There were big items and there were small items. And points of drafting and points of substance. And Eleanor had to rule on many of these.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (synch): It is my ruling, as chairman of the committee, that the point raised by the Soviet member is out of order.
Curtis Roosevelt, Grandson of Eleanor Roosevelt: She also enjoyed the work. She worked 18 to 20 hours a day. She got four to six hours of sleep a night, if that. We would be having breakfast, and she would say, "Please try and get the Pakistani, Madame Begum, over for supper this evening, and see if you can’t get Mr. Malik to join us." And it’d be revolving in her head, the maneuvering.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (synch): It is not a treaty, it is not an international agreement. It is not and does not purport to be a statement of law or of legal obligation. It is a declaration of basic principles of human rights and freedoms
Margaret Bruce, Former Secretary at United Nations: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience, and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood." Well, it started out as "all men", which immediately caused a problem. "Born free and equal in rights, being endowed with reason" was something the Soviet bloc and those who don’t particularly believe in religion fought over. And then "act towards each other in a spirit of brotherhood," well, the "brotherhood" stayed because it became rather pompous if you added "sisterhood." But, "all men" was certainly changed to "all human beings".
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (synch): The Soviet proposal for deferring consideration of the declaration requires no comment. We are all agreed, I'm sure, that the declaration must be approved by this assembly at this session.
Narrator: On December 10, 1948 the United Nations finally voted on the document
Margaret Bruce, Former Secretary at United Nations: It was adopted at something like three o’clock in the morning.
Chairman, Archival (synch): In favor of adoption: 48.
Margaret Bruce, Former Secretary at United Nations: Everyone really felt this was a great historic moment for the world.
Chairman, Archival (synch): It is particularly fitting that here tonight should be the person who has been the leader in this movement, the person who has raised to even greater honor so great a name. I refer of course to Mrs. Roosevelt, the delegate of the United States.
Lou Harris: She was becoming a statesperson. She had been most concerned with domestic affairs while the President was president of the United States but she undertook this and made her own mark. This in a way was the making of Eleanor Roosevelt, a separate person, standing tall on her own two feet.
Narrator: After Republican Dwight Eisenhower became president in 1952, Eleanor Roosevelt, like all presidential appointees, resigned her post. She was 68. For the first time in nearly 25 years she had no official duties to perform.
She traveled extensively. She made the first of three trips to the newly established state of Israel. She visited Japan, the Soviet Union, and India. Although her visits were private, she was greeted like a head of state nearly everywhere she went.
She was often accompanied by her friend and physician Dr. David Gurewitsch. Gurewitsch was the son of Russian émigrés, a worldly, cultivated man.
Edna Gurewitsch, Friend of Eleanor Roosevelt: David was a man who loved intimacy, and she could unburden herself. And his being a doctor helped because he was accustomed to listen and to advise. So that was very good for her.
Curtis Roosevelt, Grandson of Eleanor Roosevelt: David was charming. He was very courtly, a gentle person And he was capable of having fun, he could practically be a naughty boy, and my grandmother would giggle.
Geoffrey Ward, Historian: I think Eleanor Roosevelt really was in love with David Gureswitsch. And I think she really deeply regretted that she was so much older than he, and that he had other interests in younger women. She really wanted all of David Gurewitsch, and the emotions ran very high.
Narrator: "David dear, I am not stupid and know that twenty years lie between you and me. I know you love youth and beauty and independence and I would not want to keep you from those joys, but I would be so happy and so grateful if there were ways when you wanted me to do something for you.. What I have in the few years I have left is yours before it is anyone else's. My whole heart is yours...
Geoffrey Ward, Historian: She was realistic enough in the end and when he married, she rallied heroically and remained a companion and good friend.
Narrator: Eleanor found a measure of personal happiness but she was still troubled by her failure as a mother.
Trude Lash, Friend of Eleanor Roosevelt: She was very concerned about her sons because they went into so many ventures and so many of them didn’t succeed. And with Franklin, she had the feeling that he was relying too much on his charm and didn’t work hard enough.
Russell Hemenway: Franklin was probably the most political of her children. Looked just like his father, talked like his father, sounded like his father. He was very, very charismatic.
Narrator: When FDR Jr. was elected to Congress in 1949 it seemed he had a golden future. But like most of his siblings, he lacked his parents' discipline.
Russell Hemenway: If you’re elected to Congress, one assumes you’re going to spend some time there. Franklin spent very little. He preferred the high life in New York. He was a young man, and he was spirited and attractive. New York was his meat. He just loved it.
Franklin D. Roosevelt 3rd, Grandson of Eleanor Roosevelt: He was, yes, a party animal. He like other people. And he enjoyed playing around, whatever. He had five wives. That speaks for itself, I guess.
Narrator: After his term in Congress he tried, like his father before him, to run for Governor of New York. But he lost the nomination to Averell Harriman. He ran for Attorney General instead. Again he lost.
Lou Harris: The morning after the election at the hotel where Frank was staying, and suddenly I heard him weeping in the bathroom, weeping openly. And this was totally out of character. And he came out, his eyes were red, and I said, "Frank, what in the world’s the trouble? Are you all right?" He shook his head and said to me, "Lou, I must tell you," he said, "It’s just too much. Just too much for one individual to bear." And I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "To be the son of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt." He said, "It’s so much to live up to. And I guess I’ve not done it.
Narrator: The Roosevelt children often resented the public Mrs. Roosevelt, who cared so deeply for the needs of her friends, and for complete strangers.
Curtis Roosevelt, Grandson of Eleanor Roosevelt: My mother and uncles felt, that my grandmother had not given to them that which she was capable of giving to people outside. They saw Joe Lash having, as we would say today, a quality relationship. That was something they never experienced. So there was no small amount of jealousy. It was quite, quite plain.
Trude Lash, Friend of Eleanor Roosevelt: I understood that always. I would have been, too. They felt they weren’t the most important ones, though I don’t believe that. I think they were. But they weren’t the exclusive ones. There were many others of us who were close to her.
Narrator: Eleanor still pushed herself with a relentless schedule of lectures and meetings, travel and committees. She denounced Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist witch hunt. She was on the board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and she spoke to audiences around the country trying to build public support for desegregation.
Blanche Wiesen Cook, Historian: Eleanor Roosevelt really wants a Democrat back in office, and she really wants her convictions back on the national agenda. And she does everything to make that happen.
Narrator: In 1952 and again in 1956 Eleanor's choice for president was the former Governor of Illinois, Adlai Stevenson.
Stevenson, Archival (synch): I think that I am going to carry the primary in Florida tomorrow.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (synch): I think he would make the best president.
Larry Fuchs, Friend: She believed he was an idealistic man, a man of great vision who could motivate large numbers of people to make a more humane and just society. She was firm in her opinion he would make the best president of the United States that we had had since her Franklin.
Narrator: Eleanor was an invaluable ally for Stevenson. She used her prestige to further his candidacy, and offered advice gained from decades of successful campaigning.
Party leader, Archival (synch): The first lady of the world, Mrs. Franklin Delano Roosevelt!
Narrator: When the Democratic Party delegates opened in August 1956. Eleanor was asked to address the convention on the opening night.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (synch): We must be a united party. It is true we have differences.
Blanche Wiesen Cook, Historian: She is the grand lady of the party. She has a tremendous amount of prestige. Nobody can be nominated without her approval in the Democratic Party. And Eleanor Roosevelt goes all out.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (synch): I believe that it is absolutely imperative that the Democrats come back to power. But they must come back with the right ticket. Our party is young and vigorous! Our party may be the oldest democratic party, but our party, our party must live as a young party and it must have young leadership!
Narrator: Without ever mentioning Adlai Stevenson, Eleanor made it clear whom she supported. Three days later, he won the nomination for president.
Eleanor campaigned non-stop for Stevenson, but she could not win the election for him.
Henry Morgenthau: They were riding in a limousine to a meeting in Harlem, New York City. The car stopped, and people gathered around the car and began to poke their heads right in the window, and they recognized Eleanor Roosevelt and perhaps Adlai. She said he cringed in the corner and said to her, "What am I going to say to these people?" And she said that "I realized then that if he didn’t know, there was nothing I could tell him."
Narrator: President Eisenhower beat Stevenson by a landslide. Eleanor was bitterly disappointed. She hoped, she said, never to be so involved in another political campaign.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (synch and voice-over): We are now trying to win to the free world the uncommitted people of the world in Asia, in Africa, and in South America. And most of those people are colored peoples.
Narrator: Even in her 70s Eleanor still sparked controversy.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (synch): And the suggestion that we do not consider our own citizens as equals makes them feel there is something really radically wrong in everything that we offer them. So they’ll take a good look at what the Communists offer. (voice - off "What can we do about this?") Face it. And realize that we can’t afford to have two kinds of citizens. We must have equal citizenship for anybody in our country.
Narrator: Conservative newspapers, disturbed by her ever more outspoken support of civil rights, dropped her My Day column. Protestors picketed her appearances, threats were made on her life. In 1958 the Ku Klux Klan learned she was going to speak at a civil rights workshop at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee.
Allida Black, Biographer: The day before she’s supposed to go, the FBI contacts her and says, "Mrs. Roosevelt, we can’t guarantee your safety. The Klan’s put a bounty on your head, a $25,000 bounty on your head. We can’t protect you. You can’t go." Eleanor says, "I didn’t ask for your protection. I appreciate the warning. I have a commitment. I’m going."
Vernon Jarrett, Writer: She was relentless. She made a statement to the effect that if you don't take a stand, you got to leave the impression that you're cowardly. She used the word "cowardly."
Allida Black, Biographer: So Eleanor flies into the Nashville airport and she’s met by this 71-year-old white woman. No Secret Service. No cops. No young muscle men around her. You know, this elderly white woman picks up a 74-year-old Eleanor Roosevelt. And here they are, they're going to stand down the Klan! They get in their car, they put a loaded pistol on the front seat between them, and they drive up at night through the mountains to this tiny labor school to conduct a workshop on how to break the law, how to conduct non-violent civil disobedience. And she drove through the Klan to do it.
Geoffrey Ward, Historian: She was tough as nails. She had made herself tough. She was just as tough as FDR, just as tough as Theodore Roosevelt.
Vernon Jarrett, Writer: She didn’t stop, because this woman evidently was convinced that she was doing the American thing. She was thinking about the future of her country.
Narrator: Most Americans never knew of the threats on Eleanor's life.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival: And I thank you Mr. Sullivan for giving us this opportunity...
Ed Sullivan (Archival): Why thank you, Mrs. Roosevelt.
Narrator: By the late 1950's, she seemed to be everywhere
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (synch): Give to the American Cancer Society.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (synch): A real campaign is being put on by the Soviet Union.
Narrator: In politics, in print.
On television and radio.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (synch): I wonder if you realize that more than two thirds of the people in the world are underfed
Narrator: Eleanor used the programs to promote issues she felt were important and to make money to help her children.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (synch): Years ago most people never dreamed of eating margarine but times have changed. Nowadays you can get a margarine like the new Good Luck margarine, which really tastes delicious. That's what I have spread on my toast. Good Luck! I have thoroughly enjoyed it!
Frank Sinatra, Archival: To all the maidens and damsels. To all the frauleins and mademoiselle
Edna Gurewitsch, Friend of Eleanor Roosevelt: I went down for lunch one day, and Maureen Corr, her secretary said, "Mrs. Roosevelt, it’s a call from California. It’s Frank Sinatra." And Mrs. Roosevelt said, "Find out who he is, dear, and what he wants." It was an invitation to appear at a special.
Frank Sinatra, Archival: There is a Gallup poll taken every year to select the ten most admired women in the world. This year, for the 11th consecutive time, the name at the top of that list is that of a lady whose friendship I treasure very much. Ladies and gentlemen, the most admired women of our time – Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt. Now then if you had one minute to leave one word with say, 25 million people, what would that word be?
Eleanor Roosevelt, Archival (synch): That one word would be hope. Next time you are found with your chin on the ground. There is a lot to be learned. So look around. Once there was a silly old....
Narrator: In the last years of her life, Eleanor enjoyed, more than ever, the time she could spend at Val Kill. Her house was always filled with people -- grandchildren, close friends, former New Dealers, visiting dignitaries and neighbors. She seemed a better mother to her grandchildren than she had been to her own.
Nina Gibson, Granddaughter of Eleanor Roosevelt: I wasn't beautiful. I wasn’t social. And my parents really weren’t sure what to do with me. So my grandmother became my substitute parents. And I spent a lot of time with her, because I felt welcome at her house, and she was wonderful to be around.
Edna Gurewitsch, Friend of Eleanor Roosevelt: In those years, she enjoyed life very much. She enjoyed parties, giving them. She was a wonderful hostess. She enjoyed good food. In the summer her cook made the most marvelous frozen Daiquiris, which she enjoyed. She was great fun. She laughed with real gusto.
Eleanor Seagraves, Granddaughter of Eleanor Roosevelt: We saw a lighter, happier–even though she was older– happier person. A little more relaxed, and very sure of herself in a gentle way.
Narrator: More than half a century after her father's death, Eleanor made the journey he had promised they would take one day - to the Taj Mahal, the monument to eternal love. She stayed through the evening, sitting alone in the moonlight. "As long as I shall live I shall carry in my mind the beauty of the Taj. At last I know why my father always said it was the one thing he wanted us to see together."
By 1962 Eleanor's age was catching up with her. For the first time in her life, she admitted she was tired.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Niece of Eleanor Roosevelt: That summer she didn’t seem her old self. There were some engagement she actually didn’t want to go to. At night she would have sweats. Then she started to bleed. And she was forced really to go to New York City to specialists.
Narrator: Doctors found she was suffering from bone marrow tuberculosis.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Niece of Eleanor Roosevelt: She did persuade them to let her back to her apartment. She was just very tired. She didn't want to fight anymore.
Narrator: Eleanor Roosevelt died on November 7, 1962. She was 78 years old.
Larry Fuchs, Friend: All government offices and all overseas installations were ordered to fly the American flag at half-mast. It was acknowledgement that what we already knew from the polls and from stories that would come from little villages and hamlets all over the world, that she was the most admired woman in the world.
Priest, Archival: The world has suffered an irreparable loss.
Vernon Jarrett, Writer: Eleanor Roosevelt had a sense of discovery. She kept discovering herself and she kept growing. I don't think she knew that she would become the Eleanor Roosevelt that she did.
Edna Gureswitsch, Friend of Eleanor Roosevelt: She transcended politics, all religions. She was recognized as the best that America could be.
Curtis Roosevelt, Grandson of Eleanor Roosevelt: This popularity of Eleanor Roosevelt was quite extraordinary. You look at her life: There’s no way that you can record legislation that she was responsible for. It isn’t any of the ways in which we normally peg a person’s recognition. It is because of who she was. And who she was, the vibrations of it, continue to echo.
My American Experience
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