** Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945)

Figure 1.--Franklin Roosevelt is pictured here at about 5 years of age in 1887 with his father. He is wearing a Highland kilt despite the fact that the Rosevelt's were a Dutch family. Franklin reportedly did not like his kilts. He wears bangs, but his curls have been cut. Click on the image to see Franklin with his rather young-looking mother on the same day.

The 30th president is generally considered to be the most important American statesman of the 20th century. He led America through the two most serious crises of the century, the Great Depression and World War II. He inspired confidence and despite his patrician origins came to be loved by the least favored Americans. Thus when other countries turned to totalitarianism and dictatorship, American democractic society grew stronger. His policies helped to give voice of the American worker through trade unions. The resulting prosperity of the American worker created the basis for the success of the American economy in the second half of the 20th Century. He was born into a wealthy family with an elderly father. He had a charmed childhood at his father's Hyde Park, New York estate. He was a cousin of President Theodore Roosevelt, whose niece he married in 1905.

Parents and Family

Franklin D. Roosevelt was born in Hyde Park, New York on January 30, 1882, the son of James Roosevelt and Sara Delano Roosevelt. Both were scions of wealthy families. His parents each in their own destinct way had a huge impact in molding their son's character. HPC and HBC biographies are largely short summaries of presidents and other important individuals. We do, however, atempt to look at the various individual's childhood in detail. An individual's character is formed in childhood. Often we can not unlock the family privacy to fully understand the dynamic involved. But with Franklin Roosevelt we know a great deal and the figure that emerges as the greatest figure in life is his mother Sarah. While Sarah may have caused Eleanor constant irritations, the American people can think this young mother for forming the boy who became president.

Figure 2.--Franklin is pictured here wearing a lace collar. He was about 6 years old and his hair had been cut short.


Franklin led a sheltered youth, educated by governesses, his life revolving about the Hyde Park family estate, and rural Dutchess County, trips to Europe, athletics (especially swimming and boating), and hobbies such as stamp and bird collecting. Franklin had what has often been called a constrained childhood growing up on the family Hyde Park estate. His father at the time Franklin was born was eldely. His mother, however, loving and devoted was prim and proper. She hovered over Franklin as a boy and coddled him. Although they were not wealthy by late 19th century standards, the Roosevelts of Hyde Park led a comfortable, gracious existance, and young Franklin's life was sheltered; he was educated by governesses and indulged by his father. Franklin had a secure and idyllic childhood. President Roosevelt's boyhood home is today a popular related attraction at the Hyde Park historic site. Summers he went with his parents to Europe, to the seaside in New England, or to Campobello Island off the coast of New Brunswick. Some of Franklin's most pleasant boyhood memories come from Campabello. It had been a fishing village, but after the construction of several grand hotels, it became as fashionable tourist destination. While Sarah is often mentioned in any history of FDR, his father is often ignored. In fact, his father was a powerful influence on the young Franklin. At an early age Fraklin became interested in birds. On his 11th birthday he asked his parents for a gun and with it began a collection of all the birds native to Dutchess County.

Boyhood Clothes

Sarah dresses Franklin in dresses and long hair through 1885 when he was three. At age 5 years his hair has been cut, but he is still wearing kilts. I'm not sure precisely when he last wore a kilt. Most of his boyhood photographs show him in sailor suits, which must have been a favorite of his mother's. Interestingly, modern children are quite surprised about boys like Franklin wearing dresses. Franklin was born in 1881, in time to catch the full force of the Fauntleroy mania. Although we do not note any images of him wearing a classic velvet Fauntleroy suit, we do notice him wearing a variety of fancy clothes, no doubt lovingly chosen by his mother. Franklin as a very small boy wore dresses, as was the custom of the day. This was especially true for boys from affluent families. HBC does not have a lot of information on the dresses that he wore. Franklin when slightly older wore kilts for a few years. He also wore Highland garb, including a sporan, shoulder sash, and Glengary cap. Available images show him dressed up in different styles of kilts or kilt skirts. There do not appear to be images of him wearing smocks or Fauntleroy suits which were all the rage at the time. By age 13 he is wearing more adult Eton collars. I'm not precisely sure at what age he swiched out of his sailor suits, but it looks like 12 or 13 years. He wore sailor kilts or actually a middy blouse with a kilt-skirt. While still in dresses and kilts, a biograoher writes, "Through all of this, he yearned to put on pants and shirts as did other boys, and to have his hair cut short. His mother resisted as long as she could."

Figure 3.--Franklin Roosevelt like most of the boys of his era, especially boys from affluent families, wore dresses when young. The photograph was taken in 1885. Note the fancy hat.

Modern view

Interestingly, modern children are quite surprised about boys like Franklin wearing dresses. Actually some boys wore dresses well beyond 4 or 5 years of age. C-Span in 1999 did an interesting series on the American presidents. A group of highschool girls, watching the show on FDR for extra credit, called in to ask about his boyhood clothes . The girls were surprise when the show mentioned thatbhe wore dresses and kilts until he wasc4 years of age. They had not heard of boys wearing dresses and kilts before.

The Era

Franklin was born in 1881, in time to catch the full force of the Fauntleroy mania. Although we do not note any images of him wearing a classic velvet Fauntleroy suit, we do notice him wearing a variety of fancy clothes, no doubt lovingly chosen by his mother. Mrs Burnett published her book Little Lord Fauntleroy in 1885-86 and it caused a mania for clothes emulating the diminutive hero in the book. While Mrs. Burnett's book did not create the fashion, it had a poweful impact in popularizing the style. A biographer writes, "In emulation of its precious hero, Franklin's mother kept him in dresses and long dresses until he was nearly six." [Ward, p. 113.] Here I am not at all sure that the author is correct. We see no significant difference in how Franklin was dressed after 1885-86. We do not know for sure that Sarah read the book, although it was a very widely read book. Nor do we know that she changed her attitude toward dressing Franklin because of it. The biographer presents no evidence that this was the case. Actually Sarah was somewhat more restrained than many affluent mothers at the time. Rather Franklin;s clothes wre in keeping with the fashion of the day for boys. Notably Little Lord Fauntleroy apperas in the book well after he was brached and has nothing to do with boys wearing dresses as Ward suggests. The ageof nrreaching a boy was not uncommonly about age 5. Many boys were breached earlier and some later.


Many of the boyhood images of Franklin show him in kilts and sailor suits. He also wore dresses when young, some of which had a sailor style. I'm not sure where his adult interested in the sea came from, but it it is certainly reflected in his boyhood clothes. Presumably his mother whomso carefully selected his clothes instilled it in him. There do not appear to be images of him wearing smocks or Fauntleroy suits which were all the rage at the time. By age 13 he is wearing more adult Eton collars. I'm not precisely sure at what age he swiched out of his sailor suits, but it looks like 12 or 13 years. Franklin as a very small boy wore dresses, as was the custom of the day. This was especially true for boys from affluent families. HBC does not have a lot of information on the dresses that he wore. Franklin when slightly older wore kilts for a few years. Available images show him dressed up in different styles of kilts or kilt skirts. He wore sailor kilts or actually a middy blouse with a kilt-skirt. He also wore Highland garb, including a sporan, shoulder sash, and Glengary cap. It was not uncommon for wealthy children during the late 19th Century to be dressed in smocks as informal wear around the house. I do not know, however, if Franklin wore smocks. Some of his Delano cousins appear to have worn smocks. Velvet Fauntleroy suits were all the rage when Franklin was a boy. The Fauntleroy craze was just beginning in 1885 and continued for several years. HBC has not images, however, of Franklin wearing a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit. This suggests that Sarah did not outfit him in one. Certainly if she had, she would have had a photograph taken. While there does not appear to be photographs of Franklin in a Fauntleroy suit, one photograph shows hin in a lace collar. Much more popular with Franklin were sailor suits. Many photographs exist of him in sailor suits. Franklin from an early age showed a love of the sea. He sailed as a boy and later took the children sailing. It is not surprising that he became Assistant Secretary of the Navy. I'm not sure when he began wearing sailor suits, but it appears to have been at about 6 or 7 years of age. There are both white and blue suits with varioys style dickies. He appears to have mostly worn flat top sailor caps. I have not noticed images of him wearing broad-brimmed sailor hats. Photographs show him still wearing them at about 12 or 13 years of age. Photographs of Franklin at 13 show him wearing suits with an Eton collars. Some of the suits are knicker suits. As a younger boy in dresses and kilts, Franklin wore socks, both white and stripped. As an older boy wearing sailor suits he work long stockings.

Franklin's attitude

While still in dresses and kilts, a biograoher writes, "Through all of this, he yearned to put on pants and shirts as did other boys, and to have his hair cut short. His mother resisted as long as she could." [Ward, p. 114.] This may well have been the case by the time he was age 5, but we doubt if it was much earlier. Unfortunately the author does not tell us the source of his information. I do not know that Franklin himself ever as an adult commented on this. Perhaps in Srah's letters to friends and family, she may have commented on what Franklin may have said and thought. If so, Ward does not indicate that this was the source of his information, leading us to suspect that he may have just inferred Franklin's opinion. Here we do not say that Franklin did not want trousers anf his hair cut short, we simply point out that Ward presents no evidence to substantiate his statement. This is important because the War biography is one of the best and most detailed assessments of FDR's youth.


Sarah Roosevelt cut Fraklin's curls about 1887 when he was 5 years old. HBC has images of him in 1885 still in dresses and long hair. He did not immediately get a short hair cut, but rather wore bangs. Biographers often refer to long curls, but I do not recall photographs of him in particularly curled hair. It was particularly popular in America to curl boys' hair into long ringlets worn with Little Lord Fauntleroy suits. Franklin in fact grew up in the midst of the Fauntleroy craze in America. Sarah was not apparently enthtaled with the style. Franklin did, however, have long uncurled hair. The long trsses were saved by Sarah when she finally had Franklin's hair cut and are on dispaly at Hyde Park. They were tied with blue bows. I don't know for sure if Franklin wore hairbows as a small child or if the bows were added after they were cut to secure them, but they were a pale blue. When Sarah died, Elenor disovered them securely locked away with many of Franklin's boyhood treasures. Photographs show Franlin wearing bangs with short hair in 1887. Precisely when his hair was cut or details over the event are not available at this time.

Figure 4.--Franklin is with his mother here in 1898 on the veranda at Springwood. He had just returned home from his second year at Groton.


Governesses and tutors

His parents and private tutors provided him with almost all his formative education. Until he was 14 he received his schooling from governesses and private tutors. Until he entered Gorton, he never attended school, with the exception of a few weeks in of all places a German school at age 9 years while the family was on one of their European trips.


He attended Groton (1896-1900), a prestigious preparatory school in Massachusetts. At the exclusive Groton School (Groton Massachusetts), Franklin was imbued with a sense of social responsibility. Franklin's most lasting educational experience was at Groton School. Groton's headmaster, the Rev. Endicott Peabody, was an autocratic yet inspiring leader who instilled Christian ethics and the virtues of public service into his students, most of whom were of the privileged classes. Franklin's academic record at Groton was undistinguished, and he did not excel at sports. Some of his classmates, finding him priggish and superficial, called him the "feather-duster." But for a boy who had been so resolutely sheltered by doting parents, he was popular enough. At Groton, Franklin revealed that he could adapt himself readily to different circumstances. The Groton years also left him with a belief, more manifest later, that children of the upper classes had a duty to society.


He was an average student at Harvard University, edited the Harvard Crimson in his senior year. FDR received a B.A. degree in history from Harvard in only three years (1900-03). His record at Harvard, which he attended between 1900 and 1904, was only slightly more impressive. Thanks to his excellent preparation at Groton, he was able to complete his course of study for his B.A. in 1903, in only three years. During his fourth year he served as editor of the Crimson, the college newspaper. However, he was not accepted for Porcellian, Harvard's most prestigious social club, and he did not receive much stimulation in the classroom. As at Groton, his grades were mediocre, and he showed no excitement about his studies. After graduation (1903) attended (1904-07) the Columbia Law School. He dropped out of law school upon admissions to the New York bar and worked (1907-1910) for a Wall Street law firm.


Franklin married a distant cousin, a shy young woman, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, on March 17 1905. Eleanor had had a trying childhood. Her mother, a beautiful socialite who gave her little affection, died when Eleanor was eight. Her father, Theodore Roosevelt's brother, was spirited and charming. But he was unstable and alcoholic, and he died when Eleanor was ten. Orphaned, she lived with her maternal grandmother and entered her teens feeling rejected, ugly, and ill at ease in society. When Franklin, a dashing Harvard man two years her senior, paid her attention, she was flattered and receptive. Franklin was clearly serious in 1903 when he brought her to Campabello, his special space, to spend time with his mother. Elenor was the niece of President Theodore Roosevelt. They mairred in 1905. Her uncle President Theodore Roosevelt gave her away. That shy young lady was to become the greatest First Lady in American history. Without her support it is doubtful if Franklin could have even become president. Once president, it was Elenor who traveled from one end of the country, serving as her husband's eyes and ears.

Figure 5--We believe this is James or Elliot with Elenor in a photograph probably taken in the late 1910s. Note the knee pants, short white socks, and strap shoes.


Franklin and Elenor had five children who survived infancy, four boys and a girl. Their children were Anna Eleanor, James, Elliott, Franklin D. Jr., and John; a sixth child died at infancy. Like their father the children spent most of their summers on Campabello and many of the available photographs of them as children were taken there. Franklin was a wonderful parent from the beginning. He had an ideal personlity for young children. leanor struggled. Eleanor particularly appreciated the informality of Campabello and probably the fact that her mother-in-law was often not there. At Campabello Eleanor did not have to worry. In fact she had a huge megaphone built on the porch where she would yell out 'Children!!' to call them in her high pitched voice. She was did not have the ideapersonality to raise children, but on Campabello and then after Franklin contracted polio she developed real parenting skills by the time Franklin Jr. and John arriived. But soon Eleanor began developing arangeof activities outside, ast firt to keep her husband;s political career live. This began to affect the time with children. And once pralized, Franklin could no longer play the role he once had with the children. The children had a range of problens with adults, many marriages abd divorces. It is hard to say to what extent being raised by two larger thn life parents were resomssible.

Anna Eleanor (1906-75)

Anna named after her mother was the oldest of the Roosevelt children and the only girl. As a child she was very cloe to her father, closer than to her mother. As the oldest she was able to appreciate and to deal alone with the tensions between her mother and her domineering grandmother Sara. She also learned of her father's affair with Lucy Mercer. Her relationship with her mother improved as Anna matured. She did not like Louis Howe one little bit, Eleanor also did not like him t first. Howe was unkempt and constntly smoking smelly cigars. Howe was, however, the person who was vital to her parent's political career. As a teenager, she made no secret of her attitude. She entred Cornell, but did not say long. Anna married twice. The first marriage was largely to escape her family sitution. she married to stock broker Curtis Dall (1926). The had two children: Anna Eleanor (Sistie) and Curtis (Buzzie). They lived in the White House (1933-34). The reporters loved them. The marriage collapsed. She then married Seattle journalist John Boettinger (1936). They had one child together. Anna had a not very successful attempt at journalism. She came to play an important role in the White House, especially during the War years. Eleanor had all kinds of commitments and friends beyond her official duties as First Lady and the Presdent's companion. Unlike Eleanor, Anna devoted herself primarily to support the President. And she did not press the President on social issues as Eleanor did. The President chose Anna rather than Eleanor to accomany her father to Yalta. She also was put in the position of arranging, without her mother's knowledge, meetings between her father and Lucy Mercer. Her mother was furious when informed by a not very well meaning relative. Eleanor began to soften a bit when she saw the trenendous outpouring of grief as she rode on the train with her hisbamd's casket through town after town. She reflected on the trenendous burdens her husband carried. It was a while, however, before she reconcilded with Anna. After the war and he mother grew older, the two became very close and kept up a steady correspondence. Anna married again, this time to Dr. James Halsted (1952). After Elenaor died, Anna became active with many of the organizations her mother had supported.

James (1907-91)

James was known as Jimmy. He attended Harvard. He assisted his father in the White House. He was a war hero and author. He served in Congress for six terms. Business scandals affected his political career. He lostvelections for mayor of Los Angeles and governor of California. He married four times and had three children.

Franklin (1909)

Franklin died in infancy, only 8 months old.

Elliot (1910-90)

Elliot may have been the most charming of the four Roosevelt boys. Like the other boys he became very bitter, beliving that they did not get the kind of affection they needed. He was a decoratedchero in World War II. As an adult, he was involbved in business deals of questionable legality. He authored several books, including a popular mystery series. He married five times and fathered four children.

Franklin Delano Jr. (1914-88)

Franklin Jr. had begun college when his father was elected president. He attended Harvard and the University of Vurginia Law School. He served in World War II. After the War, President Truman appointed him to the Civil Rights Commission. President Johnson in 1965 appointed him Chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). He was elected to Congress from New York, but was unsuccessful in two goobernternal campaigns. He maried five times and had four children. One of his wives was to the noted Republican heiress Ethel Dupont.

John (1916-81)

John was the Roosevelt's sixth and youngest child. Like his sinblings, he grew up on the Roosevelt estate in Hyde Park. John was 5 years old when his father contracted polio, confining him to a a wheelchair for what proved to be the rest of his life. This meant that John had a different relationship than the older children with their formerly very active father. Eleanor was concerned that the younger children would miss out on the outdoor physical activities that the older children had enjoyed with their father. Eleanor Roosevelt as a result learned to swim and skate. She not only took John and Franklin Jr. (Close in age to John) camping and a trop to Europe. John was uncharacterically involved in a drunken brawl and an attack on the mayor in Cannes, French which raised eyebrows in the states (1937). John and Franklin, Jr. were very close to each other as they were only 2 years in part. The two younger boys were also closer to their mother than the older Roosevelt children had been. Historians speculate that by this time the once rather formal nd stand offish Elenor had mellowed and had become a mpre emotionlly open mother. Franklin's disability may have also been a factor. One hitorian writes, "John had grown up with less emotional connection with his parents than any of the others." [Collier] Family discussions seem to confirm that John was the son least like his father, perhaps because he had less time with him as he was so young when his father was struck by polio. This was reflected in many ways, including polio. His brother James who wrote in detail about the family wrote, that John 'had the smoothest, least exciting life of all of us.' James also said that John was 'the least close to father.' James also thought John 'the most thoughtful and businesslike of us.' [Roosevelt, James.] John attended private preparatory boarding schools (The Buckley School and Groton School). at the time his father was elected president, John was in boarding school. John then entered Harvard. While John was still at Harvard, the President found him a summer job working in forestry for the Tennessee Valley Authority--one of the New Deal's many projects. His supervisor subsequently wrote the Fiurst Lady privately telling her that John seemed convinced in 'the psychology of making one's way by influence and association rather than by hard work and personal achievement.' Historians are not sure wht to make of this. Many historiand think that this description was more desri[ptoive of John's brothers. [Collier, p. 361.] After graduating, john got a John at Filene's Department Store in Boston. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor then changed the lives of the Roosevelt children like other Americans. John initially wanted to rgister as a concientious objector. That os course would have caused a political firestorm. The family convinced him against that. He served in the Navy during World War II. He had a safe shore postig, but insisted on a combat role, serving ith desiction on the carrier US Wasp He married twice, the first time to Anne Lindsay Clark. He had three children. After the War he became a retailer and investment banker. Politically he was the only Roosevelt son who never entered the political fray and sought public office. He became a Republican and supported Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan.


Franklin was a wonderful father, epecially for a family of four energetic boys. They could not have had a more vigorous father. Especially on Campabello he was like a big boy, hiking, running, sailing, and swiming with the children. The children adored him. And he was often the center of their fun and games. They shared secrets as they wondered the island and he showed them his boyhood haunts. After 1910 when he began his political career, he was able to spend less time with them. Franklin seemes to have missed time with the children at Campebello after he was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1913. The children would vacation at Campabello, but FDR would be stuck in Wshington. Political constraints were less strict at the time and Franklin was known to use a battleship to run up to Campabello to visit. Can you imagine your dad showing up for a visit in a battleship? The officers of course would be invited to tea. One in 1916 during an epidemic in New York and other northeastern cities, a yacht was sent to fetch the children and transport them safefully to Washington.

Children's Clothes

I have relatively few photographs of the children. Elenor seems to have dressed them in sailor suits quite a bit. The boys in the 1910s generally wore kneepants. One photograph shows one of the older boys in knee pants, three-quarter white socks and strap shoes. As older boys they wore Norfolk jackets with kneepants and later knickers. After World War I in the 1920s they seemed to have worn increasingly practical clothes, raher plain sailor suits and knickers or short pants and kneesock.

Political Career

Franklin Roosevelt was without a doubt the most phenominal American politican of the 20th centurty. There seems to have been little to destinguish him as a politican before he contracted polio. That it is not say he was not successful, but there was nothing to suggest that he was a political genius. Many considered him a political light-weight. His selection as the Denocratic vice-presidential candidate was mostly die to his name. After he reentered politics, however, n=both his inated chsarm and optimism as well as his political acumen combined to make him the most formibable politican of the 20th century.

Early Political Career

When he passed the bar examination in 1907, he left school without taking a degree. For the next 3 years he practiced law with a prominent New York City law firm. He entered politics in 1910 and was elected to the New York State Senate as a Democrat from his traditionally Republican home district. Roosevelt was reelected to the State Senate in 1912, and supported Woodrow Wilson's candidacy at the Democratic National Convention. As a reward for his support, Wilson appointed him Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1913, a position he held until 1920. As Assistant Secretary he reminded many Theodore Roosevelt. He was an energetic and efficient administrator, specializing in the business side of naval administration. He was not, however, very loyal to his boss, Josephus Daniels the Secretary of the Navy. [Ward] He also got involved in a rather deplorable effort to root out homosexuals from a navy base. The experience with the Navy prepared him for his future role as Commander-in-Chief during World War II.

World War I (1914-18)

The great World War II leader, Franklin Roosevelt, like Winston Churchill had a role in World War I, although a much smaller one. Of all the important World War I and World War II leaders, it was Roosevelt who had the most expereience in Germany and he convinced himself that he was an expert on Germany, even though he did not speak German or ever study the country academically. The Roosevelt family while Franklin was a boy made several trips to Europe, including Germany, primarily so Franklin's older brither could pursue a technical education. German universities were among the most respected in the world at the time. The family, including Franklin, actually met the Kaiser. Even so, the family was staunchly anti-German. His mother Sara was known to treat the Germans with disdain and this rubbed off on Franklin who recounted tales of his conflict with 'boorish' Germans. This began as a boy. While in Germany, his parents enrolled him in a German primary school, hoping he might pick up a little German. It was the first school he ever attnded. (he was tuytored st home s a boy.) In later years he claimed the boys talked of war and conquering other countries. We suspect that this like his other German stories were embellished. We are not sure that Franlin learned enough German to understand what the otyher boys were saying. He also told stories about encounters with rude Germans. The most often recounted story occuured on a train and the final version was that Franlkin as a young man almost came to blows with a sword-carrying Prussian officer. At the time of World War I, like his cousin Theodore, Franklin was appointed as Assistance Secretary of the Navy. TYhe Navy played a greater role in the Wa than is generally understood so this was a post of some importance. Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels was a politician and had only limited interest in the Navy. Rooosevelt on the other hand was very much of interest in the Navy and played a major role in ruuning Navy than Daniels. While the U.S. Navy during the War did not make a lot of headlines, it played an important role in the convoy system that got supplies through to the Allies. It also participated in the Allied naval blockade of Germany, but the convoy role was more important. The U.S. Navy also delivered the AEF safely to France. Adm. Sims sharply criticized the Navy Department after the War. As Roosevelt was essentially running the Navy Department this was badically a criticism of Roosevelt. Secretary Daniels effectively countered the Sims criticism, at least in the public mind. Interestingly, as President, Rossevelt hung the painting 'Return of the Mayflower' in the White House. It depictyed the arrival of Destroyer Squadron Eight to assist the Royal Navy in the fight against the German U-Boat menace--the first American military force to engage the Germans (1917). Hanging the painting the White House tells you where Roosevelt's mind was as the NAZIs again moved Germany toward war in the 1930s. At the end of the War he complained about occupation policy, such as flying the American flag over U.S. military posts in the Rhineland. H e also thought it was a great mistake not to occupy Germany so that they knew they had been defeated. This conviction was the genesis of the World War II Unconditional Surrender policy and the military occupation of the country.

1920 Presidential campaigm (1920)

The Republicans were united for the 1920 presidential election. They chose Ohio newspaper man and seator, Warren Harding. The Democrats choseanother Ohio newspaer man and governor James Cox. We are not sure just why Roosevelt was nominated. One source suggests he was Cox's personal choice, but I don't believe that they had any serious contact before the campaign. Roosevelt was still very young with very limited political experience. Assistant Secretary of the Navy was not a headline-grabbing position. At any rate he was nominated for vice-president by the Democratic Party. His nomination vame as something of a surprise and probably reflected primarily the magic of the Roosevelt name. This is presumably why Cox sttled on him. America was still a largely Republican country. It was the division of the Republicans in 1912 that had made possible Wilson's election. Popular sentiment about World War I and Wilson's plan for U.S. participation in the League of Nations propelled Republican Warren Harding into the presidency. Roosevelt returned to private life after the election. But as the vice-presidential nominee, he was now an important figure in the Democratic Party. Roosevelt's energy and style, despite the staggering electoral defeat, had impressed many Democrats.

Polio (1921)

It is hard to imafgine it tosay, but polio was one of the most feared disases in American history. It was a relatively new disease , developing in the late 19th century, ironically as Amrican and Europe began improving sanitary cindutins in the big cities. There was no way to prevent it or treat it. It primarily affected children. Every parent in america began to worry evry summer, fearing that their children might contract polio. Roosevelt stopped at a Boy Scout camp on the way to join the family at Campebello (summer 1921). A photograph taken there was the last one of him walking. After reaching Campbello he spent a strenuos day with the children. That evening he contracted poliomyelitis (infantile paralysis). Despite courageous efforts to overcome his crippling illness, he never regained the use of his legs. He subsequently established a foundation at Warm Springs, Georgia to help other polio victims, and inspired, as well as directed, the March of Dimes program that eventually funded the development of an effective vaccine. Franklin saw many specialists and when they told him the same thing that there was no hope of regaining the use of his legs, he began seeing a steady stream of charlitans. He never gave of hope, but in favt there was no way of repairing the massive tissue damage. If it had been any other person it would have brought any thought of a politicl creer to an abrupt stop. But Franklin Roosevlt was no ordinry person. Either was Elenanor.

Reentering politics

With the encouragement and help of his wife, Eleanor, and political confidant, Louis Howe, Roosevelt resumed his political career. Eleanor who had not participated in politics began public speaking engagemnents to help keep Franklin's name before the public. It was a very difficult undertaking for Eleanor who had no experience with public speaking. She was very shy with an unappeling high-pitched voice. She was terribe at furst. Franklin's political adviser, Louis Howe began coaching Hiw was a political genius. Eleanor didn't like him. He was rough, unkempt and plain spoken. Slowly they became close friends as he helped with her oublic soeeking. Al Smith who dominated New York politics asked Franklin to dominate him at the Democratic National Convention (1924). Franklin electrified the Convention. It meant Franlin's reentry into national policics. The Catholic Smith unble to win over southern delegates, lost the nomination to arch-conservative John W. Davis. Franklin noted that a Democrat could not be nominated, let long elected without carrying the south.

Govenor of New York (1928-32)

Smith won the the Democratic nominatuon for president (1928). This was largely because Democratic pols correctly assessed that the Republicans could not be defeated in the general electionso were willing to go with Smith. This meant there was a vacany in albany. Smith arranged for Roosevelt's nomination to succeed him as governor of New York. Smith lost the election to Herbert Hoover; but Roosevelt was narowly elected governor. Only about a year after the election, both Hoover and Roosevelt were faced with the Stock Market crash and the onset of the Great Depression. The Republicans were punished at the polls in the 1930 by-election, but Roosevelt was reelected govenor. In contrast to Hoover's uninspired leadership in Washington, Govenor Roosevelt initiated a series of relief and pump-priming projects inspired by a group of advisers who would becomee the foundation of the New Deal Brain Trust. Roosevelt's bold efforts to combat the Depression in New York built him a national reputtion. Roosevelt's position as New York Govenor as well as his innovative leadership attempting to deal with the Depression made him the leading Democratic contender for president in 1932, but by no mens a shoo-in.

1932 presidential election

America less than a year after Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover's impressive victory was struck by the Wall Street Crash (1929). President Hoover's unwillingness to act decisevely meant that America lapsed into the Great Depression. The Republicans stuck with President Hoover, but withoyt enthusiam--in sharp contrast to 1928. The economic devestation virtusally preordained that the Democrats would win the 1932 election. The question was only who would win the Democratic nomination. Following his reelection as governor in 1930, Roosevelt began to campaign for the presidency. While the economic depression damaged Hoover and the Republicans, Roosevelt's bold efforts to combat it in New York enhanced his reputation. In Chicago in 1932, Roosevelt won the nomination as the Democratic Party candidate for president. He broke with tradition and flew to Chicago to accept the nomination in person. He then campaigned energetically calling for government intervention in the economy to provide relief, recovery and reform. His activist approach and personal charm helped to defeat Hoover in November 1932 by 7 million votes. The land-slide Democratic election victory resulted in a major realignment of American politics. A great deal has been written about President Roosevelt's New Deal. At first historians were mosly lauditory, but in recent years some economits have claimed the New Deal prolonhed the Depression. That is difficult to assess. What many New Deal critics fail to pappreciate is how bad the econonomic situation was when President Roosevelt took office. The social fabric of the nation was fraying. The danger that more radical figures might have gained influence if bold action had not been taken.


Franklin Roosevelt promissed the American people a "rondevous with destiny." His presidency faced the greast crisis of the American nation since the Civil War. He proceeded to restore the faith of the American people in their goverenment, alieviated the worst deprivations of the depression, implemented fundamental social reform, and led the nation to a massive crusade to no less than save the world from a terrible tyranny. He was a remarkable person who used people outrageously, but his accomplishments are virtually uncalcuable. He was subjected to scathing criticism, but by the force of his personanilty, he forged a bond with the American people that survived foour elections and saw America through both the Great Depression and World war II. While still controversial, the Roosevelt presidency is undeniably the most important of the 20th century.

Cold War

Historians debate when the Cold War began. It is clar that for ythe Soviets it began asoon as the Bolsheviks seized control of Tsarist Russia (1917). Stalin's coopedarion with the NAZIs and treatment of the Poles show that it was well underway during World War II. Only the United States did not yet understand that the Cold War was underway. President Roosevelt has been chritasized for naivite. And the Prewsident does not seem to have fully understood the colossal evil of the Stalinist regime. He did understanthe NAZI evil and threat at a timre that many Americans did not. And like Churchill he saw that Soviet aid would be needed to defeat the triumphabt NAZI armies. And to secure this the President refused to use Lend Lease to presure the Soviets as was done with Britain. The President's vision was to instil a sense of trust that might serve as foundation for a peaceful postwar world order. Throughout the War, his nightmare senario was a separate NAZI-Soviet peace in the East. This is why the President sought to avoid the findings on Katyn (1943). Or why he avoided a confrontation over supplying the Warsaw Uprising (1944). He saw getting Soviet paricipation in the new United Nations as absolutely essential. He was prrobably over confident about being able to work with Stalin, but over time he believed that the Soviet system would change. It didevolve over btime, but eventually imploded. It bbecame less brutal, but without thr brutality could not be held together. It is probanly true that had Roosevelt lived, he would have been more accomodating than Truman, but it should not be thought that he was oblivios to Stalin's nature. Once the War was won, his approach toward the Soviets would surely have shifted.

White House Life (1933-45)

The Roosevelts moved into the White House (March 1933). In addition to provision for the kids and grand kids, space had to found for the Presiden's political advisor Louis Howe and the President's sectretary Missy LeHand. Elenor found room for journalist Lorena Hickok. By that time the children were no longer kids. The two youngest Roosevelt sons, Franklin, Jr. (1914-88) and John (1916-81) were still in college. The three eldest children Anna, (1906-75), James (1907-91) and Elliott (1910-90) were married and had begun starting families of their own. The Roosevelt children all had different life situatins, but were constantly visiting the White House, sometimes for lengthy stays. Anna was the Roosevelts' only daughter and lived in the White House as her residence twice (1933-34) with her children Anna Eleanor ('Sistie') and Curtis ('Buzzie') while separated from her first husband, Curtis Dall. She was upset when space hd to be found for Harry Hopkins who as war approached became the President's most important adviser. Miss LeHand, the President's devoted secretary had a stoke (1941). Anna eventually moved in again to replace LeHand. Anna returned to the White House to serve as her father's aide, confidante and companion, a role Elenor was unwilling to fill. James was the President's oldest son. He and his family spent a great deal of time in the White House, especially during (1936-38) when he served as an assistant to the President. Elliott, who had moved to Texas visited only occassionally. Franklin Jr. and John who were away in College in the early White House years and visited occasionally after they (1937 and 38 respectively). The Presiden't mother spent considerable time in the White House until she died (September 1941). The First Lady However, used her friend Esther Lape's Manhattan apartment as a kind of 'hiding house'. This proved to be a comfortable private space where she could meet friends and colleagues without official fanfare and public attention. Unlike many First Ladies, Elenor's life was not entirely restricted to White House duties. The childre married during the 1930s ad this grand childen began showing up in the White House. Elenor mentioned in hr column that grandparents are useful not to care for grandchildren, but also pets. Elenor and the President assumed that they would be leaving Washington in 1941 after President completed his second term. World War II changed this. The President had warned about Hitler from the earliest days of his presidency and fought a draining campaign with the Isolationists. Thus as war approached many Ameicans began to think of third term. The fall of France virtually sealed the deal despite the well-established, but unoffical two term limit. As a result, the Rooevelts woud spend 4 more years in the White House. Elenor looking forward to leaving the White House had leased an apartment in Manhattan, for her and the President to use after they left the White House. The President would, however, never leave the White House. Princess Marguerite stayed for a time in the White House. The most tumultous time at the White House wawhen Prime Minister Churchill arrived right after Pearl Harbor (1941-42). The boys all went into the militry and thus were away for most of the War. Wives and children visited, especially at Christmas.


Collier, Peter with David Horowitz. The Roosevelts (Simon & Schuster: 1994).

Roosevelt, James. My Parents, A Differing View (Playboy Press: 1976).

Smith, Jean Edward. FDR.

Ward, Geoffrey. Before the Trumpet: Young Franklin Roosevelt, 1882-1905 (Harper and Row: New York, 1985), 390p.

Ward, Geoffrey. A First Class Temperment.

Wead, Doug. All the President's Children: Triumph and Tragedy in the Lives of America's First Families (Atria: New York, 2003l), 456p.


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Created: February 20, 1999
Last edited: 1:38 AM 12/26/2012