Florence Harding (née Kling, formerly DeWolfe) – The Brains
August 15, 1860-November 21, 1924
Relation to President: Wife
Early Life: Florence Kling was born to Amos and Louisa. The family were middle-class, affluent businesspeople. Florence first attended a regular school for ten years, receiving an excellent education. She then attended Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. Florence had studied piano for years and wanted to pursue it as a career. Her father thought it was practical, as she’d be able to support herself.
She also worked at her father’s shop as a clerk for most of her life before she married.
Marriages: Little is known about how she met her first husband, Henry DeWolfe, but she eloped with him when she was nineteen. The marriage was common law and there is no record of it. It was likely that she did so to escape her domineering father. She gave birth to a son, Marshall, only six months after they wed.
It soon turned out that DeWolfe was an alcoholic and ne’er do well. On the 22nd December 1882, DeWolfe abandoned the family. Florence moved in with a friend whilst her mother took care of Marshall. She helped provide for herself by giving piano lessons- it seemed her father was right. Florence filed for separation in 1884 and the two divorced two years later.
In 1886, Florence met young newspaper owner Warren G. Harding. He was five years younger than she was and an ambitious social climber. Rumours circulated that he had African-American ancestry, rumours that continued well into his presidency. Amos Kling, who had previously disinherited his daughter, was furious and threatened to shoot him. In 1891, Harding and Florence married.
Pre-Tenure: Florence remained a homemaker until 1894. Harding had been hospitalized and the manager of his newspaper, The Marion Star, quit. Florence took over and managed to do a superb job. She increased distribution and haggled on equipment prices. Florence had the paper subscribed to a news wire service as it brought them news even more quickly.
She continued to help once Harding returned, though she was no longer officially the manager. It was widely known that Florence was the brains behind the operation. She daringly hired Ohio’s first female journalist and refused to bend to angry residents who wanted the woman gone. Florence didn’t write any pieces but heavily influenced editorial decisions and stories, often hunting for stories about women.
When Harding became involved in politics, Florence joined the club. She found herself to be comfortable around politicians and political wives. Florence served as her husband’s unofficial secretary and treated it all as a business venture. She became close friends with Alice Roosevelt Longsworth, the strong-willed and intelligent daughter of Theodore Roosevelt.
In 1905, Florence underwent emergency kidney surgery. As she recovered, Harding started an affair with Carrie Fulton Phillips, a friend of his wife. Florence discovered this a few years later and considered divorce, but relented when he promised to stop. Harding had a history of adultery and he didn’t stop seeing Phillips- something that would bite him later on.
The next few years were hard on Florence. In 1913, her father died. They’d had a poor relationship since she was young, but she did receive a substantial inheritance. In 1915, her wayward son Marshall died. He’d suffered from alcoholism like his father and had left a widow with two children. Florence sorted his debts and became close to her daughter-in-law.
Florence became active during the war. She visited hospitals, handed out food to soldiers, volunteered at medical centres and produced clothing for the front. Florence famously got into an argument with Carrie Fulton Phillips when she overheard Phillips complaining about the war.
Just as the war ended, Florence’s kidneys started playing up again. She was bedridden for months, in agony. Harding stayed by his wife’s side but continued his affairs.
Florence kicked into high gear when her husband campaigned for the Presidency in 1920. Whilst her husband ran a traditional front porch campaign, Florence was in charge of who got to see him. She’d happily greet farmer’s wives wearing an apron and holding apple pie. She used her great newspaper experience to control the narrative around the election, such as refusing to respond to allegations of her husband’s black ancestry. When talk of her first husband came around, Florence said that she had been widowed.
Carrie Fulton Phillips popped up again. Republican Party officials learnt that she had hundreds of love letters from Harding and was an avid supporter of Germany. Phillips also didn’t plan on keeping quiet. In exchange for her silence, she received a lifelong stipend and fully paid foreign tour. It was ensured that she and her husband would be abroad on Election Day.
Harding won. Florence immediately weighed in on cabinet appointments. She rode with her predecessor, Edith Wilson, at the inauguration.
Tenure: During the inauguration, Florence mouthed several of the words. She insisted that the windows and gates of their new home be open to the public in a show of friendship. It’s alleged that Florence, once they arrived at the White House, said to her husband ‘Well, Warren Harding I got you the Presidency. Now what are you going to do?’
Florence had been open about her views since before her husband was President. She was an ardent suffragist and the first First Lady to be able to vote for her husband in a presidential election. This attitude continued in the White House. Florence invited women’s groups and students to the White House, encouraged female education and included divorced women at social events. She strongly encouraged women to exercise. Most notably, Florence encouraged the opening of the first women’s only prison to protect them from male guards and prisoners.
She opened the White House for tours and was often a guide herself. Florence greeted visitors with hugs and kisses. She also hosted many press events and was known to enjoy doing them. Florence was lonely anti-racist and cared passionately for animal rights. She personally sent funds for a child orphan of the Armenian genocide. Another of her dear interests was the welfare of war veterans. She ensured that hospitals were fully up to standard and was not afraid to stand up for their rights.
When bad times hit, Florence set the tone by shutting off electricity and turning down congressional funds. She enjoyed hosting music events and famous actors and actresses of the time.
In September 1922, Florence fell deathly ill when her kidneys played up again. It seemed as though she would die, especially when she went septic. The public were extremely concerned for her. Florence started to get better and was able to host Thanksgiving. It seems that a planned trip to Alaska was the reason why Florence suddenly got better, as it was a lifelong dream of hers.
In January 1923, Harding fell ill and was bedridden for weeks. It seemed that he knew that he was dying, as he drew up a new will. Florence nursed her husband throughout his illness.
A tour of the West Coast started in summer of that year. Harding was clearly weak and ill, yet Florence continued to soldier on and insisted on meeting their obligations. The popular Florence was warmly received after months from the spotlight. Florence spoke in favour of statehood when they visited Alaska.
Harding fell ill once again when they arrived back on the mainland. Doctors misdiagnosed it as a stomach complaint. They headed down to San Francisco, missing several other stops. Harding felt well enough to walk from the car into the hotel but stumbled down as he did. Doctors diagnosed heart issues and pneumonia, putting the President on bed rest. After several days it seemed as though Harding was getting better.
On the evening of the 2nd August, Florence was reading Harding some positive press. Just after Harding encouraged his wife to read on, he started convulsing and collapsed into bed. Despite doctors rushing in after Florence called for them, Harding died. Doctors at the time said it was a stroke, but it is now known to have been a heart attack.
Post-Tenure: Since Florence refused an autopsy, rumours spread that she had poisoned him. Despite this, Florence received acclaim for her conduct during the difficult period. Florence joined the casket on the train ride back to DC, where millions lined the route of the popular President.
She initially stayed with friends, burning her own correspondence and culling her husbands’. Florence followed the unfolding Teapot Dome scandal vigorously and was convinced she’d been bugged. She planned for foreign travel and an appearance at the 1924 Republican National Convention. Her doctor, however, told her to get to a sanitarium.
In her final weeks, Florence continued her political activities. Her last public appearance was at a Veterans’ Day Parade, where she stood in the pouring rain to greet the soldiers.
Florence Harding died aged 64 in the White Oaks Sanitarium, Marion, Ohio. She is buried with her husband.
Appearance and Character: Florence was a woman of medium height with brown hair and blue eyes. She is remembered today for the poison allegations, but was in fact a brilliant woman. Florence showed herself to be a formidable businesswoman who turned a profit and modernised the newspaper. She was intelligent, fiercely loyal and devoted to her husband despite his philandering. Whilst Florence hated her husband’s infidelity, she conducted herself with dignity. Florence cared deeply for Harding and nursed him whenever he was sick. She greeted guests without issue and was happy to host society’s undesirables. Florence had undue influence in political appointments and affairs.
Advocacy: Womens’ rights, racial equality and veterans.
Grace Coolidge (née Goodhue) – The Vivacious
January 3, 1879-July 9, 1957
Children: John, Calvin
Relation to President: Wife
Early Life: Grace Goodhue was born to Andrew and Lemira. She was an only child and very close to her parents. Grace started school at the then-early age of five. She developed a love of music and piano whilst she was a pre-teen, practicing them both privately. Grace enjoyed a solid curriculum in high school and took an elocution course, in which she excelled.
As a child, Grace enjoyed feminine pursuits such as baking, gardening and sewing, just like her mother. She was particularly close to her maternal grandfather Towns Barrett, a Union veteran.
Despite precarious health, Grace attended the University of Vermont, Burlington. She developed her love for music, joining the glee club and performing in Shakespeare productions. Grace was a finalist for a prize in public speaking.
She followed an older neighbour to study as a teacher in a school for the deaf in Massachusett, Clarke School for the Deaf. Grace cared deeply for the deaf and developed a lifelong interest in helping them. She advocated for lip reading as opposed to the mainstream sign language.
Marriage: Grace met young lawyer Calvin Coolidge in 1903. It’s believed that she saw him shaving in an upstairs window as he wore king underpants and a hat. Grace laughed so loudly that Coolidge noticed. She broke off a relationship with her then-boyfriend to be with Coolidge. They courted and Coolidge eventually proposed by telling her that they would be getting married. Lemira Goodhue disliked Coolidge and attempted to get Grace to change her mind. Whilst Lemira was never mean to her son-in-law she wasn’t close with him either.
Coolidge and Grace married in a simple, austere ceremony in 1905.
Pre-Tenure: Grace quit her job and became a homemaker upon marriage. Her husband stayed in Boston during the week during his time in the state legislature, allowing Grace some freedom from being the wife of a politician. She was a very thrifty woman who always mended her sons’ toys and enjoyed knitting.
Grace often volunteered in the community. Her first trip to DC in 1912 was as a chaperone for a high school class. She was an active sorority alumni and partook in volunteering with the Red Cross during WW1.
When Coolidge became Governor of Massachusetts, Grace once again avoided becoming a political wife by living separately. There was no state given housing for the governor and his family at that point. She would sometimes visit Boston to hear her husband speak but often stayed at home.
In 1920, Coolidge became the Republican Vice Presidential candidate after becoming popular with the delegates. Grace learned of this when her husband telephoned her. She did not want him in this role, as she believed he had the makings of a president and not a VP. It seemed that Grace did not argue with him, mostly due to their traditional marriage with Coolidge as head of the household.
The family moved to DC upon the election victory. Their sons went to boarding school in Pennsylvania. Grace no longer had the daily task of caring for the boys. Instead she was to be involved in the social scene. Grace became very close to Lois Marshall, the outgoing Second Lady, and credited her with helping her adjust to the role. She was widely praised for her outgoing and social nature, especially as it contrasted with her husband’s serious demeanour. Alice Roosevelt Longsworth could not even demean her and instead praised her. Grace made many friends across the aisle.
Tenure: Coolidge and Grace were staying at his father’s farm in Plymouth, Massachusetts in August 1923. The pair were asleep in bed when they were awoken by Col. Coolidge. With a shaky voice, Col. Coolidge informed them that Harding was dead. They prayed and Coolidge sent a telegram to Mrs. Harding. At 2:47 am on the 3rd April, Coolidge was sworn in by his father and promptly went back to sleep.
The pair moved into the White House. In July 1924, their younger son Calvin died of sepsis. Coolidge and Grace were devastated, with some historians believing this caused depression in the President.
Grace was not an active participant in the 1924 election as she was still in deep mourning for her son. She did encourage women to vote for the second time in US history and was photographed filling out a ballot. At the 1925 inauguration, she rode between Coolidge and Vice President Dawes. Coolidge requested an unpretentious presidency and social life, thus there was no Inaugural Ball.
Unlike her quiet husband, Grace was a vivacious socialite and this did not change when she became First Lady. She became friendly with her predecessors and studied all the previous First Ladies, but did not like that there was so little written about them. In 1925, the State Department took over responsibility for entertaining and funded a protocol expert.
Coolidge was a deeply traditional man who did not believe women had a role in politics. Unlike other First Ladies, Grace played no role in his administration and was not privy to his thoughts. She enjoyed the new technologies of the era, having her own car and radio. Charles Lindbergh was one of the many pioneering figures of the era to be invited to the White House. Grace wanted to dress as a flapper but her husband forbade it.
She enjoyed vigorous physical pursuits and had a special love for animals. Her most famous of her many pets was a raccoon named Rebecca. Rebecca had been brought to the White House for a meal but Grace became so fond of her that she was kept as a pet. When the Coolidges left the White House, Grace was forced to put Rebecca in a zoo.
Grace continued her special interest in the deaf and disabled. She raised millions in funds for her former school and advocated awareness across the general public. A photo of her with the deaf- blind activist Helen Keller was famous. She followed Florence Harding’s example and served as a volunteer for disabled veterans.
Post-Tenure: Coolidge and Grace retired to their home in Massachusetts. They found their home under siege by tourists so decided to move to a more secluded and secure property. Grace focused on community activities.
On 5th January 1933, Grace went shopping. She returned home to find Coolidge dead on his bedroom floor. He’d died of coronary thrombosis. Despite pleas to the contrary, Grace insisted on a simple funeral at home and somehow managed to arrange it.
In her over twenty years of widowhood, Grace continued to be active socially and charitably. She refused to oversee anything about her husband’s legacy and sold off most of the furniture to benefit the Red Cross. Grace was a close friend of Lou Hoover and remained in correspondence with her successors.
She became an avid fan of baseball and held a season ticket for the Boston Red Sox. Grace travelled by aeroplane and in her own car. She remained a huge supporter of Clarke and was a board member following her husband’s death. When WW2 broke out, Grace organised volunteers and took in refugees. She supported the war but did not like the nuclear bomb being used. Grace would support the United Nations fervently.
Grace Coolidge died aged 78 in 1957. She is buried with her husband in Vermont.
Appearance and Character: Grace was a lively woman with grey-green eyes and masses of dark hair. She was of medium height and had a serious face. The antithesis of her husband, Grace was lively, cheerful, happy and sociable. She was adored by society even after her White House years. Grace remained vivacious throughout her life. She was not generally political, as per her husband’s wishes, and deferred to his view. Grace was nevertheless a capable and deeply caring woman.
Advocacy: The deaf, veterans, war relief and animals
Lou Hoover (née Henry) – The Worldly
March 29, 1874-January 7, 1944
Children: Herbert, Allen
Relation to President: Wife
Early Life: Lou Henry was born to Charles and Florence. Charles Henry had started life as a bookkeeper who used his financial skills to become wealthy. Lou was a tomboy child who adored physical activities and the outdoors, often going climbing and fishing. The family moved from Iowa to California when she was a child.
Lou was educated at a school in Iowa before attending one known for its emphasis on physicality in Los Angeles. She joined a club that encouraged nature and collecting. Lou then received a teaching certificate. In 1894, she arrived at the newly founded Stanford University. She was the only female geology student at Stanford and received encouragement from her parents. Lou learnt Latin at Stanford and had stints working as a clerk and a teacher.
Marriage: Lou Henry was a freshman when she was introduced to senior Herbert Hoover, a fellow Iowan. They continued their courtship despite Hoover heading to Australia for work and Lou continuing her education. Hoover became very wealthy working there and upon Lou’s graduation, he cabled a proposal. Lou immediately cabled back with acceptance.
Herbert Hoover and Lou Henry married in 1899.
Pre-Tenure: The two set sail for Asia immediately after their wedding. They lived in China, where Lou immediately became enamoured with the language and culture. She learned to speak and read Mandarin fluently.
In 1900, the Boxer Rebellion started in China. Foreigners were in danger of being murdered by natives. Despite this, Lou kept cool. She helped tend to the wounded, created a protective barrier around their area and worked on guard duty. Lou carried a pistol as a defence. She and Hoover were luckily unharmed when their home was shot up.
They spent the next seventeen years globetrotting for Hoover’s work. Their base was London, but other locations included Egypt, Russia and Burma. During that time, the pair had two sons. When WW1 broke out, Lou became active in women’s committees and became a committed humanitarian. Hoover was placed in charge of food distribution, based in Belgium, so Lou went to California with their sons. Upon America’s 1917 entry to the war, the Hoovers headed to DC.
In DC, Lou continued with her work. She encouraged Americans to grow their own produce and helped set up housing for single female volunteers. After the war, Lou continued to teach Americans how to garden. Lou was recruited by the new Girl Scouts of America, a role she enjoyed for life. She believed that women needed to be physically fit in order to be good wives, mothers and citizens. Lou also believed physical exercise was good for the body and mind. She founded several troops across the country and ensured that African-American girls were also accepted.
Lou also served on several athletics committees, arguing that women should be allowed to participate in the Olympics and other events. She headed several conferences and organisations for women, encouraging political and civic activism. Lou was praised for her fairness. She also essentially single-handedly ended the practice of leaving cards and social calling.
When her husband ran for President, Lou took no part in the campaign. She had no experience or interest in politics.
Tenure: To the surprise of many, Lou was not as active as expected as First Lady. She believed the public expected a demure, feminine spouse who stuck to traditional activities. Lou refused any interviews or press gatherings. She did, however, become an avid radio speaker and was fascinated with the technology of the time. Lou distrusted the press and was merely polite to them.
Lou did, however, buck social conventions. She wore riding trousers and allowed visibly pregnant women to attend events. Lou kindly allowed a pregnant employee and a disabled one to use the elevator, despite it being out of bounds for staff. She paid for the college edition of women and founded a community school for Appalachian residents. On social occasions, Lou ensured that the guests were treated equally.
Lou continued her work for the Girl Scouts but did not take an official role due to her position. She became Honorary President, a role taken by First Ladies to this day.
She was famously embroiled in a scandal when she invited Jessie DePriest, a Congressional wife, to a tea party. Jessie and her husband were both African-American. A well-travelled woman, Lou had a genuine lack of prejudice for ethnic minorities and invited Jessie without thought. This caused uproar among Southern Democrats and Lou received a large volume of hate. Lou did not mention the incident again but was privately upset at the racism of the country.
When the Great Depression hit, Lou used her own money and charity to help the destitute. She encouraged charity as opposed to government help. Unfortunately, Lou’s private nature meant that she was seen as uncaring. The family also dined on expensive food in lavish dinners, further proof to the public that they were out of touch. Lou did send out supplies to the Bonus Army but did so anonymously.
The 1932 election did not go well for the Hoovers. They received vitriol from an angry public. Lou was deeply hurt by this, as revealed by her husband years later.
Post-Tenure: Lou returned to California whilst her husband travelled for business. She became active in academic circles and remained devoted to charity, especially her beloved Girl Scouts. Lou was instrumental in creating their famous cookie venture; it is still used to this day.
When she became a trustee of Whittier College, she met a graduate and lawyer by the name of Richard Nixon.
Lou became a strong critic of FDR. She was still bitter about her husband’s defeat and thought that FDR’s actions were becoming dangerously unconstitutional. Lou never criticised Eleanor Roosevelt though.
When the Second World War started up, the Hoovers were back in action mode. Hoover started work helping European refugees. Lou focused mainly on the home front, encouraging Girl Scouts to do their bit in various ways. She again taught young people how to grow their own produce and raise livestock.
Away from the war, Lou oversaw her husband’s birthplace in its journey to becoming a historical landmark.
On the 7th January 1944, Lou Hoover died suddenly and alone of a heart attack. Her husband discovered the body when he came to bid her goodnight. She was buried in California but her body was reinterred in Iowa after her husband’s death twenty years later. After her death, Hoover discovered the extent of his wife’s charity during the Depression, including the fact she never cashed in repayment cheques.
Appearance and Character: Lou was a tall woman with blue eyes and brown hair that went white with age. As a person, Lou was extremely intelligent, determined and active. She viewed physical activity on par with mental stimulation. Lou was an invaluable partner to her husband. In times of cross, she kept a level head. She was extremely progressive for the time, believing in female and racial equality among other things. Lou showed great kindness, such as paying for girls’ education and personally sending funds to the poor. Unfortunately, Lou often did not realise how privileged she was and could be insensitive when it came to the poor. She didn’t notice that other women didn’t have the help she had and had no problem buying expensive things whilst ordinary Americans starved.
Advocacy: Female education, physical activity, Girl Scouts, community and humanitarian issues.
Eleanor Roosevelt – The Trailblazer
1October 11, 1884-November 7, 1962
Children: Anna, James, Franklin, Elliott, Franklin, John
Relation to President: Wife
Early Life: Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born to Elliott and Anna. She used her middle name for her entire life. Her mother Anna was a very beautiful and popular socialite known for her poise, elegance and athleticism. She was disappointed that Eleanor was a plain, serious child and cruelly called her ‘Granny.’ Anna suffered from depression and was disliked by her brother-in-law Theodore Roosevelt. Elliott was kinder but fathered an illegitimate child and was an alcoholic.
Eleanor was eight when her mother and one of her younger brothers died, and nine when her father did. She was cared for by relatives whilst Eleanor essentially raised her brother Hall. The two remained close throughout their life and he treated her as a mother, with Eleanor taking her father’s request to care for Hall seriously.
She was initially homeschooled but then attended Wimbledon School in London. Eleanor thrived at the school and was particularly influenced by its feminist headmistress. She said that the day she made the field hockey team there was the best day of her life. Eleanor spent three happy years there but was recalled to America to become a debutante.
Eleanor disliked debutante life but joined other young women in charity work. She did genuinely care about social issues and threw herself into reform work. Eleanor focused on slum housing and unsafe working conditions. This interest remained throughout her life.
Marriage: In 1902, Eleanor was on a train in New York when she encountered her fifth cousin once removed, Harvard graduate Franklin Delano Roosevelt. They struck up a conversation and soon began corresponding by letter. Roosevelt’s formidable mother Sara Delano Roosevelt fervently opposed the match. She attempted to split them apart but it did not work.
Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt wed in 1905. Her uncle Theodore Roosevelt walked her down the aisle.
Pre-Tenure: When they returned home and set up house in New York City, Eleanor was immediately under the thumb of her mother-in-law. Their homes were next door to one another and connected through a sliding door. Sara ran both homes and oversaw the raising of the Roosevelt children.
Eleanor had six children, five of whom lived to adulthood. She disliked sex and pregnancy and admitted to being uncomfortable around children. Sara remained the dominating force even after Eleanor’s final child was born.
In 1918, when Roosevelt was Secretary of the Navy, Eleanor discovered love letters between him and her secretary Lucy Mercer. Eleanor offered him a divorce, but he was advised by his mother and political advisors that it would kill his political career. Sara disliked Eleanor but she wouldn’t stand for divorce. In 1920, FDR was the vice presidential candidate for the Democrats. The ticket lost.
It was in 1921 that the true test of their relationship came. Whilst on holiday in Canada, Roosevelt suddenly fell ill. He was painful to the touch, feverish and partially paralysed. Doctors scrambled to him whilst Eleanor remained at his side. Roosevelt was bed bound for weeks. He was eventually diagnosed with polio and was rendered paralysed. Historians today believe that he actually had Guillain–Barré syndrome.
Eleanor became emboldened after his illness. She served as a political partner and became her own person. Sara became less domineering and their relationship very slightly improved. Eleanor continued her charity work and became extremely active in political circles. She became known for her extensive newspaper writings. Eleanor taught at a college prep school, though she had to quit when her husband became President.
This continued in 1929 upon her husband’s election as Governor of New York. Eleanor not only stood in for her husband when he was impaired but also supported unions, inspected public institutions and helped during the Great Depression among other things.
FDR ran for President in 1932. Eleanor campaigned for her husband but her shyness meant that she refused to do speeches. She believed he’d be the right president but feared a loss of independence.
Tenure: Eleanor Roosevelt holds the record for the longest serving First Lady at over twelve years. She became a trailblazer due to her activism, political influence and outspoken nature. There is a tremendous amount to write about so it’s impossible to squeeze it into a few paragraphs.
She contributed heavily to women in journalism. Eleanor held women-only press conferences in order to ensure that they were represented. Media were forced to either hire or keep women as reporters. Eleanor had a daily syndicated column called ‘My Day’ that she kept for nearly thirty years.
She spoke on radio often and became more confident, eventually going on speaking tours and lectures. Eleanor wrote books and appeared on newsreels.
Like Lou Hoover, Eleanor maintained an active correspondence with the public. Her tenure meant that she received thousands upon thousands of letters throughout her time as First Lady. Most of her letters came from the desperate poor begging for help. Eleanor would refer them to the correct government programme, charity or even private citizen. During the war, she received letters from servicemen complaining of poor or illegal conditions.
Eleanor dove deep into the New Deal. Her most famous contribution was Arthurdale, a small community in West Virginia. She pushed to create a real community with a school and other amenities. Prefab houses were brought in and fitted. Eleanor attempted to have ethnic minorities be allowed to live in the community but was overruled by the locals. It sadly failed eventually but she viewed it as a personal triumph.
One of Eleanor’s most famous legacies is her work in the civil rights movement. She was an ardent feminist who pushed for women to have equal opportunities to men in the workplace and the New Deal. Eleanor was also a strong advocate for minorities. She ardently opposed the internment of Japanese-Americans but was overruled by her husband. Eleanor became close to Mary McLeod Bethune, one of the leaders of the National Youth Administration. In order to prevent issues with Bethune entering the White House, Eleanor would meet her at the gates and walk her inside.
It is her kindness towards Marion Anderson that is well remembered. Eleanor was a prominent member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). The organisation did not allow Marion Anderson to perform at Constitution Hall. Thousands of DAR members resigned, including Eleanor. She used her influence and allies to push for Anderson to sing in front of the Lincoln Memorial to a crowd of thousands. Eleanor would later have Anderson sing for the King and Queen of Great Britain.
When people questioned the Tuskegee Airmen, Eleanor happily hopped in a plane and let them fly her. She was so reviled in the South that the KKK openly threatened her. Eschewing Secret Service protection, Eleanor rode around in KKK with a pistol she learned to protect herself with.
Eleanor was in DC in April 1945 when she was told that FDR had taken ill. With no idea of the severity, Eleanor said she’d head to Georgia after she finished a speaking engagement. After the engagement she was recalled to the White House. Eleanor would say she knew in her heart that FDR was dead. She and daughter Anna changed into mourning clothes and she informed her sons. When Harry S. Truman arrived and was told he asked Eleanor if he could do anything for her. Eleanor replied that he was the one in trouble and asked what could be done for him.
Post-Tenure: Eleanor soon discovered that Lucy Mercer Rutherford had been with FDR when he died. This was many years after he promised to never see Rutherford again. Eleanor was horrified to discover he’d been seeing her since then and that his inner circle knew. When Eleanor found out that her daughter Anna had facilitated the affair, she disowned her.
Eleanor’s post-White House life was as fascinating as her time in power. She remained one of America’s most notable women and never stopped fighting for equality. Eleanor was a huge proponent of the civil rights movement and continued her fight for feminism.
One of her most notable contributions was in regards to the newly founded United Nations. She helped draft the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. The document was passed on the 10th December 1948 and remains in effect today.
Eleanor became so influential that it was rumoured that she would be asked to be Harry Truman’s running mate. Despite her popularity, it is doubtful that any woman would be considered at this time. She also eventually reconciled with daughter Anna.
When John F. Kennedy ascended the presidency, he asked Eleanor to be the Chair of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. She agreed. The commission wrote up a report but Eleanor did not live to see it. The report was issued on what would have been her 79th birthday. Her work led to the creation and passing of the Equal Pay Act of 1963.
Eleanor became terminally ill in 1962. She died at home at the age of 78 on the 7th November 1972. Her funeral was well attended and she was given the moniker ‘First Lady of the World’ by Harry S. Truman.
Appearance and Character: Eleanor had blonde hair and blue eyes. She is tied with Michelle Obama and Melania Trump for the title of tallest First Lady. They are all 5’11. Eleanor lived up to her reputation. She was an extremely intelligent, forthright and capable woman with a determination to succeed. Eleanor overcame a difficult childhood, infidelity and a domineering mother-in-law. If there was anything she couldn’t stand, it was injustice and hatred. She could be a little over focused on work and had a hugely perfectionist streak. Whilst Eleanor found motherhood difficult, she was close to her children and grandchildren.
Advocacy: Among others: civil rights, women’s rights, ethnic minority rights, the poor, the homeless, veterans and workers.