Blanche Wiesen Cook

Well, the fact is, we can never know what people do in the privacy of their own rooms. The door is closed. The blinds are drawn. We don’t know. I leave it up to the reader. But there’s no doubt in my mind that they loved each other, and this was an ardent, loving relationship between two adult women.

So in 1924, Eleanor Roosevelt really gets a sense of what the limits of the battle and the contours of the battle are going to be. The men are contemptuous of the women, and the women really need to organize. She writes an article which becomes an article she writes in different ways over and over and over again: Women need to organize. They need to create their own bosses. They need to have support networks and gangs so that they are a force.

Like traditional upper class families, there are nannies and servants, and the children, you know, come in to say good-night before they go to bed. There’s very little private time with the children in the early years. Actually, there’s much more private time with the children in the 20s.

She [Eleanor Roosevelt]wants a life of her own. Her grandmother could have been a painter. Her grandmother could have done so much more than she did with her life. And Eleanor Roosevelt decides she is going to do everything possible with her life. She’s going to live a full life.

It’s right around this time that her Grandmother Hall dies. And Eleanor Roosevelt is responsible for making all the funeral arrangements. And there are a couple of things that she really understands, as she contemplates her grandmother’s life and makes the funeral arrangements. One, she’s really talented, an organizational woman. She knows how to do things. She begins to compare her life to her grandmother’s life. And it’s very clear to her that being a devoted wife and a devoted mother is not enough.

She writes that one of the moments that she felt most useful was when her mother had a headache, and she would stroke her head and rub her forehead. And I think Eleanor Roosevelt’s entire life was dedicated to two things: (one) making it better for all people, people in trouble and in need, like her family.

On international relations, Eleanor Roosevelt really takes a great shocking leadership position on the World Court. In fact, it amuses me. The very first entry in her FBI file begins in 1924, when Eleanor Roosevelt supports American’s entrance into the World Court. And the World Court comes up again and again – ’33, ’35. In 1935, Eleanor Roosevelt goes on the air; she writes columns; she broadcast three, four times to say the US must join the World Court.

One of the things for me, as a biographer, that is so significant is for Eleanor Roosevelt – the child who never had a home of her own, who lives in her grandmother’s home and then goes to school and then gets married and lives in her mother-in-law’s homes, and then in public housing (like the White House and the State House) – housing becomes for Eleanor Roosevelt the most important issue.

Well, the reality of her father was that he was a very diseased alcoholic, who died at the age of 34. And one always has to pause to wonder how much you have to drink to die at 34. And he was a really tragic father. I mean, he was absolutely unreliable. He was absolutely involved with various people. He had outside families, outside children, outside wives. He made his wife’s life miserable. And she [Eleanor Roosevelt]ignored all of his faults and retained this sense of him as the perfect father.

In one way, it is this sense of order and also love that, I think, really saved Eleanor Roosevelt’s life. And in her own writing, she’s very warm about her grandmother, even though, if you look at contemporary accounts, they’re accounts of horror at the Dickensian scene that Tivoli represents: bleak and drear and dark and unhappy. But Eleanor Roosevelt in her own writings is not very unhappy about Tivoli.

Well, when Eleanor Roosevelt’s mother dies, she goes to live with her Grandmother Hall. And her Grandmother Hall is in mourning. She’s in widow’s weeds. She’s in her 50s, but appears very old. And she’s exhausted from raising rather out-of-control children. Her favorite daughter, Anna, has died (Eleanor’s mother), and she has living at home two other sons, Vallie and Eddie. And they are incredible sportsmen, incredible drinkers, out-of-control alcoholics.

It’s interesting to me that really one of the first things she [Eleanor Roosevelt]did as First Lady was to collect her father’s letters and publish a book called The Letters of My Father, essentially, hunting big game, The Letters of Elliott Roosevelt. And it really was an act of redemption, really one of her first acts of redemption as she entered the White House. She was going to redeem her father’s honor. And publishing his letters, reconnecting with her childhood really fortified her to go on into the difficult White House years.

Well, in Washington, this is a very hard time for Eleanor and Franklin. This is when Lucy Mercer first appears. And Lucy Mercer is Eleanor Roosevelt’s own secretary. Very beautiful young woman, not unlike Eleanor Roosevelt: tall, blonde, thick haired. And FDR is having an affair with her, which Eleanor Roosevelt finds out when FDR returns from Europe in 1918 with the famous flu of 1918.

She really is a completely different First Lady. Eleanor Roosevelt was not going to suffer and withdraw in the White House. And I think he’s a very different President. He does not want his wife to suffer and withdraw in the White House. And they really are partners. They’re partners in a big house where there are two separate courts, and they both know they have two separate courts. But these are courts that are allied in purpose, united in vision.

Well, the fact is, we can never know what people do in the privacy of their own rooms. The door is closed. The blinds are drawn. We don’t know. I leave it up to the reader. But there’s no doubt in my mind that they loved each other, and this was an ardent, loving relationship between two adult women.

So in 1924, Eleanor Roosevelt really gets a sense of what the limits of the battle and the contours of the battle are going to be. The men are contemptuous of the women, and the women really need to organize. She writes an article which becomes an article she writes in different ways over and over and over again: Women need to organize. They need to create their own bosses. They need to have support networks and gangs so that they are a force.