Miss Eleanor Roosevelt

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But if she was more certain of his feeling for her than of hers for him, she had (as her memoirs testify) no serene confidence that his desire for her was strong enough, tenacious enough to survive the covert, subtle, yet determined onslaught of her prospective mother-in-law. Hence, in proportion to her wish for marriage, a wish which may in large part have been a yearning for the unprecedented security she felt she would have in the bosom of the Delano clan, she suffered anxiety during the weeks of Franklin’s Caribbean cruise. He seemed so malleable in his mother’s hands!

 

Fortunately, she was enabled to spend the weeks of waiting, not amidst the (to her) boring banalities of New York society, but in the very different, the much more interesting and less trivial society of Washington, D. C. She was in New York on February 16, 1904, when Pussie was married to W. Forbes Morgan, Jr.— an occasion that made few of the bride’s family and close friends “very happy,” as Eleanor later wrote, because the groom “was a number of years younger than Pussie,” and none who knew the latter well believed her capable of adjusting “to the complicated business of married life.” But Eleanor’s Auntie Bye asked her down to Washington for the winter months of 1904; and Auntie Bye —sister of the President, wife of an admiral—was not only very much in the mainstream of the capital’s social affairs but was also a confidante and, on some matters of state, a respected adviser of Uncle Ted. He, the President, came now and then to his sister’s house, where he talked freely, volubly. Eleanor was an overnight guest once or twice at the White House. Thus she gained some inkling of the private life and self of a public man who had come to occupy an office of supreme power. She gained other knowledge as well. She accompanied her aunt on the latter’s round of afternoon calls (“I was aghast at this obligation”) and was a guest at almost daily luncheons, teas, and dinners where she met diplomats, high government officials, politicians, visiting celebrities—people who were actually doing important things in the great world and who had “charm and wit and savoir faire . ” She found herself unwontedly at ease in this company. She realized further what she had begun to realize during her European schooling, namely, that she had a mind that was quick, capacious, and retentive, and that she was an interesting conversationalist, able to use the smattering of information she had gained in various fields in such a way as to give her listener, frequently an authority in one of those fields, the impression that she was far more knowledgeable than actually she was.

She blossomed in this environment. She gained swiftly in self-confidence and poise, so that she no doubt would have been able to bear, not breaking under it, the disappointment of her hopes for marriage to Franklin Roosevelt, had this been required of her.

It was not required. Franklin left the cruise at Nassau and came up to the capital from Florida by train. Thereafter he spent most of his several days in Washington with Eleanor; he was as ardent and determined a lover as ever.

The engagement of Franklin DeIano Roosevelt to marry Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was formally announced in late November, 1904.

By that time Franklin had been enrolled for more than two months as a student in the Columbia University Law School and was living with his mother in a house she had rented at 200 Madison Avenue in New York City. Some three weeks before, he had journeyed to Hyde Park to cast his first ballot in a Presidential election. Despite his father’s and his own lifelong Democracy, he had “voted for the Republican candidate, Theodore Roosevelt, because I thought he was a better Democrat than the Democratic candidate,” as he said thirty-odd years later.

By that time, too, Franklin had informed Endicott Peabody by letter that his engagement to “my distant cousin … is about to come out” and had expressed the “hope,” Eleanor’s as well as his own, “that you will be able to help us in the ceremony—it wouldn’t be the same without you.” Of his own immediate occupation he wrote with something less than enthusiasm. He said he was in law school “trying to understand a little of the work,” adding that “of course I am going to keep right on”—as if in spite of doubts, boredom, and a sense of personal inadequacy.

And he did “keep right on,” though with a bare minimum of that prolonged, concentrated study required of law students. Indeed, he evidently did less than the required minimum in two of his courses, one of them the highly important “Contracts,” which he failed at the end of his first year, to his great surprise, for he had believed himself to be doing as well in the failed subjects as in the others, in each of which he received the very respectable grade of B. It became necessary for him to take make-up examinations in the two subjects the following fall if he was to stay with his class.