Miss Eleanor Roosevelt


From Fairhaven Sara went with Franklin to New York City. He brought Eleanor there from 8 East Seventy-sixth Street, the home of the Henry Parishes, to his mother’s apartment, where, on Tuesday, December 1, “I had a long talk with the dear child,” as Sara wrote in her diary. On the following day Eleanor wrote to her “Dearest Cousin Sallie” (one suspects she pondered the salutation) at Hyde Park: “I must … thank you for being so good to me yesterday. I know just how you feel & how hard it must be, but I do so want you to learn to love me a little. You must know that I will always try to do what you wish for I have grown to love you very dearly during the last summer. [She had spent much time visiting at Hyde Park and Campobello that summer.] It is impossible for me to tell you how I feel toward Franklin. I can only say that my one great wish is always to prove worthy of him.” Thus she indicated the price she was willing (or believed she was willing) to pay for her acceptance, sounding a note of abjectness that boded ill for her development of an independent individuality vis-à-vis either the imperious Sara or Sara’s son. There was nothing abject about the letter Franklin wrote from Cambridge two days later: “Dearest Mama—I know what pain I must have caused you and you know I wouldn’t do it if I really could have helped it— mais tu sais, me voila! That’s all that could be said—I know my mind, have known it for a long time, and know that I could never think otherwise: Result: I am the happiest man just now in the world; likewise the luckiest—” To which he added blandishment: “And for you, dear Mummy, you know that nothing can ever change what we have always been and will always be to each other—only now you have two children to love & to love you—and Eleanor as you know will always be a daughter to you in every way—”

So she, the mother, changed tactics. Already it had been agreed that this engagement should be kept secret for the time being. Now she set about prolonging the “time being” into an indefinite but distant future, her grounds being that both Franklin and Eleanor were too young to know what they really wanted, much less to assume the grave responsibilities of marriage and children. She pointed out that her own father had not married until he was thirty-three, by which time he was “a man who had made a name and a place for himself, who had something to offer a woman.” What did Franklin have to offer that was truly his own? His inheritance from his father had been a relatively modest one: he must depend upon his mother’s largess or his own earned income if he were to maintain the standard of living to which he and Eleanor were accustomed. And how was he to earn an income? He planned, tentatively and with no enthusiasm, to enter law school the following autumn. He could not complete his course work there and pass his bar examinations for nearly two years after that. Surely it was the part of wisdom to delay marriage until he was actually a bona fide member of some well-established law firm.

Nor was this all.

To the tactics of delay she added those of diversion. The real purpose of a proffered Caribbean cruise in early 1904 was to enforce Franklin’s separation from Eleanor for many crucial weeks during which he, with his friend Lathrop Brown, would be totally immersed in strange new scenes, new excitements, and would emerge with new perspectives whereby (she hoped) his mind would be changed. Both her son and Eleanor were fully aware of this purpose. Eleanor resented it. She resented not only Cousin Sallie’s offer of the cruise, with all that it implied, but also (perhaps more so) Franklin’s acceptance of it. And she may well have communicated some sense of her resentment to him as he bade her goodbye in New York. At any rate he began the cruise in a grumpy mood (…F. is tired and blue,” wrote his mother in her diary on the day they sailed) and did not recover his spirits until they were well out to sea.

As for Eleanor, if she watched him go with bitterness in her heart, if she was condemned now to a period of anxiety colored with despair, the experience was certainly not new to her. The tall gawky adolescent girl who had been so miserable at Christmas holiday parties in New York had grown up out of a miserably unhappy childhood.