I am not nor have I ever been a history buff, however, "The Roosevelts: An Intimate History" a film by Ken Burns, drew me in and kept me watching for the full fourteen hours! Each night I waited for the next two hours of the seven part documentary to begin to see what had happened in the Roosevelts' lives. Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt are at the center of this sweeping documentary.
We do not live too far from Hyde Park, New York. Whether it be Eleanor Roosevelt's beloved Val-Kill or Franklin Roosevelt's estate at Springwood (and his Presidential Library & Museum), Hyde Park has always been considered home to FDR.
The Roosevelts: Theodore
Theodore Roosevelt was a Republican, a Progressive, a cowboy, a naturalist and very likely suffered from ADHD or some such related illness which probably accounted for his inability to sit still. He could never be still.
As a young man he wrote "The Naval War of 1812", to keep himself busy. Quite an undertaking and a book that was used by our early Navy as a reference.
So much tragedy in one family, for one man is hard to believe. As a child he had to overcome severe asthma. He was mostly home schooled as a child and was weak in mathematics, not unlike many of us who were not home schooled! A boxing accident left him blind in one eye, an infection and surgery left him deaf in one ear, he was shot on his campaign trail and carried the bullet in his chest for the rest of his life.
I never realized the demons that tormented Theodore Roosevelt. I'm sure many of you know his mother and wife died on the same day only hours apart. His wife died of Bright's Disease and his mother of Typhoid Fever. He was only twenty-five when this double tragedy struck. He left politics and bought a cattle ranch in the Dakotas but when his herds were destroyed by blizzards he returned to New York City and politics.
He formed the Rough Riders to help do battle in Cuba when the war with Spain broke out. He found the battle exhilarating. Tracking and shooting and leading his men into battle.
He became President when McKinley was assassinated, the youngest person to become president at age 42. He was reelected in November of 1904 and called his policies a "Square Deal".
I am, of course capsulating his life here and leaving much out, but trying to form an overall view.
After his presidency he went on an African Expedition. His son Kermit, accompanied him, afraid to have him go alone. The expedition killed or trapped over 10,000 animals, insects and elephants. It also caused him to contract malaria and a leg infection, nearly causing his death and leaving him in a sad physical state, he lost fifty pounds.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
The Roosevelts: Franklin Delano Roosevelt
I never realized the true greatness of this man. Whether you agree with his politics or not, you can't deny his dedication to his country.
Franklin was Theodore's fifth cousin. Like Theodore he was born into a wealthy family but was an only child. He grew up at Springwood in the Hudson River Valley in New York. Unlike Theodore, he attended a prestigious boys' school and attended Harvard University. He got his degree in only three years and went on to study law. His political career began in 1910 when he was elected to the New York State Senate as a Democrat.
He became engaged to his fifth cousin, Eleanor. Eleanor was also the niece of Theodore Roosevlet whom Franklin admired greatly. They had six children, five of whom survived to adulthood.
He was reelected to the State Senate in 1912 and was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy, just as Theodore was. While the family was vacationing at Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Franklin contracted polio (infantile paralysis) and lost the use of his legs. He established a foundation for polio victims in Warm Springs, Georgia, and visited there often to offer hope and encouragement to others afflicted with the same illness he had suffered from.
His wife and good friend Louie Howe convinced him to re-enter politics. Subsequently he was elected Governor of New York. One of the amazing things about him is that throughout his political career whenever he gave a speech he was seen standing. Not an easy feat. He wore leg braces that weighed ten pounds but he refused to be seated when giving a speech. He was elected, president for the first time, in 1932. He was elected president an unprecedented four times. No one before or since has been elected that many times.
Throughout his presidencies and his "New Deal" politics, he was responsible for Social Security, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Work Projects Administration (WPA), .signed the Lend Lease Bill to help nations at war with Germany, and created the United Nations.
The first woman to influence him, and continually influence him was his mother. It appears his great love was his devoted secretary one Miss LeHand his personal aid, and Lucy Mercer with whom he had an affair for thirty years. He admitted his feelings for Lucy to Eleanor and said he wanted to marry Lucy. It was his mother that forbid it. Daisy Suckley was a close friend to Franklin with a romantic overture. She and Franklin envisioned building a cottage on a hill in Duchess County where they could retire together. The romantic side of their relationship sort of disappeared and they became very close friends. Franklin's beloved dog Fala spent a lot of time with Daisy. Daisy was with Franklin when he died.
Again, I give you just a glimpse into the man who led the country as it entered WWII. He was president during the attack on Pearl Harbor. He approved the building of the Atomic Bomb as a result of a letter by Albert Einstein. Einstein warned that Germany might build such a bomb first.
Eleanor Roosevelt - 1932
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The Roosevelts: Eleanor
Probably one of the most complicated Roosevelts and I do not say that because we are both women, was Eleanor Roosevelt. When she was a child, Eleanor's mother told her how ugly she was. She adored her father who committed suicide when she was just ten years old. Her mother had died two years earlier. Eleanor and her two brothers went to live with their Grandmother. At age 15 she attended school in England which helped bring her out of her shell.
Her father was the younger brother of Theodore. This "branch" of the Roosevelts was known as the Oyster Bay Roosevelts while Franklin and his family were the Hyde Park Roosevelts.
When she married Franklin, her Uncle Theodore Roosevelt gave the bride away. She was afraid such a good looking man wouldn't stay by her side, or so she confided to a friend. After having her children, she started to become active. During WWI she volunteered for the Red Cross at Navy Hospitals. She participated in the League of Women Voters, joined the Women's Trade Union League, worked for the Women's Division of the New York State Democratic Committee, helped establish a not for profit furniture factory in Hyde Park, and taught at the Todhunter School. She wrote a daily column in the newspaper and gave many press conferences and lectures. This was just the beginning for Eleanor.
While this was all happening another sadness struck her life, the infidelity of her beloved Franklin. In those days a politician's private life was private. Now we know every move a politician makes! How hurt she must have been to have her own private secretary, Lucy Mercer, become one of Franklin's lifelong loves! One of her conditions for remaining in the marriage was that she and Franklin would never again share a bed. In spite of his "indiscretions" she undoubtedly loved him to the end. She became an advocate of civil rights and fought for civil rights all across the country.
Like Theodore, however, she lost herself in her work and stayed by Franklin's side. She once said, "I could not at any age be content to take my place in a corner by the fireside and simply look on." She also said, "You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do."
She was an amazing woman and we have not yet had another first lady like her.
Franklin and Eleanor - State in Hide Park
Date of Birth
Date of Presidency
Date of Death
1901 (McKinley's Death; voted in 1904
March 1933 to April 1945
I hope you've enjoyed this little look at the Roosevelts and that you will leave a comment. I have to thank Ken Burns for his love of history and his documentary "The Roosevelts: An Intimate History". I think I will be looking for more of Ken Burns works, like "The War" and "The National Parks" which are only two of many.
Copyright Tillsontitan - All Rights Reserved.
An Interview with Ken Burns - About his documentary
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