The Roosevelts’ Marriage

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Eleanor and Franklin with their first two children, 1908

Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt wed in New York City on St. Patrick’s Day, 1905. Their marriage was a difficult union but a dynamic partnership.

Franklin Roosevelt and his fifth cousin, Eleanor, were married on St. Patrick’s Day, 1905. This did not go over very well with Franklin’s domineering mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt. The marriage would be a difficult one, but Franklin and Eleanor became dynamic political partners. As president and first lady, the couple would make history in more ways than one.

The Beginning

Eleanor Roosevelt was a shy, awkward, and rather unsuccessful debutante. She was not surprised that the only young man who would ask her out was her fifth cousin, Franklin. On December 1, 1904, at the height of the New York social season, the couple announced their engagement. A wedding was scheduled for the following spring.

The Wedding

The wedding took place in New York City on March 17 (St. Patrick’s Day), 1905. The bride was given away by her uncle, President Theodore Roosevelt. (Theodore was the brother of Eleanor’s father, Elliott, who died when Eleanor was a child.) Eleanor was Theodore’s favorite niece, and he was delighted to give her away. Also, doing so was a good public relations move for Theodore. He was already scheduled to appear in the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, so attending both events helped the media-savvy and attention-craving president garner even more publicity.

Maternal OppositionFranklin’s mother, Sara, never approved of her son marrying Eleanor, whom she referred to as a “child.” Mother Roosevelt wanted Franklin to focus on his academic committments, including an obligation as editor of The Harvard Crimson that he had to fulfill. Franklin and Eleanor preceded with their plans anyway. Sara’s domineering ways would be a problem throughout the marriage, especially after Franklin contracted polio. Sara had always viewed Eleanor as being beneath her. For instance, Eleanor had been a social worker before the marriage, and Sara believed this to be demeaning to the Roosevelt name.

The Marriage

The Roosevelt marriage was plagued with problems, particularly Franklin’s infidelity and illness. Nonetheless, it produced six children– one girl and five boys: Anna Eleanor (1906-75); James (1907-91); Franklin Delano, Jr. (1909); Elliott (1910-90); Franklin Delano, Jr. (1914-88); John Spinal (1916-81). The union would also cement both Franklin’s and Eleanor’s place in history.

Dynamic Duo

The Roosevelts’ hard work and ambition paid off in 1932, when Franklin became the thirty-second President of the United States. He served for 12 years (1933-45) and led the nation through the Great Depression and World War II. As first lady, Eleanor made history in her own right. She served as a United Nations delegate and championed controversial causes, such as racial equality, women’s rights, and poverty relief. In 1948, three years after her time as first lady ended, a magazine called Woman’s Home Companion named Eleanor the “Most Popular American.” For several years in a row, she was named the “World’s Most Admired Woman” by a Gallup poll. The marriage ended with Franklin’s death from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1945. Eleanor herself died on November 7, 1962, in Hyde Park, New York. Today, many historians consider Franklin one of the greatest presidents and Eleanor is one of the most beloved of all the first ladies as a result of her courage and humanitarianism.

Source:

  1. Harris, Bill. The First Ladies Fact Book, p. 479-501. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc., 2005.