Material taken partly from Pictorial History of American Presidents by John and Alice Durant @ 1955
The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents by William A. DeGregorio @ 1984
Presidential Anecdotes by Paul F. Boller, Jr. @ 1981
The Presidents Tidbits and Trivia by Sid Frank & Arden Davis Melick @ 1984
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the first president to serve more than two terms and the first to be inaugurated on January 20th instead of March 5th. He had much in common with his 5th cousin, Teddy Roosevelt. Both were born to considerable wealth in New York from Dutch ancestry. One attended Harvard, one attended Yale. Both began their political careers in the New York Legislature, both served as Assistant Secretaries of the Navy, both served as Governors of New York, and both were nominated for the vice-presidency. (T.R. won with McKinley in 1900 – F.D.R. lost with Cox in 1920) Both became President, and both publicly vowed that they would refuse a third term and both broke their promises. (T.R. ran in 1912 on the “Bull Moose” ticket and F.D.R. ran and won four terms in a row)
Roosevelt was president during the greatest depression and the greatest war in the history of the world, and he defeated them both.
Roosevelt was mostly of Dutch ancestry that came to New Netherland about 1644. They were active in New York politics. His father, James Roosevelt was a lawyer, financier and native of Hyde Park, New York. While working in many capacities, he was a true country squire of considerable wealth. He married Rebecca Howland in 1853 and they had one son, James. Rebecca died in 1876 and he married his sixth cousin Sara Delano, the president’s mother, in 1880. He was 55 and she was 26. Franklin was their only child. At birth Franklin weighed 10 pounds. It was a difficult birth that nearly killed both mother and child. When after long hours of labor the doctor administered chloroform, an overdose as it turned out, to the mother. She fell unconscious and turned blue for a time. Franklin was born unconscious and blue. Only with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation was he saved.
He was brought up like a little prince, leading the most sheltered life of any president. He had a nurse and governesses who taught him to speak French and German, and private tutors. He traveled abroad with his parents several times and did not attend regular school until he was 14. At age 4 he was given a pony, at 11 his own hunting rifle, at 16 a 21-foot sailboat. When he graduated from Groton High School in 1900 - the Governor of New York – Theodore Roosevelt - spoke at his graduation.
FDR stood 6’ 1” tall and as president generally weighed in the 180’s. Strikingly handsome, lean, and athletic as a young man, he had blue eyes and dark wavy hair. He was nearsighted and from age 18 wore glasses.
Franklin when to Harvard where he majored in political history and government. Franklin’s father died at 72 when he was a freshman at Harvard. After graduating he attended Columbia Law School. He failed two classes and dropped out – but took the bar exam in 1907 and passed – thus never graduating from law school.
After her husband’s death in 1900, Mrs. Roosevelt concentrated all her energies on her only son - Franklin. She opposed his decision to enter politics. Instead, she encouraged him to become a country squire like his father. After he was stricken with polio, she again appealed to him to withdraw to the comforts of Hyde Park. A strong-willed, forceful personality, she wholly dominated her daughter-in-law Eleanor Roosevelt during the first years of her marriage to Franklin. She died at 86 during his third term as president. On her death, Roosevelt inherited $920,000.
Genealogists have traced blood or marriage relationships between FDR and eleven first families, including George Washington, John Adams, James Madison, John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, U.S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft. He was also seventh cousin once removed to Winston Churchill.
Roosevelt was Episcopalian and a lifelong member of St. James Episcopal Church in Hyde Park, but rarely spoke about his faith. In Washington he worshipped at St. John’s Episcopal Church but also liked to attend Baptist and Methodist services.
Eleanor grew up a painfully shy, insecure child. Her mother passed away when she was eight and her father, an alcoholic confined to a sanitarium, died soon thereafter. She was raised by her maternal grandmother. She was rather homely with buckteeth. Her aunt, Edith Roosevelt, (Teddy’s wife) was fond of her and said “Poor little thing, she is very plain. Her mouth and teeth seem to have no future. But the ugly duckling may turn out to be a swan.” While Eleanor was no beauty, she was very compassionate and loved people.
In 1902 Eleanor became a social worker in the East Side slums of New York. That same year she met FDR and was overwhelmed when the dashing Harvard student demonstrated affection for her. She brought Franklin along on her rounds of the squalid tenements, a walking tour that profoundly moved the heretofore sheltered young man. Franklin proposed in November 1903 and Eleanor accepted. Mother Roosevelt did not approve and took her son on a cruise in 1904 hoping that the separation would squelch the romance, but Franklin returned to Eleanor with renewed ardor. The wedding date was fixed to accommodate President Theodore Roosevelt, who agreed to give away the bride, his niece. His presence focused national attention on the wedding. That summer the couple took their honeymoon, a three-month tour of Europe.
The couple had five children live to adulthood, one daughter and four sons.
Before becoming president FDR was a lawyer, New York State Senator 1911-1913, Assistant Secretary of the Navy 1913-1920. He resigned this position to accept the Democratic vice presidential nomination on the ticket with James M. Cox in 1920. He served as Governor of New York from 1929-1933.
“Toward the end of May 1919, the Roosevelts were returning home from a dinner party when a bomb exploded outside the home of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer with an impact that damaged the Roosevelt house across the street. The Roosevelts rushed home to see if their son James was all right. They found him standing half-asleep by the window, confused by the uproar. Roosevelt hugged him so tightly that he remembered it for years; but Mrs. Roosevelt said calmly, “Whatever are you doing out of bed at this hour, James? Get yourself to bed.” When the boy asked what had happened, she said, “Turn right over and go to sleep. It’s just a little bomb!” For years after that, in moments of excitement in the Roosevelt household, someone was likely to quote her: “It’s just a little bomb.”” (Boller, Jr. p. 265)
In 1921 FDR contracted polio. After a day of sailing and fishing with his boys on Campobello Island, Roosevelt helped some local residents fight a forest fire and then took a cold dip in the Bay of Fundy. He jogged the mile back home. That evening he went to bed with the chills. Two days later he could not move his legs. Through rigorous exercise Roosevelt eventually learned to stand with braces and to walk briefly with crutches or canes. In deep water he was able to stand without braces.
According to his wife, being stricken with polio made him more sensitive to the feelings of other people. He was not the least bit sensitive about his handicap, however. While onlookers typically shifted about in discomfort as he was lifted in and out of automobiles or struggled with his ungainly braces, he invariably eased the tension with a joke or simply carried on a conversation as if nothing unusual were going on.
To compensate for his lack of mobility, Eleanor became his feet, going everywhere, making public appearances, and reporting back to him. She was the first – “First Lady” to become significantly and actively involved in matters of substance. While First Lady she wrote a daily syndicated column, My Day, she edited a magazine, and gave innumerable lectures. She traveled some 500,000 miles in the U.S. alone. She spoke out for black civil rights. In a celebrated incident in 1939, she resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution to protest that organization’s refusal to permit black singer Marian Anderson to perform at Constitution Hall. (DeGregorio p. 485)
In 1932 Roosevelt ran against Herbert Hoover for the presidency and won. FDR was 51 years old. Before he took office on March 5, the President-elect survived an assassination attempt. On February 15, 1933, Giuseppe Zangara, a 32 year-old Italian bricklayer shouted, “Too many people are starving to death!” as he fired five shots from a 32-caliber revolver at the president-elect’s open motorcade in Miami, Florida. Four people were wounded. Mayor Anton Cermak of Chicago was killed. Roosevelt escaped unharmed. Zangara was found guilty of murder and electrocuted on March 20, 1933. (DeGregorio p. 494)
Unfortunately FDR was not faithful to Eleanor. After Roosevelt was appointed assistant secretary of the navy in 1913, Eleanor hired Miss Lucy Page Mercer, 22, as her social secretary. Just when the affair began in unknown, but Eleanor learned of it in 1918. She issued Franklin an ultimatum to stop seeing Lucy or she would divorce him. He agreed to end the relationship. Eleanor emerged from the episode a changed, more independent woman. In 1920 Lucy married Winthrop Rutherfurd, a wealthy widower. Despite his promise, Roosevelt sometime later resumed the affair. Lucy frequently visited the White House when Eleanor was out of town. She was with the president when he was fatally stricken at Warm Springs, Georgia, but was quickly hustled away before Eleanor arrived. (DeGregorio p. 485)
The most famous dog ever to be an occupant of the White House was Franklin’s Scottie, Fala. They were inseparable companions. In the summer of 1944, Fala accompanied his master on a voyage to Hawaii aboard the cruiser Baltimore. Fala kept disappearing for hours at a time, which was not like him, and the President also noticed that the dog’s hair seemed to be falling out. Upon investigation, the disappearances and the falling hair proved to be closely connected. Some of the crewmembers had been enticing Fala to their dining quarters by feeding him tidbits. On those occasions the sailors snipped off locks of his coat for souvenirs. When the President found out, both feeding and snipping stopped. (Sid Frank & Arden Melick p. 84)
As President Roosevelt exercised by swimming in the White House pool and found the waters of Warm Springs, Georgia, especially soothing. He was a skilled birdwatcher. He maintained an extensive stamp collection, which by the 1930s had grown to 40 albums of 25,000 stamps. As president he received the first sheet of each new commemorative issue and had a State Department officer regularly send him unusual foreign stamps. He also enjoyed sailing, fishing, and watching motion pictures in the White House with friends. He liked to play cards, especially small-stakes poker. A moderate drinker, he preferred a dry martini at the end of the day. He smoked more than a pack of cigarettes a day. (DeGregorio p. 484)
Roosevelt ran and won four terms as President. Four months into his fourth term on April 12, 1945 - FDR dies at Warm Springs, Georgia. He had been suffering from high blood pressure and arteriosclerosis. About 1:00 p.m. he suddenly pressed his hand to his temple and then over his forehead and said, “I have a terrific headache.” These were his last words. Moments later he slumped into unconsciousness, the victim of a cerebral hemorrhage. He was carried to bed. The doctors agreed that his condition was irreversible. Roosevelt died without regaining consciousness. No autopsy was performed. His arteries had grown so severely sclerotic that morticians had great difficulty embalming the body. Funeral services were conducted in the East Room of the White House. He was buried at Hyde Park, New York. In his last will and testament, Roosevelt named the Warm Springs Foundation beneficiary of insurance policies totaling $560,000. He left the residue of his estate, valued at $1.9 million, to his wife and on her death, to his children.
FDR authored one book in 1929 – The Happy Warrior, Alfred E. Smith.
Eleanor remained active the rest of her life. Appointed by President Truman to the first U.S. delegation to the United Nations, 1946-1952, she was chairman of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, which drafted the International Declaration of Human Rights, and championed the creation of Israel. President Kennedy reappointed her to the United Nations, 1961-62. She died of bone marrow tuberculosis in New York City on November 7, 1962, and was buried next to the president at Hyde Park.