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Roosevelt-Kennedy_1The ties between the Roosevelt and Kennedy families go back to World War I when Franklin D. Roosevelt was Assistant Secretary of the Navy.  In November 1917, Joseph P. Kennedy was the Assistant General Manager of the Fore River Shipbuilding Corporation in Quincy, Massachusetts, when a labor strike threatened the company’s contribution to the Navy’s shipbuilding program. Assistant Secretary Roosevelt appealed to Fore River’s management and to the striking workers “to sink all minor differences and to get together for the sake of the success of our country in this war at once.” The strike ended a few days later.

As New York Governor Franklin Roosevelt prepared to seek the Democratic Party’s nomination for president at the convention in Chicago in July 1932, Joseph P. Kennedy—now working in Hollywood and New York—lent his support to FDR, both financially and politically.  Kennedy was one of those who were known as “WRBC”, or With Roosevelt Before Chicago. He donated to the campaign, met with Governor Roosevelt and his Brains Trust in Albany, and helped convince supporters of John Nance Garner to throw their delegates to Roosevelt at the convention.  Kennedy continued to advise Roosevelt after he won the nomination, and in August Kennedy wrote to FDR: “As I told you over the phone unless they [the Republicans] can put two and one half million men back to work and get wheat up to twenty or twenty five cents a bushel the result will be overwhelming for Roosevelt.”  Roosevelt even invited Kennedy along on the campaign train that fall.

The Roosevelt Campaign Train, September 23, 1932. Joseph Kennedy is in front row, fifth from the right with hand in pocket.

The Roosevelt Campaign Train, September 23, 1932. Joseph Kennedy is in front row, fifth from the right with hand in pocket.

As the New Deal began to take shape, one of FDR’s early reforms was the creation of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC was designed to protect investors from fraudulent and unethical practices in the stock market.  FDR began to assemble his choices for the five-person Commission, and Joseph Kennedy was selected to be the first chairman. As a June 15, 1934 memorandum indicates, FDR’s choice of Kennedy as chairman reflected the man’s “executive ability, knowledge of habits and customs of business to be regulated and ability to moderate different points of view…” Kennedy received a five year appointment, and although he resigned in September 1935 to return to private business, he received high praise for effectively working with both Washington and Wall Street to implement the new regulations.

Kennedy again supported FDR’s nomination for the presidency in 1936, and in 1937 returned to public service to become the first chairman of the newly created Maritime Commission that had been established to revitalize the United States shipping industry.  Roosevelt-Kennedy_4Then, in March 1938, Kennedy received the appointment he most wanted in Roosevelt’s government: Ambassador to the Court of St. James – the first Irish Catholic American to hold this prestigious diplomatic post.  As the new U.S. Ambassador in London, Kennedy had a front row seat to the worsening international crisis in Europe.  When war finally came in September 1939, Kennedy’s public support for American neutrality conflicted with Roosevelt’s increasing efforts to provide aid to Britain.  Roosevelt and Kennedy met in October 1940 to try to iron out their differences, but it was clear the split could not be repaired. Kennedy resigned after FDR’s election to a Third Term in November.

Despite their later policy differences, the ties between FDR and Joseph Kennedy extended to the next generation of Kennedys. In 1935, FDR learned that young Bobby Kennedy was a stamp collector and sent the boy some of stamps for his collection.  In 1940, recent Harvard graduate John F. Kennedy sent an inscribed first edition of his recently published book, Why England Slept, to FDR for his book collection.  As was his custom, FDR signed the flyleaf underneath Jack Kennedy’s signature.  And in 1944, FDR was shocked to learn of the death of Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., while on a combat bombing mission, and the President wrote a heartfelt condolence letter to the elder Joe Kennedy.

FDR’s own death in April 1945 brought an end to Joseph Kennedy’s years of collaboration with Franklin Roosevelt.  But post-war America saw the rise of a new Kennedy to prominence, John F. Kennedy.  As a leading figure in the Democratic Party, Eleanor Roosevelt saw JFK grow from a Congressman, to a United States Senator, then a potential nominee for vice president in 1956, and finally the Democratic Party’s nominee for president in 1960.

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John F. Kennedy touring the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library during his visit for the 25th Anniversary of Social Security, August 14, 1960.

A longtime supporter of the liberal Adlai Stevenson’s runs for the presidency, Eleanor Roosevelt had concerns about JFK’s commitment to some of the liberal causes that she held dear.  During the 1950s, ER challenged John Kennedy to be more vocal in his opposition to McCarthyism.  And in 1960, Mrs. Roosevelt feared that JFK’s caution on civil rights issues was an attempt to garner votes in the more conservative southern states that might backfire and cost him votes in the more liberal north.

On August 14, 1960, Kennedy came to Hyde Park to pay his respects to Mrs. Roosevelt and to gain her full support for his candidacy.  After visiting the Roosevelt Library and the FDR Home to deliver a speech commemorating the 25th anniversary of Social Security, JFK had tea with Mrs. Roosevelt at her Val-Kill home where they talked over the issues and his campaign.  Following the meeting, Eleanor Roosevelt threw her full support behind the Kennedy-Johnson ticket.

Roosevelt-Kennedy_11During the campaign, Mrs. Roosevelt never hesitated to give her advice to the young candidate, including commenting on the first televised presidential debates.  After his election, President Kennedy appointed ER to be the chairperson of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women.  Mrs. Roosevelt’s death on November 7, 1962 brought President and Mrs. Kennedy, as well as former presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower and Vice President Lyndon Johnson to Hyde Park to attend the funeral and witness her burial in the Rose Garden next to Franklin D. Roosevelt on November 10, 1962.  A little over a year later, JFK himself would be gone, bringing the curtain down on the collaboration of the Roosevelts and Kennedys that spanned more than a half a century.

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Senator Robert F. Wagner, Margaret Truman, President Harry S Truman, Bess Truman, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, President Lyndon B. Johnson, Lady Bird Johnson, President John F. Kennedy, and Jacqueline Kennedy at Eleanor Roosevelt’s burial in Hyde Park, New York, November 10, 1962.

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Eleanor Roosevelt launches UNICEF Halloween “Trick or Treat” program at the United Nations with Captain Kangaroo.

Eleanor Roosevelt – “My Day”

I went to the United Nations the other afternoon to be photographed with some of the children who are taking part in the Halloween Trick or Treat program for the benefit for UNICEF.

UNICEF stands for the U.N. International Children’s Fund. The “E” used to be for “emergency,” but while it is still left in the alphabetical name, the program is no longer an emergency program. It goes on every day, all year around, feeding children who are hungry, wherever it is possible to do so throughout the world, helping people to feed their children better with local foods, and in cooperation with the World Health Organization putting on campaigns against diseases which attack children.

The idea of making Halloween serve two purposes has become very popular and on October 31 last year 7,500 communities from Alaska to Florida and from Hawaii to Puerto Rico participated. A million and a half youngsters had the pleasure of dressing up and ringing doorbells, holding containers into which pennies could be dropped to help the world’s children…

It has become a real community undertaking, and instead of people being afraid of tricks that might be played upon them and real vandalism, which often did occur in days gone by, we now know that with the pennies we have saved to give, something can be done for children in the world. And often added to the pennies are cookies and candies for the children who thoughtfully go about collecting for youngsters in other parts of the world.

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Eleanor Roosevelt and Gore Vidal

The recent death of celebrated author Gore Vidal (1925-2012) led us to explore his relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt. The following “My Day” column drafts and letters from Gore Vidal are found the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers here at the Roosevelt Library.

From the beginning of Vidal’s literary career, ER read and enjoyed Vidal’s books and theatrical works.  Indeed, after having read Vidal’s first novel in 1946, she wrote in her “My Day” column that she believed Vidal had a promising career ahead of him.  How right she was.

Eleanor Roosevelt's "My Day" column draft, dated May 26, 1946

Eleanor Roosevelt’s “My Day” column draft, dated May 26, 1946. Click the image above to read this complete draft and others discussing Vidal.

Gore Vidal moved to Dutchess County, New York in the 1950s, and ER became his friend and political adviser.  When Vidal unsuccessfully ran for Congress as a Democrat in the heavily Republican 29th district in the Hudson Valley, he looked to Mrs. Roosevelt for encouragement and political insight.

Gore Vidal to Eleanor Roosevelt, circa 1957-1962

Click the image above to read letters from Gore Vidal to Eleanor Roosevelt, circa 1957-1962.

The RMS Titanic at 100

One hundred years ago, the British passenger liner RMS Titanic sank on its maiden voyage across the Atlantic.Considered a marvel of sumptuous luxury and Progressive Era industrial engineering, the ship charged confidently through icy waters at high speeds, struck an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland, then went down in under three hours.

More than 1,500 people died, including very wealthy Americans and many poorer European emigrants. 710 survivors of the wreck were rescued from life boats and carried to New York by the British ship, RMS Carpathia. The Roosevelt and Delano families knew several of the first class passengers who died.

In honor of the Titanic‘s 100th anniversary, we look back at how FDR’s family reacted to the infamous disaster.

Photographs of the Edwardian-era Roosevelts

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Daybook and Personal Letters

Sara Delano Roosevelt's Daybook

Sara Delano Roosevelt’s 1912 Daybook (left): “Heard of the Titanic’s collision with an iceberg”

FDR to Sara Delano Roosevelt, April 17th, 1912: “We know practically no details, only scraps here and there.”

Sara Delano Roosevelt to FDR, April 24th, 1912:  “…oh! the tragedies in steerage as well.”

Eleanor Roosevelt to FDR, April 17-24, 1912: “I don’t think I will ever let you go away alone again.”

2012: The Girl Scouts of America turns 100

March 12, 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the first organized meeting of the Girl Scouts, hosted in Georgia by founder Juliette Gordon Low.  Several years later, as First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt served as Honorary President of that organization throughout her tenure in the White House.

Eleanor Roosevelt pictured with Girl Scouts in Kentucky. 1934.

Eleanor Roosevelt pictured with Girl Scouts in Kentucky. July 7, 1934.

In the 1930s and 40s individual Scouts sent letters, scrapbooks and gifts to both the President and Mrs. Roosevelt.  Below is one such letter to ER from Scout Julie Ann Dorr, then age 11, sent in August of 1941. She wrote to the First Lady: “I thought you would be interested in hearing Camp Osito news, including word about the horses they have up there.”

Letter from and 11-year-old Girl Scout, August 1941

Page 1 of a letter from an 11-year-old Girl Scout, August 1941.

Click here to Read the entire letter along with Mrs. Roosevelt’s August 21 My Day column that inspired Dorr to write.

We thought this would be a great photo to share in celebration of International Women’s Day:

Eleanor Roosevelt and Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Eleanor Roosevelt displays a Spanish language version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Lake Success, NY, November 1949.

The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948 in the midst of an especially bitter phase of the Cold War. Many people contributed to this remarkable achievement, but most observers believe that the UN Commission on Human Rights, which drafted the declaration, would not have succeeded in reaching agreement without the leadership of the Commission’s chair: Eleanor Roosevelt. ER herself regarded her role in drafting and securing adoption of the Declaration as her greatest achievement.

Read the whole story of Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“This Is No Ordinary Time”

Tensions ran high as Eleanor Roosevelt approached the podium to address the delegates of the 1940 Democratic National Convention. The prior evening’s raucous proceedings, which led  to FDR’s nomination for an unprecedented third term candidacy, had been long and trying. Now FDR’s subsequent insistence on Henry Wallace as Vice Presidential running mate was unpopular and controversial. The war in Europe loomed threateningly over the American psyche and ideological differences concerning neutrality, and a host of other political issues exposed fissures in the Democratic Party ranks. The Convention was at a standstill and bordered on outright revolt.

FDR (who was in Washington) and Frances Perkins (on the ground in Chicago) encouraged Mrs. Roosevelt to immediately fly to Chicago to bring the party together. She agreed to do so, and when she appeared on stage that night she called for unified action, saying [excerpt]:

“You must know that this is the time when all good men and women give every bit of service and strength to their country that they have to give. This is the time when it is the United States that we fight for, the domestic policies that we have established as a party that we must believe in, that we must carry forward, and in the world we have a position of great responsibility.

We cannot tell from day to day what may come. This is no ordinary time. No time for weighing anything except what we can do best for the country as a whole, and that responsibility rests on each and every one of us as individuals.”

The effect of her words was transformative. A silence marked by respect and admiration followed her message, somberly and palpably shifting the atmosphere. Balloting began immediately after she sat down and the Convention went on to nominate  Henry A. Wallace to run alongside Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940 election.

Eleanor Roosevelt delivered this historic speech using only a single page of notes:

Eleanor Roosevelt's notes for the 1940 convention speech

Eleanor Roosevelt's 1940 Convention notes

Read the full speech online by visiting the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project

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