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Thursday, July 26, 2018

Eleanor Roosevelt's letter to my mother

I was going through family documents recently and came upon something that I forgot was there: a letter from Eleanor Roosevelt to my mother, dated February 18, 1961. It looks the way documents used to look when we all used manual typewriters - the individual letters of the alphabet display varying degrees of thickness. The note is signed in Mrs. Roosevelt's rather elegant hand with real ink (using a fountain pen, for sure). I'm touched by the humility in her wording "with renewed regrets and the hope that you will understand my position" regarding the fact that the former First Lady was not going to send a gift for my mother's church festival.

It's amazing to me that it appears that no secretary had input into this correspondence. Imagine a First Lady doing her own letters by hand! Even the envelope looks as if it was typed out by Eleanor Roosevelt herself (although "J.A." is incorrect; my mother would have signed herself "Mrs. A. Grenier" or "Mrs. T.R. Grenier." Maybe Eleanor was in a hurry). Notice the "Anne Eleanor Roosevelt" stamp across the top. Note also the "Free" postage indicia:

Here's the back of the envelope:

Mrs. Roosevelt was responding to my mother's request for a gift to be used as a prize at Mum's parish festival. I remember my mom gathering prizes from various celebrities and storing them during the cold months in preparation for the summer celebration at our parish, Our Lady of Sorrows on the north side of Milwaukee. There were signed photos from some (wish I could remember who), and various sundries from others. One celeb sent what I remember as a "magic wand." I bet it was a symphony conductor's baton.

I wonder if celebrities still respond to requests for photos and trinkets for their fans. I'm guessing that yes, they do, but that the requests are handled by their "people."

Mum was 30 years old when she got the letter from Mrs. Roosevelt; I was 10. Eleanor was 76 when she wrote the letter. She died twenty-one months later, at age 78, from cardiac failure complicated by tuberculosis. She'd been a First Lady twice: first when Mr. Roosevelt was governor of New York from 1929 to 1932, then when he served as president of the USA from 1933 to 1945. She married young and had six children. She and Franklin were married for 35 years and she'd been widowed for 17 years at the time of her death. Their lives were complicated and public.

I think of my mother's life. She too married young. She had five children and was married for 29 years at the time of her death. Her life was very un-public and not nearly as complicated as the first lady's. 

My mother kept that letter for the rest of her life; she must have thought it was remarkable. I did too; I've hung onto it since Mum died, for these last forty years. Off and on I'd be browsing through our documents and I'd come upon it, open it, read it, and think "Maybe I can sell this for big money somewhere." But I never acted on that idea. 

Last week, I finally offered the letter to the FDR Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York. I got a nice email from Kirsten Carter, the supervisory archivist there, who wrote:

"Thank you for contacting the Roosevelt Library to describe an Eleanor Roosevelt letter plus stamped envelope inherited from your mother. We agree that it shows a nice example of Roosevelt's personal messages to the public, and we are happy to accept your offer of donation. 

If you are prepared to donate the item now, please mail it to me. Thank you very much for your generous interest and support for the FDR Library archival collection! Our Director will send a more formal letter of thanks by mail to document your gift."

The more I read various sayings by Eleanor Roosevelt, the more I think she was an amazing woman. Maybe some day I will visit the FDR museum and see her letter to my mum.  

You can find oodles of Eleanor's marvelous quotations online. I haven't researched if these are all bona fide sayings of hers, but I sure love 'em. Below are a bunch. (There are more.) Enjoy!

(I want to make some "memes" like those below, featuring my own mother's face and her marvelous sayings. She had some great ones. Maybe one of my grandchildren can help me do that some day.)


  1. Very cool, Gail. She was too.

  2. Thank you! Wish I could have met her.

  3. Great article Gail! I have always liked and admired Eleanor Roosevelt. I remember finding a book about her in sixth grade in Christ Kings library and was a fan ever since. She was an incredible woman, role model and ahead of her time in her thinking.

    1. Thanks Beth! Now I want to read up on her also!

  4. Hi Gail, thanks for sharing. It's a beautiful story.