Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and the Great Depression
Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt
FDR, as Roosevelt was often called, was a distant cousin of former president Theodore Roosevelt. FDR grew up in a wealthy New York family and married his cousin Eleanor Roosevelt (the former President Roosevelt’s niece), who always joked that she accepted him only because it would save her having to have the monograms on her luggage changed.
Both Roosevelts were personalities. FDR quickly became a symbol of hope for the people. He was a natty dresser, with his hat tilted back and his cigarette holder clamped between his teeth at a jaunty angle. He exuded confidence, decisiveness, and good cheer. To see him riding in a car or standing behind a podium, no one would have imagined that this strong, vigorous-looking man could not walk unaided. A severe bout of polio in 1921 had confined FDR permanently to a wheelchair. He never allowed his physical disability to prevent him from taking on any challenge or to defeat his optimism or his courage. The start of his first inaugural address summed up his outlook on life:
. . . first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
Partly because her husband’s disability made long-distance travel very difficult for him, and partly due to her own convictions concerning her duty as first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt made more of her position in the White House than any of her predecessors had done. She wrote a daily newspaper column and traveled all over the country making speeches and inspecting the living conditions of those left destitute by the Depression. She spoke to all classes of Americans personally, listening to their individual concerns and taking careful notes of her impressions to bring back to the president. Everyone who ever met Mrs. Roosevelt was impressed by her unfailing courtesy and kindness. FDR considered Eleanor one of his most observant and valued advisers.
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