Tuesday, June 17, 2008

PBS: "Eleanor Roosevelt" in "American Experience" series

On June 16 PBS station WETA in Washington aired the “American Experience” film “Eleanor Roosevelt.” The link is here.

Eleanor Roosevelt was actually born into the same family, a niece of president Theodore Roosevelt. She was quite an “individualist” as a child, growing up in New York City and Tivoli. She lost both parents early in life (the mother died of diphtheria) and was raised in large part by a strict grandmother. She had a creative imagination and an interest in writing and literature. She spent some time at a finishing school in Britain.

She was introduced to society at a debutante party and soon married Franklin, who himself had been a somewhat introspective only child. The film traces their career. But Franklin got caught in an “affair” and they lived “separately” for the rest of their lives, agreeing to stay married out of platonic love and out of regard for their careers. Eleanor developed her own public identity which she would keep in the four terms of FDR as president.

She became particularly interested in civil rights. She helped Marian Anderson get a signing engagement on the Mall in 1939 when it was controversial. He advocacy of rights for African Americans started to attract “enemies.” J. Edgar Hoover had her followed in the later days of World War II. Eventually, she went on a mission alone (with one other woman, and without FBI protection) past a KKK “Marginot line” in the Tennessee mountains in 1958.

The FBI, in fact, had spied on her over a supposed affair with a man in a Chicago hotel (pretty much Hoover's imagination) whereas some commentators (Lillian Faderman) claim that her friendship in 1933 with Lorena Hickok was lesbian.

She remained active in the Democratic Party after the War, giving a major speech at the 1956 Democratic Convention where Adlai Stevenson was (for the second time) nominated.

She died of bone marrow tuberculosis in the fall of 1962 at the age of 78.

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