May 2008

New details about the women in Roosevelt’s life

By Joseph E. Persico
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The public record shows that Franklin D. Roosevelt had one wife. But from a purely emotional perspective, he had three: the Official Wife, the Work Wife and the Hidden Wife. And that's not counting the casual flings. The legal wife, of course, was Eleanor. Admirable though she was, she drove him nuts. The work wife, equally predictably, was his longtime secretary Missy LeHand, who spent much more time with him than Eleanor did, day and night, before her untimely death at 46. The backdoor wife was Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd.

FDR's affair with Lucy Mercer during World War I, when she was Eleanor's social secretary, nearly broke up his marriage. More than 25 years later, Lucy, by then the widowed Mrs. Rutherfurd, was staying with him in Warm Springs, Georgia, until just before his death. In Franklin and Lucy, historian Joseph E. Persico, the author of a previous book on FDR and World War II espionage (Roosevelt's Secret War), is able to highlight their close friendship with the help of letters from FDR found in 2005 by Rutherfurd's grandchildren. The letters and other evidence, including phone logs, show that loving contact between the two was continuous through much of the 1920s and 1930s, even as Lucy enjoyed a good marriage to an older millionaire and Roosevelt carried on semi-publicly with Missy.

Persico effectively argues that Lucy was the enduring true love of Franklin's life. But this psychologically perceptive book is as much an emotional biography of Franklin and Eleanor as it is about the somewhat elusive Lucy, the "intelligent listener." It shows how much Franklin was influenced by all the strong women in his life – his overwhelming mother, his conflicted daughter, his several likely mistresses. It poignantly describes Eleanor's probable love affair with journalist Lorena Hickok and midlife crushes on younger men. It documents FDR's questionable treatment of Missy.

They were complicated people, Franklin and Eleanor and Lucy. Luckily for FDR and his wife, they lived at a time when friends and journalists largely kept quiet about the private lives of public figures. One wonders how they would fare today.

Anne Bartlett is a journalist in Washington, D.C.

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Franklin and Lucy

Franklin and Lucy

By Joseph E. Persico
Random House
ISBN 9781400064427

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