In his book Franklin & Lucy: President Roosevelt, Mrs. Rutherfurd, and the Other Remarkable Women in His Life, Joseph E. Persico used previously unpublished letters and other documents to reveal for the first time that this romance continued unbroken for nearly 30 years. He also causes us to speculate how the course of history would have changed had Franklin accepted Eleanor's offer of a divorce (nixed by his domineering mother) and married his soul mate, thus obviating his political career.
In the following excerpt, set in 1918, F.D.R. has just returned, ill, from an overseas trip while serving as assistant secretary of the Navy, and Eleanor has found the letters from Lucy.
|Newlyweds Eleanor and Franklin at Hyde Park, 1906|
What was collapsing in her external life could not compare with the disintegration within. She had always believed herself more unattractive than she was, a conviction confirmed early by her mother's cutting comments. Her father had promised her happiness, then snatched it away by his dissipation and death. Only lately had [her] confidence returned with her recognized contributions to the war effort. Now, in an instant, a packet of letters had swept [it] away. Because of her lack of interest in sex, she had not grasped what an overpowering force it was. Now, faced with incontrovertible evidence that her husband had found satisfaction elsewhere, sexual failure was added to her inadequacies.
The precise content of Lucy's letters can never be known because, as Eleanor confided years later to a curator at the Roosevelt Library, she had destroyed them. But, however genteelly Lucy might have expressed herself, her words left no doubt as to the seriousness of the affair. As Eleanor digested their awful import, she accepted what she must do. She approached Franklin as soon as he began to mend with the proof in hand of his infidelity.
Eventually, they would have to face his mother with the truth. In a tense encounter in Sara's living room, Eleanor, resignedly, spoke of her willingness to give Franklin his freedom. Sara was aghast. The idea that her son wanted to divorce Eleanor was the greatest shock she had suffered since 13 years before when he had told her he intended to marry her. It is "all very well for you, Eleanor, to speak of being willing to give Franklin his freedom," she said. But imagine the wagging tongues and shaking heads at Oyster Bay. Adultery could be concealed, even tolerated, but divorce was a calamity. After Cousin Alice Longworth's failed attempt to divorce the chronically faithless Nick Longworth, she noted, "I don't think one can have any idea how horrendous even the idea of divorce was in those days. I remember telling my family in 1912 I wanted one and, although they didn't quite lock me up, they exercised considerable pressure to get me to reconsider." Indeed, no one in either branch of the Roosevelt family had ever been divorced.
|Eleanor & Sara Delano, 1908|
Was Sara serious about cutting off the son whom she adored above all else? He had to accept that he was kept by his mother on a golden leash.
|The couple with F.D.R.'s mother, Sara Delano|