Eleanor | David Michaelis

Summary of: Eleanor
By: David Michaelis


Embark on a journey through the life of Eleanor Roosevelt, an iconic figure in American history. This summary of David Michaelis’s book, ‘Eleanor’, provides an insightful look at her personal life, marriage to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, upbringing, education, and the myriad of political and social issues she passionately advocated for. Discover Eleanor’s resolve to help those in need, her fight for human rights, and her role as a pioneering female political figure. Learn about her struggles with family secrets, coping with her husband’s infidelities, and the complexities of the Roosevelts’ marriage.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s Childhood

Eleanor Roosevelt, born on October 11, 1884, in New York, had a difficult childhood. Her parents’ marriage was falling apart, and her father’s alcoholism was a constant struggle for her family. Eleanor’s mother, Anna, often mocked her, adding to the gravity of her personality. Her uncle, Theodore Roosevelt, was the 26th US president. Eleanor was close to her father and helped him deal with his addiction. However, due to her father’s binges, he was declared legally insane, which led to embarrassing newspaper coverage. Eleanor lost contact with her father, who died three years after her paternal grandmother passed away.

Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Influence

Eleanor Roosevelt’s life had its fair share of ups and downs. After a New Year’s Eve dance with her distant cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt, she was sent to a London boarding school where she felt at home. She admired her headmistress for her intellect and appreciated the opportunity to discuss ideas with her. Despite her close relationship with her father, she was heartbroken to learn of his drug addiction and suicide. She also discovered that she had a half-brother from her father’s extramarital affair. Despite these tragedies, she and Franklin started appearing as a couple after he won the presidential election in 1904. Although their honeymoon was not exactly pleasant, Eleanor became pregnant soon after. The couple had its challenges, and Eleanor learned to accept Franklin’s emotional unavailability. Despite all this, Eleanor Roosevelt became a great influence in her own right, advocating for civil rights and championing the underprivileged.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s Journey

Eleanor’s life from a mother to a leader.

Eleanor Roosevelt, an icon of empowerment, gave birth to six children, but the joy of motherhood eluded her as she fell into a grim mood after each birth. Eleanor’s husband, Franklin D. Roosevelt, dazzled the children with the illusion of the personal, leaving Eleanor to raise them and manage their home as an extension of his political career. However, her need to be needed led her to dive into the political milieu, where she demonstrated her natural capacity for organization.

However, the intrusion of Lucy Mercer, Eleanor’s social secretary, would prove to be a considerable trial for their marriage. Eleanor’s exposes of the scandal would have ended FDR’s political career, but his mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt, intervened to prevent the scandal from materializing.

After the war, the American Red Cross assigned Eleanor to inspect a government-operated psychiatric hospital which had a Navy ward for soldiers and sailors suffering from shell shock, which we presently identify as PTSD. Her reports led Congress to increase funding for the hospital.

Eleanor’s story is that of a woman’s ascent from the duties and trials of motherhood into a remarkable leader who earns admiration and respect for her natural organizational skills.

FDR’s Political Journey

The summary follows the political journey of FDR, starting with his nomination as vice president in 1920 and ending with his purchase of a resort in Warm Springs, Georgia, in 1924. Despite losing the election, FDR emerged as a likely presidential candidate but was paralyzed by polio in 1921. With the help of his chief advisor, Louis Howe, and his wife, Eleanor, they managed to deceive the public and build his image as an independent candidate. Eleanor campaigned alongside FDR and befriended Nancy Cook and her life partner, Marion Dickerman, to urge women to vote for Smith, the incumbent governor. FDR found therapeutic relief at Warm Springs, where he eventually purchased the resort after spending two-thirds of his wealth. Overall, the summary highlights FDR’s perseverance in the face of adversity and the pivotal role played by his wife and advisors in his political career.

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