Eleanor Roosevelt blazes her own trail

Posted by John Kanelis on

It's probably a not-so-well-kept secret these days, but President Franklin Delano Roosevelt likely had no business running for a fourth term in 1944.

The secret was that he was deathly ill. Look at the pictures of him and you see him transformed from a robust, always-cheerful fellow to a gaunt shadow of his former imposing self.

He was elected to a fourth term and then died. He had gone to his beloved Warm Springs, Ga., resort compound for a little rest and relaxation. He went to bed one night complaining of a headache and never awoke.

World War II was drawing to a close. Indeed, the Nazis would surrender just a few days later. Adolf Hitler would kill himself. The new president, Harry Truman, would lead the nation against Japan, deciding finally in August 1945 to drop two atomic bombs.

The war was over!

Eleanor Roosevelt, the president's widow, would take no time at all picking up the pieces of her life. She went on to become a champion for civil liberties, civil rights and worked as an international diplomat, serving as a special envoy at the United Nations.

"The Roosevelts: An Intimate History" concludes Saturday with a segment titled "A Strong and Active Faith: 1944-1962." It airs at 7 p.m. on Panhandle PBS.

Ken Burns has told a remarkable story of a most remarkable political family. That story didn't end with the deaths of two presidents. It continued with Eleanor Roosevelt -- a fifth cousin to her husband, Franklin -- striking out on her own to finish much of the work she started while serving as first lady.

President Truman took office at a time of intense national grief. His predecessor had served for 12 years, far longer than any previous president. Based on what we have learned about Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt -- the indiscretions by the president and the distance the first couple kept from each other -- it's unlikely Eleanor Roosevelt shared all the nation's grief.

She had work to do. Just like her husband and the man they both admired so much -- Theodore Roosevelt -- Eleanor wasn't going to sit at home weeping in the dark.

Eleanor Roosevelt lived a long life and most productive life before dying in 1962 at the age of 78.

As I've noted before, Eleanor Roosevelt was the prototypical activist first lady. We've all heard about Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Betty Ford, Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama playing key roles in their husbands' administrations.

Eleanor Roosevelt was a close confidante to her husband and perhaps was one of the few people near him who could tell him when he messed up.

She wouldn't let her husband's death stop her from continuing her work.

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