Franklin and Lucy: President Roosevelt, Mrs. Rutherfurd, and the Other Remarkable Women in His Life

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9781400064427: Franklin and Lucy: President Roosevelt, Mrs. Rutherfurd, and the Other Remarkable Women in His Life
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Franklin Delano Roosevelt was arguably the greatest figure of the twentieth century. While FDR’s official circle was predominantly male, it was his relationships with women–particularly with Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd–that most vividly bring to light the human being beneath this towering statesman. It is no coincidence that Rutherfurd was with Roosevelt the day he died in Warm Springs, Georgia, along with two other close women companions. In Franklin and Lucy, acclaimed author and historian Joseph E. Persico explores FDR’s romance with Lucy Rutherfurd, which was far deeper and lasted much longer than was previously acknowledged. Persico’s provocative conclusions about their relationship are informed by a revealing range of sources, including never-before-published letters and documents from Lucy Rutherfurd’s estate that attest to the intensity and scope of the affair.

FDR’s connection with Lucy also creates an opportunity for Persico to take a more penetrating look at the other women in FDR’s life. We come to see more clearly how FDR’s infidelity as a husband contributed to Eleanor’s eventual transformation from a repressed Victorian to perhaps the greatest American woman of her century; how the shaping hand of FDR’s strong-willed mother helped to imbue him with the resolve to overcome personal and public adversity throughout his life; and how other women around FDR, including his “surrogate spouse,” Missy LeHand, and his close confidante, the obscure Margaret “Daisy” Suckley, completed the world that he inhabited.

Franklin and Lucy is an extraordinary look at the private life of a leader who continues to fascinate scholars and the general public alike. In focusing on Lucy Rutherfurd and the myriad women who mattered to Roosevelt, Persico paints a more intimate portrait than we have heretofore had of this enigmatic giant of American history.

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About the Author:

Joseph E. Persico is the author of Roosevelt’s Secret War: FDR and World War II Espionage; Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour: Armistice Day, 1918–World War I and Its Violent Climax; Piercing the Reich; and Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial, which was made into a television docudrama. He also collaborated with Colin Powell on his autobiography, My American Journey. He lives in Guilderland, New York.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1
SCARLET LETTERS
He belonged in uniform. His country was at war. He was thirty-six years old and bursting with vitality. Before going to work in the morning at the Navy Department he often played a round of golf. On weekends, he rarely got in less than thirty-six holes. During the week he worked out with Walter Camp, the football coach and fitness enthusiast. Lathrop Brown, his Harvard roommate, was serving in the new tank corps. Harry Hooker, his former law partner, was now Major Hooker, on the staff of the 53rd Division American Expeditionary Forces. Another law partner and Harvard pal, Langdon Marvin, was driving an ambulance in France with the Red Cross. His four distant cousins, Archibald, Kermit, Theodore Jr., and Quentin, sons of Franklin’s idol, former President Theodore Roosevelt, had all enlisted. The exploits of TR’s boys filled the newspapers, arousing in Franklin competing emotions of pride and envy. Even his nearsighted brother-in-law, Hall Roosevelt, had volunteered.

On the very day that war had been declared, April 6, 1917, the Roosevelt clan gathered at the home of TR’s married daughter, Alice Roosevelt Longworth. There the former commander-in-chief seized Franklin by the shoulders, fixed him with his myopic gaze, and pleaded with him to resign as assistant secretary of the navy. “You must get into uniform at once,” TR urged. “You must get in.”

Franklin was all too willing. Patriotism was the main reason, but politics intruded as well. In 1898, when America had gone to war against Spain over Cuba, TR had resigned from the very Navy post Franklin now held. He had formed his own regiment, the Rough Riders. He had worn the uniform, known war, and subsequently reached the political pinnacle. TR’s trajectory was not lost on his ambitious young relative. Franklin’s chief, Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels, easily detected the parallels. “Theodore left the position of assistant secretary to become a Rough Rider, later Governor of New York and then President, and both had served in the legislature of New York,” Daniels noted. “Franklin actually thought fighting in the War was the necessary step toward reaching the White House.” Franklin’s mother, Sara, had recently written her son, “The papers say buttons and pictures of you are being prepared to run for Governor.” But Franklin preferred to take TR’s route, military service first.

Theodore Roosevelt, now fifty-nine, blind in one eye, partially deaf, his body racked by punishing expeditions into the disease-infested Brazilian jungle, was itching to answer his country’s call again. He hoped to raise a volunteer division just as he had raised a regiment in the earlier war. He pleaded with Franklin to get him an appointment with President Woodrow Wilson. This request could prove ticklish. Ever since TR, as a third-party candidate, had been beaten by Wilson five years before in the 1912 presidential election, he had been lambasting the winner for everything from woolly-headedness to cowardice for not getting America into the European war sooner. Nevertheless, the day after the Roosevelt gathering at cousin Alice’s house, Franklin did go to the secretary of war, Newton Baker, and persuade him to intervene with Wilson on TR’s behalf. The president would later say of meeting with his old foe, “I was charmed by his personality . . . you can’t resist the man.” Evidently he was able to resist, since he told Baker afterward, “I really think the best way to treat Mr. Roosevelt is to take no notice of him.” TR was baffled by Wilson’s failure to seize upon his heartfelt offer. As he left the White House with Wilson’s confidant, Colonel Edward M. House, he complained, “I don’t understand. After all, I’m only asking to be allowed to die,” to which House reportedly responded, “Oh, did you make that point quite clear to the President?”

Uncle Ted had not made it back into uniform himself, but his admonition still echoed in Franklin’s ear: “I should be ashamed of my sons if they shirked war.” After TR’s White House visit, Franklin did submit his resignation as assistant secretary in order to enlist. But when the letter landed on Wilson’s desk, the president rejected what he considered military romanticism. He told Secretary Daniels to inform his subordinate that he was no different from any draftee. “Neither you nor I nor Franklin Roosevelt has the right to select the place of service,” he warned. “Tell the young man . . . to stay where he is.” Unfazed, Roosevelt next went to Wilson personally, only to be turned down again. The rejection, nevertheless, did illuminate Roosevelt’s rising star. Wilson’s former Army chief of staff, General Leonard Wood, observed that “Franklin Roosevelt should under no circumstances think of leaving the Navy Department; that would amount to a public calamity.” The real power in the U.S. Navy, Wood believed, was not Secretary Daniels, but his aggressive deputy.

As the country entered its fifteenth month of the war a still frustrated Franklin managed to wangle an assignment that lifted him, if not exactly to combatant status, at least to something more than a deskbound civilian. He urged Secretary Daniels to allow him to go to Europe “to look into our Naval administration in order to work more closely with the other services.” The essentially pacifist Daniels felt no necessity himself to witness the bloodletting firsthand and eventually yielded to Franklin’s ceaseless importuning, even allowing his assistant to write his own orders, essentially a blank check to pursue “such other purposes as may be deemed expedient upon your arrival.” Franklin confided to his wife that he had been promised a commission as a Navy lieutenant commander upon his return. Before leaving, he sent President Wilson a letter saying he hoped the speculation about his running for governor of New York would end. He was not going to “give up war work for what is frankly very much a local political job in these times.”

That summer of 1918, as the day of his departure approached, his behavior began taking on an air of mystery. He told Eleanor only that he must leave her alone with their five children, but could not disclose where he was going or for how long. She was not to see him off, since the mission was secret. “Don’t tell a soul,” he warned her, “not even Mama.” Franklin had one more goodbye to make before he left, one unknown to Eleanor, and one that moved him to mixed longing and pride. Meeting secretly, he and a beautiful woman made impassioned promises of letters to be exchanged, how this was to be safely carried out during his absence, and what needed to be resolved on his return, for Franklin Roosevelt was in love.

He sailed for Europe from the Washington Navy Yard on July 9, 1918, aboard the destroyer USS Dyer, rushed into service just eight days before and heading into the war zone without benefit of sea trials. Despite his position, he told his wife that he had requested no ceremonies. Once aboard ship, Franklin started a diary, the basis for a book he intended to write, an intention that showed through in the grandiloquence of his first entry: “The good old ocean is so absolutely normal just as it always has been, sometimes tumbling about and throwing spray, sometimes gently lolling about . . . but now though the ocean looks much unchanged the doubled number of lookouts shows that even here the hand of the Hun False God is reaching out to defy nature; ten miles ahead of this floating City of Souls a torpedo maybe waiting to start on its quick run.”

The Dyer joined a troop convoy delivering another twenty thousand doughboys to the over one million already in France: “a wonderful sight,” Franklin noted in the diary, “five monsters in the half light . . . it thrills to think that right there another division is on the way to the front.” Every element of danger quickened his sense that at last he was in the war, as when the Dyer zigzagged to thwart marauding U-boats, “9 different course changes,” in an hour; and when he learned that “only 15 or 16 of the crew” had ever been in the war zone; and when he was assigned his abandon ship station, whale boat number 2, should the worst happen.

He was gone just over ten weeks. Looking back, he counted the mission a brilliant success. He had met personally with all the Allied leaders, the fiery British prime minister, David Lloyd George, whom Franklin was delighted to find “is just like his pictures.” Even more impressive to Roosevelt, with his weakness for royalty, was a private audience at Buckingham Palace with King George V. Franklin recorded in his diary that the king had given him forty minutes alone and seemed genuinely impressed that his American visitor had crossed the Atlantic on a warship. “His one regret,” the king told him, “was that it had been impossible for him to do active Naval service during the war,” reflecting Franklin’s own disappointment. The king then confided that though he had blood relatives in Germany, particularly Kaiser Wilhelm, “in all my life I have never seen a German gentleman.”

Franklin had next gone on to France, where he was again welcomed at the summit, meeting French president Raymond Poincairé and premier Georges Clemenceau. “I was in the presence of the greatest civilian in France,” he wrote in his diary of Clemenceau. “He almost ran forward to meet me and shook hands as if he meant it.” The sixty-six-year-old premier, known as “The Tiger,” related to Roosevelt a thrilling account of his recent visit to the front where a French and German soldier were found “trying to bite each other to death when a shell had killed them both,&...

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