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Eleanor Roosevelt: The Child

A Tragic Childhood

Hi there- Bette Hardwick here from sometime in the 1920s. I’ve was assigned to interview the wife of Franklin Roosevelt, the Governor of New York, which was just the cat’s pajamas! Eleanor Roosevelt is a hero of mine. What a dame. She’s pushing for change in all kinds of areas, trying to make life better for women.

There was a lot to tell, so I’ve divided my notes up into four parts: Childhood, School, Early Marriage, and Political Activism. I think that Sherilyn is going to post them all over the next month or so, so check back if you’re an Eleanor Roosevelt fan (and I mean, aren’t we all?).

After reading these, I hope you come away with an admiration for Eleanor Roosevelt, who is described as “The First Lady of the World”.

A Tragic Childhood

Eleanor with her two brothers Hall, and Elliott

It broke my heart, listening to her talk about her childhood. Eleanor Roosevelt was born October 11, 1884, into a family of lineage, wealth, and uncommon sadness. Her father, Elliott Roosevelt, was the brother of President Teddy Roosevelt. Elliott spent his adulthood mourning the death of his mother and fighting constant ill health. He turned to alcohol for solace and was absent from home for long periods of time.

Anna and Elliott Roosevelt

Eleanor’s mother, Anna, struggled to balance her disillusionment with her husband with her responsibilities toward Eleanor and Eleanor’s younger brother, Hall. As the years passed, the young mother became increasingly disconsolate.

“My mother suffered from very bad headaches, and I know now that life must have been hard and bitter and a very great strain on her. I would often sit at the head of her bed and stroke her head . . . for hours on end.” ER

An astute and observant child, Eleanor rarely failed to notice the tension between her parents and the strain that it placed on both of them.

Anna Roosevelt, Eleanor’s mother, was one of New York’s most stunning beauties. However, she increasingly made young Eleanor profoundly self-conscious about her demeanor and appearance, even going so far as to nickname her “Granny” for her “very plain,” “old-fashioned,” and serious deportment.

“I was a solemn child without beauty. I seemed like a little old woman entirely lacking in the spontaneous joy and mirth of youth.” ER

Her mother’s death from diphtheria in 1892 when Eleanor was eight made her devotion to her father all the more intense. Eleanor recalls her father as gregarious, and larger than life, and she longed for the days when he would return home.

Eleanor adored his playfulness with her and the way he loved her with such uncritical abandon. Indeed, her father’s passion only underscored the isolation she felt when he was absent. Never the dour child in his eyes, Eleanor was instead his “own darling little Nell.”

Tragically, hopes for a happier family life were dashed. Her brother, Elliott Jr., contracted the same illness that killed her mother, also dying of diphtheria within months of her mother.
Elliot, an alcoholic, was confined to a sanitarium shortly after the death of his son. He died on August 14, 1894, after jumping from a window during a fit of delirium tremens. He survived the fall but died from a seizure.

Not yet ten, her family of five was now just she and her brother Hal. Eleanor was orphaned.

There is more information on Eleanor Roosevelt in the Bootleggers Chronicles or online.

If you’re a fan of the 1920s and want a bit of escapism, consider signing up for The Unstoppable Jennie Justo. This is a great fictional story based on true facts and will give you a taste of Sherilyn’s books that I know we’re all waiting to be published.



  1. JazzFeathers says:

    What a tragic childhood. I have never know it. But it may explain her interest for life and helping others later in life.

  2. I was so taken with the tragic beginnings, but wait until you read the post about her married life with Franklin (hopefully next month). Again… I had no idea!

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