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Mary Livingston Ludlow Hall, ER's maternal grandmother, the fourth child of Elizabeth Livingston and Dr. Edward Hunter Ludlow, was born in New York City in 1843. A mild and submissive girl who took great pleasure that one relative signed the Declaration of Independence and another became the first governor of New York, Mary Ludlow spent her childhood in the company of the elitest of New York society. In 1861, she married Valentine Gill Hall, Jr., the son of her father's business partner, and gave birth to five daughters and two sons. All save one survived to adulthood.

Married life was not a pleasant period in Grandmother Hall's life. Her husband, who lived off the family fortune, devoted his considerable energy to religious study and grew more puritanical with age. While deeply religious, Mary Hall's faith had different roots–a God that appreciated joy and encouraged a wide appreciation of life and nature. Valentine Hall overruled his wife's faith and demanded that she and the family practice "the ramrod like self-denial" that he thought God demanded.(1) A key part of this denial was Valentine Hall's complete control of all aspects of Mary Hall's life. Nine years older than she, Valentine Hall treated his wife as he treated his children. He would not allow her to shop or choose her own clothes or those of their children. She had no voice in planning the education of their children and he did not discuss finances or household budgets with her. She stopped painting.

When her husband died suddenly, fifty-year-old Mary Hall was not equipped to manage the family and turned to her daughter, Anna, for help. Anna managed the finances and helped plan the family's budget. She also helped discipline her rowdy siblings, who had become even more rowdy after their father's death. After Anna's death, Mary Hall struggled to cope with her sons, Valentine and Edward, who had serious problems with alcohol and to raise Anna's two children, Eleanor and Hall, who were left in her care. Her home was "a very unpleasant place" and it took its toll on her. She seemed "beaten," as though "life was more than she could bear" one cousin recalled.(2) Her homes were secluded, semibarricaded places, with shades pulled tightly against the light, doors between rooms closed, and visitors tightly screened.

Mary Hall died August 14, 1919. That night, ER noted her grandmother's death in her diary and called her "a gentle, good woman with a great and simple faith." Yet as much as she loved Mary Hall, ER also often remarked that as good a person as Hall was, her life was neither happy, fulfilling or complete. "Her willingness to be subservient to her children isolated her, . . . and it might have been far better, for her boys at least, had she insisted on bringing more discipline into their lives simply by having a life of her own." ER understood Hall's sadness and used it as a catalyst for her own happiness. "My grandmother's life had a considerable effect on me, for even when I was young I determined," she wrote in This I Remember,"that I would never be dependent upon my children by allowing all my interests to center in them."(3)
 

 


 

Notes:

  1.  Joseph P. Lash, Eleanor and Franklin (New York: Signet Press, 1971), 43.
  2.  Betty Boyd Caroli, The Roosevelt Women (New York: Basic Books, 1998), 245.
  3.  Eleanor Roosevelt, This I Remember (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1937), 300.

Sources:

Caroli, Betty Boyd. The Roosevelt Women. New York: Basic Books, 1998, 239-248.

Lash, Joseph P. Eleanor and Franklin. New York: Signet, 1971, 42-45.

Roosevelt, Eleanor. This I Remember. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1937, 299-301.