The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project is a university-chartered research center associated with the Department of History of The George Washington University

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The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project
Questions and Answers about Eleanor Roosevelt

Question: How did Eleanor Roosevelt contribute to FDR's four presidential campaigns?

Answer:

FDR ran for president in 1932, 1936, 1940, and 1944. He won all four elections. Each campaign presented ER with different challenges – organizing women voters, tailoring FDR's campaign message, coordinating campaign publicity, mediating disputes between key campaign staff and between FDR and key supporters, calming angry convention delegates, and taking messages to FDR that he did not want to hear. All of ER's work was done behind the scenes. She continued to write her columns and to give lectures but she worked hard to keep the columns and lectures focused on issues, rather than candidates. She did not campaign for FDR in 1932 or 1936 because first ladies did not accompany their husbands on the campaign trail. Bowing to pressure from the campaign staff and requests from FDR, ER did campaign at the end of the 1940 campaign. By 1944, her outspoken support for full employment, African Americans, and social justice issues worried campaign manager Robert Hannegan and party political bosses. She limited her involvement to urging FDR to campaign actively and to delivering messages FDR and Hannegan would rather avoid.

Election of 1932 (FDR v. Hoover): ER was perhaps more involved in the 1932 election than in any other election in which FDR was a candidate. She worked with campaign biographers to create an image of FDR that would interest voters across the country. Her close friends Louis Howe and Jim Farley managed the campaign and they appreciated ER's political sense. She worked very closely with both men. Although Howe and Farley were devoted to both Roosevelts, they often grew suspicious of one another and ER worked hard to keep their relationship smooth. Molly Dewson, another close friend, chaired the Women's Division of the Democratic National Committee and ER worked very closely with her behind the scenes to organize women voters across the country, register new voters, and prepare campaign materials tailored to women. Because FDR did not travel extensively while he was still governor, she traveled for him, often driving herself. She reported back to him on campaign operations and conditions across the state. Her national lecture tour also helped bring attention to FDR. When FDR won the Democratic presidential nomination, ER kept her eye on FDR's team while she campaigned for Herbert Lehman, the Democratic candidate for governor of New York.

Election of 1936 (FDR v. Landon): Louis Howe died in 1935. He was the only person, other than ER, not intimidated by FDR and always tried to give FDR honest advice. FDR turned to Jim Farley, now postmaster general and chair of the Democratic National Committee, to manage his reelection campaign. Farley was committed to FDR but not to the New Deal and, although ER liked him very much, she worried that he could not run a new kind of campaign – a campaign tied to the principles of the New Deal. She coached Farley and worked hard to assume the tasks Howe would have assumed had he lived to be a part of the campaign. She sat in on budget meetings, reviewed and prepared campaign literature, and organized a committee concerned with publicity and its distribution. When Farley or other campaign officials had messages for FDR that he did not want to confront, ER took them to FDR. Finally, she continued to work as closely with Molly Dewson and the Women's Division as she did in the 1932 campaign.

Election of 1940 (FDR v. Wilkie): ER played her most public role in this election. She addressed the Democratic National Convention and, in the final days before the election, she campaigned with FDR. But unlike the previous two campaigns, where she played key roles from the start, ER did not join the campaign until it was well underway.

At first ER did not want FDR to run for a third term. She thought he would defy tradition only to work with a conservative Congress that did not want to work with him. She also thought that a liberal successor to FDR could be found if they started looking at candidates early enough. By mid-summer 1940, ER knew that no other candidate would be acceptable both to them and to party bosses. She agreed with those who argued that if the Democrats asked FDR to run again, he would have to accept the responsibility. Two things had to happen for FDR to be renominated and ER played a key role in both. Jim Farley, FDR's former campaign manager, wanted the Democratic nomination and the delegates at the convention had to turn to FDR and ask him to run again.

ER did not participate in any of the strategy sessions FDR held with Harry Hopkins to plan his renomination. Relieved that FDR did not want her to attend the convention, ER spent the week at Val-Kill listening to it on the radio. The convention did nominate FDR, but it was so divided over the vice-presidential nominee that chaos threatened to destroy consensus. FDR sent word that he wanted Henry Wallace to be his running mate. Many delegates objected to Wallace and a fight broke out that was so intense it threatened to split the delegates. FDR relayed to Harry Hopkins that he would only run with Wallace and that if Wallace was not nominated, FDR would refuse the nomination. Frances Perkins called ER to beg her to come to the convention. ER refused until FDR called and asked her to go. ER then called Jim Farley and told him she was coming. She flew that evening to Chicago and spent the next day with Farley and the other delegates until it was time for her to address the convention. She quickly wrote four points on the back of an envelope, went to the podium, and looked over a rowdy angry crowd. She told the delegates that the next president would have "a heavier responsibility, perhaps, than any man has ever faced before in this country." They "cannot treat it as you would an ordinary nomination in an ordinary time." They "must rise above considerations which are narrow and partisan. This is a time when it is the United States we fight for." Her speech calmed the crowd and drew enough support to Wallace that he won on the first ballot.

After the convention, she worked with campaign manager Ed Flynn and became his representative to the Independent Committee for Roosevelt and Wallace and his back door channel to FDR. She continued to work with Dewson for the women's vote but refused to campaign for FDR, insisting that FDR must stand on his own record. But when the race tightened at the end, ER did agree to appear at campaign rallies.

Election of 1944 (FDR v. Dewey): ER did not oppose a fourth term for FDR, but she did oppose his campaign manager, Robert Hannegan. She thought Hannegan focused more on winning than on the reasons for winning. Hannegan was much more conservative than ER, so her influence on campaign operations was not as strong as it had been. He did not consult ER or keep her informed of campaign events, and tried to avoid her whenever he could; however, after the convention when he tried to see her, she refused to meet with him, politely saying that she had other obligations. She continued to address political issues in her columns, but kept the focus on issues (full employment, housing, etc.) rather than campaign themes. As the race grew closer, ER urged FDR to campaign vigorously and not just sit in the White House, acting presidential and leaving the campaigning to someone else.
 


Sources:

Black, Allida M. Casting Her Own Shadow: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Shaping of Postwar Liberalism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996, 19, 23, 46, 47.

Cook, Blanche Wiesen. Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume One, 1884-1933. New York: Viking Press, 1992, 445-460, 464, 470-472.

Cook, Blanche Wiesen. Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume Two, The Defining Years, 1933-1938. New York: Penguin Books, 1999, 9, 16, 19, 28, 39, 67, 81, 87, 146, 147, 211, 218, 218-225, 255-257, 334-353, 363-388, 463, 538, 554, 555, 569.

Goodwin, Doris Kearns. No Ordinary Time: Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995, 113-115, 125-135, 182-189, 524-552.

Lash, Joseph. Eleanor and Franklin. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1971, passim.

Ware, Susan. Beyond Suffrage, Women in the New Deal. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981.

Ware, Susan. Partner and I: Molly Dewson, Feminism, and New Deal Politics. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987.