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: Why did Eleanor Roosevelt refuse to run for office?

Answer:

[image of 'Why I Do Not Choose to Run']When she left the White House on April 19, 1945, several political leaders, administration officials, and labor leaders urged her either to run for office or manage political organizations. Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn and New Jersey congresswoman Mary Norton urged ER to join the American delegation to the conference charged with planning the United Nations. Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes pleaded with her to run for the United States Senate while New York Democratic Party leader Ed Flynn argued that she should be the Empire State's next governor. Others proposed that she be the new secretary of labor. CIO leader Sidney Hillman lobbied her to direct the CIO's political action committee. Even the syndicated columnists Joseph and Stewart Alsop belatedly joined the conjecture, satirically suggesting that their cousin become Truman's new political "medium."

Close friends and the media reinforced this expectation of a political career. As they rode the train from Hyde Park back to Washington, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., recommended that FDR's estate be settled as soon as possible so "she could speak out to the world as Eleanor Roosevelt." "It [is] most important that [your] voice be heard," the secretary asserted. After encouraging her friend to "take a few days off this Spring and Summer to rest," Lorena Hickok reminded her that "you are going to be more your own agent, freer than you've ever been before." ER must be prepared, Hickok concluded, for the "very active and important place" awaiting her. The Associated Press anticipated ER's reentry and summarized ER's options with this front page headline: "Mrs. Roosevelt Will Continue Column; Seeks No Office Now."

ER had her own expectations about the future, but she was undecided about what actions she should take to achieve them. Fearing that her public life had died along with FDR, ER struggled to set her own course. In On My Own, she wrote she was sure of only three things when she returned to Hyde Park: she wanted to continue her columns, simplify her lifestyle, and "not feel old . . . [or] useless." She knew her keen interest in the world around her, her eagerness to confront "every challenge and opportunity to learn more," and her "great energy and self-discipline" were tremendous assets.

"Of one thing I am sure," she wrote in early May, "in order to be useful we must stand for the things we feel are right, and we must work for those things wherever we find ourselves. It does very little good to believe something unless you tell your friends and associates of your beliefs." Vowing that she would not become "a workless worker in a world of work," she decided that she would focus on her column and the organizations she supported.

By 1946, the public expectation was so strong that she wrote an article for Look ("Why I Do Not Choose To Run") denying rumors of her candidacy. "The simple truth is that I have had my fill of public life of the more or less stereotyped kind." While she believed "that every citizen, as long as he is alive and able to work, has an obligation to work on public questions and . . . should choose the kind of work he is best fitted to do," she felt she would be happier outside the elected office.(1)
 


Notes:

  1. Allida Black, Casting Her Own Shadow: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Shaping of Postwar Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), 52-53.