Sara and Eleanor: The Story of Sara Delano Roosevelt and Her Daughter-in-Law, Eleanor Roosevelt

Overview

We think we know the story of Eleanor Roosevelt—the shy, awkward girl who would redefine the role of First Lady, becoming a civil rights activist and an inspiration to generations of young women. As legend has it, the bane of Eleanor's life was her demanding and domineering mother-in-law, Sara Delano Roosevelt. Biographers have overlooked the complexity of a relationship that had, over the years, been reinterpreted and embellished by Eleanor herself.

Through diaries, letters, ...

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Sara and Eleanor: The Story of Sara Delano Roosevelt and Her Daughter-in-Law, Eleanor Roosevelt

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Overview

We think we know the story of Eleanor Roosevelt—the shy, awkward girl who would redefine the role of First Lady, becoming a civil rights activist and an inspiration to generations of young women. As legend has it, the bane of Eleanor's life was her demanding and domineering mother-in-law, Sara Delano Roosevelt. Biographers have overlooked the complexity of a relationship that had, over the years, been reinterpreted and embellished by Eleanor herself.

Through diaries, letters, and interviews with Roosevelt family and friends, Jan Pottker uncovers a story never before told. The result is a triumphant blend of social history and psychological insight—a revealing look at Eleanor Roosevelt and the woman who made her historic achievements possible.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Pottker (Janet and Jackie: The Story of a Mother and Her Daughter, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis) has made a specialty of tell-alls about the wealthy and the powerful, from the Mars family to Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren. But in Sara and Eleanor a study of the complex, sometimes supportive, sometimes contentious relationship between FDR's wife and mother Pottker embarks upon serious historical waters. Navigating across a story already well traversed by such superb writers and researchers as Blanche Wiesen Cook, Geoffrey Ward and Betty Boyd Caroli (the latter in 1998's The Roosevelt Women), Pottker unfortunately, despite her protestations, has nothing new to add to the well-worn tale of these two fascinating ladies. One comes away from Pottker's book wondering why she believed another retelling (one that comes at the story far less eloquently and authoritatively than previous efforts) to be necessary in the first place. The answer lies, apparently, in Pottker's revisionist tack when it comes to key details. For example, Pottker somewhat astonishingly in the face of much testimony to the contrary discounts the notion of Franklin ever having had a true affair with Eleanor's social secretary, Lucy Mercer. But the revision in question is purely speculative on Pottker's part, not based on evidence. Both Eleanor and Sara deserve and have gotten in the past far more accurate accounts of themselves. Readers should refer to those. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. Agent, Mel Berger, William Morris. (Mar.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Pottker (Janet and Jackie; Dear Ann, Dear Abby) considers another power relationship, that of Sara Delano Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt. Contrary to popular belief, she would have readers believe that Sara was not a gorgon, a racist, an anti-Semite, or a snob; she supported FDR's political career and treated her moody daughter-in-law warmly. At most, Pottker concedes that Sara was something of a meddler. Moreover, Eleanor owed Sara her marriage because Sara apparently warned Franklin that a divorce from Eleanor meant the end of Sara's largesse. Accordingly, Eleanor comes off less well. Emerging from her painful childhood to become a depressed and emotionally unavailable mother, she is shown initially welcoming Sara's extravagant attentions to her and Franklin's children and then carping about them in retrospect. Pottker has extensively researched this book and filled it with convincing and engaging details to make her case for Sara. She takes a defensive tone-not surprising considering that Sara has taken it on the chin from Dore Schary (in Sunrise at Campobello) and Eleanor herself, whose retrospective criticism of her mother-in-law has informed recent scholarship. So perhaps Pottker's sympathetic portrait is overdue. For public libraries.-Cynthia Harrison, George Washington Univ., Washington, DC Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A thoroughly researched, though highly chatty and oddly superficial, attempt to rehabilitate the image of FDR's mother, which was besmirched, the author argues, by less sympathetic Roosevelt biographers. Pottker (Janet and Jackie: The Story of a Mother and Her Daughter, 2001, etc.) writes for the Princess Di set, for lovers of royals and riches and American dynasties. Here are accounts of who was wearing cream taffeta at which Roosevelt wedding; here are six pages devoted to the 1939 visit to Hyde Park of Queen Elizabeth and King George VI and the spats between Eleanor and Sara about the menu. Here is such a concern for the exteriors of people's lives (what they wore, where they lived, how their homes were decorated, what they drove, where they traveled, what they bought) that interior lives must almost always be inferred, and then only with difficulty. Pottker just doesn't want to get into it. Neither, in this strangely prudish account, does she wish to be more than coy about sexual issues. The author tells us that the teenaged Eleanor installed triple interior locks on her bedroom door because of drunken uncles. What does that mean? You won't find the answer here. Nor does the author give credence to stories that FDR and Lucy Mercer actually had sexual relations. No, she claims, it was just an intimate relationship. Pottker tries to focus on the stories of the two titular women, but that's hard to do with FDR filling the stage with his charm, his polio, his political successes. And, besides, the author's principal intent is to reinstall Sara Delano Roosevelt on her pedestal-Sara, the woman who was on the cover of Time before her son (or daughter-in-law), the woman who was the heart andsoul and financial officer for the Roosevelt clan. In short: the mother of all matriarchs. Skims across the surface of a very deep lake. (16 pp. b&w photos, not seen) Agent: Mel Berger/William Morris
From the Publisher
"Fills a long-standing void in the Roosevelt story and adds tremendously to our understanding of Roosevelt personal history."

—Eleanor Roosevelt Seagraves, grandchild of Eleanor Roosevelt and FDR

Eleanor Roosevelt Seagraves
"Fills a long-standing void in the Roosevelt story and adds tremendously to our understanding of Roosevelt personal history."
Lillian Vernon
"A compelling and engaging biography of two independent women whose story is an inspiration to all."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312339395
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/2005
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 889,870
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Meet the Author

Jan Pottker is the author of seven previous books, including Janet and Jackie: The Story of a Mother and Her Daughter, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Pottker's interest in Sara and Eleanor was sparked when she realized that a myth had grown around Eleanor at the expense of Sara—-much the same as the relationship between Jackie and her mother had been underplayed and distorted over time. Pottker has a Ph.D. from Columbia University and lives in Potomac, Maryland, with her husband, Andrew S. Fishel.

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Table of Contents

Prologue ix
1 "French by Ancestry, Dutch by Birth, and English by Association" 1
2 On the West Bank of the Hudson River Lived the Delanos 7
3 "My Orderly Little Life" 16
4 The Contented Spinster 25
5 On the East Bank of the Hudson River Lived the Roosevelts 30
6 "A Gentleman of the Old School" 38
7 Hyde Park 43
8 "A Democrat Can Be a Gentleman" 48
9 "Sallie and Mr. Roosevelt" 52
10 "We Three" 61
11 The Oyster Bay Clan 68
12 "A Beautiful Frame" 75
13 Groton School 80
14 Allenswood School 85
15 Mother and Guardian 89
16 Sparks and Smolders 94
17 "For Life, for Death!" 100
18 "Keeping the Name in the Family" 107
19 Roosevelt and Roosevelt 115
20 "Dearest Mama" 120
21 "Modern Ideas" 129
22 "The Chicks" 135
23 "A Really Fine and Dignified Position" 147
24 "Launched in Your Work" 158
25 "The Traditions Some of Us Love Best" 166
26 "A Kaleidoscope of Work" 174
27 Miss Mercer 181
28 "Our Boy" 187
29 "Rainy Day" 196
30 "Solidly Important Individual" 201
31 "'I Got Up This Party for You'" 210
32 Grit and Grace 218
33 "Eleanor's Work Among the Women" 225
34 Splintered 236
35 "If He Does, I Hope He Wins" 247
36 Happy Days 259
37 First Mother 266
38 "The Duchess" 272
39 Gracious Lady, Modern Woman 285
40 "You Are My Life" 295
41 "Hyde Park and Me" 300
42 "The Dowager Mrs. Roosevelt" 309
43 "A World of Peace" 315
44 "The Truth Must Be Shown" 324
45 Brave Heart 329
46 "Every Play Has to Have Its Heavy" 336
47 Epilogue 343
Notes 347
Acknowledgments 387
Index 395
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