Eleanor Roosevelt Volume 3: The War Years and After 1939-1962-Blanche Wiesen Cook
Blanche Wiesen Cook has distinguished herself as the unofficial biographer of the late Eleanor Roosevelt. Here she returns with this third volume of her three-part biography of the woman who might be the greatest First Lady in United States history. To some that might seem like an overstatement. Names such as Jackie, Lady Byrd, Nancy, Barbara, Michelle and Hillary can be offered for such a distinction. Having read all three volumes, I believe that other readers will also come to see ER as an extraordinary figure whose greatness have never been matched since. Shrewdly, she used the highest office in the land to effect social change while making her voice heard and felt with regards to domestic issues and foreign policy. Her frankness and unwillingness to stay quiet and in the background earned her the wrath of some but the admiration of millions.
In this third volume, we catch up with Eleanor in 1939 as German Chancellor Adolf Hitler is making his presence felt in Europe and threatening to turn the continent into a German Reich. Her husband and president, Franklin, finds himself at odds over the growing German menace. ER is right by his side serving as both a voice of reason and cabinet adviser as FDR determines the position of the United States in regards to the looming crisis across the Atlantic. In this manner the book differs from Volume I and Volume II which focus on her early, the people who formed the core of close friends and FDR’s successful campaign. The close nexus of friends return and once again we come across Hick, Esther Lape, Elizabeth Read, and Earl Miller. Like characters in a novel, they all have their roles in her life and each makes their departure from the stage as Eleanor’s life comes full circle. We also see up close the changes that occur in the relationship between husband and wife and how it shaped the policies of the government. The stage had been set in volume two and in this volume, it comes to fruition in its entirety. Some of it is good, some bad and even more unfortunate. But throughout the thick and then, they remained Franklin and Eleanor.
While readers may be tempted to think that Cook has strayed far off course in this third part, that is not the case. In fact, the volume closes ER’s story appropriately for she was no longer First Lady following FDR’s death in 1945. Cook does address her life post-Washington but it is clear that her highest moments came occurred during her tenure in the White House. Nonetheless, this look into FDR’s administration and ER’s role in it, is fascinating and reveals the long process that eventually pulled the United States into the war. Operating in a male dominated and openly discriminatory social climate, she became a beacon of hope as she wage the war for Jewish refugees, anti-discrimination legislation, ant-lynching legislation and equal rights for America’s women. Sadly, her efforts paid off many years after her death. Had she lived, I believe she would have been in awe at the election of Barack Obama in 2008. His election would have been seen by her as a testament to the cause for civil rights and the advancement of America’s African-American citizens who faced discrimination daily in their lives.
Following FDR’s death, she continued to work on behalf of all Americans and never wavered in her crusade for equality for everyone. In 1962, she was appointed by President Kennedy to be the head of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. The appointment spoke volumes about her accomplishments and vision. She remained the chairwoman until the time of her death. When she died on November 7, 1962, a shining light was extinguished that was one of America’s brightest. She is no longer with us but her story is through the efforts of Blanche Wiesen Cook. And through her words, we can relive the life of the pioneering former First Lady.
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” – Anna Eleanor Roosevelt