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JUNE 2004

“With Love, Aunt Eleanor” by Eleanor Roosevelt II
Reviewed by Dorothy Davis

This is escape reading at its best. So stretch out under the beach umbrella or curl up in an easy chair with this beautifully designed facsimile of a family scrapbook. Enjoy imagining yourself to be the beloved niece of the First Lady of the World, and a member of one of America’s oldest and finest families—the Roosevelts.

Arranged chronologically, each sepia tinged double page features a charmingly written memoir on the left-hand page and, on the right, family photos, clippings, memorabilia or delightful line drawings by the author, as well as a timeline of historical anecdotes or pertinent quotes. One quote, from Eleanor Roosevelt, for example, is, “It is not more vacation we need—it is more vocation.” And another: “She would rather light a candle than curse the darkness, and her glow has warmed the world.” It is obvious that a lot of love and care went into creating this book.

In the first section, “The Early Days” is an article called “The Shy Debutante”. Eleanor, who was tall (six feet) and painfully shy, dreaded going to the Cotillion, but “she was surprised when at the very first dance, a distant cousin—Franklin D. Roosevelt—wrote in her dance card. He even asked her for a second dance.” On the right hand page is Eleanor’s coming-out photo, 1902, and a snapshot of Eleanor and her beloved Franklin, with his mother, Sara Delano, standing between them. Three anecdotes to the far right tell about historical and personal events of the time, beginning with “At Allenswood School in England, only French is spoken. When Eleanor uses an English word, she is expected to report herself to the headmistress, and she does.”

In “The White House Years” an essay tells of “Water Polo with Uncle Franklin”. The game was a “free-for-all” and the pool “a mass of foamy waves and loud, triumphant or not-so triumphant shouts as we all tried to catch the ball and keep it from my uncle, which was an almost impossible feat.”

In “Life After Franklin” “The Declaration of Human Rights” reveals Eleanor Roosevelt’s unique way of celebrating her major achievement—the completion of a world bill of rights by an 18-nation commission, which she chaired, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. It was better than “a glass of champagne at a party.” She ran and slid down the polished marble floor, in her leather-soled shoes, arms out “in triumph. It was so much fun that she did it again.”

Other reminiscences tell humorously of visits to Eleanor’s Hyde Park home, Val-Kill Cottage, by world figures such as Nikita Khrushchev and Haile Selassie, annual summer picnics for the entire Wiltwyck School, New York’s school for troubled boys, which was nearby, and joyous and funny picnics, outings and holidays with family and friends.

There are sad and insightful chapters too—about, for example, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s difficult marriage, and a particularly moving one on the death from alcoholism of Eleanor’s brother, Hall, the author’s father, mirroring the death of Eleanor and Hall’s own father, who died of the same disease years earlier.

But most of the book contains amusing stories about such things as Eleanor’s German shepherd, Prince, who was fond of tearing pieces of pant legs off White House visitors; her questionable driving skills; her nearly indecipherable handwriting (samples included); the controversial picnic she served to the king and queen of England; and the one dish she knew how to cook—scrambled eggs.

This is a special book, an affectionate portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the major figures of the 20th Century, by a family member who generously shares her personal knowledge and insights about her aunt, gleaned over their close 42-year long relationship. After reading this book you feel as though you personally knew this famous woman too. It is an unforgettable, warmly human portrait. Eleanor Roosevelt II writes of her aunt in her preface, “it has always been a privilege to be her niece.” Having read this book I am sure that Eleanor Roosevelt would have replied that it was a privilege to be her aunt.#

Click Here for our interview with the author.



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