American History

A WOMAN FOR ALL SEASONS

first lady among First Ladies, doer of enough good deeds during and after her husband’s presidency to last multiple lifetimes, inspiration and model for all successors. ER’s life has generated several biographies, including Blanche Wiesen’s three-volume so a goes deeper, offering besides an account of a life well-lived a commentary on how Americans can understand themselves as a people and as a nation by understanding this particular historical figure. It’s not the social, cultural, and political highlights of Eleanor Roosevelt’s life that make Michaelis’s work compelling but the links that connect those highlights and connect them to its readers. In Michaelis’s telling, the story of how Eleanor became is unremarkable in its beginnings. Born to wealth and status, she embraced her class’s anti-Semitism, racism, and misogyny, for example opposing the 19th Amendment. But after marrying cousin Franklin and giving birth to six children in quick succession she left behind both her reproductive duties and her hidebound thinking. When polio struck her philandering mate, she became the political body to his political mind, their marriage no longer a romantic partnership but a political alliance. Both would find emotional—and oftentimes physical—solace elsewhere.

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