One-hundred and eight years ago, on March 17, 1905, Franklin D. Roosevelt married his fifth cousin once removed, Eleanor, in New York City. President Theodore Roosevelt, FDR’s fifth cousin, gave his niece away.
The groom’s headmaster at the Groton School, the Rev. Dr. Endicott Peabody, performed the ceremony. The couple spent a preliminary, one-week honeymoon at the family estate overlooking the Hudson River and then set up housekeeping in an apartment in the city.
That summer, they went on their formal honeymoon, a three-month tour of Europe. Returning to the United States, they settled in a house provided by Franklin’s mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt, in New York City, and at their Hyde Park estate.
Born in New York in 1884, Eleanor lost her mother to diphtheria when she was eight, and her father, a brother of Teddy, died from alcoholism when she was 10. She was raised by the extended family and first met her future husband when she was two and he was four.
They saw each other at parties through the years and became close. She was thrilled when the handsome Harvard student showed her affection. After a dinner at the White House with her Uncle Teddy on New Year’s Day in 1903, Franklin’s and Eleanor‘s courtship commenced.
Franklin, 22, and Eleanor, 19, became engaged in 1904. His mother opposed the marriage. “I know what pain I must have caused you,” Franklin wrote his mother, but added, “I know my own mind, and known it for a long time, and know that I could never think otherwise.”
After their marriage in 1905, as Franklin pursued a career in state and national politics, Eleanor raised four children, volunteered for civic groups, and worked for women’s suffrage. But their married life was less than perfect.
In 1918, Eleanor was overwhelmed to learn that her husband was having a love affair with her secretary, Lucy Mercer. She threatened to leave him, but his mother offered to support her financially if she stayed in the marriage.
Eleanor and Franklin maintained the facade of a married couple, but lived as platonic partners with a mutual interest in public service. When New York Governor Roosevelt became president in 1933, Eleanor made public appearances and pursued humanitarian causes as first lady.
She also published a daily newspaper column, “My Day.” FDR valued Eleanor’s views and consulted her on politics, but had more affairs, including one with his secretary, Missy LeHand.
After FDR’s death in 1945, Eleanor remained active in politics, becoming a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, and chaired the committee that drafted and approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She died in 1962.
President Harry S. Truman called her the “First Lady of the World.” In 1999, Eleanor Roosevelt was ranked in the top 10 of Gallup’s List of Most Widely Admired People of the 20th Century.