The story has been published in all the Roosevelt biographies for nearly a half a century. Here are the basics: Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin Deleno Roosevelt returns home ill from a tour of the World War I battlefields of France in September 1918. When his wife, Eleanor, unpacked his luggage she discovered a cache of love letters to Franklin from her social secretary Lucy Mercer. The marriage is shattered. There is talk of divorce. Franklin is reminded that Lucy Mercer is a Roman Catholic and cannot marry a divorced man. Louis Howe, Franklin's political advisor, tells him that he cannot attain higher office as a divorced man. Finally, Franklin's mother, Sara, tells him that she will cut him off financially if he divorces his wife.
It is an interesting story, no doubt true, but it seems to be told from Eleanor's perspective. All the arguments to continue the marriage are addressed to Franklin. There are no arguments as to why Eleanor should continue the marriage.
At that time, Eleanor was the mother of five children between the ages of three and thirteen. Although she came from a privileged life, she may not have had enough personal wealth to maintain her status without Sara Roosevelt's help.
Eleanor could not have turned to her side of the family. Her brother Hall was married, beginning his own family and may have began his decline into alcoholism. Her uncle Theodore Roosevelt, disappointed that the Wilson administration would not use him in World War I, was mourning the loss of his son, Quentin, who died in France in July 1918; he was only months away from his own death in January 1919. The grandmother who raised Eleanor, Mary Ludlow Hall, was also nearing the end of her life; passing away in August of 1919.
The biographers have this as a life-changing crisis in the marriage of Franklin and Eleanor. So, I was surprised to find the following while reading the newspapers from a mere seven months after this crisis.
Chicago Tribune, Tuesday, 21 April 1919, "Washington Society"
Society will be lining up actively for the Victory loan and Salvation Army drives which will be on tomorrow. Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, wife of the president is honorary chairman of the loan committee, and Mrs. Thomas Riley Marshall, wife of the vice president, honorary chairman of the "army" committee, having wired from Arizona that she would "do anything for the Salvation army and Evangeline Booth."
Working for the loan will be Mrs. Charles S. Hamlin, Mrs. Blaine Beale, Mrs. Archibald Hopkins, Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mrs. Louis Brownlow and others.
Chicago Tribune, Tuesday, 22 April 1919, "Washington Society"
Washington, D. C., April 21 — [Special] — Maj. Gen. George Barnett, commandant of the Marine corps, made the presentations tonight at the Easter ball given at the Marine Barracks under the auspices of the Woman's Army and Navy league and the guests were received by Mrs. Emerson H. Liscum, president of the league, assisted by Mrs. Newton D. Baker, Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mrs. George Barnett and Mrs. Alexander Sharp, chairman of the ball committee.
Chicago Tribune, Tuesday, 25 April 1919, "Washington Society"
Washington, D. C., April 24 — [Special] — Maj. Gen. George Barnett and Mrs. Barnett entertained at dinner tonight at the commandant's house, Marine barracks, in compliment to the acting secretary of the navy and Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt. Mrs. Barnett's sister, Mrs. Henry Mustin, is with her for a visit preparatory to opening her N street, which was rented for the winter months.