Our visit to the stately Roosevelt House at 47-49 East 65th Street in Manhattan took us back to a more gracious era.
The newly restored New York City landmark was designed by Charles A. Platt. From 1908 to 1941, it was home to Franklin, Eleanor, their five children and Sara Delano Roosevelt, Franklin’s mother.
Historian and Curator Deborah Garner shared much about their lives. Sara gave Franklin and Eleanor the house as a wedding gift – along with a built-in home for herself! The house contained two separate residences with two of everything – dining rooms, kitchens, and elevators – which helped keep the peace (a little).
As we walked through the rooms, we learned about Franklin’s rise to the presidency after being stricken with polio at age 39. Originally paralyzed from the neck down, he regained the use of his arms although he never walked again.
His longtime adviser, Louis Howe, moved into the house to control press information about Franklin’s condition. People believed if you were crippled in your body, you were crippled in your mind.
Franklin moved to Warm Springs, Georgia to use the therapeutic waters as physical therapy. He created the Warm Springs Foundation which became the March of Dimes. Ironically by 1955, Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine because of the Foundation’s money.
We saw Roosevelt memorabilia, photographs and posters by Norman Rockwell of FDR’s Four Freedoms taken from his 1941 State of the Union address: Freedom from Want, Freedom from Fear, Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Worship. We learned how Franklin created the New Deal, which brought America out of the Great Depression.
Eleanor was popular in her own right. She helped win the women’s vote in 1920, and she wrote a column called “My Day” carried by 700 newspapers. Later, she was active in civil rights and in 1946, President Truman appointed her ambassador to the U.N.
In 1942, Hunter College bought Roosevelt House. In 2010, they spent $24.5 million to renovate it. Today, students use its libraries, conference rooms and auditorium. Hunter also offers a beautiful apartment in the house to visiting scholars who join the faculty for a year.
To sign up for a tour, visit http://roosevelthouse.hunter.cuny.edu/tours