This Thursday I went to the Roosevelt Study Center in MiddelburgI spent a lot of time picking postgrad Dario Fazzi’s mind about Eleanor Roosevelt, and particularly, how she helped shape FDR’s image, during his presidency and after.
One thing he told me that stuck in my mind, was that Eleanor had a radio show in the early 1950s (“The Eleanor Roosevelt Show”). I knew that, but what I didn’t know was that the show was presented by her son James. The show was broadcast widely throughout the US, around lunchtime and aimed at housewives. In his introductions and responses to Eleanor’s words James regularly addresses her as “mother”. Thus, after FDR’s life, Eleanor Roosevelt still remained visible, not so much as a politician (although she was that too), but as the wife of the iconic New Deal and war president Franklin Roosevelt, and in that capacity, a mother-figure not only to James Roosevelt, but also to the nation in general. And through that a role model for the housewives who were the show’s primary audience.
One of the interesting things about ER’s self-presentation after FDR’s death is that she on the one hand kept using his authority and his status to support and further her own ideals (even if they would probably not have been his), and on the other hand contributed importantly to mythologizing him. This is an effect that I see often: many people and institutions are interested in linking themselves to FDR’s legacy, because that lends weight to their personal aims and interests, and simultaneously these people and institutions contribute to making and keeping visible FDR as an iconic figure. Not surprising then, that he is so positively portrayed.