Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR): Eleanor Roosevelt & Lucy Mercer
Franklin's childhood may have been filled with discipline and rules, but does it explain his transformation from rich kid to man of the people? The fact that he wasn't spoiled surely played a role, but there were other influences that showed him what life was like on the other side of the proverbial tracks.
One person who surely had an impact was his wife. Like FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt was the product of a wealthy, high-society New York family—in fact, the same wealthy, high-society New York family. Eleanor was also a Roosevelt by birth, Franklin's fifth cousin once removed. When the two married in 1905, cousin and President Theodore Roosevelt presided at their wedding, observing to the groom, "Well, Franklin, there's nothing like keeping the name in the family."10
Eleanor provided a more serious counterpart to FDR's lively, outgoing personality, and her work on behalf of the poor affected him. Early in their marriage, she taught at an immigrant school in New York City. FDR once accompanied her to a tenement house where one of her students lived and was astounded by the horrible conditions. "My God," he said, "I didn't know anyone lived like this."11
The two seem to have had a warm, loving relationship, at least at first. But in 1916, FDR began an affair with Lucy Mercer, a beautiful, younger woman whom Eleanor had recently hired as her social secretary. When Eleanor discovered proof of the relationship in 1918, she and Franklin nearly divorced; only the efforts of FDR's mother Sara and his political advisor Louis Howe convinced them to stay together. Divorce would almost certainly have ended FDR's political career.
After Lucy, Eleanor and FDR were never the same. Their relationship became largely a marriage of convenience and both seem to have had multiple affairs before FDR died. Franklin's affair with Lucy never became public, although she and FDR began seeing each other again in 1941. They continued their relationship right up until Roosevelt's death in 1945. And when Franklin D. Roosevelt died while on holiday in Georgia, it was Lucy, not Eleanor, who was at his side.