One of my favorite places to visit is Washington D.C. and one of my favorite films set in Washington is "The American President" starring the amazing Annette Benning and the talented Michael Douglas. Whenever I watch this film I am always struck with thoughts of the presidents that have come before...and their first ladies.
My very favorite first lady is the indomitable Eleanor Roosevelt. How can you not love a woman who said such insightful things like "No one can make you feel inferior without your permission" and "A woman is like a teabag, you never know how strong she is until her put her in hot water."
Old Eleanor, nicknamed granny by her own mother for being a rather homely thing, may have not been the most glamorous first lady our snazzy little country has ever been graced with, she is in fact perhaps one of the most amazing.
The biggest scandal to hit Eleanor's life was her husband FDR'S affair with her social secretary Lucy Mercer. The affair happened over several years, most accounts place the beginning of the affair between New Deal boy and little miss hot pants at around 1914, and supposedly ended in 1918 when Eleanor found some love letters. Eleanor made him promise to never seen Lucy again and for that little consolation she would stay married to him. However, when FDR died in April 1945, he was with Lucy Mercer. So much for keeping his promise. Just another case of older man, younger woman getting busy and him dying of a cerebral hemorrhage. To add insult to injury, Eleanor found out that their daughter Anna was helping her father sneak around with "the other woman." Still, Eleanor did what was expected of a dutiful wife and stood beside the coffin. She is even buried next to him in the Roosevelt Hyde Park home. (FDR also had an affair while in office with his assistant Missy LeHand..."Mister President I don't want to push your wheelchair.")
Another speculative hanky panky scandal associated with one America's most formidable ladies is the thought she was in fact lesbian and was carrying on an affair of her own with journalist Lorena 'Hick' Hickok. While there is not evidence that such an affair actually occurred, many historians look at Eleanor's busy schedule as evidence that she didn't have time for any kind of affair, Hick did in fact live in the White House for years in a room right across from Eleanor.
What makes Nell so great? Well, she was truly a woman ahead of her time. She was a champion of Women's Rights and Civil Rights. In 1939 opera singer Marian Anderson was scheduled to sing a concert at Constitution Hall. The Daughters of the American Revolution refused to allow the woman sing...because she was black. Eleanor Roosevelt resigned her post immediately upon hearing the news. Now any other woman would have been happy to leave it at that. Not Eleanor. She went on to sponsor a concert for Anderson anyway...on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Go Eleanor and Go Marian!
Plus to top all that cool stuff, she served hot dogs to the King and Queen of England when they visited the White House. (For those of you keeping score, the King and Queen in questioned are the one portrayed with aplomb by Helena Bohman Carter and Colin Firth in 'The King's Speech')
So I hope this gives you a taste of one of the coolest ladies in American History and why I love her. She is a role model for the ages and one seriously bad-ass chick.
(Fun little side note, the theme from "The American President" was used at the funeral of Ronald Reagan.)