Determining the Facts
Reading 1: Eleanor Roosevelt at Val-Kill
When Franklin D. Roosevelt died in April 1945, Eleanor Roosevelt told a reporter that "the story is over." In fact, the story of this stalwart woman's life was far from over. Upon leaving the White House, she retreated to Val-Kill. She described her life there in an autobiography:
For myself, I knew I would live in the cottage that I had made out of my furniture factory...two miles back from the big house at Hyde Park. Tommy [Malvina Thompson--Roosevelt's personal secretary] already had an apartment there. My cottage has a small apartment for the couple who work for me, two living rooms, a dining room, seven bedrooms, a dormitory for young people, two large porches downstairs and a sleeping porch upstairs. The cottage was an adjunct to our lives at Hyde Park, but it was mine and I felt freer there than in the big house....
I have led a busy life for many years and it has not seemed less busy since the death of my husband. In the years since 1945 my life has been complicated in some ways because my working hours are long. I travel a great deal and see many people. But in another way I live very simply, so simply that not a few visitors, especially those from some distant countries whose servants are plentiful as well as inexpensive, are often surprised to find that I plan the meals, do part of the daily shopping, and serve dinner for a dozen guests with a "staff" consisting of a couple in the country, one maid in town....
My mother-in-law once remarked that I liked to 'keep a hotel' and I probably still do.... There usually seem to be plenty of guests there and they may include almost anyone from the Emperor of Ethiopia to my newest great-grandchild. Sometimes there are so many guests that they arrive by the busload--perhaps a group of college students from various foreign countries...or perhaps a crowd of seventy-five or so employees of the United Nations who have been invited for a picnic....
My picnic ground is a large one and in summers it is used perhaps once or twice a week by some school or social group and, if I am there, I always try to stop by to speak to them for a few minutes. Otherwise they have to take care of themselves. For that matter, my own guests at Hyde Park usually have to fend for themselves much of the time because there are certain periods every day when I have to be busy at my work. There is a pool where they can swim, a tennis court, a stream full of water lilies and a boat, and plenty of room for walking over the countryside....
I drive my own car at Hyde Park, sometimes meet guests at the railroad station five miles from my cottage and do much of my own shopping at roadside stands. During the summer months I keep the deep freeze well stocked and always try to be prepared to feed any number up to twenty--most of them unexpected--for luncheon.
Eleanor Roosevelt was a gracious hostess to all her visitors. One particular group she hosted every summer was the Wiltwyck School, which was established to provide for neglected and abandoned children. She served on the school's Board of Directors and provided it with financial assistance. Roosevelt described a typical Wiltwyck School outing:
Each year I also have a picnic for about 150 youngsters from Wiltwyck School for delinquent boys. On that occasion I always try to enlist the help of my grandchildren, who wait on the guests and organize outdoor games. We feed the boys plenty and then they usually lie on the grass for a while and I read them a story such as Kipling's "Rikki-tikki-tavi" or "How the Elephant Got His Trunk." We also have a package of candy for each boy before they go home.
1. How many people did Roosevelt employ, and what types of jobs did they perform?
2. What types of people did Roosevelt invite to visit or stay at Val-Kill? What activities could visitors participate in?
3. What kinds of daily life activities did Roosevelt perform? Would you have expected a wealthy president's widow to do those things? Why or why not?
4. What was the purpose of the Wiltwyck School?
5. What activities did Roosevelt plan for the boys when they came to Val-Kill?
Reading 1 was compiled from The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt by Eleanor Roosevelt. Copyright 1937, 1949, 1958, 1961 by Anna Eleanor Roosevelt. Copyright 1958 by Curtis Publishing Company. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.