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Reading 2
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Determining the Facts

Reading 1: Early Years and Influences

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born at home on a cold January day in 1882 to Sara and James Roosevelt. Both he and his mother nearly died during his birth, although both recovered with good health. Mrs. Roosevelt was unable to have more children, and she always considered her son to be a precious gift. He was carefully protected by both his parents, given every advantage, and made to feel that all those living and working on the estate were there to serve his every want and need.

Although his parents indulged young Franklin, they did not want to spoil him. His mother taught him about manners, courtesy, and the proper way of behaving. His father, James, taught him the ways of a country gentleman, introducing him to political life and public affairs. James Roosevelt was a kindly, concerned gentleman who participated in many activities, both in Dutchess County and through business dealings in New York City. He was known locally as "Mr. James," a title of respect given to him by villagers for his involvement in Hyde Park's government and contribution to local affairs.

Following James Roosevelt's death in 1900, his wife Sara inherited Springwood. Inspired by stories of family history from his parents and relatives, Franklin Roosevelt became an amateur architect in his own right. However, Mrs. Roosevelt's usual reply to Franklin's suggestions for changes or improvements on the place was, "I think not Franklin. If it was good enough for your father, it is good enough for me." The major changes reflect Franklin's persistence as well as his abiding interest in architecture and the Springwood estate. In 1915, Franklin and his mother worked with an architectural firm from New York City to renovate and enlarge the house and to give it a new look. Springwood changed dramatically, transformed from a simple farmhouse with wooden clapboards in the popular mid-19th century Italian style to a grand stucco-and-fieldstone, early American style mansion. The changes included additional wings, updated electrical service, new plumbing, and space for Franklin and Eleanor's growing family.

In later years, Franklin's interest in architecture would contribute to the design of his presidential library, the only other major change on the estate during his mother's lifetime. In September of 1941, Sara Delano Roosevelt died at Springwood. Roosevelt allowed no changes to be made to the house or furnishings after his mother's death during his lifetime. Franklin died four years later. Roosevelt's architectural influence carried beyond Springwood. His preference for the Dutch colonial style with fieldstone construction extended to the Hyde Park public schools and post office, as well as Eleanor Roosevelt's nearby Val-Kill retreat.

The experiences of his early life at home as a protected, educated, and advantaged young man, in addition to his experiences in field, farm, and village shaped Franklin Roosevelt's experiences in public service later in his life. As Olin Dows, a family friend and neighbor explained:

From his relations with his neighbors he knew that a national, even a world problem, always came down to a personal problem. He tells us that when writing his fireside chat on the banking crisis he was trying to make these problems clear to his old friends and neighbors, to individuals in Dutchess County.¹

Questions for Reading 1

1. What kind of family did Franklin Roosevelt belong to?

2. How do you think the Roosevelt's life compared to that of a farm family or a Hyde Park village family? Do you think you would have enjoyed being a member of the Roosevelt family? Why or why not?

3. What did Franklin Roosevelt learn from his mother while he was growing up? What did his father teach him? How are they similar to lessons you have learned in your home life from parents, relatives, or other family members? How are they different?

4. Give some examples of how a person's home life can influence later life, in both a positive or negative way. How do you think the early years of life at Springwood and Hyde Park helped Franklin Roosevelt during his years of public service?

Reading 1 was compiled from Olin Dows, Franklin Roosevelt at Hyde Park (New York: American Artists Group, Inc., 1949).

1Olin Dows, Franklin Roosevelt at Hyde Park (New York: American Artists Group, Inc., 1949), Introduction.


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