Person

Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd

An elegant woman wearing a black gown.

FDR Library Photo

Quick Facts

Lucy Page Mercer Rutherfurd was born April 26, 1891, in Washington, DC to a prominent Maryland Catholic family. She was educated in private schools, but because her family had very little money she had to go to work. In 1914, she became social secretary to Eleanor Roosevelt. In that capacity, she helped Eleanor with the social obligations associated with her position as spouse of the assistant secretary of the navy. When necessary she also served as the extra woman at the Roosevelts' dinner parties.

While working for Eleanor, Lucy met Franklin and the two began a romantic relationship. Eleanor learned of the affair in 1918 when she found a package of Lucy's letters in FDR's luggage. Despite the social stigma then attached to divorce, the couple considered it but eventually decided to reconcile because of family and financial considerations: FDR's political career, which a divorce would have ended, and a shared sense that they both wanted and needed to continue their marriage. Historians have speculated about the level of emotional and sexual intimacy the Roosevelts experienced thereafter, but most agree that the marriage endured as a shared partnership on many levels. They also agree that the affair changed both Franklin and Eleanor significantly. He became more serious personally and politically while she deliberately expanded the range and scope of her already considerable public and private activities.

Lucy married Winthrop Rutherfurd, a wealthy widower with six children in 1920. The couple had one daughter, and the marriage lasted until her husband’s death in 1944. Although he had promised Eleanor never to see Lucy again, FDR did ask Lucy to attend his 1933 inauguration. The two began to see each other again after her husband died in 1944 because FDR wanted and needed companionship. Eleanor did not know of these meetings, many of which her daughter, Anna, arranged, and was angered when she learned of them. She was also disturbed to learn that Lucy had been among those who were with FDR when he died in Warm Springs, Georgia, in 1945. Lucy lived in Aiken, South Carolina, until her death in 1948.

Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, Home Of Franklin D Roosevelt National Historic Site

Last updated: August 3, 2020