Joseph E. Persico: Says FDR's affair with Lucy Mercer never ended apparently

Historians in the News

In his book “Franklin & Lucy: President Roosevelt, Mrs. Rutherfurd and the Other Remarkable Women in His Life,” which comes out next week, Joseph E. Persico suggests that the affair between Franklin Roosevelt and Lucy Mercer (later Rutherfurd), which was supposed to have ended in 1918, resumed even sooner than most scholars believed — indeed, that it may never have ended at all....

While working on his book, Mr. Persico obtained from Lucy Mercer’s granddaughters a bound copy of a lecture Roosevelt gave at Milton Academy in May 1926, on the flyleaf of which is an inscription saying, “I dedicate this little work, my first, to you.” The granddaughters also gave Mr. Persico some letters that Franklin wrote to Lucy beginning in 1926 on the letterhead of the Fidelity and Deposit Company of Maryland, where he was then a vice president. The letters are chatty rather than romantic, but as Mr. Persico points out, they’re also unusually specific about his whereabouts at certain times and also about Eleanor’s absences. Some historians have suggested that all through the 1920s and ’30s, Roosevelt was on such a tight leash, guarded by his secretary, the vigilant Missy LeHand, that he couldn’t possibly have strayed. But Mr. Persico reads these letters as possible plans for liaisons.

As for Eleanor Roosevelt, Mr. Persico leaves little doubt not only that she was devastated by the discovery of the affair but that she continued to love her husband to the end. She was crushed all over again to learn that Lucy Mercer had returned to Franklin’s life, and it took her a while to forgive her daughter, Anna, who had engineered some of their meetings.

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