Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Tuesday Tea and Tomes: The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt

The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt, a tale of resilience, triumph and humor

"A woman is like a teabag. You never know how strong she is until you put her in hot water." ER

In an era where political discourse often passes the sublime and goes right to the ridiculous, it's worthwhile to go back in time to find some inspiration from a first lady who, born into privilege, faced her own fears to champion the cause of those who had little or no voice on the national stage.

A favorite quote of BTS from Eleanor Roosevelt involves tea!

Even though my undergraduate degree is in Political Science, I feel like I only really got to know the Roosevelts for the first time, up-close-and-personal, with Ken Burns' 2014 PBS documentary, 'The Roosevelts: An Intimate History'.  It inspired me to learn even more, and I found a great read in 'The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt', an abridged edition of three earlier books from this incredible first lady.

A portrait of Eleanor at age 4 hangs in the Roosevelt Library

Eleanor shares the memories, both painful and triumphant, of her journey from a shy, insecure little girl, taunted by her own mother for her unusual looks to an overachieving student and public servant, buoyed by the attention of a progressive teacher and an adoring uncle, Teddy Roosevelt, who just happened to be president.

This eventually lead to the big leap as an empowered first lady who visited miners and soldiers in challenging conditions, serving as both eyes and legs for her husband, Franklin Roosevelt.

Rachel outside Hyde Park

This book and a trip to Hyde Park, the home of Eleanor and Franklin and the Roosevelt Library, in 2015, served as the framework for our "Eleanor Roosevelt Afternoon Tea".   The two most recent teas were held at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham.

Presenting Eleanor Roosevelt Tea at Birmingham's Townsend Hotel

In 'The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt', the former first lady tells of the struggles she faced being raised by her maternal grandmother after both of her parents died at an early age. She also shares the highs and lows of raising five children while facing some hard truths about her husband's infidelity. But, ultimately, it's a story of resilience and finding rewards in helping others..

Chintz Room at Hyde Park, first shared by Eleanor and FDR, now displays Val-Kill furniture

In her autobiography, Eleanor also talks about Val-Kill, the cottage near Hyde Park, that FDR encouraged his wife to build as her own retreat away from his mother's homestead. It was at this cottage that Eleanor, along with two close friends, started Val-Kill Industries, an attempt to provide skilled trades and jobs to the mass of unemployed workers. Some of the furniture produced at Val-Kill is still on display at Hyde Park.

Eleanor's story also includes a great deal of humor. She shares  anecdotes of entertaining dignitaries at Hyde Park, most notably the King and Queen of England. FDR and King George the VI bonded over cocktails, both frowned upon by their respective mothers, but enjoyed privately in the Hyde Park library.

In another amusing tale, Eleanor writes about a last minute trip she took to a prison. Interested in prisoner's rights, she was called to visit a jail without much lead time. In haste, she told her assistant to let her FDR know she was going to jail.  Upon hearing the news, the President responded, "I'm not surprised, but what for?"

Outside the Roosevelt Library with Eleanor and Franklin

No matter what side of the aisle you identify with, Eleanor Roosevelt is a public figure who can inspire all. She opened the gates to the White House to those who were traditionally denied access. She truly proved that one can overcome adversity and continue to achieve great things.

Certainly, Eleanor Roosevelt, like a teabag, proved how strong she was after being put in hot water so much of her incredible life.

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