Early life and marriage
Roosevelt in 1893, at the age of 11
Roosevelt in 1900, at the age of 18
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born on January 30, 1882, in the Hudson Valley town of Hyde Park, New York, to businessman James Roosevelt I and his second wife, Sara Ann Delano. Roosevelt's parents, who were sixth cousins, both came from wealthy old New York families, the Roosevelts, the Aspinwalls and the Delanos, respectively. Roosevelt's patrilineal ancestor migrated to New Amsterdam in the 17th century, and the Roosevelts flourished as merchants and landowners. The Delano family progenitor traveled to the New World on the Mayflower, and the Delanos prospered as merchants and shipbuilders in Massachusetts. Franklin had a half-brother, James "Rosy" Roosevelt, from his father's previous marriage.
Roosevelt grew up in a wealthy family. His father, James Roosevelt I, graduated from Harvard Law School in 1851, but chose not to practice law after receiving an inheritance from his grandfather, James Roosevelt. Roosevelt's father was a prominent Bourbon Democrat who once took Franklin to meet President Grover Cleveland in the White House. Sara was the dominant influence in Franklin's early years. She once declared, "My son Franklin is a Delano, not a Roosevelt at all." James, who was 54 when Franklin was born, was considered by some as a remote father, though biographer James MacGregor Burns indicates James interacted with his son more than was typical at the time.
Roosevelt learned to ride, shoot, row, and to play polo and lawn tennis. He took up golf in his teen years, becoming a skilled long hitter. He was club champion in his late teen years at the small golf club on Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada, where his family had a summer cottage. He learned to sail early, and when he was 16, his father gave him a sailboat.
Education and early career
Frequent trips to Europe—he made his first excursion at the age of two and went with his parents every year from the ages of seven to fifteen—helped Roosevelt become conversant in German and French. Except for attending public school in Germany at age nine, Roosevelt was home-schooled by tutors until age 14. He then attended Groton School, an Episcopal boarding school in Groton, Massachusetts, joining the third form. Its headmaster, Endicott Peabody, preached the duty of Christians to help the less fortunate and urged his students to enter public service. Peabody remained a strong influence throughout Roosevelt's life, officiating at his wedding and visiting him as president.
Like most of his Groton classmates, Roosevelt went to Harvard College. Roosevelt was an average student academically, and he later declared, "I took economics courses in college for four years, and everything I was taught was wrong." He was a member of the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity and the Fly Club. Roosevelt was relatively undistinguished as a student or athlete, but he became editor-in-chief of The Harvard Crimson daily newspaper, a position that required great ambition, energy, and the ability to manage others.
Roosevelt's father died in 1900, causing great distress for him. The following year, Roosevelt's fifth cousin Theodore Roosevelt became President of the United States. Theodore's vigorous leadership style and reforming zeal made him Franklin's role model and hero. Roosevelt graduated from Harvard in 1903 with an A.B. in history. He entered Columbia Law School in 1904, but dropped out in 1907 after passing the New York State bar exam.[b] In 1908, he took a job with the prestigious Wall Street firm of Carter Ledyard & Milburn, working in the firm's admiralty law division.
Marriage, family, and affairs
In mid-1902, Franklin began courting his future wife Eleanor Roosevelt, with whom he had been acquainted as a child. Eleanor and Franklin were fifth cousins, once removed, and Eleanor was a niece of Theodore Roosevelt. They began corresponding with each other in 1902, and in October 1903, Franklin proposed marriage to Eleanor.
On March 17, 1905, Roosevelt married Eleanor in New York City, despite the fierce resistance of his mother. While she did not dislike Eleanor, Sara Roosevelt was very possessive of her son, believing he was too young for marriage. She attempted to break the engagement several times. Eleanor's uncle, President Theodore Roosevelt, stood in at the wedding for Eleanor's deceased father, Elliott. The young couple moved into Springwood, his family's estate at Hyde Park. The home was owned by Sara Roosevelt until her death in 1941 and was very much her home as well. In addition, Franklin and Sara Roosevelt did the planning and furnishing of a town house Sara had built for the young couple in New York City; Sara had a twin house built alongside for herself. Eleanor never felt at home in the houses at Hyde Park or New York, but she loved the family's vacation home on Campobello Island, which Sara gave to the couple.
Eleanor and Franklin with their first two children, 1908
Biographer James MacGregor Burns said that young Roosevelt was self-assured and at ease in the upper class. In contrast, Eleanor at the time was shy and disliked social life, and at first stayed at home to raise their several children. Like his father had, Franklin left the raising of the children to his wife, while Eleanor in turn largely relied on hired caregivers to raise the children. Referring to her early experience as a mother, she later stated that she knew "absolutely nothing about handling or feeding a baby." Although Eleanor had an aversion to sexual intercourse and considered it "an ordeal to be endured", she and Franklin had six children. Anna, James, and Elliott were born in 1906, 1907, and 1910, respectively. The couple's second son, Franklin, died in infancy in 1909. Another son, also named Franklin, was born in 1914, and the youngest child, John, was born in 1916.
Roosevelt had various extra-marital affairs, including one with Eleanor's social secretary Lucy Mercer, which began soon after she was hired in early 1914. In September 1918, Eleanor found letters revealing the affair in Roosevelt's luggage. Franklin contemplated divorcing Eleanor, but Sara objected strongly and Lucy would not agree to marry a divorced man with five children. Franklin and Eleanor remained married, and Roosevelt promised never to see Lucy again. Eleanor never truly forgave him, and their marriage from that point on was more of a political partnership. Eleanor soon thereafter established a separate home in Hyde Park at Val-Kill, and increasingly devoted herself to various social and political causes independently of her husband. The emotional break in their marriage was so severe that when Roosevelt asked Eleanor in 1942—in light of his failing health—to come back home and live with him again, she refused. He was not always aware of when she visited the White House and for some time she could not easily reach him on the telephone without his secretary's help; Roosevelt, in turn, did not visit Eleanor's New York City apartment until late 1944.
Franklin broke his promise to Eleanor to refrain from having affairs. He and Lucy maintained a formal correspondence, and began seeing each other again in 1941, or perhaps earlier. Lucy was with Roosevelt on the day he died in 1945. Despite this, Roosevelt's affair was not widely known until the 1960s. Roosevelt's son Elliott claimed that his father had a 20-year affair with his private secretary, Marguerite "Missy" LeHand. Another son, James, stated that "there is a real possibility that a romantic relationship existed" between his father and Crown Princess Märtha of Norway, who resided in the White House during part of World War II. Aides began to refer to her at the time as "the president's girlfriend", and gossip linking the two romantically appeared in the newspapers.