The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project print volumes publish the most interesting, important, and representative documents from our collection. For each year, we select between seventy and one hundred documents for publication, and provide annotation to contextualize the documents. Volumes I and II, covering 1945 through 1952, are already available through the University of Virginia Press.
Volume III, on which we are now working, picks up this story in 1953, shortly after ER tendered her resignation from the United Nations and reentered life as a private citizen. “Private” though signaled no retreat from the public sphere she had toiled in so vigorously for the previous thirty years. Freer than she had been in decades to make political choices without reference to those of FDR’s White House or Truman’s State Department, her advocacy grew increasingly assertive in this period, yielding a string of achievements that read more like a lifetime’s work than that of a woman in her seventies. She assumed a deep involvement in local politics and played a decisive role in breaking the power of Tammany Hall, the notorious political machine that had cast a wide shadow over the civic affairs of both New York City and State for more than a century. At the national level she remained the most prominent woman in American public life, as well as the Democratic Party’s lone female power-broker, possessing in 1956 the functional equivalent of a veto over the party’s presidential nomination, and in 1960 the endorsement that John F. Kennedy courted more assiduously than any other.
Yet the power that was hers to exercise she used not just to influence elite choices, but rank-and-file ones as well. Disgusted by the tactics of Senator Joseph McCarthy, she denounced him at a time when it was politically risky to do so, and challenged others to do the same. Disheartened by the intransigence of Jim Crow in the South, she continued to lead integration workshops, sometimes at risk to her own personal safety. She kept on traveling as well, crisscrossing the globe as elder stateswoman and roving ambassador. It was a delicate role that she used to broach the intricacies of Cold War geopolitics with world leaders like Tito of Yugoslavia, Nehru of India, Ben-Gurion of Israel, and even with Soviet premier Khrushchev at a private meeting in his seaside dacha. Increasingly aware that these consultations extended far beyond ceremonial pleasantry, the CIA even took notice, reviewing debriefs of her overseas visits and requesting that she undertake others in the interest of national security.
Ultimately, the project will complete five volumes covering ER's life between FDR's death and her own. Volume IV will cover 1956 through 1959, as Eleanor Roosevelt championed Adlai Stevenson for President, became more involved in the new Civil Rights movement, traveled to the Soviet Union not once but twice, and continued to battle the Eisenhower administration. Volume V, covering 1960 through her death in 1962, follows ER through the Kennedy years, from her tentative embrace of his candidacy through her involvement in Tractors for Freedom the President's Commission on the Status of Women. At the same time, this final volume shows that even in her decline, ER continued to evolve on issues that had always been at the core of her political beliefs, such as civil rights and foreign policy, and that only death could stop her activism.