Susie Parish (1865-1950)
Susan Ludlow Parish ("Cousin Susie") was Eleanor Roosevelt's godmother and one of her strongest links to the New York society of her birth. Strait-laced and opinionated, Susie Parish, like Sara Delano Roosevelt, had a dominant personality. Yet while ER's relationship with SDR was complex and often painful, ER's relationship with her strong-willed cousin remained loving and close until her cousin's death.
Cousin Susie, the first cousin of ER's mother, Anna Hall Roosevelt, became a surrogate mother to ER. ER stayed with her often, particularly after her parents separated, and Cousin Susie was the one who broke the news of Anna's death to her. She was also one of the family members who told ER of her father's alcoholism. ER continued to live with Susie and her husband, New York banker Henry Parish, Jr., off and on as she grew older. Susie took ER through her initial season as a debutante and, when ER became engaged to Franklin, Cousin Susie was one of the first to learn the news. (She also counseled ER to abide by Sara Roosevelt's wishes and keep the engagement secret for a year.) Later she took an active part in planning ER's wedding by helping ER buy her trousseau and linens and hosting the wedding in her home.
After ER's marriage, Cousin Susie, like SDR, scrutinized every aspect of ER's life. Both women, for example, urged ER to give up her settlement house work because they feared she would bring diseases home. When ER wanted to raise her children without the help of governesses they were appalled and disapproving. They were equally distressed when ER's increasing political activism caused her to pull away from the norms and conventions of their class. However, ER never completely broke with Cousin Susie or SDR, and their ideas continued to influence the way she brought up her children, particularly her daughter, Anna, who was subjected over her strenuous objections to the rigors of a debutante season orchestrated, as ER's had been, by Cousin Susie.
As she aged, Susie became increasingly reliant on prescription drugs to combat a variety of psychological illnesses. Her self-centeredness combined with her rigid political and social views made ER's time with her difficult, but the two women continued to see each other annually, usually at one of Susie's homes.
Susie died in 1950 leaving ER a bequest of $25,000. ER used this money to buy stock, which she in turn left to her friends in her will.
Cook, Blanche Wiesen. Eleanor Roosevelt, Volume One, 1884-1933. New York: Penguin Books, 1992, 115-116, 136, 162, 178-179, 187, 299.
Cook, Blanche Wiesen. Eleanor Roosevelt, Volume Two, 1933-1938. New York: Viking Press, 1999, 121.
Lash, Joseph P. Eleanor and Franklin. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1971, 99, 137-139, 155, 245.
Lash, Joseph P. Eleanor: The Years Alone. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1972, 237, 323.