Tender Mercer

I was at the New York Society Library the other day sitting between two women having a passionate discussion about Lucy Mercer, one of the most famous mistresses in American History.

They have a lovely little room off the Children’s Library used for writing groups or, just to have a little bit more privacy to sit and read, which is what I was doing before these two chatties came waltzing in.

Oblivious to me, they were talking about a woman I am very familiar with. top10_mistresses_lucy  Lucy Page Mercer Rutherford (April 26, 1891 – July 31, 1948) is mentioned in any and every book ever written about Franklin Delano Roosevelt.


She was the reason his marriage to Eleanor became in name only.

Lucy was Eleanor’s social secretary when Franklin was Assistant Secretary of the Navy beginning in 1913.  170px-Franklin_Roosevelt_Secretary_of_the_Navy_1913 It’s believed their affair began in the summer of 1916 while Eleanor was away with their children Roosevelts at their country home on Campobello Island in New Brunswick, Canada, now a National Park.

Eleanor learned of the affair after discovering a packet of love letters found at the bottom of a suitcase she was unpacking describing in intimate detail what had been going on between her husband and a woman, who she thought was not just a worker but a trusted friend, for the better part of two years.

First of all, are men just naturally brain-dead? For the record, this is a sad scenario that sounds its horn recurrently. Discretion, if you could take a lead from the French, is not that hard to exercise. However, when flagrantly discarded causes pain quite like no other. One needs to ask, did Franklin want his wife to find those explicit missives to secure his freedom to go be with Lucy? How stupid can a person be to leave them anywhere they can be discovered and read.

In true fashion, Eleanor said at once she’d give him a divorce. Lucy, a practicing Catholic, apparently wasn’t too keen on breaking up a marriage. Ah…the old double Christian standard. I personally think, despite the shock and humiliation, it came as a bit of a relief to Eleanor since she had made no bones about not loving her Washington lifestyle and connubial responsibilities.

But both Roosevelts underestimated Sara Delano, Franklin’s indomitable mother who sharply said, if you leave your wife and family, I will stop your inheritance which curtly translated to our philandering boy, bye bye political career.

A man is nothing without his work. FDR could have been in love with ten Lucys, but without what defined him he would be unmoored in his life that we must remember was still pre-polio that didn’t strike till 1921. He was a strapping, buoyant, lighthearted young man…handsome and charming anxiously ambitious to make his mark on the political stage. oNot the grayish figure we know slumped and crumpled more or less in a wheel chair.  images-1 So the affair ends…Eleanor agrees to stay, but never sleeps with her husband again.

He has another in-house affair with his secretary, Marguerite (Missy) Le Hand, when he’s president along with his cousin, Margaret (Daisy) Suckley, we now know ironically through more letters found beneath Daisy’s bed when she died in 1991 at the age of 99.

How does a guy have so much sex in a wheelchair? Let’s just say those women should be applauded for their what had to be tender and ongoing efforts.

At the end of FDR’s life, he started to see Lucy again. Her husband, much older than she, had long since died. Anna, Franklin’s only daughter, arranged for Lucy, when her mother was away, to visit her dad.

Lucy was actually present at Warm Springs, Georgia on April 12, 1945 when FDR died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage.

That concludes the history lesson…but back to the two women holding court. The consensus between Hedda and Louella was, it was all Lucy’s fault. If she had only fought off FDR’s advances, history might have had a happier First Lady in the White House.

This is where I’ll weigh in. Personally I think finding out about Lucy Mercer and her husband was the best thing that could have happened to Eleanor Roosevelt  200px-Eleanor_Roosevelt_portrait_1933 who then became who she was always meant to be…a force of nature onto herself passed down to the rest of us. That affair, as painful as it had to be, launched an incredible human being.

Now to stick up for Miss Mercer.

Lucy was a very young girl when this happened. images Franklin, an extremely captivating man. Have you ever met somebody like that? I have, and unless you’re Joan of Arc with a will of steel declining, despite the warning signs, isn’t really an option. You’re swept away as though you were caught in the belly of a tidal wave. Not only that, but you must remember youth has little experience to lean on. You just jump in not realizing you were more or less pushed from behind.

Franklin was a player thriving on attention. Eleanor, after giving birth to six children in rapid succession plus having to deal with a mother-in-law who ruled the roost was just too plain weary to play Geisha Girl…and let’s face it…you either have that gene or you don’t. I’m going to say Mrs. Roosevelt didn’t, but had other things that more than made up for it.

As I heard this Mercer mudslinging go on I wanted so much to put in my two cents, especially since they were making it impossible for me to read. It was as if I just wasn’t there.

I looked at their puffy faces from too much of whatever they had the night before, along with wrinkled brows sired from all that disapproval deciding to hold my tongue.

Nothing is so black and white. A young woman is dazzled by the charms of an older man who aggressively seeks stroking so we want to hang her in the town square…or at least at the Society Library in their pretty little ante room. Oddly enough, our 32nd president is exonerated concerning his part. “Men will be men,” crooned one of the women.

And mean, catty women, will be mean, catty women.

Forty-five years later we have an in-house witch-hunt from a couple of witches who you can bet, never had a man seep into their bones where they could barely stand.

If they had, their hearts, though now rusted shut, would have no doubt reopened.

Because it doesn’t matter how old you get, you remember the time when lightening struck.

You just can’t help it.                          Lightning_strikes_hill_january_2007


Recommended Reading

Traitor to his Class: The Privileged life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt…H.W. Brands

Lucy, a novel…Ellen Feldman

Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume 1, 1884-1933…Blanche Wiesen Cooke

Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume 2, The Defining Years, 1933-1938…Blanche Wiesen Cooke

FDR…Jean Edward Smith

All in paper and E Book or at your local library

About Susannah Bianchi

I'm just a girl who likes to write slightly on slant. I've had a career in fashion, dabbled in film and to be honest, I don't like talking about myself. Now my posts are another matter so I will let them speak for themselves. My eBooks, A New York Diary, Model Behavior: Friends For Life and Notes From A Working Cat can be found on Amazon.com. Thanks.
This entry was posted in Family, History, Love, money, Politics, sex, sexual relationships, Uncategorized, writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Tender Mercer

  1. skinnyuz2b says:

    What a great post. I especially like your phrase about jumping in without realizing you’re being pushed from behind. How accurate. Been there, done that.
    Although painful at the time, I can now laugh (a little) at the way he dumped me. He quoted a song and said ‘two out of three ain’t bad.’. Of course, this was said in my bed after ‘you know what’. To paraphrase another song, ‘I survived’.


    • Thanks Skinny. I really went overboard…it’s very long so I don’t expect it to do very well. People aren’t as enthralled with American History as I am so I really appreciate that you took the time to read it.

      As far as that addled asshole from your past goes…men misplace their hearts like car keys much too often. Women I’m proud to say don’t possess that gene.


  2. Michael says:

    I love it. As a student of History I find it fascinating. I never knew about the discovery of the love letters. How does a guy in a wheelchair have so much sex?


    • I don’t know Michael…excellent question…but I do recommend the film that came out this past year called Hyde Park on Hudson with Bill Murray doing a kick ass FDR and Laura Linney playing his cousin Daisy. It got very little attention but it was great.


      Thanks for reading.


  3. backonmyown says:

    Hee, hee. I love the title. I too have read a great deal about FDR and Eleanor and Lucy. You did a beautiful job of defending both women. Love your writing.


    • I thought about you…if anyone would appreciate the Lucy lore it would be you liking history as much as I do. Was thrilled that you wrote. Thanks…did you read that little novel..Lucy, by Ellen Feldman? It’s short and sweet…she invents what it must have been like between them and I have to say how well it was done.


    • I’m rereading a book called Assassination Vacation, by Sara Vowel. You might like it. She’s very funny but inhales history in a way you’d appreciate. She goes to all the presidential assassination sites and everything connected to them starting with Lincoln. She visits John Wilkes Booth’s grave in Baltimore after following the escape route he took. We go to Springfield to see Lincoln.

      She also covers Garfield, McKinley and Kennedy. You came to mind while I was in the Mutter Museum reading about famous body parts. Don’t ask me why…


  4. katecrimmins says:

    Interesting story and I loved the pictures.


  5. D. D. Syrdal says:

    Just awful the way women are so quick to blame another woman. FDR was hardly innocent in all this. Great post!


    • Yeah, why is that? We can be such shits. I’ve always found it fascinating how their relationship came full circle. That Lucy was actually there during his final moments rather than Eleanor. She had come with a portrait artist friend of hers who came to paint FDR. Eleanor of course found out the truth that really pained her even after all that time, especially that Anna was the middleman. But in her inimitable way, she rose to the occasion and sent Lucy the portrait as a gift when after all that funeral dust settled. Such an act of grace on her part. So, even though we’re shits, we can also be mighty impressive there Dame 🙂


      • D. D. Syrdal says:

        Oh, I’d’a gonna ridden of that portrait, too. Every time I looked at it would have reminded me of the mistress. My ex-husband was given a gift, a large potted umbrella tree (of all things), by some girl in his office who had a crush on him, and he brought it home. I told him to take it back to the office. God only knows what else she gave him.

        Which is not to say Eleanor doesn’t still have my every respect, because she does. She also probably didn’t especially want to look at a portrait of him all the time, and who can blame her? 😉


      • I bet you’re right. She probably had it right up to her ears with Franklin. I also think she had resigned herself to their platonic union. She knew all about his relationship with Missy and Daisy apparently. Actually, when Missy died, Eleanor, not Franking was the one who went to her funeral. He couldn’t handle it. That always bothered me. So get over it..she was so devoted to you, you selfish sonavabitch.

        Oh well…getting mad at history is kinda futile isn’t it.

        Thanks for writing.


  6. manty67 says:

    Maybe, men and women aren’t meant to have just one partner, love comes in many different shapes and sizes. Those that do mate for life might just be a quirk of life. You can never judge someone else’s life, as you can’t hold all the information. Only those involved have that. Maybe, that was the path set out for them to make them the people they became 🙂


    • Dolphins and lions mate for life, but I think you’re right…we humans don’t have that going on all the time. When I think of all the different men I’ve loved I’m thinking I’m not sure monogamy is something I’d have a knack for. Maybe now that much of the wind is gone from my sails, but in my prowling days…oops.

      I like what you said about their paths. Yes, think how different it would have turned out. Thank you for taking the time to read such a long piece.


      • I had a thought while running. In the film Out of Africa, there’s a scene toward the end when Karen Blixon and her lover lover, Denys Finchattan (spelling) are picnicking on a hill lions like to graze on. She says,”When I die bury me up here…right at the crest of the hill.” He says, “Whatever’s left.” “Did you know lions mate for life?” she asks. He looks at her with love and says,”I’d mate for life.”

        Of course that was Hollywood’s version. In Isak Dinnesen’s real life he has an affair with Beryl Markham that sort of cracks their closeness. I like the movie anyway…will always take the romantic road even if it’s myth.


      • D. D. Syrdal says:

        Swans also mate for life. Just wanted to toss that in there.


      • Oh yeah…and sea lions…so romantic


  7. great post! I love your writing. We recently watched Hyde Park on the Hudson, great llittle movie. We thoroughly enjoyed it. This was an excellent post today, thanks! DAF


    • I’m so glad you liked it. I did too. I thought Bill Murray was Oscar material the way he managed the wheel chair especially. Such a surprise little story. No one knew except those present so Daisy’s letters when found were quite illuminating.

      I had a REALLY bad day so saying you love my writing just took a little of that away. Thanks.


      • Oh no! I am so sorry you had a bad day. I hope that it improves and that this evening made up for the day. You are in my thoughts, hope all is going better. DAF


      • How kind are you, thank you…today is another day. I can write this morning.


      • I should write, but instead am going out for lunch and a bit of shopping with a friend… haven’t treated myself like this for a long time. I hope today is a good day and one that has great surprises for you wherever you look. I hope you meet someone in your travels today that will bring you a smile and some laughter that delights your soul. Can’t wait to read what you are writing!


      • Two of my favorite things. You can write later on a full stomach wearing something new. Good plan? Enjoy!!!


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