What Was Franklin And Eleanor Roosevelt's Relationship Really Like?
Photo: FDR Presidential Library & Museum / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

What Was Franklin And Eleanor Roosevelt's Relationship Really Like?

The Roosevelts were the ultimate power couple during the first half of the 20th century. Both left important political legacies: Franklin Roosevelt was the president who led the United States through the Great Depression and WWII, and fascinating facts about Eleanor Roosevelt's life include how she organized press conferences at the White House exclusively for women journalists. She was a champion for women's rights and racial equality, and she was appointed as the first female deputy director of the Office of Civilian Defense. Political achievement and support for each other's ambitions defined both of their lives, but Franklin and Eleanor's private lives were far less successful than their public personas.

Their marriage began well, and the admiration they had for one another was undeniable, but infidelities and betrayal forced their relationship to change from romantic adoration to mutual respect for one another's intellectual and political ambitions. They had romantic relations with other people during the span of their marriage and lived the majority of their personal lives separate from one another, but they remained a unit to solidify their legacies.

  • They Were Distant Cousins Who Reconnected In Young Adulthood

    When Eleanor married Franklin in 1905, she didn't have to change her name: they were fifth cousins once removed, descended from two branches of the New-York-based Roosevelt family. The two had known each other in childhood, but they did not develop a relationship until they reconnected in the New York social scene after Eleanor returned from boarding school in England.

    When they married, their mutual relative President Theodore Roosevelt congratulated the couple by saying, "There's nothing like keeping the name in the family." 

  • Their Romantic Relationship Ended When Eleanor Discovered Franklin Was Having An Affair With Her Secretary

    In 1918, Eleanor found secret love letters between her secretary, Lucy Mercer, and Franklin. Understandably heartbroken, Eleanor confronted her husband and wanted to end the marriage. Her mother-in-law, Sara Roosevelt, intervened and persuaded Eleanor to remain married by promising financial support.

    Franklin and Eleanor continued as husband and wife, but only in name. Though they still played an essential part in one another's lives, their romantic partnership had virtually ended. Both parties may have later found emotional and romantic fulfillment outside the marriage.

  • Lorena Hickok May Have Been Eleanor's Lover

    Throughout his marriage to Eleanor, Franklin pursued romantic relationships with other women - and Eleanor may have done the same. One of the most significant relationships of Eleanor's life was with Lorena Hickok, a journalist who covered the Roosevelt White House. Their relationship deepened after 1936 when Hickok moved into the White House.

    Though scholars still debate whether or not it was a romantic relationship, thousands of letters exchanged between the two women, containing sentiments like "I ache to hold you close," suggest they may have been intimate.

  • Franklin May Have Had A Decades-Long Romance With His Secretary

    The Roosevelt marriage nearly collapsed when Eleanor discovered that her husband was having an affair with her secretary, Lucy Mercer. But Mercer was not the only secretary with whom Franklin allegedly shared a romantic relationship.

    Missy LeHand served as Franklin's personal secretary for decades. LeHand managed all aspects of Franklin's life, including serving as hostess at his Warm Springs rehabilitation center and the White House. 

    Scholars continue to debate whether or not their relationship was romantic, but some family members certainly seemed to think it was - Franklin and Eleanor's son, Elliott, claimed there was an intimate component to his father and LeHand's relationship.

  • Eleanor Was Close To Her Bodyguard, And Some Claim Their Relationship May Have Been Romantic

    Like Franklin, Eleanor looked outside the bonds of marriage for emotional partnerships. Earl Miller, a New York state trooper, became her bodyguard in 1928. Miller maintained a profound, supportive presence in Eleanor's life for several years. They rode horses together and took walks through the woods.

    Miller encouraged Eleanor to take pride in who she was; whenever he was around, she supposedly felt confident and confided in him. It is suspected they may have been in love with one another.

  • A European Royal Was Referred To As Franklin's 'Girlfriend'

    Among the women with whom Franklin supposedly had extramarital affairs was a European royal, Princess Märtha of Sweden. She spent time with the Roosevelts during WWII, and though some historians are uncertain how to characterize their relationship precisely, many have noticed the princess had particularly enjoyed Franklin's company.

    The flirtation between the pair was so apparent that White House staff referred to the princess as "the president's girlfriend." Franklin even took her on a yacht without his wife.