No Ordinary Time

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Doris Kearns Goodwin. No Ordinary Time: Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front In World War II. New York: Simon & Schuster. 1994. 759p. $18.95. Paperback. ISBN 9780684804484.


Summary

Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Pulitzer Prize winning book relates the story of the American home front during World War II as seen and experienced by the most influential couple of that time, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his wife Anna Eleanor Roosevelt. She begins by presenting people and events in their childhoods and early years of marriage which served to shape the relationship of the couple who first entered the White House as President and First Lady in 1933, serving an unprecedented three terms in office. In a sense, this is a micro historical account of a macro historical event and era encompassing several areas of scholarship including: social and cultural history, women’s history, and political history.

During the early years of their lives, Eleanor was orphaned and raised by relatives while Franklin was protected from the world by a domineering and overprotective mother – a relationship which changed little throughout his life. After their marriage, his mother remained an unmoving force who remained mistress of the house and insisted upon raising their children because she considered Eleanor incompetent. Eleanor who was shy and unsure of herself never considered standing up for herself and Franklin went along with his mother’s wishes. FDR’s infidelity in 1918 nearly led to a divorce which would have ruined his chances at a political career and forever damaged their marriage. In 1924 FDR contracted polio and several years later his decision to enter politics was opposed by his mother, however for the first time in her marriage Eleanor defied his mother and encouraged his political career an act which changed their lives.

In 1940 Eleanor experienced a period of depression and began to search for something meaningful to do with her life. Eleanor Roosevelt did not want to simply be the First Lady, she was interested in social programs associated with the New Deal and during this time she traveled extensively as FDR’s eyes and ears gathering grassroots knowledge.(27) As the war in Europe escalated he seemed less interested in her views and opinions and the information she gathered from across the country. By June 1940, she found a new cause – finding homes for refugee children from Europe, especially Great Britain. Eleanor felt they should be classified as temporary visitors rather than as immigrants and expressed her opinion to her husband.(100) Many Jewish refugees were denied admission to the United States under the “policy of obstruction” instituted by State Department head, Breckinridge Long.(173) Eleanor attempted to influence FDR to force a change in this policy and her failure to do so “remained…her deepest regret at the end of her life.”(189) She began to realize that her old relationship with her husband was gone. During the 1930’s “they had worked side by side in common pursuit of the same goals, now…she would find herself in the role of the agitator while he remained the politician.” (104). According to Goodwin, “The depression of that spring was, in fact, part of a healing process, a mourning for the loss of her old relationship with her husband, and the birth pangs of a difficult and ultimately more influential partnership.”(105)

Eleanor never faltered in her faith in the social programs of the New Deal. She worked as assistant director of the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) and in this capacity sought to implement social programs to aid women and minorities, especially blacks. Her ideals led her to the “center of the battle for racial equality in the armed forces”(161) and she sought better job opportunities and housing for black workers. The mass migration from rural areas to cities and from south to north created new social problems among which racism was prevalent. She also fought for day care centers for working mothers and mother’s aid programs. Eleanor fought for equal rights for women, blacks and other minorities. After her husband’s death Eleanor Roosevelt became a U.S. Delegate to the United Nations where she continued her fight for equality.


Commentary

Bonnie Clark, Fall 2008

Eleanor Roosevelt was a remarkable woman who changed the role of First Lady from hostess to partner and advocate. She traveled extensively during her years in the White House and came to understand the wants and needs of the American people which she communicated to FDR. As assistant director of the Office of Civil Defense she instituted social programs designed to provide much needed assistance such as day care for working mothers. She was also an advocate for civil rights of blacks as well as women’s rights. For the soldiers she visited at the front in the South Pacific she symbolized the American mother they all missed.

Doris Kearns Goodwin presents a top down history of the American home front during World War II as seen and experienced by those at the pinnacle of United States political leadership, the President and First Lady and their circle of friends, family, political and military associates. This is not simply a political history of the war on the home front, but also encompasses social and cultural history, and women’s history as well as racial issues captured inside a biography of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt during World War II. --Blclark 12:52, 9 September 2008 (UTC)

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