Eleanor Roosevelt was an American political figure, diplomat, and activist who redefined the role of the First Lady of the United States during her husband’s presidency. She was born on October 11, 1884, in Manhattan, New York City, to wealthy socialites Elliott Roosevelt and Anna Rebecca Hall. Unfortunately, Roosevelt had an unhappy childhood which was further marked by tragedy after the passing of both her parents and younger brother. At only 17 years old, she was shipped off to a boarding school in London to complete her formal education.
After her return to the United States, Roosevelt married her fifth cousin once removed, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, better known as FDR. When FDR won the presidency in 1933, Roosevelt took on the role of First Lady and became the longest-serving first lady in history, having served four terms in office. Although she was highly respected in later decades, Roosevelt was considered a controversial political figure during her time. She was outspoken, promoted liberal views, and was a strong supporter of civil rights for African-Americans.
Throughout her time as First Lady, Roosevelt started the tradition of holding regular press conferences and took advantage of emerging technology to promote her advocacies. She fought for women’s rights, cared for war refugees, and even publicly disagreed with FDR’s policies. Even after the president’s death in 1945, Roosevelt led an active political life until her own passing in November 1962. Among her many accomplishments included serving as the first chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights.
It’s undeniable that Roosevelt had left a permanent mark in history with her works and achievements. In fact, she was hailed as “one of the most esteemed women in the world” at the time of her death. However, living life as the First Lady often meant living in a fishbowl, so it’s no surprise that Roosevelt’s actions were always questioned. From her polarizing causes to her personal life, curious minds examined every aspect of Roosevelt’s life, including her sexuality. So, was Eleanor Roosevelt gay? Let’s answer the question once and for all.
VOTE: What was Eleanor Roosevelt’s Sexuality?
Eleanor Roosevelt’s Relationships
While Roosevelt was an incredible public figure, her personal life was often overlooked. If people took the time to take a closer look at the First Lady’s affairs, they’ll soon realize that there’s much more to her than just her works. Here’s a summary of the most important relationships in Roosevelt’s life and the reason why so many people assume that she was gay.
Eleanor Roosevelt and FDR (1905-1945)
In 1902, Roosevelt met her future husband Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) while on a train to Tivoli, New York. The pair were fifth cousins but it didn’t stop them from falling in love and starting a secret correspondence. After a year of exchanging letters, the couple got engaged much to the disappointment of FDR’s mother. They waited another year to hold the wedding to accommodate President Theodore Roosevelt who agreed to give Eleanor away.
After honeymooning in Europe, the newly wedded couple moved to an apartment in New York provided by FDR’s family. Unfortunately, their marriage was made more difficult because of Roosevelt’s controlling mother-in-law. Nevertheless, the couple had six children in total: Anna Eleanor (1906), James (1907), Franklin (1909), Elliott (1910), FDR Jr. (1914), and John Aspinwall (1916). Their third child, Franklin, tragically died at only seven months old.
A turning point arrived in their relationship when in September 1918, Roosevelt discovered a packet of love letters between FDR and her social secretary, Lucy Mercer. Apparently, FDR wanted to leave Roosevelt for Mercer. However, due to societal pressure and threats of disinheritance from FDR’s family, the couple remained married. It was at this point that the pair’s relationship was reduced to amicable companionship or a political partnership.
In August 1921, FDR was struck down by a paralytic illness and almost died. But with Roosevelt’s care and devotion, she was able to nurse him back to health. During this time, the First Lady would also attend events and functions on her husband’s behalf. When FDR eventually succumbed to his illness in April 1945, Roosevelt continued on with her political activities.
Eleanor Roosevelt and Earl Miller (1939)
In 1929, Roosevelt met New York State Police Sergeant Earl Miller who was assigned by FDR to become her bodyguard. Aside from being her constant companion, Miller also taught Roosevelt different sports like diving, riding, and playing tennis. The duo had a suspiciously close relationship, leading people to think that they had an affair happening behind the scenes. However, no substantial evidence ever came up to prove their romantic relationship.
Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok (1932)
One of the strongest reasons why people believed that Roosevelt was gay was because of her close friendship with journalist Lorena Hickok. Hickok, also known as “Hick,” was assigned to tail FDR’s presidential campaign so that she could write a biography about the First Lady. According to speculations, Roosevelt and Hick immediately fell in love and would spend every waking time together. They were also pen pals, exchanging over 3,000 letters in Roosevelt’s lifetime.
The letters between Roosevelt and Hick were also a strong indicator that the pair had a romantic relationship bordering on being intimate. In the letters, the two women would talk about wanting to kiss each other and longing for the other’s company. Hick, who was openly known as a lesbian, often told Roosevelt that she didn’t care what other people thought of their relationship. While they didn’t outright confirm their affair, one can’t deny that there’s something more than just mere friendship between the two.
Up until today, experts are still debating whether or not Roosevelt and Hick actually had an ongoing affair.
The First Lady As A Gay Icon
Although Roosevelt never publicly talked about her sexuality, she became an unsung gay icon over time. She was known to frequently seek out the company of well-known lesbians in the community. In her social circle, she was friends with Nancy Cook, Marion, Dickerman, Esther Lape, and Elizabeth Fisher Read. Even her governess, Marie Souvestre, was also openly gay. So, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to assume that Roosevelt was aware of lesbianism and maybe, on some level, identified as one herself.
Was Eleanor Roosevelt Gay?
Yes, Eleanor Roosevelt was gay. Most experts would insist that she was a lesbian, but at best, she can be considered bisexual. There is recorded evidence that strongly suggests that the First Lady had intimate relationships with other women. However, it’s important to note that Roosevelt maintained her marriage to FDR and never spoke about her sexuality. And thus, her true gender identity may never be confirmed.