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If you like Doris Kearns Goodwin's story, you might also like:
Stephen Ambrose,
David Herbert Donald,
Shelby Foote,
David McCullough
and Neil Sheehan

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Doris Kearns Goodwin in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Justice & Citizenship
Freedom and Justice

Doris Kearns Goodwin's recommended reading: Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox

Related Links:
Doris Kearns Goodwin.com
Poynter Fellowship

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Doris Kearns Goodwin
 
Doris Kearns Goodwin
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Doris Kearns Goodwin Interview (page: 4 / 9)

Pulitzer Prize for History

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  Doris Kearns Goodwin

What interested you most about the Roosevelts?

Doris Kearns Goodwin: I think two things really drew me to the Roosevelts. One was I wanted to live back in the era of World War II; the book is mostly about Franklin and Eleanor during World War II. It was a time in our life when the country was bound together by a common enemy and a common goal, when there was a real sense of community in the land, especially in contrast to today's world, where there's so little belief in politics, in government. Our sense of nationhood is much more fragmented. It was wonderful to go back and spend six years studying a time when the country really was bound together.


Then I found absolutely fascinating -- and there's no other parallel for it in our history -- the partnership between Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. I think what was so revealing to me about that partnership was that, in many ways, it was born in the pain of Eleanor's discovery, when she was married for 12 years, that Franklin was having an affair with another woman named Lucy Mercer. She wanted a divorce, but it was the last thing he wanted. The important thing was he convinced her to stay together, and promised her she could do whatever she wanted within the marriage, which meant that she went outside the marriage to become a teacher, to become a political activist, something that few women could do in 1918. If you were a married woman, you didn't run around outside. That gave her, in some ways -- this terrible catastrophe in their private life -- gave her the freedom to go outside the marriage and become Eleanor Roosevelt. So it showed you that some things that you might think of as the greatest crisis in your life can lead to opportunities, because Eleanor found a true public life. She had a confidence that she didn't have in her private life.



Then, once they get into the presidency and he (FDR) becomes paralyzed by polio, she (Eleanor) becomes in many ways his eyes and his ears. Without her, his presidency never would have been as rich as it was. She traveled the country on his behalf, bringing him back a deep sense of what was happening in the land. She was much more active on civil rights, on poverty, on coal miners than he was, and really made his presidency more socially just than it would have been. He would be the first to admit that she made him stronger. And then she admitted, at the end of his life, that without him she would not have had the platform to be Eleanor Roosevelt. So just knowing how you can go through very difficult times in your own married life and still form this extraordinary partnership, I think, is what I took away from that book.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance


Hillary Clinton was kidded for having an imaginary conversation with Eleanor Roosevelt in the White House. Just as an intellectual exercise, what would you say to Eleanor Roosevelt if you had the chance?

Doris Kearns Goodwin: I thought about this so much, because during the six years that I worked on the book, there were so many times when I wanted to talk to both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. When this whole thing came out with Hillary, I kept thinking, "Oh my God. They will think I'm crazy, too. I'm having seances with these dead people."


I think the most important thing I wanted to say at various times to Franklin and Eleanor was that it seemed so sad to me that -- I really believe they loved each other and had a great deal of affection -- but because of that early hurt in their marriage, there was a certain kind of distance from then on, until their deaths actually. At times, one would reach out to the other to try and break that distance, and then the other one would pull away. And another time, the other one would reach out. So at times, I just wanted to push them together and say, "Come on, you guys! I know you love each other. This is crazy!"


James Watson Interview Photo
I could see, as I read their letters, as I did interviews with people, that they both wanted the other one, but there was too much pain and hurt to fully get back together again. So I think that's what I would have talked to them about.

The book takes place on the second floor of the family quarters of the White House during the war. During Roosevelt's time, an amazing group of people lived there, including Franklin's secretary Missy LeHand, who was in love with Franklin Roosevelt, never married, and in many ways was his other wife when Eleanor traveled as much as she did. Harry Hopkins, his closest advisor, had a bedroom right next door to his. Then a woman reporter, Lorena Hickock, who was in love with Eleanor, she had a bedroom next door to Eleanor. Winston Churchill lived up there for months at a time during the war, drinking all day long. This beautiful princess from Norway, Princess Martha, would come in and spend the weekends. So when I wrote the book,


I kept saying to myself and saying, when I talked about it in public, "What would the modern press ever make of this Roosevelt White House, where all of these people are floating around?" And I mentioned on a radio show in Washington that I would love to see the second floor once more, because I'd been up there with Lyndon Johnson. But at 23 years old, I never thought of asking, "Where did Franklin Roosevelt sleep? Where did Eleanor sleep?" For that whole six years of working on the book, that was the location of -- most of the story took place on the second floor. So it happened that Hillary Clinton overheard me say this on the radio show, called up the radio station and invited me to sleep overnight in the White House. She said then I could wander the corridors and figure out where everyone had slept 50 years before. So two weeks later, my husband and I went to a state dinner, after which, between midnight and two a.m., the President and Mrs. Clinton and my husband and I went through every room up there, and figured out who had been there. It was great, because we realized we were ending up staying in Winston Churchill's bedroom. So the whole night, I could hardly sleep. I was sure he was sitting in the corner and smoking his cigar and drinking his brandy.


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This page last revised on Sep 22, 2010 09:16 EST
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