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FDR and Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd


It is no secret that Franklin D. Roosevelt had a long standing affair with Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd. Lucy Mercer was a social secretary for Eleanor Roosevelt during the years Roosevelt served as Assistant Secretary to the Navy. Eleanor was frequently away from Washington and it was in these years that Roosevelt met, and perhaps fell in love with, Lucy. While emptying his suitcase after a European trip in 1918, Eleanor found some love letters from Lucy to FDR. She was devastated by the discovery, and confronted her husband with the letters. Eleanor offered him a divorce, but FDR did not want to hurt his family or abandon his political ambitions—both of which would have occurred had he and Eleanor divorced. Eventually, Eleanor agreed to remain married—but on the condition that he stop seeing Lucy.

Though they remained married, the intimate part of their marriage was over. Ironically, this helped lead Eleanor to search for new avenues for expressing her emotions and keeping herself occupied. Thus, she became one of the most vocal, active, and admired first ladies in U.S. history.

But, FDR could not stop seeing Lucy. Though Eleanor apparently did not know the affair continued, Roosevelt would occasionally see Lucy in Washington or surrounding areas. Sometimes, when Eleanor was away, Lucy would also visit the White House. At his inauguration, FDR sent a private limousine for her and arranged for her to have a front row seat.

Lucy eventually married Winthrop Rutherfurd, a wealthy South Carolinian. It is unclear if the FDR affair continued after Lucy’s marriage. What is not in doubt is the feelings that remained between the two. Shortly before FDR visited a plantation in South Carolina to recuperate from his ailing health, Winthrop Rutherfurd had died. Lucy became a frequent visitor to the plantation where Roosevelt was staying.

Lucy also came to Warm Springs to visit him in November of 1944 and again in the spring of 1945, bringing a friend with her to do his portrait. She arrived on April 8 and spent several days with Roosevelt. However, due to Roosevelt’s health, it is likely that the relationship now was as friends only. They had a picnic lunch together at Dowdell’s Knob on April 11. The next day, while he was sitting for the portrait, going through some papers, and chatting with Lucy the cerebral hemorrhage which killed him struck.

Lucy left Warm Springs before Eleanor and many others arrived. It was in her car near Macon that she heard that FDR had died. Eleanor soon learned that Lucy had been with him at the last; but in a remarkable show of courage and character, she overcame the shock. After hearing the news, Eleanor spent about ten minutes alone in the room with her deceased husband. She then emerged dry-eyed to make the funeral preparations.