Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

The FDR Memorial and the Legacy of Women    

Memorials and monuments are often dedicated to people who are standing on the hidden shoulders of others.  The FDR memorial is one such example.

Near the end of the sprawling six acre memorial dedicated to the 32nd President Franklin Delano Roosevelt is a statue of his wife Eleanor Roosevelt.  She stands looking determined and capable, two qualities that highlight her significant influence with her husband and in American History.  Given her talents, passion, and experience she was selected as the first representative to the United Nations from the United States following World War II.  Incidentally, she is also the only statue of a woman featured in a presidential memorial or monument in Washington, D.C to date.   

But the legacy of women in connection to the FDR memorial does not start and stop with the First Lady.  Underlying the granite stones and bronze statues is the work of two other prominent women in FDR’s life.  One, was his secretary Marguerite “Missy” LeHand.  But do not let the title mislead.  Although she may be the least remembered of the women in the president’s life, she was perhaps the most important.  She was known as “The Gatekeeper” to the president.  She was his personal secretary and his closest confidant who deftly handled him personally and professionally.  One of the few people in the “inner circle” of his life, LeHand handled her many responsibilities regarding the president and the entire White House with such efficiency, effectiveness, and grace that her funeral was attended by an estimated 1,200 people who wanted to pay respects to a figure so important to Roosevelt and all he accomplished.  She was his “Right Hand woman.”  

Lest we neglect history, no mention of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his memorial should pass without acknowledging Frances Perkins as well.  Not only was she the first female cabinet member in American History – an accomplishment in and of itself considering male preponderance in American politics at the time – her impact in the Roosevelt administration undergirds the four-room memorial dedicated to the legacy of FDR and his extraordinary four terms in office.  Perkins’ many abilities made her a natural choice for Secretary of Labor for the president and at a time of great significance.   The responsibility fell to her for creating solutions to deal with no less than the Great Depression, and she did not disappoint.  It was because of her efforts unemployment became recognized as a national issue.  She made the CCC the success that it was.  She was responsible for one of the most important and impactful pieces of legislation in the history of our country, the Social Security Act, which provided a financial safety net for Americans.  In the end, she was one of only two cabinet members to serve the entire 12 years of the Roosevelt Administration.  To pay her a great compliment, when she suggested to President Truman that he find a “great, strong man” to fill her shoes, he laughed and said he wished she would not quit.  

It’s a remarkable memorial to walk through.  One of the most unique and significant memorials in the pantheon of Washington, D.C.  And its history and meaning remain incomplete without remembering the legacy of these women.

What to read next: