The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project is a university-chartered research center associated with the Department of History of The George Washington University

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The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project
Questions and Answers about Eleanor Roosevelt

Question: What was ER's relationship with Sara Delano Roosevelt?


[picutre: Sara Delanor Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt]Eleanor Roosevelt's relationship with her mother-in-law, Sara Delano Roosevelt, was very complex and very rich. It is also the most misunderstood part of ER's life. After Sunrise at Campobello captured the American imagination on stage and film, Dore Schary's characterization stereotyped Sara as the quintessential domineering mother-in-law who not only spoiled her son and grandchildren but took every opportunity to undercut ER's confidence and authority. This is a lazy stereotype. As one member of the family states, "the relationship between SDR and ER varied from close to distant at different times."

Although SDR initially opposed the marriage, she and ER grew close in the early years of the marriage when ER turned to her for guidance and support. ER's mother had died when she was a child, and she often turned to SDR for guidance and support that only a mother could provide. After the children were born, the relationship grew tense as the women differed and sometimes clashed over parenting issues. When ER settled into her own pattern as the wife of a senior official in Washington, her independence grew and SDR became more a source of absent affection than a constant source of pressure. FDR's affair with Lucy Mercer brought the women closer together as SDR planted herself firmly in ER's corner. Yet SDR's distaste for politics and strong disapproval of the activists with whom ER grew close soured their relationship. FDR, who refused to take sides and often refused to negotiate a truce, exacerbated the tensions. By the time ER had become first lady, she clearly felt SDR was more a critic than friend. One of the great mysteries of ER's life is why ER could not tell her mother-in-law to mind her own business—and do so within the boundaries of a decorum to which they both adhered.


Cook, Blanche Wiesen. Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume One, 1884-1933. New York: Viking Press, 1992, 132-133, 142-143, 150-151, 155, 157, 159-160, 167-169, 174-177, 180-181, 183, 202, 226-228, 229, 233, 250-252, 256-57, 283, 310-312, 330-331, 333-335, 419.

Cook, Blanche Wiesen. Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume Two, The Defining Years, 1933-1938. New York: Penguin Books, 1999, 34, 94-96,191-192, 255-256, 290, 398.

Lash, Joseph P. Eleanor and Franklin. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1971, 108-110, 111-113, 145, 152-155, 160, 162-163, 174-175, 179, 193-196, 198, 220-221, 225-227, 244-245, 259, 273-274, 275, 276, 297, 293-294, 302-303.

Roosevelt, Eleanor. The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt. New York: Da Capo Press, 1992, 56, 60, 65, 95-96, 116, 117-118, 135-136, 235.