"Something within me craved to be an individual."
"People aren't "made" by themselves or by anyone else: they are released to be what they always were but had never known they were."
When he wrote these words Archibald MacLeish had in mind the life of Anna Eleanor Roosevelt. To find another well-known life which exemplifies MacLeish's words as well as Eleanor Roosevelt's we might have to look back several centuries to another woman of the Idealist temperament, France's famous martyr, Joan of Arc. That young woman rose suddenly from peasant obscurity, became recognized as an inspirational military leader, and was considered by many to be a living saint. She accomplished this in a matter of only a few years and then died, burned at the stake, still a young woman.
Like the Maid of Orleans, the young Eleanor Roosevelt seemed a most unlikely candidate for fame; there was certainly nothing about Eleanor that suggested that an American President would some day honor her with the title, "First Lady of the World." Eleanor Roosevelt lived for almost seven decades, and her ascendancy was slow and measured. She never led men in battle, and like all Idealists, she abhorred strife of any kind and hated war. She was not martyred to a cause, she did not inspire crowds with her speech, she never wore the badge of any high office. Nonetheless it is possible that her fame will persist as long as that of the revered French peasant girl; certainly she will be admired by far more people than many American Presidents will be.
Eleanor Roosevelt was born in New York City in 1884. Her parents, Elliott Roosevelt and Anna Hall Roosevelt, were of an old and fashionable family and reasonably well-to-do (though they had some difficulty preserving their modest wealth). Eleanor was a niece of Theodore Roosevelt and a distant cousin of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who would later become her husband. (In fact her "Uncle Ted," Theodore Roosevelt, was President of the United States at the time of her marriage to Franklin and gave her away at their wedding.)
Eleanor grew up cloaked in the stilted remnants of the Victorian age, which persisted longer in conservative monied circles in the United States than it did in Great Britain. In spite of her enterprising family young Eleanor seemed destined to become another fashionable post-Victorian woman whose life would consist of her "coming out," becoming engaged and then married, bearing children-though doing little to raise them-and remaining properly useless except for providing fashionable support for fashionable causes.
Eleanor's mother Anna, a beautiful but rather distant figure, apparently tried to be a properly warm mother. But she was an upright, conventionally-trained woman, probably a Administrator Guardian, with a strong Victorian bent. In spite of her wishes she was unable to close the gap (if she ever recognized it) between herself and little Eleanor, the remarkably different Idealist she was raising. On the other hand Eleanor's father, Elliott Roosevelt, was a Entertainer Artisan, full of fun and frivolity. He loved Eleanor, his "Little Nell," and she adored him. Her memories of him were always rather selective. "With my father I was perfectly happy," she wrote. "He was the center of my world. I never doubted that I stood first in his heart."
Her mother died of diphtheria when Eleanor was eight, as did her brother Elliott. Though these deaths were tragic it was really the death of her father Elliott, the high-living, affectionate, charming but very erratic Artisan, that affected her most strongly. The troublesome Elliott, the black sheep of the family, died of a riding accident when she was ten, and in later years she wrote about the event as if she had never really recovered from his death. The ten-year-old Eleanor, now orphaned, was given over to the safe-keeping of her mother's mother, "G'ma" Mary Ludlow. Grandmother Ludlow was rather imperious though not unkind, better suited to the protocols of correct child-raising than she was to the loving nurturing an orphaned child. "G'ma" understood Victorian manners and mores, and Eleanor was to learn to be a proper young woman. She would eventually "come out," become engaged, marry, bear children, and so on.
The young Idealist grew up orphaned and isolated and afraid much of the time. She tried to fit in and (in the language of temperament theory) to become a good Guardian, for this is apparently almost all the modeling she saw. She could scarcely model herself after her father Elliot or her uncle Theodore, after all, both fiery Artisans and her opposite in every major dimension of temperament. Even as an adult she spoke often about "duty" and about the great satisfaction to be found in "being needed."
Her cousin Corinne once said of Eleanor's childhood that "It was the grimmest childhood I had ever known. Who did she have? Nobody." The image may be a bit overdrawn, for young Eleanor did have good food and lodgings and treatment which was reasonable, even if less than compassionate. Yet Corinne had a point: for an Idealist such as Eleanor to grow up isolated from emotional contact, not to be known personally, not to have empathic ties with her family, must have been close to traumatic for her.
In the autumn of 1899, when Eleanor was fifteen, Grandmother Ludlow felt it was time to send her off to school, and selected Allenwood for her. This school was run by a French educator, Mlle. Marie Souvestre, already known to and respected by the Ludlows. Allenwood had been transplanted from France and was located just outside London, and Eleanor made the transatlantic crossing in considerable trepidation. But when the young girl arrived Mlle. Souvestre was immediately taken with her, and Eleanor soon became one of Mlle Souvestre's favorites. A former classmate of Eleanor's remembered her vividly during an interview by the London Daily Mail in 1942. "I remember the day she arrived at the school, she was so very much more grown up than we were, and at her first meal, when we hardly dared open our mouths, she sat opposite Mlle. Souvestre, chatting away in French."
The expression "chatting away" may convey a false image of light-hearted and light-headed talkativeness which would be quite wide of the mark. In spite of her self-deprecating memoirs about her schooling, Eleanor's fellow students recognized immediately that she was not just more "grown up," but also a person concerned with more weighty issues than those which typically occupy the attention of young girls. In the same interview her former classmate commented that Eleanor "once confided to me that all she wished for was to do something useful: that was her main object." Despite her seriousness, she was very popular with the other girls at Allenwood. Her cousin Corinne said later, apparently with good reason, that she was "beloved by everybody," a comment most likely to be heard about the Idealists, with their noteworthy empathy and sense of diplomacy.
Thus Eleanor's time at Allenwood was marked not only by the work of a competent educator, but by a degree of personal acceptance she had known only rarely in her young life. The experience was marvelous for her, and she flourished, becoming a remarkably more self-confident young woman by Christmas of that year. "I really marvel now at my confidence and independence," she wrote later, "for I was totally without fear in this new phase of my life." To be without fear and to believe that the world was predictable and benign delighted her, for "this was the first time in my life that my fears left me. If I lived up to the rules and told the truth, there was nothing to fear."
Unfortunately Eleanor was at Allenwood for only a year. She then returned to New York for her "coming out" season as was proper for her and the other young ladies of her age and class. This season of her introduction to society as a young woman was both inevitable and very painful. She was shy, and she knew almost no one her own age. She knew that her looks and manner were not going to attract much attention, and she did not know the niceties of the parties and dances which became her agonizing lot. "I knew I was the first girl in my mother's family who was not a belle and, though I never acknowledged it to any of them at that time, I was deeply ashamed." Being so sensitive to others' (especially family) expectations is especially characteristic of the Idealists, and Eleanor was no exception in this respect. Perhaps her sensitivity left her insufficiently appreciative of her own physical attractiveness. Her teeth were too strong and her chin too weak for her ever to be a classic beauty. But pictures of her as a young woman show her to be considerably more attractive than she apparently saw herself. She had soft, rather large and engaging eyes. She also had a graceful carriage enhanced by intense study of the dance. And she had a tall, willowy, build that gave her a pleasing but fragile appearance which belied her great vitality and robust constitution. She must have been more attractive than she described herself, for it is quite unlikely that she would otherwise have attracted the attention of the dashing and popular Franklin Roosevelt, a very distant cousin.
Eleanor Roosevelt somehow made it through the arduous coming out season and took her uncertain place in New York society. Then in 1903 with some young friends in the newly established Junior League, the nineteen year old Eleanor began doing charity work with children in the tenements of New York City where she would teach calisthenics and "fancy dancing" (an interesting choice for a young woman who claimed to be terribly awkward in dance). She did this several times a week and her warm and gracious manner quickly made her popular with the children and their parents. It was certainly not unknown for young ladies of her social class to undertake such "charitable works," so Eleanor's involvement was not especially noteworthy.
Even so, Eleanor did take them more to heart than many of her peers. She saw first hand the difficult conditions under which so many workers labored and the impact of those conditions on the workers' children. Soon she became interested in the work of the National Consumers League, another volunteer group which investigated and worked for the improvement of the condition of the poor working class. Thus the altruistic calling so compelling for the Idealist emerged early in Eleanor's adult life.
While working with the tenement children Eleanor would occasionally be accompanied by the urbane and charming Franklin Roosevelt. Franklin had been drawn to her and had been courting her for some time, and when he finally proposed marriage the nineteen year old Eleanor accepted gladly.
"I had a great curiosity about life and a desire to participate in every experience that might be the lot of a woman. There seemed to me to be a necessity for hurry; without rhyme or reason I felt the urge to be a part of the stream of life, and so it seemed entirely natural and I never even thought that we were both young and inexperienced."
Eleanor and Franklin were married on Saint Patrick's Day, March 17, 1905. They had picked the date because Uncle Ted (President Theodore Roosevelt) would be in New York to attend the Saint Patrick's Day parade and would therefore be available to give his niece away. The wedding was held at Grandmother Ludlow's home and came off nicely. But when the very popular President went into Mrs. Ludlow's library immediately after the ceremony for refreshments, the entire wedding party followed him. The newlyweds were left quite alone at their own wedding until they too went into the library. Franklin, Eleanor's Artisan groom, may have been mightily impressed by this turn of events. Certainly he was a man who loved to have an impact. The newlyweds went to Europe for their honeymoon. Franklin added spice to their travels by his bargain-hunting for items in which he had a special interest. Eleanor recalled with some bemusement how sharp a bargainer her new husband was even when he did not understand the language being used in the bargaining. She on the other hand bargained very poorly, in her case partly because she did understand the language. The problem was that when talking with merchants she listened to their sales pitches as if they were speaking the gospel truth; Idealists such as Eleanor are credulous in their expectations and therefore the most easily hoodwinked of all the types.
Franklin on the other hand, an optimistic, exploitative Artisan, understood the game and found great satisfaction in being able to outmaneuver the sellers. Overall the honeymoon was exciting and great fun for the young couple. Franklin was a wonderful Artisan, after all, and one should expect no less. But by the time the honeymoon was ended Eleanor was ready to fit smoothly into the role of "a conventional, quiet young society matron."
The price of her "privileged" position in society was high for her. She had been trained to be a proper matron, with the rather extreme limits on what behaviors would be considered acceptable. But she knew nothing about preparing a meal for herself and her husband or about how to handle most other of the simple but essential demands of domestic life, and so was almost helpless in these matters. She soon became pregnant and realized that she also knew next to nothing about raising children. Her own childhood experience was not especially useful to her; both her mother and her grandmother had been rather distant and impersonal and were therefore far from the best models for an inexperienced Idealist mother.
In addition Sara Roosevelt, Franklin's mother, was a cool, strong-willed woman who had put most of her life's interest and energy into her children and who kept it there even after they had grown up. She and Franklin had a very strong connection and Eleanor Roosevelt's place with them could not be a comfortable one. Sara never approved of her daughter-in-law and apparently tried to discourage the marriage. For years after the marriage she dominated Eleanor Roosevelt's household-and Eleanor-in a high-handed, imperious manner. (It is said, for instance, that she once told Eleanor's young children that "she bore you but I'm your mother.") Eleanor struggled to fit in as she thought she should, but it was very difficult for her.
"I remember that a few weeks after we moved into the new house on East 65th Street I sat in front of my dressing table and wept, and when my bewildered young husband asked me what on earth was the matter with me, I said I did not like to live in a house which was not in any way mine, one that I had done nothing about and which did not represent the way I wanted to live." Franklin, Artisan that he was, could not project himself into her outlook and so couldn't understand the difficulty and somewhat impatiently told her she should pull herself together. As always in those days (it was 1908) Eleanor tried to do what her training called for. She later gave a glimpse, typically understated, of what can happen when Idealists try to live as they "should," thereby sacrificing the source of their self-esteem (authenticity) and their quest for their identity for the illusion of rapport.
"I pulled myself together and realized that I was acting like a little fool, but there was a good deal of truth in what I had said, for I was not developing any individual taste or initiative. I was simply absorbing the personalities of those about me and letting their tastes and interests dominate me."
"Absorbing the personalities of those about me": the threat here is not just inauthenticity, but of the loss of one's identity itself. To confuse herself with others would have meant to lose her sense of self, and nothing could be more disturbing to an Idealist. The practical problems of life with Franklin were overshadowed by the distressing difficulty of maintaining her own sense of identity.
The struggles with Sara Roosevelt continued, sotto voce, until Franklin plunged headlong into the world of elective politics. In 1910 he ran for the office of New York State Assemblyman from Dutchess County and surprised many veteran observers by winning. He and Eleanor then moved to Albany, the state capital, where Eleanor had her own special reason to celebrate her husband's success. Now she would be living on her own, with no one immediately at hand to help her-and dominate her. "I had to stand on my own feet now and I wanted to be independent. I was beginning to realize that something within me craved to be an individual."
A remark such as this reveals the remarkable difference between Idealists and the other types of character. "To be an individual," as she put it, is taken for granted by other types so that the phrase merely puzzles them when they encounter it, while for the Idealists whether or not they are individuals is always a question, and a question that is never fully answered. Is seems a certainty that none of the forty Presidents ever wondered who he was, and certainly never went "in search of himself." Certainly her husband hadn't the foggiest notion of what on earth she meant to do in her search for self.
Now that Franklin and Eleanor were securely in Albany, his mother would visit the new residence of the couple, but she always returned to Hyde Park rather than staying. Eleanor announced that she felt as though someone has taken a ton of bricks off her. But still the young woman lived under the "compulsion" (as she later called it) of her early Guardian training, tied to duty above pleasure or joy or wishes of her own. Sometimes, she reminisced, "I almost forgot that there was such a thing as wanting anything." In 1913 Franklin was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Eleanor dutifully became very busy fulfilling the almost endless routine of social demands her husband's new position called for. Rationals and Artisans resist and can easily ignore the rituals that attend high office, but not an Idealist, especially one so inspired by devotion and driven by assumed duty as was Eleanor. She also had to hold together a household which now included three small children, Anna, James, and Elliott. (Franklin would be born in 1914 and John in 1916. There had been an earlier child named Franklin who was born in 1909 but died when only a few months old.)
Her life was complicated by the additional burden imposed by the outbreak of World War I in 1914 (though the United States didn't declare war until April of 1917). She eventually found herself involved not just in the normal duties of a politician's wife, but also trying to take care of her own family, coordinating the Union Station canteen for soldiers en route to training, and speaking at numerous patriotic rallies. She was also involving herself in various Red Cross activities and overseeing knitting rooms established at the Navy Department, where volunteers knitted sweaters and other garments for soldiers and sailors. Here was an Idealist with an unusually powerful sense of commitment.
Especially noteworthy, for such activities became almost her hallmark in the following years, were her benevolent visits with wounded soldiers and sailors. Good will is the source of self respect for Idealists, and even in 1917 she was already showing her immense willingness to involve herself with others on a very personal level. She kept herself constantly busy by visiting the wounded, writing to their families, going out of her already crowded way to help in sometimes small and sometimes large but always compassionate ways.
One of the most important of her visits was to St. Elizabeth's Hospital in late 1917. The Navy Department had taken over a block of buildings there for "shell-shocked" marines and sailors and the block was already filled with the human wreckage of the European conflict. Eleanor was horrified by what she saw: "Poor demented creatures, with apparently very little attention being paid them, gazing from behind bars or walking up and down on enclosed porches." The patients wandered aimlessly around the wards whose doors were tightly locked. The hospitalized servicemen were largely neglected, some were in pitiable emotional condition, and available resources for housing and rehabilitating them were meager. Her benevolent attitude toward these "war neurosis" victims stands in very sharp contrast with that of General Patton, an Artisan virtuoso of battle tactics, who slapped a hospitalized soldier suffering from "battle fatigue." Patton, seeing the wounded men in the same ward, ordered the attendants to "get this coward out of the presence of these noble men." Eleanor Roosevelt's heart went out to those who might have felt Patton's fist, and this difference between the two illustrates how deep is the gulf in every major dimension of character between the Artisans and Idealists.
Eleanor's visit to St. Elizabeth's was important because it was the first time in her life that she took a vigorous role in bringing about a political remedy to a social problem. She prodded the Secretary of the Interior (who was ultimately responsible for St. Elizabeth's) to go over and see for himself what was happening. Then she kept after him until he persuaded the Congress to increase appropriations for the hospital. She also hounded the Red Cross into providing a recreation room for the patients and coaxed $500 from the Colonial Dames with which to begin an occupational therapy program. Along with these political and organizational activities she also offered her own quiet and personal help, trying one way or another to help with many of the problems the patients and their families faced, or simply being there to talk in her warm and pleasant way with the patients. "My son always loved to see you come in," one mother wrote to her later. "You always brought a ray of sunshine."
Eleanor Roosevelt had become, suddenly and unexpectedly, a vigorous political activist, powered by her own personal values rather than by her training about what properly bred young women should do. It is remarkable, but entirely characteristic of the Idealists, that she managed this transformation without the least sacrifice of her own personal, warm, compassionate style.
Indeed, she was able to make the transition because her natural Idealist style values above all else in decision making the role of "personal" observation. Idealists resist instruction from any external source, and because she was so powerfully touched by the suffering of others her visitations would have been especially memorable to her. Her many inspection trips (including those into the dark interiors of West Virginia coal mines) came out of her understanding of the importance of first-hand observation as well as her natural inclination to contact and acknowledge people personally as individuals. Her activism was thus rooted in a very personal way of understanding events. In these respects she seems to have been very much like
Mohandas Gandhi who made his own trips of inspection into the Indian equivalent of the Virginia coal mines and the New York City tenements.
As time continued she grew stronger in her commitments. With Franklin's ascendency to the Presidency, Eleanor activism had increasing impact. Through her own personal impact she became, in the words of an admiring columnist, a "Cabinet Minister without portfolio"-the most influential woman of the times.
Excerpted from Presidential Temperament by David Keirsey, PhD and Ray Choiniere
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