The New Deal: His and Hers

The New Deal: His and Hers

Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume Two, 1933-1938
by Blanche Wiesen Cook
Viking, 1999, 696 pp., $34.95

 

In divorce court, lawyers and judges often hear amazingly different stories about a marriage that has long disintegrated. In history, as well, there are also his and her renditions of the past. For Americans who loved FDR as well as those who loathed him, it was his alphabet agencies, his support of labor, his public works, and his cheerful optimism that came to define the era that we call the New Deal. But there was also another New Deal, one that Eleanor Roosevelt championed, an agenda yoked to the vast number of women social reformers and peace activists with whom she had worked since the early years of the twentieth century. In this second volume of her biography of the most extraordinary First Lady in American history, Blanche Wiesen Cook writes about that other New Deal, the one that ER fought for, in battles she sometimes won, but mostly lost.

In the first volume of her biography, Blanche Wiesen Cook introduced readers to ER’s lonely and awkward youth and  tracked her transformation from a cowed young woman married to a philandering politician into a grown woman determined to break the shackles of her marriage. How she might do that, she did not yet know.

In the second volume, which covers the years 1933-1938, Cook offers a historical account of a mature ER who, with courage and connections, invented new ways to navigate or side-step the politics of Washington, and who relentlessly tried to keep her pragmatic husband focused on the needs of women, children, minorities, and the poor.

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