Lucy Mercer and Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Lucy Mercer was born into a family which had money and subsequently lost it in the Panic of 1893. A free-spirited young woman, she was working in a dress shop in 1914 when Eleanor Roosevelt hired her to work as her social secretary. During a 1916 Roosevelt family vacation to the family compound at Campobello Eleanor and the children left Franklin – then Assistant Secretary of the Navy – in Washington. Lucy remained in the capital too, and an affair between FDR and his wife’s secretary began around that time. When Eleanor fired Lucy in 1917 she enlisted in the Navy, and Franklin had her assigned to his office.
After a 1918 trip to Europe by Franklin to inspect naval facilities Eleanor confronted him about the affair and asked for a divorce, spurred by having found several love letters exchanged between Lucy and FDR. FDR was wary of the effect of a divorce on his political career and demurred, telling his mistress that he had asked for one which his wife refused to grant.
Eleanor forbade her husband to have further contact with Lucy, who then left Washington and married Winthrop Rutherford, a wealthy widower, after first serving him as the governess for his children. Throughout the decade leading to FDR winning the Presidency, he and Lucy remained in contact with each other.
How often they saw each other and how intimate their relationship was after he was stricken by polio is debated, but what is known for certainty is that an exhausted FDR went to Warm Springs Georgia in the spring of 1945 to rest. Lucy was there with him one April morning as he sat for a portrait. When the President, worn out after twelve years in office, grabbed his head and collapsed, Lucy quickly left the premises.
The President’s hemorrhage proved fatal and it was not long before Eleanor learned of Lucy’s presence in the room when FDR died. According to her children and friends, she was furious at the betrayal. Eleanor’s cousin and daughter of Theodore Roosevelt Alice Roosevelt Longworth once commented on the affair between FDR and Lucy Mercer with the acid remark, “…He deserved a good time…He was married to Eleanor.”