tv American Artifacts Eleanor Roosevelts Val- Kill Cottage CSPAN February 23, 2018 9:53pm-10:17pm EST
this was a place where you're dealing with the stresses of the presidency and everything that's going on in washington. you know, the only president, to this date, who has really gone through two major events, the great depression and world war ii, and i think the stresses of the presidency, you know, were pretty hard on him. and i think sitting up here, as quiet and as peaceful as this place was, was a chance for him to, as he put it, recharge my batteries. we continue our look at the presidency of franklin roosevelt. up next, a tour of eleanor roosevelt's val-kill cottage in hyde park, new york. >> certainly this became the very first national historic site to be dedicated to a first lady.
and the only historic site dedicated to one first lady. well, val-kill encompasses two major buildings. the first building, the stone cottage, was built in 1925 to initially serve as a retreat for eleanor roosevelt and her two political mentors, nancy cook and marianne dickerman. it was build on the eastern most part of the roosevelt property at the time. it was land fdr purchased in 1911 to do forestry experiments on. he offered to build eleanor a little cottage here because by the early 1920s she was getting very active in political life and really needed her own space to bring friends and associates and kind of have a place where she could talk politics and plan political strategy. fdr realized that the big house really didn't serve eleanor roosevelt's purposes well because that was her mother-in-law's house and she used to say for 40 years she was
just a visitor there. it was important for her to have her own space where she could really do things that she was interested in and not have to worry about whether or not her mother-in-law had to give her permission to do this or that in her mother-in-law's home. so this was her little space. now, the building that we're in right now, which later became eleanor roosevelt's home, was really initially built to be a furniture factory that she started because she was very concerned about young people in her community of hyde park were farmers who couldn't make a decent living through farming. she thought by teaching them a trade they could add to their earnings and have a much better life. so nancy cook, one of the ladies who shared the cottage with eleanor roosevelt basically ran the val-kill industries. it was a nine-year operation that went from 1927 to 1936 and they made some really nice furniture there. in this room all of the wood
things that you see except for the carved trunk are examples of the val-kill furniture that was produced here. they also made pewter products for a while. this was during a time in her life when she was first lady of new york state for a while and then first lady of the nation. and her official duties kept her extremely busy but her commitment to her community and val-kill industries never wavered. however, the great depression came along and the furniture was all handmade, pretty pricey. a little table like the one in the center of the room would have cost you back then about $125, which was a small fortune during the great depression years. and so mrs. roosevelt used to say that she ended up being the best customer that val-kill industries ever had. so when it became too much for her to really keep on going with it financially, she then with great reluctance in 1936 shut down the val-kill industries and remodelled this building into
her home and she called it her cottage of 20 rooms. well, the outside of the building pretty much looks like a furniture factory. it's stucco over cement block and it's actually kind of as one child described it, it looks like a whole lot of houses bunched together. the building actually was built in several stages. two separate factory buildings and then little additions were added on for a showroom and pewter forge and so forth. inside it's kind of like anyone's home. it's nothing elaborate and people who come here just feel very much at home. the visitors do. but the people who came to visit mrs. roosevelt also felt very comfortable and relaxed because her whole point was to have people come here and talk and share ideas and talk about issues of the day and how perhaps they could deal with those issues.
eleanor roosevelt and nancy cook and marianne dickerman met during the early 1920s. nancy cook was the executive secretary of the women's division of the new york state democratic committee. she invited eleanor roosevelt to come speak at a luncheon when she was just getting really involved in political activity after fdr had contracted polio and was not able to really keep his name in front of the public because his dream was to become president of the united states one day. she wanted to keep his dream alive at a time when he was really feeling pretty down over the fact that he might not be able to walk again. and so she was going out and trying to keep his ideas in front of the american people. >> very glad to have this opportunity of greeting the people of southern california
and telling them what a pleasure it is to be here, even for a little while. >> and that's when she met nancy and marianne when she went to speak at a luncheon of the women's division of the new york state democratic committee and they were two veterans of the political scene. they were very, very active in political life much earlier than eleanor was. and nancy and marianne were life partners. marianne was active in politics. in fact she ran for political office very early on after the women had gotten the vote. she garnered quite a few votes. she didn't win but got quite a few votes for that time period. basically nancy and marion became eleanor roosevelt's political mentors at a time when eleanor roosevelt was just getting started in political life. we are in a room that originally was a living room and office for eleanor roosevelt's secretary,
melvina thompson or tommi, as she was called. she lived here until her death in the early '50s with eleanor roosevelt. then mrs. roosevelt took over the use of this area. this became her office sitting room. this is where she would receive guests. this is where she would work every day. at this desk which was made at the val-kill industries. the interesting thing about the desk is there is a little nameplate on there. and it's actually her first name is misspelled on that nameplate. this was given to her as a gift by a child. and she obviously noticed right away her name was misspelled, but she didn't say a word, she said thank you very much and used it from that day until the time of her death. this tells you a lot about eleanor roosevelt. it was not important to her that her name was misspelled, she
appreciated the gift that this child had given her. mrs. roosevelt wrote a daily column by day, which was her way of reaching out to the american people and connecting the government to the american people during a time when people were feeling a lot of fear, a lot of despair after the great depression happened and people had lost everything, their homes, their jobs, their life savings. it was her close friend lorena hickock who suggested she do the "my day" column. this was a column eleanor roosevelt wrote six days a week. no matter where she was, that column would be written. she could be traveling or overseas. that column would be written, but many times that column was written right here at this desk at val-kill. the "my day" column made people realize that the first lady was more than just a hostess at the
white house, that the first lady at that point was a partner with the president of the united states, that she was there sharing her thoughts and ideas with the president and even suggesting some of the changes he needed to make to help improve people's lives. so people realized they had a very activist first lady in eleanor roosevelt. eleanor roosevelt and fdr were radio people. this was before television was really produced widely and eleanor roosevelt had her own radio program, very unusual. she was the first first lady to really have a radio program. and when pearl harbor happened, eleanor roosevelt was the first person to address the american people about pearl harbor. not the president of the united states but eleanor roosevelt. >> i'm speaking to you tonight at a very serious moment in our history. the cabinet is convening and the leaders in congress are meeting with the president.
the state department and army and navy officials have been with the president all afternoon. in fact, the japanese ambassador was talking to the president at the very time that japan's airships were bombing our citizens in hawaii and the philippines and sinking one of our transports loaded with lumber on its way to hawaii. by tomorrow morning, the members of congress will have a full report and be ready for action. in the meantime, we, the people, are already prepared for action. >> it was the first time that a first lady would have -- and probably the only time that a first lady would have addressed the nation about a national crisis. so mrs. roosevelt had one of the modern inventions of that time period, the television, in her home. now she wasn't a television watcher. maybe she'd turn it on to see some political convention or an important news story, but she was a person who used
television, again, to get ideas out to the american public. she had her own television program called "prospects of mankind." but also she did a commercial for television for a product back then called good luck margarine. back in those days for a former first lady to do a television commercial was considered a scandal. >> years ago, most people never dreamed of eating margarine, but times have changed. nowadays you can get a new margarine like the new good luck that really tastes delicious. that's what i spread on my toast. good luck, i thoroughly enjoy it. >> after she did that television commercial and not to make money for herself, but she wanted to use that money to help feed poor people overseas. so she wrote to her daughter and said, when i got -- when i had completed that commercial for
television, i got tons and tons of letters here commenting on it. she told her daughter anna that it was kind of divided. half the people who wrote to me were sad i ruined my reputation and half the people who wrote to me were happy i ruined my reputation. we are now entering eleanor roosevelt's living room, and this is where after meals people would gather and sit and talk about issues that they perhaps had started talking about during the meal here in the dining room. mrs. roosevelt usually sat in this chair. this was her favorite chair. and then everyone would gather in these other chairs to sit. sometimes she had such a huge group it was almost literally wall-to-wall people with people even seated on the floors. but one of her friends said her hobby in life was people, she collected them and she definitely did that here at val-kill.
this was a place where she loved to have conversation. over here in this area, she had a little library and she was an avid reader. she read books on almost any topic you can imagine, both fiction and nonfiction. she loved reading poetry out loud. quite often when her grandchildren visited her here in the summer, she would have them here and read aloud to them. on a nice day, of course, she'd be reading to them outside. she would spend every single day when she was here reading to her grandchildren. one of her grandchildren told us that the moment they arrived, their grandmother would hand them a suggested summer reading list. they didn't really appreciate it. but she wanted them to read at least a book while they were here which was very educational and important to them.
this alcove is a bit historic. she and john kennedy, then senator kennedy met in this little alcove. the meeting happened because john kennedy was then running for the presidency of the united states in august of 1960. we wanted eleanor roosevelt's support. she had been a backer of addly -- adlai stevenson, but the democratic convention had nominated john kennedy. and she really wasn't especially fond of john kennedy. she felt he was a little bit too young to be president and she was worried about his commitment to civil rights legislation. but he needed her support, he felt, in order to win what he knew would be a very close election. she was a very powerful woman in the democratic party. at a time when women didn't have a lot of power in politics, but eleanor roosevelt did. she was well-respected and he knew that without her support he might not win that election.
so he came literally here wanting to get her support, asking for her support. so they had a very intense meeting together here. she wanted him to promise that he would support civil rights legislation if he became president. that was a cause very close to her heart. she made him promise that and when he finally agreed to do that, she did agree to support him. >> john f. kennedy came to visit me at hyde park. we talked together and i learned that he was truly interested in carrying on many of the things which my husband had just begun. mr. kennedy is a strong and determined person, who as president will provide the leadership for greater social security benefits, which the social welfare of a civilized
nation demands. i urge you to study mr. kennedy's programs, to look at his very remarkable record in congress. and i think you will join me in voting for john f. kennedy for president. >> now, that election was close but he did win. there are many people who felt that it was her active support of him that gave him that little extra edge to become president of the united states. ♪ >> mrs. roosevelt arrives in paris. one of the delegates from 58 countries converging on the french capital for the most critical session of the general assembly in united nations history. >> well, eleanor roosevelt became a delegate to the united
nations because once she left the white house, president truman decided he wanted to do something that fdr had always planned on doing, which was to establish a united nations in the hope that an organization like that would prevent future wars. both franklin and eleanor roosevelt had lived through two major wars, world war i and world war ii and they wanted the future to be a peaceful one. president truman felt that eleanor roosevelt would be the perfect person to represent the united states at the initial organizing meeting of the united nations. she was actually the only woman delegate from the u.s. and she knew that none of the men were too happy to have her as a member of that delegation. she figured that they were trying to find a spot for her where she could do the least damage, as she said, because they felt that she didn't have the qualifications to be a good delegate. so they put her on a committee called committee three, which
was going to work on more social kinds of programs, and that would end up being the most important committee that they had at the united nations because her proudest achievement was the universal declaration of human rights. because in the 30 articles that are in that document, it outlines all of the rights that every human being on this planet should have. in order to achieve world peace. and she always felt that that was the one thing that she accomplished that made everything she did prior to that worthwhile. we're on the second floor of mrs. roosevelt's home and we are now entering her bedroom. and this was a room she probably didn't use a lot during the year because she was traveling. when she was first lady, she traveled a huge amount of times. and, remember, this was a time when airplane flight was fairly
new but she was a woman who liked to try new and unusual things. she loved flying. in fact, even during the war years, mrs. roosevelt traveled overseas at a time when it was pretty dangerous to be traveling overseas. but she wanted to study what people in europe were doing during the war time. she went into some really not very safe areas in the pacific because, again, she wanted to report back to the president what was happening during the war. and even after she left the white house, she was traveling on behalf of the united nations and even after she left the u.n., she was kind of a goodwill ambassador, talking about the u.n. and the importance of people supporting the united nations. >> it is right that we should be gravely concerned with the gaps that still separate us from each other. with the problems we have left unsolved.
>> so off of this bedroom, there was her favorite sleeping area, her sleeping porch. and sleeping porches were added on to houses during a time when air conditioning was not something that most people had. and eleanor roosevelt was a person who loved outdoors. she loved nature. here at val-kill she would take at least two or three walks every day. she had little scotty dogs who would accompany her and her outdoor time was a time when she could kind of think about things and just relax and enjoy nature. and in her daily column, "my day," quite often she would talk about things she could see from her sleeping porch, some of the birds out there in the trees or the pond or one of her favorite flowers that grew in the pond. she would talk about that every year in july and august. she could see a garden from here. she could see the tennis court
that was put in for the family to enjoy. and even the outdoor fireplace where barbecues were held during fdr's lifetime as well as during the time eleanor roosevelt lived here on her own. hotdog picnics were a big way of entertaining guests. really val-kill was the backyard to the big roosevelt home. during the summer time this was used a lot for parties and picnics. there was a swimming pool here, in front of the stone cottage, where the president loved to swim. it was an historic pool because people like king george vi of britain and winston churchill both swam in that pool. eleanor roosevelt passed away in 1962. when she died, this was not given over to the national park service as fdr's home was. her son john was living here in the stone cottage.
by then nancy cook and marianne dickerson had moved away. and he lived here for a number of years. and then he decided to actually sell val-kill. he did offer it to the national park service and the federal government in 1970. they were not interested. and so he sold the property. and he sold eleanor roosevelt's furniture at public auction. and it was in 1975 that a grassroots movement here in hyde park started the movement to save val-kill and make is it into a national historic site. eleanor roosevelt's story is not just the story of a first lady, but it's a woman activist who really devoted her life to improving the world. she had always hoped that there would be world peace some day. so she's really an inspiration to women because she was a woman of great courage who spoke out against issues that really
needed to be addressed, like civil rights. and she made a difference in the world and she was an incredible role model for women, even today. she was a woman who was way ahead of her time. she was a woman who was very important in the 20th century but her ideas in the 21st century still ring loud today. governors from across the country are gathering in washington, d.c. this weekend for their annual winter meeting. throughout the day saturday, the national governors association will host discussions on jobs, the opioid crisis, and the future of agriculture and food availability. our live coverage starts saturday at 10:00 eastern right after "washington journal" on c-span. since 2011, architect and