ELEANOR ROOSEVELT, AN EAGER SPIRIT: The Letters of Dorothy Dow, 1933-45 by Dorothy Dow
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ELEANOR ROOSEVELT, AN EAGER SPIRIT: The Letters of Dorothy Dow, 1933-45

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For the anniversary of Eleanor Roosevelt's birth or any other time: one of the least effusive, gossipy, or conflicted books about ER yet to see print--and a timely chaser for Joseph Lash's new, agonized collection of her letters (below). Dorothy Dow (b. 1904) was an Interior Dept. secretary, with Wisconsin Republican roots (and training as a phys ed teacher), when she was detailed to Mrs. Roosevelt's White House staff in September 1933--and began the letters to her family (""Dear Mom, I have a new job"") that, extending past FDR's death, comprise this compact volume. As editor McClure notes, Dow was physically close to the Roosevelts--especially during summer Hyde Park stints--without being emotionally involved with them. (She also married, and so had her own family.) And McClure can fairly claim that ""her breezy letters""--not intended for publication--""reflected without inhibition her reaction to happenings around her."" Few if any have written of the Roosevelts, in short, with less self-interest. From the first Dow was taken with their friendliness and thoughtfulness: the individually inscribed FDR books presented to ""well over a hundred"" staff members at Christmas; the invitations to State functions, where everyone was helped to have a good time. But it is the almost-daily letters from Hyde Park that give this substance as Rooseveltiana and luster as a letter-collection. Dow, serving as assistant to longtime ER secretary Malvina Thompson, also became ER's swimming coach and deck-tennis partner, a companion/counselor for Roosevelt and other visiting children, a shopper, driver, and hostess--and, in a pinch, the 14th at the Big House table. ""Mrs. Roosevelt told everyone what a versatile person I was, and it used to embarrass me to death."" (ER also thanked her privately for the ""ordeal"" of that Big House dinner.) From the summer of 1941, things changed--and there are reservations about Roosevelt family members and Mrs. R's ""odd friends"" alike. (Both Dow and Thompson apparently thought unkindly of the Lashes--whom Anna R. is said to have hated.) But as trying as Dow found some of ER's frenzied activity, she never ceased to admire her or to rejoice in working for her. (The Truman succession, by contrast, brings idleness and tedium--""we shall go stark raving crazy."") There's a little incidental dirt, but Dow's counsels of discretion to her family guided her own writing--along with the openness, warmth, and brisk capability she had in common with Eleanor Roosevelt. Intriguing and buoyant.

Pub Date: Oct. 11th, 1984
Publisher: Norton