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Portrait of a Lady

Eleanor Butler Alexander-Roosevelt, wife of Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., learned at an early age to shape her own public image. After marrying the son of President Teddy Roosevelt, she kept her husband's name in the headlines by publishing articles in mainstream newspapers and magazines on traditionally female topics – family, patriotism, needlework, food and fashion. She provided surprisingly intimate views given her family’s celebrity status.

Eleanor Roosevelt. Between 1905 and 1945. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-DIG-hec-20139 (digital file from original negative); Call No.: LC-H25- 76139-DL [P&P] Crystal Cruise piecing a Flower Garden quilt. 1978. American Folklife Center. Reproduction Information: Call No.: AFC 1982/009: BR8-GJ14-18

During her husband's service as Governor of Puerto Rico and Governor-General of the Philippines, she served as first lady of Puerto Rico (1929-1932) and the Philippines (1932-1933).

Throughout her life, Eleanor Alexander not only supported "Ted" (the only general officer to land in the first wave on D-Day) in his career but also proved a highly organized, socially conscious person in her own right. She helped improve the conditions of Puerto Rican women while her husband was governor of the island; she organized the first American women's committee for China Relief (1937); and she directed the American Red Cross Club in England (1942).

During World War I, Roosevelt went to France with her husband and operated a Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) canteen during the day and taught French to soldiers at night. She also set up canteens throughout France as part of the progressive social-engineering effort of the Commission on Training Camp Activities to "make men moral" by teaching them etiquette. Asked to design a uniform for the women in the YMCA, she fashioned a sensible gray jacket and skirt, with a long cape and blue hat that set YMCA women apart from civilians and minimized class differences.

She received citations and commendations from, among others, the French government, Gen. John J. Pershing, and the U.S. War Department. She also wrote a fascinating account of her life in her memoir, “Day Before Yesterday.”

A skilled amateur photographer, she documented her family's history and life in 25 photograph album scrapbooks, which her daughter gave to the Library in 1986.

In addition, a selection of her images, along with a list of resources and biographical information, is available in a collection overview from the Prints and Photographs Division.

Roosevelt was also a skilled needlewoman. She produced many needlework treasures during her lifetime. Perhaps her most impressive work is the Coq d’Or, based on an Ivan Bilibin illustration for Alexander Pushkin’s poem “The Tale of the Golden Cockerel.” The work is in the Textile Collection of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, Behring Center.

The Library’s American Folklife Center has collection presentations on related disciplines – quilting and hooked rugs.