Sara Delano Roosevelt died 70 years ago today, just short of her 87th birthday. At her death, she was only the second mother, after Mary Washington, to see her son elected to the presidency. Roosevelt House was her New York City residence from 1908 to 1941, and during that time she was a loving grandmother to the five children of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. She mothered an orphaned Eleanor in the early years of the marriage, and later came to respect and collaborate with Eleanor, especially in the area of civil rights. Here at Roosevelt House, Sara hosted Mary McCloud Bethune, the famous African-American educator, in 1927, and they became good friends. In the 1930s, Sara and Eleanor championed civil rights and supported the anti-lynching legislation that Franklin could not for political reasons.
Sara was an ecumenical person in her tolerance and support for many creeds, and gave generously to many New York organizations, including settlement houses, schools, nursing and hospital associations, art and culture, the Legal Aid Society, and the Women’s Trade Union League. She hosted national and international leaders at Hyde Park, and was a gracious guest at the White House on numerous occasions.
From Mayflower roots to a cosmopolitan youth living in China and traveling through Europe, Sara Delano Roosevelt matured into “America’s most distinguished mother,” noted one rabbi on her death, and he continued, “she was a woman of biblical stature, wise, kind and vital.” Thus, when Hunter College acquired Roosevelt House from the Roosevelt family, it was fitting that it was dedicated in November 1943 as the Sara Delano Roosevelt Memorial House for Inter-Faith and Racial Tolerance, true to Sara and to the history of Hunter College.
-Deborah Gardner, House Historian