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Dear Mrs. Roosevelt: Letters to Eleanor Roosevelt Through Depression and War    edited by Cathy D. Knepper order for
Dear Mrs. Roosevelt
by Cathy D. Knepper
Order:  USA  Can
Carroll & Graf, 2004 (2004)

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* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Historian Cathy Knepper has shaped a testament to Eleanor Roosevelt's influence on cultural and social changes in the 1930's and 1940's, years of the 'Greatest Generation', 'The Great Depression', and World War II. Dr. Knepper has selected approximately two hundred letters with Mrs. Roosevelt's replies (from 3,000 boxes of records!) (Most replies were sent on behalf of the First Lady, by her secretary Malvina Thompson Scheider.)

There were many pleas for assistance, including from blacks facing racism, families forced to abandon their farms, toilers stricken by urban poverty, the elderly, mothers of soldiers in World War II, service personnel in Europe and in the Pacific who were concerned for their families at home, requests for assistance in finding jobs, or requests for visas for loved ones. The First Lady was a compassionate 'sounding board', with a valiant understanding of the needs of the American populace. Mrs. Roosevelt used her influence to effect change by referring cases to the appropriate agency at State, local, or Washington level. When she was unable to assist (e.g in requests for her to personally lend money), she still replied. What is important is that correspondents received moral support, and relief from stressful times, knowing he/she could write to 'Mrs. President', as Eleanor Roosevelt was at times addressed.

The book is a powerful testimony to the admiration Americans felt for an extraordinary woman, Eleanor Roosevelt. Letters published here contain original misspellings and grammatical errors, touching us with the writer's sincerity. Dr. Knepper includes notes of the First Lady's travels, public speeches, scheduled radio addresses, and written media columns, such as her acclaimed 'My Day'. This commendable collection spans fourteen years of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's time in office. Each section of the book is introduced with the author's fluent comments on the issues and subject matter addressed in the letters, such as 'The New Deal' and 'The Home Front'. In her conclusion, the author says of Mrs. Roosevelt, 'she knew the people so well she realized their power', and quoting the First Lady: 'We make our own history. The course of history is directed by the choices we make ... the ideas, the beliefs, the values, the dreams of the people. It is not so much the powerful leaders that determine our destiny as the much more powerful influence of the combined voice of the people themselves.'

I recommend Dr. Knepper's Dear Mrs. Roosevelt to all readers, teachers, and students of history, and a copy or two for each school and public library shelf. The subject matter is also appropriate for book discussion groups.

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