05 Jul MARGARET (DAISY) SUCKLEY. COMPANION TO FDR.
WHEN FIRST LADY ELEANOR ROOSEVELT WAS NOT AROUND, A SURROGATE NEEDED TO ‘LOOK IN’ ON PRESIDENT FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT.
Daisy Suckley was a Hudson River neighbor and distant cousin of President Franklin Roosevelt (FDR). She was both intelligent and refined, but also unmarried, without a profession, and the only support for her dysfunctional family. The family survived due to Daisy’s income as the caretaker of an aged aunt.
Fortunately for us historians, Suckley kept an extensive diary and retained her frequent letters to and from FDR. This valuable cache was discovered from under her bed only after her death, fifty years after the demise of the president. Despite her constant misdirection and personal disparagement to those who inquired, the retiring, quiet Daisy proved instead to be an intimate and loving friend and constant companion of Franklin Roosevelt for the length of his historic presidency.
Roosevelt biographer Geoffrey Ward edited and annotated the discovered Suckley materials to write Closest Companion. The Unknown Story of the Intimate Friendship between Franklin Roosevelt and Margaret Suckley. This and possibly other posts will rely extensively upon this primary source.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt had her own agenda and rarely was alone with her husband. In January 1934, a Washington gossip informed Daisy, “Eleanor and Franklin evidently don’t get on together. She is always off somewhere though always on hand for dinners and receptions.” (1). Daisy underlined their distance in her blunt diary entry on Thanksgiving Day, 1944, “The Pres. & Mrs. R. had their lunch alone (at Hyde Park) – a remarkable occurrence!” (2).
The First Lady was rarely, if ever, present on FDR’s wartime military inspection trips, vacation respites at his Warm Springs, Georgia spa, and on his trips out of the country.
His daughter, Anna, not his wife, Eleanor, accompanied him on his fateful trip to Yalta in January/February 1945. During Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s late summer 1943 visit to Hyde Park and Washington D.C., Roosevelt ordered Daisy to take care of Mrs. Churchill while Eleanor was away or six weeks. (3). Daisy to diary, “I find myself falling into the role of temporary manager for Mrs. Churchill.” (4)
After Suckley’s aunt and sole source of income passed away, FDR solved Daisy’s predicament and his desire to keep his companion close. He announced to a family gathering in September 1941 that she would have a job in the FDR Library at Hyde Park as a halftime junior archivist, sorting out FDR’s family and personal papers @ $1,000 per year.
A subsequent post will detail President Roosevelt’s personal loneliness and the many ways that Margaret Suckley was able to ameliorate the void.
Geoffrey Ward: Closest Companion. The Unknown Story of the Intimate Friendship between Franklin Roosevelt and Margaret Suckley (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995)
1) page 8; 2) page 346; 3) 229; 4) 233.