Marguerite LeHand : biography
Marguerite Alice "Missy" LeHand (September 13, 1898 – July 31, 1944) was private secretary to U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) for 21 years. According to Roosevelt biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin, during FDR's presidency, LeHand became "the most celebrated private secretary in the country".
Born into a poor Irish family in New York, LeHand attended secretarial school, took a series of clerical jobs, and eventually began to work for the Democratic Party's New York office. There she came to the attention of FDR's wife Eleanor during his 1920 vice presidential candidacy and was hired as FDR's personal secretary. After FDR was partially paralyzed by polio, LeHand became his daily companion, to the extent of adopting his favorite hobbies, games, and drinks. She remained his secretary when he became Governor of New York in 1929 and when he became president in 1933, serving until a 1941 stroke left her unable to speak. She moved to her sister's home in Boston and died in 1944.
The exact nature of LeHand's relationship with FDR is debated by historians. It is generally accepted that their relationship contained a romantic element, though scholars remain divided on whether the pair had a sexual relationship. LeHand was engaged to U.S. Ambassador William Bullitt in 1933, but never married, later asking a friend, "How could anyone ever come up to FDR?"
Illness, death, and memorials
In June 1941, LeHand, who had suffered rheumatic fever as a child and was somewhat frail, collapsed at a White House dinner party and two weeks later suffered a major stroke that left her partially paralyzed with little speech function. A factor that may have led to her illness was stress stemming from fears that the exiled Princess Martha of Norway, a Washington-area resident during World War II, had replaced her as FDR's favorite companion, occupying the seat next to him that had long been LeHand's in automobile rides. FDR paid LeHand's medical bills and made provisions in his will for her care. During the 1941 Christmas season, LeHand, now an invalid, attempted suicide. In early 1942, she spent some weeks in her old room at the White House, but quickly deteriorated due to her frustrations at not being able to help. After an incident in which she tried to set herself on fire, it was agreed that LeHand would return to her sister's home in Somerville, Massachusetts, and she departed from Washington on May 16, 1942.
FDR rewrote his will to leave half of the income from his estate (which was eventually probated at more than $3 million) for LeHand's care, and half to Eleanor. The will stated that upon LeHand's death the income would go to Eleanor, with the principal eventually divided equally among his children. As LeHand died before FDR, her half reverted to Eleanor.
An assistant of LeHand's, Grace Tully, took over as Roosevelt's secretary, but was never a companion for Roosevelt in the same way as LeHand had been. During LeHand's brief return to the White House after her stroke, to help her feel included, Tully brought letters and State Department correspondence for her to read.
When LeHand died on July 31, 1944, the president issued a statement: Memories of more than a score of years of devoted service enhance the sense of personal loss which Miss LeHand's passing brings. Faithful and painstaking, with charm of manner inspired by tact and kindness of heart, she was utterly selfless in her devotion to duty. Hers was a quiet efficiency, which made her a real genius in getting things done. Her memory will ever be held in affectionate remembrance and appreciation, not only by all the members of our family but by the wide circle of those whose duties brought them into contact with her.
Eleanor Roosevelt attended LeHand's funeral in Cambridge, Massachusetts, over which Bishop (later Cardinal) Richard Cushing presided. Other mourners included Associate Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter and former ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy. In her will, LeHand left the furniture in her White House apartment to Grace Tully and the First Couple.
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