About Marguerite Alice "Missy" LeHand
Marguerite Alice "Missy" LeHand (13 September 1898 - 31 July 1944) was private secretary to U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt for 21 years.
LeHand was born in Potsdam, New York to Daniel J. and Mary J. (née Graffin) LeHand, who were themselves the children of Irish immigrants. The family later moved to Somerville, Massachusetts. She graduated from Somerville High School in 1917, then attended secretarial school.
After holding a variety of clerical positions, she moved to Washington, DC, where she eventually became a secretary at the Democratic Party's national headquarters (where her brother Daniel also later worked). In 1920, when Franklin Roosevelt was running for Vice President on a ticket with James M. Cox against Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, Roosevelt's office manager, Charles McCarthy, hired LeHand to work in the campaign's Washington office. It was her work on the campaign and her clear personal devotion to Roosevelt that caught the eye of the Roosevelts, who asked her to help with FDR's personal correspondence after the campaign. This in turn led to two more decades of employment.
Relationship with Roosevelt
LeHand had a room at Hyde Park and at Roosevelt's house in Manhattan, lived in a private apartment in the White House and accompanied Roosevelt on many trips to Florida and Warm Springs, Georgia, leading many to believe that LeHand was Roosevelt's mistress. As Doug Wead wrote in his work on the parents of presidents, The Raising of a President,
Some Roosevelt historians insist that their relationship was never consummated. Eleanor and the children accepted the relationship, which speaks for its innocence. Sara [Roosevelt] spoke favorably of Missy's family and upbringing. Years later, only Elliott, of all the children, would declare that it had not been as benign as historians like to believe.
In 1973, FDR's son Elliott published An Untold Story: The Roosevelts of Hyde Park, in which he recalled seeing LeHand in his father's lap and alleged that she "shared a familiar life in all its aspects with father". FDR's oldest son, Jimmy, disagreed, arguing that FDR's illness had made sexual function too difficult for him to have a physical affair. "I suppose you could say they came to love one another", he wrote, "but it was not a physical love."
Regardless of whether FDR and Missy LeHand had a sexual relationship, she was a constant presence in Roosevelt's life, fulfilling the First Lady's traditional role as hostess at White House functions when Eleanor was away. In many ways, the Roosevelts made her feel part of the family as well. Eleanor attended her mother Mary LeHand's funeral in Potsdam in 1932; FDR said he wished to attend, and most likely would have been able to, had the funeral been in Boston instead of New York.
Roosevelt 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 after she suffered a stroke, and half to Eleanor. This was in recognition of her years of service as his secretary. According to author Doris Kearns Goodwin in her book No Ordinary Time, Roosevelt said it was the least he could do. 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.
LeHand had a brief romance with Eleanor's bodyguard (and rumored love) Earl Miller in the early 1930s, and in 1933 was engaged to the diplomat William Christian Bullitt, Jr., then the US ambassador to Russia. FDR's son James later described this as "the one real romance" of her life. However, the engagement ended after LeHand visited him in Moscow and reportedly discovered him having an affair. Later in life, a friend asked LeHand if she regretted not having married, to which LeHand replied, "Absolutely not ... How could anyone ever come up to FDR?"
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 hers in automobile rides. FDR paid her 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 on May 16, 1942.
Grace Tully took over as Roosevelt's secretary, but she was never a companion for Roosevelt in the same way as LeHand had been.
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 repaid some of the Roosevelts' generosity by leaving the furniture in her White House apartment to Grace Tully and the First Couple.
In March 1945, the United States Maritime Commission christened an 18,000 ton C3 cargo vessel, the S.S. Marguerite LeHand, in Pascagoula, Mississippi. As LeHand was leaving Mobile Bay on her maiden voyage, she struck the U.S. Coast Guard lighthouse tender Magnolia, which sank in two minutes, killing one Coastguardsman.
LeHand was a character in the 1958 Broadway play Sunrise at Campobello (also a 1960 film), in the ABC television production Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years (1977), and also in the 2012 movie Hyde Park on the Hudson.