Inspired by “First Lady of the World”

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Inspired by “First Lady of the World”

Third in a series of columns chronicling my recent father-son road trip to the FDR Presidential Library & Museum in Hyde Park, NY, and more.

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Road trips tend to take on their own themes, oftentimes unexpected ones. So it was with my recent travels to New York City.

The theme that emerged, the brightest thread that continued to reappear in the tapestry, was Eleanor Roosevelt.

It was her wisdom, “Do one thing every day that scares you,” that spurred me to ask dozens of strangers for cuts in line so as not to miss my flight from LAX to JFK Airport.

Two days later, at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum, our nation’s longest-serving First Lady again made her presence felt.

My son and I were greeted by many surprises at the Library & Museum, from the emotional exhibit on the Japanese American internment camps resulting from FDR’s Executive Order No. 9066, to a large artwork hunk of the Berlin Wall.

Author Eleanor Roosevelt's prolific typewriter

Author Eleanor Roosevelt’s high-mileage typewriter

But the biggest surprise, we both agreed, was that by the end of our four-hour tour we were most impressed not with FDR, but with his four-term First Lady.

“ER” – as Eleanor Roosevelt is commonly referred to throughout the Library & Museum – came into sharp focus as a champion fighting injustices.

For example, ER fought her husband – fiercely, albeit futilely – on his Executive Order No. 9066. She did so not only privately, but also publicly by visiting internment camps.

She declared, loudly: “These people were not convicted of any crime but emotions ran too high, too many people wanted to wreak vengeance on Oriental looking people.”

Too, ER boldly battled against segregation and race-based wage differentials.

“No one can claim that . . . the Negroes of this country are free,” the First Lady said, and further demanded: “One of the main destroyers of freedom is our attitude toward the colored race.”

As a heroine for women’s rights, ER succinctly noted: “It is the person and not the sex which counts.”

Following FDR’s death in 1945, ER remained a force on the world stage until her own passing in 1962. For example, she served as United States’ first Delegate to the United Nations General Assembly from 1945 to 1952. President Harry Truman called her the “First Lady of the World.”

In addition to my son checking off another presidential library visited, I surprisingly ended up adding to my own collection of famous authors’ homes visited.

My registry includes the names John Steinbeck, Edgar Allen Poe, Thornton Burgess, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill, William Faulkner and Jim Murray.

Typewriters used by these wordsmiths hold for me a special interest and magic. Looking at their QWERTY keepsakes, I can almost hear the clickity-clack-clicking echoes of the past.

A few of the 28 books "ER" authored on display

A few of the 28 books “ER” authored on display

More magic. Burgess’ antique (circa 1910) Underwood No. 5 on display is the exact model I inherited from my paternal grandfather.

And I once had the thrill of typing on my hero Murray’s 1946 Remington Rand, which he used throughout most of his career.

So it was electric to see the 1904-1905 Smith & Corona Inc. manual typewriter that ER used to write the thick of her books, articles and newspaper columns.

I had previously not thought of ER as a writer, but that was my great ignorance. Her “L C Smith Super Speed” model, now under glass, is in remarkably pristine condition considering its high mileage. Indeed, she wore out miles of ink ribbons.

Here is how prolific ER was: she authored 28 books; penned nearly 1,000 magazine articles; and wrote serialized columns, both daily and weekly, from 1933 and 1962.

Douglas Wood, an author whose home I have not visited, writes in his memoir “Deep Woods, Wild Waters” about “the ‘spirit of place’ that infuses itself like the scent of pipe smoke into the words and pages of … books.”

Even more so than of its namesake, the FDR Presidential Library & Museum to me is a “spirit of place” infused with the words and deeds of Eleanor Roosevelt.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at

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