I received a letter today with a quotation from Eleanor Roosevelt. As a major fan of our greatest First Lady, I was pleased to see her quoted in the as-yet-unidentified mail. Then I turned the image over, and here is what I saw:
Eleanor Roosevelt, I thought, must be turning in her grave. And emphatically she was NOT cremated, and so she could do just that.
Prompted by friend and colleague Larry Cebula, I decided to look up the passage. "Is that even a real quote," he asked. I found that in their book Grandmére, two of ER's grandchildren say that this passage is often wrongly attributed to her. Another source attributes to quotation to Joan Rivers.
So fie on you, Popular Culture. Please leave Eleanor Roosevelt alone, and do not trivialize her legacy!
But wait. There is another side to this, a reminder of a sometimes-forgotten facet of Eleanor's public stance. During her life time her quotations often appeared in advertisements -- in fact, she delivered them herself, on radio and later on television, no less. While First Lady she was a spokes person for Simmons Matresses. Given that First Ladies before her tended to avoid the radio all together, this was a bold -- and controversial -- innovation.
It helped that Eleanor took the payments she received for these appearances and turned them over to charity. But there is a deeper message in her wading into American life in this way. Here is a woman who was accessible -- who went down mine shafts to see coal miners at work and mixed in with ordinary Americans at every chance. Such advertisements were not a break from her persona, but rather they were consistent with it. Take a look at this YouTube video of ER promoting margarine after World War II, when it was just becoming popular. I'll bet that the woman in this add would chuckle at the attributed quotation hawking pre-paid cremation. When you mix in with popular culture, you never know what will happen.
(You know you want to!)
This current post is one of a growing number of historically-themed entries on americanrealities.com. To see a complete list of other entries, click here
If you liked this post on Eleanor Roosevelt, you may also enjoy these other ER posts:
-- Eleanor Roosevelt Tours the South Pacific During World War II
-- Eleanor Roosevelt, Lorena Hickok, a Buick Roadster, and a Trip to Quebec
-- Happy Birthday to Eleanor Roosevelt -- October 11, 2013