The Roosevelts’ Happy Holiday Home

Discovered in the Maine Women Writers Collection copy of Margaret Sanger’s Happiness in Marriage (1926) was an unsigned Christmas card inserted among the book’s pages.  The single-sided card shows a photo of a living room scene in sepia tones (only a few hand-colored flames curl around the fireplace logs), and a couple seated on a couch in front of a traditional fireplace, with dogs at their feet.  Printed on heavy stock, it gives no indication to whom the card was sent.  But the couple on the couch is easily recognizable, and the printed greeting on the card confirms that the card is the official holiday greeting from then-Governor of New York, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt–“Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from The Governor and Mrs. Roosevelt” reads the text to the right of the homey image.

Franklin Roosevelt was New York’s governor for only one term, 1928-1932, so matching the 1926 publication date of Sanger’s book with the holiday card, it might be assumed that the card was left in the book close to the time of the book’s publication.  The author, Margaret Sanger, birth control advocate and lifelong activist in many humanitarian causes, authored the book as a manual of sorts to help men and women begin their marriages as she says in the dedication, “seek[ing] happiness in marriage based on truth.” Is it reasonable to infer that the original owner of book (before it began its journey to MWWC) was a supporter or even more closely connected with the Franklin Roosevelts, and also a follower of Sanger?

If so, these relationships imply a progressive political philosophy for the book’s original owner or at least for the one who inserted the greeting card, a reader who, at a very challenging time in America’s political and economic history, sought guidance in that turbulent time.

Interestingly, although the specific route that the copy came to Maine Women Writers Collection remains unknown, at one point it was held by the Southwest Harbor Library in Maine and then gifted to MWWC.  In doing some reading about Sanger, I learned that some of her causes were secretly supported by undisclosed funds from the Rockefeller family, who, coincidently, summered on Acadia for generations.  Is it possible that one of the home libraries of a Rockefeller weeded its book collection to donate to a local island library?

And finally, when thinking about this particular insert, one cannot escape the irony of both the image of marital harmony that the Roosevelts’ holiday card projects and the subject of Sanger’s book, happiness in marriage, with what historians have revealed about Franklin Roosevelt’s infidelities during his marriage to Eleanor. Eleanor maintained the marriage charade publicly, but we now know that fireside scene of domestic bliss to be just that, and in more ways than one, a photo opportunity, as America tumbled toward economic disaster.

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