Skip to content

Life after Harvard

Frank was thinking about life after Harvard. He had run unsuccessfully for class marshal, finishing fourth in a field of six. (The clubs, he thought, had conspired to elect their own three-man slate.) He then ran for a class committee chairman and chalked up an electoral victory. Now he had to choose a law school. He had meant to attend Harvard Law, but his mother wanted him closer to home and was urging him to enroll at Columbia.

To his mother’s dismay, he intended to marry. He and Eleanor Roosevelt, TR’s “favorite niece,” had been distantly acquainted since childhood. They had been seeing each other regularly since November 1902, when they met at the New York Horse Show. Eleanor visited Frank and his mother at Campobello the following fall. In November she was his guest at the Harvard-Yale football game. The next day they went walking in Groton and Frank proposed. He was then 21; Eleanor was 18.

He broke the news to his mother at Thanksgiving. She first asked that the engagement be kept secret for a year. Later she told Frank that she would be renting a Boston apartment that winter, as she had for the past two years. Frank opposed this extension of motherly oversight. As an alternative he suggested they take a five-week winter cruise to the West Indies, with Lathrop Brown as their guest. Sara acquiesced. The separation from Eleanor did not cool Frank’s ardor. Sara tried vainly to get him a post as an ambassadorial secretary at the Court of St. James’s, where both his father and half-brother had served. In time she became reconciled to the marriage, but she also contrived to retain a controlling interest in her son’s personal life.

Frank was graduated from Harvard on June 29. As class committee chairman he got to sit on the Sanders Theatre stage. Sara and Eleanor were in the audience. The class orator was Arthur Ballantine, a man Frank had beaten out for the presidency of the Crimson. “Our freedom must be made a means of service,” declared Ballantine. “Some, catching a bit of the spirit of our brothers