Eleanor Butler Roosevelt, canteen worker.

EBR

Eleanor Butler Roosevelt, ca, 1917

Eleanor Butler Alexander Roosevelt (1889–1960) was educated at Miss Spence’s School in New York and in 1910 married Theodore Roosevelt Jr., oldest son of the former president (the latter considered her a “dear girl” but dubbed her father “a skunk”). In July 1917, she headed to France on the Espagne—as a 1 Jan. 1919 Grand Forks Herald article describes—to establish a YMCA canteen in Paris; work in the YMCA center in Aix-les-Bains that hosted approximately 4000 servicemen on leave; tend to Paris’ Hotel Richmond for U.S. officers; and teach French to soldiers. A 17 Mar. 1919 Richmond Palladium and Sun Telegram article adds the information that she also organized and assigned women workers to all the YMCA leave centers as well as supervised the “bath centers” where servicemen on 24 hours’ leave could have a hot bath and have their clothes cleaned and mended.

In the Grand Forks Herald article, Eleanor states:

Our work at the start was ubiquitous. We waited on table, scrubbed floors, painted walls and shelves—doing, by the way, no more than the gallant French women. We cooked doughnuts and made sandwiches. The men seemed greatly gratified by the “Y” work. Any complaints that have been made are those to be expected from a large number of men. We had to combat the natural tendency of the men—released from the horrors of front line service to the relaxation of vacation hours—to complain about various things. (6)

The Library of Congress has an interesting article on Eleanor’s work as a photographer. As the piece notes that Eleanor was subject to migraines, the fact that she could manage the considerable workload of canteens in light of this ongoing problem must be viewed with respect. In Canteening Overseas, 1917–1919, Marian Baldwin, who worked with Eleanor and emphasized the vital services provided by canteens, describes Eleanor as “working like a horse” (72) without sufficient help.

The following film clips show Eleanor and Ted Jr. touring the ruins of Romagne (note that Ted Jr. has a cane; he had been wounded) and Eleanor attending a Women in War Work congress in Paris. She is wearing the simple uniform that she designed for women in YMCA war service. Eleanor returned to the United States in December 1918.

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