A Spiritual Biography

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Harold Ivan Smith
  • Louisville, KY: 
    Westminster John Knox Press
    , March
     256 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


“I wish I had done more for the Jews.” – Eleanor Roosevelt, 1947

Eleanor: A Spiritual Biography by Harold Ivan Smith is a study of divisiveness, tenacity, feminism, and faith. While Roosevelt’s Christian faith is the focus, the lessons to be learned are easily and widely applicable to people of any—or no—faith.

A tumultuous early childhood included separation from her parents, being orphaned and subsequently raised by a very strict and pious grandmother, and possible abuse by her uncles. While all of those events certainly shaped her as an adult, the lesson she carried most closely into adulthood was that she had to be useful to be loved.

A pioneer from a young age, Roosevelt spent several years at a boarding school in Europe, under the tutelage of a lesbian headmaster. These early traveling experiences and exposure to, and friendships with, a variety of people clearly helped define her inclusive faith. It was, however, not until well until adulthood that she was able to shed her deep-seated prejudice about Jewish people.

Not content to simply entertain at the White House, Roosevelt crossed the country and the globe, meeting and reaching out to everyday people to see what they needed and how she—and the US government—could help. A consummate champion of the “little people,” she insisted upon their representation, much to the chagrin of her husband and many within his administration.

While it is tempting to say we—as a country—have made great strides toward equality, it’s simple to see similarities between the early-to-mid-1900s and the current day. This book does a tremendous job of illustrating how Roosevelt used her position—before, during, and after her time in the White House—to help those around her, in large ways and small, and to further her ideals of an equal world. With all that she did, Roosevelt still wished that she had done more. At the end of her life she allowed almost no one to see her, wrongly believing that since she was no longer “of use,” she was no longer loved. In many ways, her strength was also her weakness.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Trena Trowbridge is an independent scholar.

Date of Review: 
September 19, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Harold Ivan Smith is a bereavement specialist on the teaching faculties of Saint Luke's Hospital, Kansas City, Missouri, and the Carondolet Medical Institute, Eau Claire, Wyoming.


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