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Eleanor Roosevelt and the Village Independent Democrats

This is one of a series of blog posts which highlights the information found in our Village Independent Democrats collection in our Preservation History Archive.

Eleanor Roosevelt was a renowned activist and political figure. She was the country’s longest-serving First Lady, from 1933 to 1945, during which time she transformed the position into a more of an active political role. Eleanor Roosevelt’s work hit upon wide range of political and social issues, and she also served as a UN delegate from 1945 to 1953 and from 1961 to 1962. Eleanor Roosevelt was also a Greenwich Village resident, living at 49 Washington Square West from 1945 to 1949, following the death of her husband, former President Frank Delano Roosevelt. 

Eleanor Roosevelt in 1944, image from the National Endowment for the Humanities

Eleanor Roosevelt’s connection to the Village was further strengthened by the latest addition to our Preservation History Archive: the Village Independent Democrats Collection. She was heavily involved with the Village Independent Democrats (VID) from their founding in 1956, until she passed away in 1962. When the VID were founded, they were known as the Greenwich-Village Chelsea Stevenson for President Committee. On July 30th, 1956, VID hosted a “Stevenson for President Dinner Honoring Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt at the Fifth Avenue Hotel.” At the time, Eleanor Roosevelt was the Honorary Chairman of the New York Stevenson for President Committee.

Newspaper advertisement for Stevenson for President Dinner honoring Eleanor Roosevelt. View more newspaper clippings about the event as PDF.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s connection with the group is further documented by a letter she sent the following year. This letter, which was signed by her, can be seen below:

View Letter as PDF.

In 1959, Eleanor Roosevelt’s supported VID in their campaign for democratic district leader against incumbent Tammany Hall leader Carmine DeSapio. VID ran candidates Gwenn Worth and Charles McGuinness for the positions, and held a campaign dinner a the Fifth Avenue hotel to support their election. At this dinner, the main speaker was Eleanor Roosevelt, with several other notable guests including the former Senator and Governor Herbert H. Lehman in attendance. Speeches made by these figures emphasized their support of the VID candidates in their campaign against Tammany Hall.

Eleanor Roosevelt with Candidates Gwenn Worth and Charles McGuiness, at the VID Campaign Dinner at the Fifth Avenue Hotel in June of 1959. View more images in our VID archive collection.

McGuiness and Worth ultimately lost the 1959 election against DeSapio, but by only a few percentage points. This was a notable improvement from the previous election against DeSapio that VID had lost in 1957.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s work with the VID continued in 1962, and is shown through her support for Ed Koch in a campaign for New York State Assembly against Tammany Hall member William Passannante. While Ed Koch was ultimately unsuccessful, correspondence from this campaign reveal the strength of his relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt.

1962 Newspaper Ad. Read more about the campaign here.

Following his defeat, on September 7th, 1962, Ed Koch sent a letter to Eleanor Roosevelt, thanking her for her support of this campaign. The letter discusses his defeat, and notes that Lehman, who had previously supported the VID and reform movement, had this time supported William Passannante of Tammany Hall. The last paragraph of the letter reads:

“I can only express my heart felt thanks for and admiration for your great courage and understanding in remaining with us even when it must have been a great source of embarrassment for you. I am only sorry that we could not overcome the impact of what occurred on the eve of the election, and vindicate your faith in our victory.”
Read the entire letter as a PDF.

Much of this information comes from the latest addition to our Preservation History Archive, the Village Independent Democrats Collection: 1955-1969. Check out this collection to learn more about the group, and the important contributions they made to Greenwich Village and all of New York City.

One response to “Eleanor Roosevelt and the Village Independent Democrats

  1. I thought that Mrs. Roosevelt lived at 20 E. 11th St. during her United Nations years. The owners of 20 E. 11th St. have posted a plaque commemorating Mrs. Roosevelt.

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