The story of Roosevelt House, a double townhouse located at 47-49 East 65th Street, begins at the turn of the twentieth century.
At Christmastime 1905, Sara Delano Roosevelt promised a new home to her son and daughter-in law, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, nine months after their marriage. In December 1908, Franklin and Eleanor moved into No. 49 with their two young children, Anna and James, and Sara took up residence at No. 47. Over the course of the next 24 years, Roosevelt House served as the launching pad for Franklin as he began his storied political career, rising from New York State Senator and U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Navy to Governor of New York and President of the United States. It was here that he renewed his strength and optimism after polio left him unable to walk in 1921. Eleanor’s first forays into public life and politics also began at Roosevelt House. Her lifelong commitment to civil liberties and social progress animated her work in support of Franklin’s political career and her later leadership role as a powerful global advocate for human rights. While the Roosevelt family lived here, many important visitors from all walks of life passed through the House’s doors. For example, Sara Roosevelt hosted Mary McLeod Bethune, a key African-American leader and college president who later served as the head of FDR’s informal “Black Cabinet” during the New Deal. After his election to the presidency in 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt assembled his administration here and offered positions to Frances Perkins, the first woman to serve as a Cabinet Secretary, and to Harold Ickes and Henry Morgenthau, among others. FDR’s meetings at Roosevelt House during the winter of 1932-1933, before his inauguration, helped to set the tone and content of the First Hundred Days and indeed of the early New Deal itself.
During their time on the Upper East Side, the Roosevelts also became actively involved with their neighbor, Hunter College. In October 1940, President Roosevelt dedicated the new Hunter building, constructed with WPA funds, on Park Avenue. Whenever she was in town, Eleanor would often walk over to visit with students and speak at special events, a relationship that would endure for more than 20 years, ending only with her death in 1962. When Sara died in September 1941, the family put the double house up for sale. A nonprofit consortium, organized on behalf of Hunter student groups, agreed to buy it. Notably, President Roosevelt lowered the price to make the building more affordable and even donated $1,000 to fund the purchase of books for a new student library.
In November 1943, Eleanor attended the dedication and re-opening of Roosevelt House. It was then named Sara Delano Roosevelt Memorial House, honoring Sara’s firm commitment to interfaith and interracial understanding – one of the first such student centers in the country. In the words of one Hunter alumna, Eleanor remained a mentor to Hunter students for many years and “an optimistic galvanizing force for activism and political commitment.”