Sara Roosevelt, President's mother, dies at 86 (9-7-41)

The Pittsburgh Press (September 8, 1941)


World’s great and humble send condolences

By Sandor S. Klein, United Press staff writer

Roosevelt to vote (colorized)

Hyde Park, NY, Sept. 8 –
An American flag fluttering at half-staff from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library symbolized today the grief of the President and his family over the death of his mother, Mrs. Sara Delano Roosevelt.

Mrs. Roosevelt, 86, one of three women who have lived long enough to see their sons become President of the United States, died yesterday as a result of a collapse of her circulatory system brought about by old age.

Funeral tomorrow

Death came in a bedroom of the ancestral Roosevelt estate here with her son and her daughter-in-law Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt at her bedside.

Funeral services, which will be private, will be held at 3 p.m. tomorrow from the home and she will be buried at the side of her husband, James Roosevelt who died in 1900, in the family plot in the yard of St. James’ Episcopal Church here.

Only members of the family and intimates will attend and friends and the public were specifically requested not to send flowers.

Married in 1880

Thousands of messages of condolences were arriving at the temporary White House offices in Poughkeepsie and the White House in Washington. They came from the world’s great who, since 1933, when her son became President, have known “the Grand Old Lady of Hyde Park” as both an impeccable aristocrat and a proud mother, and from simple folk to whom she symbolized the maternal virtues.

The home in which she died was the home to which she came in October 1880 at the age of 26, as the bride of James Roosevelt who was 26 years older than her. There her only child, Franklin, was born. It was the scene of his childhood.

From there, she watched his first essays into politics of which she didn’t altogether approve and there she watched over him while he fought back from the affliction of infantile paralysis.

And there, in her last years, she reigned as a gracious hostess over a semi-official White House, entertaining such distinguished guests of her son as the King and Queen of Great Britain, the Crown Princess of the Netherlands, the Crown Prince and Princess of Norway, the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, the Duke of Kent, and lesser international celebrities, to say nothing of various governmental and political associates of her son.

Main interest was family

But her chief interests remained in her family – her son, his wife, their children and grandchildren. Three of her grandchildren, James, Elliott and John, arrived yesterday afternoon soon after they had been advised of her death.

The other two, Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr. and Mrs. Anna Roosevelt Boettiger, were not expected to be able to attend her funeral. Franklin Jr. is an ensign in the Naval Reserve and is on duty “somewhere at sea,” and Mrs. Boettiger is in Seattle, Wash., where her husband is a newspaper publisher.

The flag at Hyde Park House, the manor house of the Roosevelt estate, remained at full staff to signify that the President of the United States was in residence, but that at the library, which is on the estate, was half-staffed and the library will be closed Tuesday, the day of the funeral. It is customarily closed on Monday.

Just back from vacation

Mrs. Roosevelt returned from a vacation in the family summer home at Campobello, New Brunswick, last Friday. She complained of being tired, but that was thought only natural in view of the journey and her age.

The President left Washington Friday night, telling reporters that he was coming here mainly to see his mother, whom he adored, because he hadn’t seen her all summer. Late Saturday evening, her condition became alarming and about midnight she lost consciousness and remain unconscious until she died at 12:15 p.m. yesterday.

Sara Delano was born Sept. 21, 1854, the seventh of 11 children of Warren and Catherine Delano, on the Delano family estate, Algona, near Newburgh, NY. Like the Roosevelts, their neighbors, the Delanos had belonged to the landed gentry of the Hudson River Valley for generations.

Went to China

At the age of 8, her father went to China to recoup his fortunes which had suffered reverses in the Panic of 1857, and she and her mother rounded Cape Horn in a clipper ship in a voyage to Hong Kong that took four months.

There she formed her love for the sea which was inherited by her son. She returned through Europe and always recalled that in Paris, she met the Empress Eugénie.

She spent 20 sheltered years as the wife of James Roosevelt but upon his death when her son was in his teens, she became the efficient manager of the Roosevelt family estates, a role that continued hers until her son had finished his education at Harvard, entered into law practice, and began his political career. Franklin was born to her 13 months after her marriage – on Jan. 30, 1882.

Had tremendous energy

She never had a public life until her son became President, but she entered upon one with the grave, unruffled dignity appropriate to her aristocratic breeding. Enjoying exceptional health, almost to her very last day, she was a person of tremendous energy.

Though not a feminist, she was interested in maternity welfare, in hospitals, and in the balls given annually on her son’s birthday to raise funds to fight infantile paralysis.

In these latter years, she often came in contact with admirers of her son who invariably asked her if she wasn’t proud to have a son who had become President of the United States.

She would reply:

I’ve always been proud of him.

Her emphasis was on the “always.”

Speech postponed

Her death caused Mr. Roosevelt to postpone until 10 p.m. Thursday a speech he had been scheduled to deliver to the nation and world tonight on matters of “major importance.”

First announcement of Mrs. Roosevelt’s passing came from White House Secretary William D. Hassett who drove, at high speed from the Hyde Park estate to inform reporters assembled at the Nelson house in Poughkeepsie.

The reporters had previously been told to be present for an important announcement.

Shortly after Mr. Hassett’s informal announcement, the following statement was issued by the White House:

Mrs. James Roosevelt, mother of the President, died at her home in Hyde Park at 12:15 p.m. ET today.

Dr. Scott L. Smith, the family physician, made the following statement:

For the 12 hours preceding her death, Mrs. Roosevelt had been unconscious following an acute circulatory collapse, due principally to her advanced age. The first intimation of this occurred during Friday night but did not become alarming until late Saturday morning.

The President and the First Lady held an all-night vigil at his mother’s bedside and were with her when she died.

Mrs. Roosevelt’s only surviving sister, Mrs. Price Collier of Tuxedo Park, NY, visited her Saturday afternoon. Her brother, Frederic A. Delano, chairman of the Natural Resources Board and who bears a striking resemblance to the President, arrived at Hyde Park yesterday morning.


By Ruby A. Black, United Press staff writer

Washington, Sept. 8 –
Mrs. Sara Delano Roosevelt exerted a tremendous influence over her only son, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but at three crucial times in his life, her wishes did not prevail.

From the time the President was 18 years old, his mother filled the double role of father and mother. His father, James Roosevelt, died in 1900.

Mrs. Roosevelt supervised her son’s education and saw to it that he traveled extensively. She sent him to Groton and Harvard and later saw his sons, except Elliott, do the same.

The first time that the mother’s wishes did not determine young Roosevelt’s decision was when he was about to complete his work at Harvard, in 1903, when the President was 21. He asked his shy fifth cousin, Eleanor Roosevelt, then an orphan of 20, to marry him. She agreed after consultations with her relatives.

Sent on cruise

But Mrs. Roosevelt thought they were too young to marry and took her son out of Harvard to tour the West Indies with his roommate, Lathrop Brown. But when young Roosevelt returned, he was still in love with Eleanor and, after graduating from Harvard in 1904, set the date for the wedding to be March 17, 1905.

The next major decision on which the mother’s wishes were overruled came in 1922 when Mr. Roosevelt was recuperating from infantile paralysis. The mother wanted her son to retire to her Hyde Park estate. She felt that any participation in public life, even consultations with former associates, would endanger his life.

Supported by doctors

But Louis McHenry Howe, the President’s late secretary, and other political friends believed he had a political future. His doctors told his wife, Eleanor, that his recovery would be helped rather than hindered by continuing his work. Eleanor supported his friends and again Sara Delano Roosevelt failed to determine her son’s future.

She then watched Franklin become Governor of New York and President of the United States.

Shortly after the second inauguration, Mrs. Roosevelt, in an interview in Paris, said she thought her son would not run for a third term. She emphasized that she was giving only her personal opinion, but later she said she would like to have him at home. She added that she would not oppose a third term:

…if he could do good by being President again.

Mother yields

It was obvious that she wanted her famous son to come back to the Hudson Valley estate, which he loved so much, during her last years.

But when that hope vanished last January, she smiled as any other would have done who was watching an unprecedented honor bestowed upon her son – the first President to take the presidential oath a third time.

Mrs. Roosevelt’s pride in her son was unbounded, even when she was a little uncertain about some of his policies.

She admitted she often had a hard time “explaining” him to some of her neighbors at Hyde Park. She told me on the day her son accepted his second nomination that she found it best not to talk politics with her old friends.

Entertained formally

To the end, Mrs. Roosevelt never became quite reconciled to the informalities surrounding the entertainments of her son and daughter-in-law.

When King George and Queen Elizabeth visited the United States, the President’s mother entertained them with extreme formality at Hyde Park.

The President and Mrs. Roosevelt tempted the royal palates with hot dogs at a picnic held at the First Lady’s Val-Kill cottage.

Politicians who went to Hyde Park from time to time to consult with Mr. Roosevelt in the early days of the New Deal also caused Mrs. Roosevelt to lift an occasional eyebrow. One of these callers was the late Senator Huey P. Long (D-LA).

Family friends today recalled that Mrs. Roosevelt strongly disapproved of the marriage of the Duke of Windsor to the former Baltimore divorcee, Wallis Simpson. The incident led to a test of the strong wills of mother and son.

After the famous marriage, there was talk that the couple planned to visit the United States and the possibility of entertaining them at the White House was reportedly discussed among members of the President’s family.

Mrs. Roosevelt, owner of the Hyde Park estate, told her son firmly that:

I won’t have them in my house!

The President is said to have replied with equal firmness:

This [the White House] is not your house, mama. I will invite them here. He is the former King of England, and a brother of the reigning monarch.

Mrs. Roosevelt pondered this reply for a moment, sighed gently and surrendered.

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Washington, Sept. 8 (UP) –
The death of Mrs. Sara Delano Roosevelt today saddened the nation’s capital where she had many friends in high official and diplomatic circles.

One of the first of scores of messages of sympathy sent to the President was dispatched by Secretary of State and Mrs. Cordell Hull. It said:

Mrs. Hull and I extend our heartfelt sympathy to you and the family in the passing of your mother. We feel a deep sense of personal loss by reason of the long personal friendship existing between us and Mrs. Roosevelt for many years.

Her splendid character and remarkable personality endeared her to generations of Americans.

She was one of the finest and noblest women we ever knew, and she held a deep and abiding place in our affections.

At the Capitol, political friend and foe alike of the President mourned the passing of his mother.

Senator Walter F. George (D-GA), whom the President sought unsuccessfully to purge in the 1938 elections, said:

The country sympathizes with the President in the loss of his mother. No man can sustain a greater loss.

Senator Bennett C. Clark (D-MO), critic of the New Deal foreign policy, said:

It is a matter of national regret.

Chairman Sol Bloom (D-NY) of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, sent a message of sympathy to Mr. Roosevelt. He said the death of the President’s mother:

…will be mourned by the nation.

It is a great loss for the President and for 132 million other Americans.

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She could remember wearing, as a little girl, a black sleeve-band in mourning for Abraham Lincoln. She lived to see her son inaugurated three times as President of the United States, Her long life, which spanned and influenced so much of American history, was filled with activity and eager interest. It must have been one of rare satisfaction.

Gracious Lady was the title of the authorized biography of Mrs. Sara Delano Roosevelt, published in 1935. The words were happily chosen and most accurately descriptive. She was a personage and a personality in her own good right, and though she became that unusual and conspicuous figure, the mother of a President, she always remained herself – gallant, dignified and serene.

It has been debated whether in the President the Delano characteristics, which she transmitted, did not predominate even over the Roosevelt traits. Certainly her influence on his development and his career was immeasurably great, and from his youth she stood in place of father as well as mother to him. They were closer for many more years than it is the happy privilege of most mothers and sons to be, and the loss he has suffered is very great.

Today, from the high and the humble in every part of his own country and in lands around the globe, deepest sympathy flows toward the heavily burdened man who sorrows at Hyde Park.

The Pittsburgh Press (September 9, 1941)


Hyde Park, NY, Sept. 9 (UP) –
The President’s mother was buried today amid the stately and beautiful scenes in which she had spent most of her 86 years.

In the 130-year-old cemetery of St. James Episcopal Church, where she had mourned at the graves of past generations of friends and relatives, Mrs. Sara Delano Roosevelt was laid beside her husband, James, who preceded her in death 41 years ago.

Under tall, old trees, many of them higher than the church’s spire, the President, members of his family and a few intimate friends from among the retainers on the Roosevelt estate listened with bowed heads while the rector intoned:

May thy rest be this day in peace, and thy dwelling place in the paradise of God.

Rites start in home

Thus ended the simple and private burial rites for the grande dame of Hyde Park, whose only son became thrice President of the United States.

The services started in the spacious library in the home by the Hudson River where Mrs. Roosevelt had for nearly six decades assumed the responsibility not only of mother but also as mentor and companion of her child.

Only the President and First Lady, their sons James, Elliott and John, the son’s wives and Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr., the President’s aunt and uncle, Mrs. Price Collier of Tuxedo Park, NY, and Frederic Delano and a few employees of the 1,200-acre estate were present.

Eight men of the estate, some of whom served their dead mistress for more than two score years, lifted the mahogany casket, and carried it to the waiting black hearse.

Follows post road

For three miles north along the Albany Post Road, the hearse and cortege passed spacious estates along a route which her ancestors had traveled since 1620.

Then family and friends and rector repeated in unison the Lord’s Prayer.

75 yards behind the church, the body of the President’s mother was laid in the Roosevelt family plot.

At the churchyard, while a man cast earth upon the coffin in the grave, the family for the first time participated directly in the services.

The rector said:

The Lord be with you.

…and the family responded:

And with thy spirit.


Christ have mercy upon us.


Lord have mercy upon us.

As at the rites in the home, there were no eulogies at the grave. There were no great banks of flowers. There was no pomp.

Dutchess Surrogate’s Court (September 10, 1941)


                Died September 7, 1941

             Will dated September 20, 1928
        Admitted to probate in Surrogate's Court,       
                 Dutchess County, New York
                    September 10, 1941
     Letters Testamentary issued September 10, 1941
    Letters of Trusteeship issued September 10, 1941


I, Sara Delano Roosevelt, of the Town of Hyde Park, in the County of Dutchess and State of New York, being of sound mind and memory, do therefore make, ordain, publish and declare this to be my last will and testament.

  1. I direct that all of my just debts, funeral and testamentary expenses be paid.

  2. I give and bequeath unto the Rector, Wardens and Vestrymen of St. James Church of Hyde Park, Dutchess County, New York, the sum of five thousand ($5,000) dollars, the income from which shall be used for repairing and improving said Church.

  3. I give and bequeath one-tenth of the rest, residue and remainder of my personal estate, such as cash, bank deposits and securities, to my Trustees hereinafter named In Trust, nevertheless, for the following uses and purposes:

Said Trustees shall divide the same into six equal parts. One of said parts said Trustees shall hold In Trust for the benefit of my daughter-in-law, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, during her lifetime, and said Trustees shall invest said fund and keep the same invested in good securities and collect the annual interest and income therefrom and pay said interest and income therefrom quarterly to my said daughter-in-law, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, during the term of her life, and at her death I give and bequeath the principal of said fund and all unappropriated income therefrom to my son, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and if he be deceased I give and bequeath the same to his children in equal shares.

Said Trustees shall hold the remaining five parts of said one-tenth of the residue of my estate as separate Trust Funds, one fund for the benefit of each one of my five grandchildren. Said Trustees shall invest, reinvest and keep invested and keep separate each of said funds and collect the interest and income from each of said funds and accumulate and hold the interest and income from each fund until the beneficiary thereof attains the age of twenty-one years. As each such beneficiary respectively attains the age of twenty-one years, said Trustees shall pay to him or her all the accumulated interest and income on his or her fund and said Trustees shall continue to hold the principal of said fund In Trust for such beneficiary and pay the interest therefrom quarterly to such beneficiary until he or she attains the age of thirty years. As each such beneficiary respectively attains the age of thirty years, the principal of his or her fund and all unappropriated income therefrom shall be paid over to him or her, to whom I thereupon give and bequeath the same.

In every case wherein a beneficiary of a fund who may be under twenty-one years of age shall need any portion of the income from his or her fund for his or her proper maintenance, education or support, I direct my said Trustees to use and apply such portion of such income for the proper maintenance, education or support of such beneficiary as shall be necessary for such purpose during the minority of such beneficiary.

In case any of my said grandchildren shall not live to attain the age of thirty years, then and in that event the fund of the one so dying shall be divided among his or her children, and in default of children said fund shall go into and form part of my residuary estate and be disposed of as my residuary estate is herein disposed of.

  1. If any of the legacies or devises herein mentioned shall be subject to the payment of any transfer or inheritance tax of any kind, I authorize and direct my Executors to pay the same out of the residue of my estate.

  2. I give and bequeath unto my Executors, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Arthur J. Morris and Henry T. Hackett, each, the sum of five thousand ($5000) dollars, in lieu of Executors’ fees and commissions.

  3. All the rest, residue and remainder of my property and estate, real and personal, and of every name and kind, I give, devise and bequeath unto my beloved son, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, forever.

Lastly, I do hereby nominate, constitute and appoint my son, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Arthur J. Morris and Henry T. Hackett the Executors of this my last Will and Testament, and I hereby nominate, constitute and appoint my said son, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Arthur J. Morris the Trustees of the trusts created in this my last Will and Testament, hereby revoking all other and former Wills by me at any time made. I hereby give and grant unto my said Executors full power and authority to sell and dispose of any and all real estate which I may own at the time of my decease, provided my said son shall consent thereto, and to give good and sufficient deeds of the same.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto subscribed my name and affixed my seal this 20th day of September, 1928.



The foregoing instrument was, on the day of the date thereof, subscribed by Sara Delano Roosevelt the Testatrix, therein named, as and for her last Will and Testament, she at the time of making such subscription, acknowledged that she made the same, and declared the said instrument so subscribed by her to be her last Will and Testament. Whereupon, we then and there at her request, in her presence and in the presence of each other, hereunto subscribe our names as witnesses thereto and write opposite our names our respective places of residence.

RALPH F. BUTTS residing at Poughkeepsie, NY
HENRY T. HACKETT residing at Hyde Park, NY


I, Joseph V. Lyons, Clerk of the Surrogate’s Court of the County of Dutchess, New York, do hereby certify that the annexed instrument is a copy of the last Will and Testament of Sara Delano Roosevelt, late of the Town of Hyde Park in said County of Dutchess, deceased, which said last Will and Testament was upon due proof by a decree of the Surrogate’s Court of the said County of Dutchess bearing date the 10th day of September, 1941, admitted to probate and record in said Court, as a Will, valid to pass both real and personal estate, and which said Will is recorded in the Dutchess County Surrogate’s Office, in Liber 32 of Wills, page 101. That I have compared said copy with the original record now in my custody, and that the same is a true transcript therefrom and of the whole thereof.

In testimony whereof, We have caused the seal of office of our said Surrogate to be hereunto affixed.

Witness Hon. DANIEL J. GLEASON, Surrogate of our said County, at Poughkeepsie, in said County of Dutchess, this 10th day of September in the year of our Lord, one thousand nine hundred and forty one.

Clerk of the Surrogate’s Court

The Pittsburgh Press (September 10, 1941)


Poughkeepsie, NY, Sept. 10 –
President Roosevelt will receive the greater part of the estate of his mother, Mrs. Sara Delano Roosevelt, her will filed in Dutchess County Court revealed today.

The entire Hyde Park estate of some 1,200 acres and 90% of his mother’s personal property, cash, securities and bank deposits, will go to the President.

10% of the personal property, including cash, securities and bank deposits, will be divided in six equal trust funds for the President’s wife, Mrs. Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, and their five children.