The Truth Behind FDR’s Secret Love Affair and Why It Went on Much Longer Than People Think

It’s no secret that U.S. presidents have a long history of having mistresses. But some presidential affairs remain far more scandalous than others. Enter, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. His liaison with Lucy Mercer Rutherford didn’t only last longer than many people think, but it also had a lasting effect on his home life.

Here’s the truth behind FDR’s secret love affair. (And check out page 6 to see how the affair affected his wife, Eleanor.)

First, meet Lucy Mercer

Lucy Mercer, mistress of FDR

Lucy Mercer became quite close with the family before she was FDR’s mistress. | Wikimedia Commons

Surprisingly enough, Roosevelt met his mistress through his wife! Mercer became Eleanor Roosevelt’s personal secretary in 1913 before FDR was president. He had just become the assistant secretary of the Navy, and his wife was newly pregnant and in need of help. Mercer reportedly became close with the family — then even closer with FDR in a private setting. They are believed to have started their romantic relationship around 1916.

Next: You’re probably wondering …

How did they keep the affair a secret?

Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt with their dog

FDR had many ways of keeping his wife in the dark. | Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Many of FDR’s closest confidantes helped him keep the affair with Mercer a secret. According to the New York Post, Roosevelt’s friends facilitated the relationship and would offer up their homes so the two could see each other unnoticed. One friend reportedly posed as Mercer’s escort so Eleanor wouldn’t become suspicious of her husband’s activities.

Next: But that didn’t last long …

When Eleanor found out

Eleanor Roosevelt listening through headphones at UN conference

Eleanor Roosevelt found many love letters. | Keystone/Getty Images

Roosevelt’s secret affair with Mercer was derailed when Eleanor unpacked his luggage after a trip and found numerous love letters between her husband and her secretary. She reportedly then offered Franklin a divorce. But his mother Sara Delano refused to let them part, saying she would cut Franklin off if he got divorced.

Next: But the liaison didn’t stop there …

How the affair stayed alive

United States president Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Mercer didn’t disappear that easily. | Central Press/Getty Images

When they couldn’t divorce, Eleanor insisted Franklin promise her two things: They would never share a bed again, and he would stop seeing Lucy Mercer. While he allegedly kept the first promise, Lucy Mercer popped back up in his life even after she married Winthrop Rutherford. According to U.S. News, Mercer remained a constant in his life for 30 years and was never out of the picture.

Next: And if he kept on with Mercer …

Were there other mistresses?

Missy LeHand, member of FDR's staff

Many assumed FDR was also with Missy LeHand. | History in Five via YouTube

There has been plenty of speculation that FDR had his fair share of mistresses after he and Eleanor no longer shared a bed. The New York Post speculates that Roosevelt had a long-standing affair with his secretary Missy LeHand. There was also reportedly a tryst with Post publisher Dorothy Schiff, who claimed her husband was fine with the affair. But none of the alleged affairs ever captured as much intrigue as the relationship with Lucy Mercer.

Next: The shocking ripple effect …

The shocking effect on Eleanor

Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Franklin D Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt may have also had affairs in response to her husband’s infidelity. | J. Wilds/Keystone/Getty Images

While FDR maintained at least one affair, his estranged wife reportedly had a few of her own. Listverse claims the fallout from the Lucy Mercer scandal drove Eleanor to have affairs of her own, including a rumored liaison with female reporter Lorena Hickock that took place while FDR was president. According to Listverse, Franklin and Eleanor may have had mistresses living at the White House at the same time.

Next: As for Lucy Mercer Rutherford …

’til death do they part

Franklin Delano Roosevelt holding a document and smiling with others around him

Oddly enough, it was Mercer who was by his side when he died. | U.S. National Archives via YouTube

No matter who else Franklin Delano Roosevelt was romantically involved with, Mercer was never completely out of the picture. She was reportedly at his inauguration hiding in a private limousine (which FDR reportedly sent for her). When he died in 1945, it was Lucy — and not Eleanor — who was by his side.

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