Marguerite LeHand (1896 – 1944)

August 30, 2016

Born in Potsdam, New York, Marguerite “Missy” LeHand was the youngest of Mary and Daniel LeHand’s four children. Her father was a gardener and moved the family to Somerville, Massachusetts while LeHand was still young. Her mother was a talented seamstress and earned extra income by boarding Harvard students in their home.

LeHand attended public schools in Somerville and graduated from high school in 1917. After passing her civil service typing exam, Missy worked as a stenographer for Charles McCarthy at the Emergency Fleet Corporation in Philadelphia, PA. Charles McCarthy was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s former secretary at the Navy Department, and he took interest in LeHand’s work, recommending her highly to Roosevelt.

In 1920, LeHand began what became a lengthy association with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, working for his campaign for the vice presidency. Although Roosevelt was defeated, she was given a permanent place on his staff and treated like a member of the family (she was nicknamed “Missy” by Roosevelt’s fifteen-yearold daughter, Anna).

LeHand’s encouragement helped bolster Roosevelt’s morale in the wake of the polio that left him confined to a wheelchair. When Roosevelt became President in 1932, LeHand moved into the White House, charged with handling his personal correspondence.  She knew him so well that she was able to write using Roosevelt’s “voice” when doing this. LeHand always critiqued Roosevelt’s fireside chats before he broadcasted them to the nation.

While many have speculated on the intimacy of Roosevelt and LeHand’s relationship, no one can deny the fact that LeHand was his closest confidant. As his personal secretary, anyone wishing to speak to the president had to clear his or her visit with LeHand first. She organized their daily cocktail time and spent her evenings keeping Roosevelt company – often assisting him with his stamp collection.  LeHand was always on call for Roosevelt and seldom had time to travel home to visit her own family. She would return for Christmas, armed with gifts from the Roosevelts who always called to wish her and her family a happy holiday. The two families were very close.

Though career-oriented and bound to FDR by unswerving loyalty, Missy’s personal life suffered because of her devotion; in fact, she refused a number of marriage proposals.  Although she never married or had children of her own, LeHand was very close to her nieces – she helped pay for their education and they visited her at the White House during their vacations. Their relationship with the Roosevelt’s continued through their adulthood, as Eleanor attended both of their weddings.

In June 1941, after a White House dinner party, Missy LeHand suffered a stroke that rendered her unable to speak and paralyzed on her left side. Roosevelt visited LeHand at a hospital in Warm Springs, but after the attack on Pearl Harbor he was unable to spend very much time with her. Eventually LeHand’s health forced her to leave her work and her life at the White House.  After over two decades of service; Missy reluctantly returned to Somerville to live with her sister and her neices.  In Somerville, Missy kept abreast of world affairs by reading up to six newspapers a day and by sending regular telegrams to Roosevelt – who called her nearly every week.  Meanwhile, other telegrams and letters and gifts poured in from her friends in Washington, many of whom visited her.

LeHand 8 19 2005 jlh DSCN0634

In 1944, after an evening at the University Theatre in Harvard Square, LeHand suffered another stroke and died the following morning, July 31, 1944, at Chelsea Naval Hospital. Many dignitaries attended her memorial service at St. John’s Church in North Cambridge. Missy LeHand is buried in Lot #7136 Central Avenue at Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Behind the pink amethyst boulder marking her family lot, her flushed monument quotes Roosevelt, “She was utterly selfless in her devotion to duty.”

In 1977 the Somerville Public Library renamed their children’s room after LeHand.

LeHandRoseQuart

SOURCES

Photograph of Missy Lehand: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, photograph by Harris & Ewing, [LC-DIG-hec-25100]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.