National Archives Reveals Newly Donated FDR Papers

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Byline: Brett Zongker Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- A handwritten letter from fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini congratulating President Franklin D. Roosevelt on his inauguration, and a note from a woman who had a brief affair with Roosevelt were shown to the public for the first time last week at the National Archives.

The 5,000 documents and gifts collected by Roosevelt's secretaries include a note from Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd, who had an affair with Roosevelt that forever changed his marriage to Eleanor Roosevelt when she discovered the infidelity in 1918.

Rutherfurd wrote Roosevelt's personal secretary, Grace Tully, a week before his death in 1945 to arrange a visit with a portrait painter and photographer. The "Unfinished Portrait" was in progress when he collapsed and died.

The meetings with Rutherfurd were kept secret from Eleanor Roosevelt until after her husband's death, and the letter is evidence Tully was involved in communications between Rutherfurd and Roosevelt.

The 14 boxes of items had been sealed for years, and were considered the last great privately held collection of papers for Roosevelt's presidential library in Hyde Park, N.Y.

Anne Roosevelt, the president's granddaughter, said Tully and another personal secretary, Marguerite "Missy" LeHand, were devoted to Roosevelt.

"Their understanding of what to save and what to collect was important," she said. "We are grateful to them for being pack rats."

It took an act of Congress to get the documents to the National Archives, though, after an ownership dispute. The Sun-Times Media Group Inc., formerly Hollinger International Inc., bought the collection in 2001 for $8 million. In 2004, Hollinger put the items for sale at Christie's auction house, but the National Archives claimed ownership to some of the times, saying they were presidential materials. The company eventually agreed to donate the items in exchange for a tax credit. …