Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

In the Inner Circle: Anna Rosenberg and Franklin D. Roosevelt's Presidency, 1941-1945

Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

In the Inner Circle: Anna Rosenberg and Franklin D. Roosevelt's Presidency, 1941-1945

Article excerpt

Scholars have long noted how President Franklin D. Roosevelt used a network of both formal and informal advisors with overlapping jurisdictions and newly created executive agencies to provide him with extensive information and enable him to retain final decision-making authority (Neustadt 1960, 50-52; see also Burns 1956, 1970; Dallek 1995; Dickinson 1996; Rung 2011; Schlesinger 1959). The United States' involvement in World War II forced the president to focus his energies and attention on formulating military strategy (Burns 1970, 312). He created new agencies, such as the National Defense Mediation Board and the Office of Emergency Management, and increasingly delegated domestic presidential duties to close advisors such as James F. Byrnes (Burns 1970, 116,332-33,340,347).

This is a familiar story. Less familiar is that a woman, Anna Rosenberg, became one of Roosevelt's important advisors during the war years. From the spring of 1941 through Roosevelt's death in April 1945, she undertook a diverse array of tasks for the White House, including relaying demands from the African American community concerning the creation of a new agency regulating racial equality in defense employment; overseeing relations between the Office of Civilian Defense (OCD) and the president; the planning of postwar retraining and rehabilitation procedures for returning soldiers; and, most importantly, serving as the president's alter ego in the fraught area of labor--management relations.

Although Rosenberg received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1945, the first woman ever to be so honored, students of the Roosevelt years have been "remarkably silent" about her World War II activities (Jones-Branch 2011, 143). (1) Few if any presidential scholars have heard of her, and Rosenberg's name does not even appear in the index of several of the best-known Roosevelt biographies (see, e.g., Burns 1970; Dallek 1995). Those few historians who have taken note of Rosenberg's contributions focus on her career after Roosevelt's death. For instance, Anna Kasten Nelson's article, "An 'Honorary Man,"' focused mostly on Rosenberg's importance in the Cold War defense establishment, while a 2006 dissertation by Elizabeth A. Collins mostly assessed the attempts to discredit her as a leftist during her confirmation hearings for assistant secretary of defense in 1950 (Collins 2006; Nelson 2004). By drawing upon both Rosenberg's personal papers and presidential files, this article explores the duties performed for President Roosevelt that earned her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Rosenberg's inclusion in Roosevelt's coterie of advisors becomes more remarkable when one considers her background. She came to the United States from the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1915 at the age of 13, just as the massive emigration of Eastern European Jews to the United States neared its end." Never graduating from high school, she married and became a mother by the age of 21. Rosenberg did not allow marriage and family to prevent her involvement in New York City's tough, Tammany Hall-dominated system. She managed the successful 1922 campaign of a New York City Democratic alderman and thereafter established an impressive political network, which eventually included future New York City mayor Fiorello La Guardia and Nelson A. Rockefeller (Kessner 1989, 69-70; Nelson 2004, 135-36; Smith 2014, 129-31 Thurston 1999, 877-87). (3)

The first encounter of Anna Rosenberg with Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt occurred just prior to the 1928 elections. While Franklin pursued electoral office as the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in New York, Eleanor worked as the director of the women's section of the state Democratic Party (Davis 1985; Cook 1999). Rosenberg's first substantial contacts occurred with the future First Lady. As Rosenberg later explained, the members of the women's section acted "extremely kind and nice" and tried "to involve me in their activities. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.