Lucy Mercer Rutherford is most well-known for being the mistress of President Franklin Roosevelt. While FDR told his wife Eleanor that he ended the affair in 1918, Lucy Mercer was by his side on the day he died.
Lucy Page Mercer Rutherfurd was born on April 26, 1891, in Washington, D.C. While she was born into a wealthy family and educated at private schools, her family’s subsequent financial misfortunes required her to work. In 1914, Eleanor Roosevelt hired Mercer as her social secretary. Mercer assisted Eleanor with the social obligations associated with FDR’s political career and became an indispensable member of the household.
Affair With FDR
Sometime during 1916, Mercer and FDR began their affair. After she left her position as Eleanor’s secretary, Mercer enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was assigned to FDR’s office, as he was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy at the time. They continued their relationship until 1918, when Eleanor discovered a package of love letters in FDR’s luggage. While Eleanor offered FDR a divorce, the couple ultimately decided to continue their marriage, largely to protect their family and FDR’s political aspirations.
Following the affair, FDR focused more intently on his political career, while Eleanor expanded her activities outside the home and created an identity apart from her husband. Regarding the affair, Eleanor later wrote, “I have the memory of an elephant. I can forgive, but never forget.”
After ending her relationship with FDR, Mercer married Winthrop Rutherfurd, a wealthy widower. Although FDR had promised Eleanor that he would break all ties with Mercer, he arranged for to attend his 1932 inauguration. When Mercer’s husband became sick, FDR pulled strings to get him treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. They also purportedly corresponded regularly via letters.
Following the death of Mercer’s husband, FDR arranged in-person meetings. He even asked his daughter Anna, who helped coordinate White House functions, to arrange private dinners for him and Mercer. Eleanor was unaware and became angry when she learned that her daughter had helped facilitate the rekindled relationship. While it was kept hidden at the time, Mercer was with FDR when he died at the “Little White House” in Warm Springs, Georgia. She died three years later in 1948.