Of all the first ladies in our nation's history, probably the one most involved in the affairs of our town, Washington, was Eleanor Roosevelt.
Mrs. Roosevelt lived here twice: as a young woman when husband Franklin was the assistant secretary of the Navy during and after the first World War, and 12 years later when, in 1933, he became president.
Mrs. Roosevelt's 100th birthday has just been observed, both with a ceremony last week in her native New York state and an exhibit locally at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.
As part of the latter, the museum has produced a marvelously evocative, slender paperback booklet called "Eleanor Roosevelt's Washington," subtitled "A Place of Personal Growth and Public Service," written by Barbara H. Kemp and Shirley Cherkawsky. They chronicle the places -- the World War I era residences, St. Elizabeths Hospital, Howard University, D.C. Village, and many others -- where Eleanor Roosevelt became involved.
Mrs. Roosevelt not only toured the ghastly slums of Washington in 1934, she also returned to see some apparent -- but today still elusive -- solutions on a 25th anniversary tour in 1959. Metro Scene weeps over one aspect: a seemingly idyllic Southwest Washington public housing unit where Mrs. Roosevelt was pictured in this newspaper on a visit in 1959 is now closed and boarded up awaiting renovation.
In this newspaper's library I found not only the picture printed above but countless other reports of Eleanor Roosevelt's concerns about social and housing problems in this town -- concerns whose solutions, alas, were complicated by the color line that then preoccupied much of the nation.
After Eleanor Roosevelt called upon Mrs. Herbert Hoover at the White House before the 1933 Inauguration, she declined the offer of a limousine and hailed a cab instead, at a first-zone cost of 20 cents.
One of the pictures that came from the folder of Eleanor Roosevelt photos showed her in 1934 with six Washington children dressed in white who took a May Day basket to the White House. The children were listed in the picture caption as Betsy Savin, 4; Mercer Cook, 3; Rita Johnson, 5; Dickie Caldwell, 5; Tommy Caldwell, 4, and Joan Parker, 3. Just curious: are any of those kids, 50-plus years later, still on the Metro Scene?