Christmas, signed by Eleanor Roosevelt
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1940. First edition. Hardcover. This is a lovely, signed first edition of then-First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s Christmas story for children. The author signed “Eleanor Roosevelt” in blue ink on the half-title page. Condition is fine in a near fine dust jacket. The illustrated binding is tight and immaculately clean with unfaded hues, sharp corners, and no appreciable wear. The contents are bright with a crisp feel, no spotting, and no previous owner names. "First edition" is so stated on the copyright page. Affixed to the upper rear pastedown is the tiny sticker of “Daniels and Fisher Book Shop” of London. The dust jacket, illustrated to match the binding, is unclipped, retaining the original “$.50” price, and complete save for a tiny chip to the upper rear face. The jacket shows only light wear to extremities and a barely discernible hint of toning to the spine.
The story, titled simply Christmas, occurs on Christmas eve, 1940, “in a land in which the happy peaceful days of pre-war times no longer exist; where the greed and the ruthlessly aggressive power of the invader have full control…” and in which faith, hope, and love buoy the hearts of a young girl named Marta and her mother.
That Christmas was published in 1940 is no accident. Of her tale, Eleanor wrote in her preface: “The times are so serious that even children should be made to understand that there are vital differences in people’s beliefs which lead to differences in behavior. This little story, I hope, will appeal enough to children so they will read it and as they grow older, they may understand that the love, and peace and gentleness typified by the Christ Child, leads us to a way of life for which we must all strive.”
In December 1940, the United States was still nearly a year away from the 7 December 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that finally compelled the U.S. to formally enter the Second World War. On Christmas eve 1940, Hitler’s Wehrmacht had swept through much of Europe and England had just fended off a sustained, months-long assault by the Luftwaffe meant to be the prelude to Nazi invasion. U.S. public sentiment still held strongly isolationist sentiments and President Roosevelt was exerting – and arguably exceeding – peacetime authority in aiding the British. The Lend-Lease act would not be approved by Congress until March 1941. Hence this little story was arguably far more rooted in the exigencies of rousing the American public than its simple title might suggest.
It would have been no surprise that the author was deftly and decisively supporting a cause. Called “First Lady of the World” by President Truman for her humanitarian work, Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) was the first US Representative to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, a prolific writer (including dozens of books, hundreds of articles and editorials, and a daily newspaper column from 1936-1962), and the longest-serving first lady of the United States.
When her husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was running for president in the fall of 1932 as the likely election winner, Eleanor had already independently made for herself a name in Democratic politics as a spokesperson for the newly enfranchised woman voter, labor advocate in the midst of the Great Depression, a vocal promoter of civil rights, and the head of the Women’s Division of the Democratic National Committee since 1928. She feared her impending role as First Lady, a heretofore purely social and apolitical role, would necessitate a quieting of her convictions and force her to step down from her political positions; she even told friends that she would divorce FDR should he win rather than lose her independence.
After FDR’s unprecedented victory securing 42 of 48 states, Eleanor made the decision to transform her new position rather than yield to it. She did so, and in so doing “…she became a fearless international champion of progressive causes and perhaps the most influential American woman of the twentieth century.” (ANB). Item #007176