It's a wonderful thing when you realize that someone who lives in the pages of history books once inhabited the very space you inhabit, visited the streets you roam and looked upon the same sights you now look upon.
I've recently been reading Blanche Wiesen Cook's book Eleanor Roosevelt Volume 2. This is an amazing book covering the years 1933-1938. I picked it up at a discount book store for next to nothing, a real find. So now your wondering what does this have to do with Fall River? Well truthfully not much, except right there on page 221, in the first paragraph, "Happy to leave Newport, ER drove with Louis Howe from his home in Horse Neck Beach near Fall River to Cape Cod..." Well obviously I stopped and had to read it again. Here on these very pages evidence that once upon a time Eleanor Roosevelt was near Fall River. Okay, so it's not much, but it did make me curious.
Years ago, before I-195 cut through the center of Fall River going east and west and before Rt. 24 passed through going north and south, Fall River was a real hub of sorts. With rail lines taking passengers from Boston to Fall River and then on to Newport or out to New Bedford and with the famous Fall River Line carrying passengers aboard luxurious steamships out to Newport and on to New York, Fall River bustled with activity. It suddenly occurred to me that while on her way to Newport or back up to Boston, Eleanor Roosevelt might have actually stopped, shopped, ate here in Fall River.
It turns out I was even more right than I thought. Louis Howe, FDR's personal secretary, married Grace Hartley a Fall River girl. The House "in Horse Neck beach" was a summer home. Mr and Mrs Howe's other home was on Locust St. in Fall River and according to Jack Stewardson of the Standard Times, the Roosevelts visited the Locust St. home quite often. When Louis Howe passed away in 1936 the President and First Lady made the trip here to Fall River for his burial at Oak Grove cemetery.
Mrs. Roosevelt also visited Fall River in 1938 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Family Welfare Association of Fall River. She again visited Fall River on October 31, 1945 to attend a Girl Scout dinner which she then commented on in her My Day column on November 2, 1945. Perhaps Mrs. Roosevelt most lasting tie to Fall River is not with a visit but with the letter she mailed in 1958 to a Fall River optometrist trying to establish a scholarship program, Dr. Irving Fradkin. Inside the envelope Dr. Fradkin found a crisp dollar bill and a letter written by the former first lady:
"I was interested to get your letter and to learn of the effort being made in your community to make your people more aware of the opportunities and advantages of a college education. I congratulate you and am happy to send you a dollar toward the effort." - Eleanor Roosevelt
It was one of the first contributions Dr. Fradkin would receive for his scholarship fund which would go on to become the nations "largest nonprofit scholarship and educational support organization. "