Medals, coins and paper money are a part of the legacy of Anna
To many, she may be best known as the
wife of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
However, Eleanor Roosevelt is widely recognized on her own merits as
one of the most accomplished American women of all time.
Just as many numismatic tributes to Franklin Roosevelt exist, many
numismatic tributes recognize her as an individual because of her
activism on behalf of the poor, the disadvantaged and those in harm’s way.
Long before she met and married the man who would serve four terms
as president of the United States; before she traveled the world
visiting U.S. military troops; and before she wrote six books and
2,500 syndicated newspaper columns, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was groomed
to be a conventional woman of her era.
She was born Oct. 11, 1884, in New York City to the wealthy
household of Elliott Roosevelt and Anna Hall Roosevelt.
Her father was the younger brother of Theodore Roosevelt and their
oldest child was named after her mother, Anna, though she would be
known mostly as Eleanor. Theodore Roosevelt considered her his
Biographers say unhappiness began in her childhood in 1892, when her
mother died of diphtheria. Her father, an alcoholic whose lifestyle
led to commitment to a sanitorium and estrangement from his family,
died of a seizure in 1894, two days after a suicide attempt.
At the age of 10 she and a younger brother moved in with their
maternal grandmother. Eleanor was privately tutored until the age of
15 when she was sent to a finishing school in London, where she found
academic achievement and popularity among her fellow students.
Two years later, as was the expected convention at the beginning of
the 20th century, Eleanor was presented at a debutante ball. She was
removed from her finishing school, an act she always regretted.
The following year she encountered one of her many distant cousins,
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on a train. The two, previously only
slightly acquainted from their appearances at family gatherings, began
a quiet romance.
In 1903 she and Franklin were engaged — she was 19 and he was 22. On
her wedding day, March 17, 1905, her uncle “Teddy” walked her down the aisle.
Again, it appeared she was headed for a conventional life as a wife
and mother. Between 1906 and 1916 she gave birth to six children, with
one dying in infancy. But Eleanor’s life would soon be changing.
In 1910 Franklin was elected to the New York State Senate and in
1913 he was appointed the assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy.
Although a Democrat, Franklin was following in the footsteps of his
cousin Theodore, a Republican whose first political office was in the
New York State Assembly and who also served as assistant secretary of
In August 1921, while the family was vacationing at Campobello
Island, New Brunswick, Franklin contracted polio.
That year marks when Eleanor’s role gradually changed from
conventional housewife and mother to confidant and political strategist.
By 1928, when Franklin was elected governor of New York, she had
become the “eyes and ears” of her husband because his paralysis didn’t
make travel easy.
She traveled across the state and took the pulse of the people, and
reported back to him what she’d seen and heard.
It was to become her pattern as he began the first of four terms in
1933 as president of the United States.
In fact, she traveled so much it became a running joke among
newspaper cartoonists and pundits that Eleanor could show up just
about anytime and anywhere.
World War II
Eleanor started a syndicated newspaper column in 1936 called “My
Day,” and throughout World War II she filled it with her observations
as she visited U.S. and allied armed forces and civilians around the world.
In 1943, as she visited military hospitals and bases in Australia,
New Zealand and 15 other islands in the South Pacific, her column
related the realities of war. But she often described the courage and
good humor she saw displayed by American armed forces.
Part of that good humor involved what are called “short snorters.”
One of the simplest definitions of a short snorter is “a piece of
paper money upon which signatures were exchanged between those
traveling together or meeting up at different events.
The tradition was started by bush pilots in Alaska in the 1920s and
subsequently spread, through the growth of commercial and military
aviation. If you signed someone’s short-snorter and that person could
not produce it upon request, they owed you a dollar or a drink.
The name for these autographed notes came from the slang for an
alcoholic drink, often referred to as a ‘short snort,’ ” according to
Tom Sparks, creator of the online gallery called The Short Snorter Project.
While in Australia, she visited the Air Transport Command’s base and
posed for a photograph with eight ATC officers in front of an ATC
airplane. Each individual signed the photo. In 2010, Heritage Auctions
sold the photograph, a letter typed and signed by Eleanor, and 14
“short snorter” notes that were taped together.
One of the notes is a £1 New Zealand note that Roosevelt had signed.
The lot sold for $717.
Photos of Eleanor visiting the Panama Canal Zone in 1944 and signing
such notes can be found at the project’s website, www.shortsnorter.org.
She must have enjoyed the camaraderie, because she is known to have
carried a “short snorter” with her and added signatures of military
personnel she visited.
Other short-snorters featuring her autograph can sometimes be found
in public and online auctions.
In 1946, a year after the death of Franklin, President Harry Truman
appointed Eleanor to be the U.S. representative to the United Nations.
She served as the first chairperson of the UN Human Rights
Commission. She resigned in 1952, but in 1962 President John F.
Kennedy reappointed her.
It was to be a short-lived second term, as she was diagnosed with
bone marrow cancer that summer and died Nov. 7, 1962. She is buried
beside her husband at the Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site
in Hyde Park, N.Y.
Following her death, in a United Nations address U.S. delegate Adlai
E. Stevenson said of her, “she would rather light a candle than curse
the darkness and her glow has warmed the world.”
In 1968 the United Nations posthumously awarded its first Human
Rights Prize to Eleanor Roosevelt.
A range of numismatic items pay tribute to her.
In 1972 the Eleanor Roosevelt Memorial Foundation issued sterling
silver medals struck by the Franklin Mint.
The 39-millimeter medals commemorated the dedication of the Eleanor
Roosevelt Library Wing added to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park.
The obverse image has a portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt and the
reverse displays a candle and flame with the words, SHE WOULD RATHER
LIGHT/ A CANDLE THAN CURSE/ THE DARKNESS, AND HER/ GLOW HAS WARMED/
THE WORLD/ ADLAI STEVENSON.
In 1976 a 39-millimeter silver medal featuring a portrait of Eleanor
was struck and issued by the Franklin Mint as part of its Gallery of
The medallic program issued 12 medals from 1970 to 1976 honoring
Americans in 12 different categories ranging from statesmen to social
leaders to scientists to humanitarians.
The Franklin Mint also issued bronze ingots in its 100 Greatest
Americans series in the 1970s, with one honoring Eleanor.
Also in the 1970s, the Danbury Mint included a portrait medal of
Eleanor in its Great Patriots of the United States series of medals
struck in silver and bronze.
In 1984, in honor of the 100th anniversary of Eleanor’s birth,
medallic sculptor Marika Somogyi designed a bronze portrait medal.
The obverse of the 4.5-inch (108 millimeters) medal features a
portrait of Eleanor in her 70s. The back of the 16-ounce medal is
numbered. In total, 150 were made.
The medals were offered by Numismarketing Associates of Woodland
Many medals depicting Eleanor Roosevelt can be found on eBay and in
other online auction venues.
Also check with medals dealers to see what they have in their
inventories or can find.
In 2014 the U.S. Mint began offering First Spouse gold $10 coins
honoring Eleanor, the longest serving first lady in American history,
holding that position from 1933 to 1945.
She is one of four women to be honored on First Spouse coins during 2014.
The obverse portrait of Roosevelt was designed by Artistic Infusion
Program artist Chris Costello and sculpted by sculptor-engraver Phebe Hemphill.
The reverse was also designed by Costello and sculptured by
sculptor-engraver Renata Gordon. The reverse depicts Eleanor lighting
a candle. A glowing light rises over a stylized graphic of the Earth’s
For more information about the First Spouse gold coins, visit the U.S. Mint website.