FDR Presidential Library
Sara Ann Delano (1854-1941) is best known as the mother of U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. At the age of 46, upon her husband’s death, Sara took charge of the Roosevelt household and was appointed Franklin’s sole guardian. She instilled in Franklin qualities of self- reliance and responsibility and never tried to influence him against his own inclinations to shape his own life.
Sara Ann Delano (1854-1941) is best known as the mother of U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Sara traced her history to Jonathan Delano, one of the 34 colonists who in 1652 purchased Dartmouth from the Wampanoag sachem Massasoit and his son Wamsutta. Sara’s father Warren Delano II was born in Fairhaven in 1809. He and his father were partners with the Russells as merchants and amassed a fortune in America’s largest company engaged in the China trade. They lived in a 30-room house on Walnut Street in Fairhaven, the family’s gathering place for over 100 years.
Warren II thought Fairhaven would be his permanent home. He bought land, had it designated Riverside Cemetery, gave it to the town, and reserved a choice spot for the Delano mausoleum and future grave plots for the family.
Warren II married Catherine Robbins Lyman in 1843, and their seventh child Sara was born in 1854. The family moved to China and after a few years had accumulated such wealth that Warren’s only business was investing his own money. When Sara moved back with her grandparents to New York in the winter and Fairhaven in the summer, she was fluent in French and German and also studied the arts. Sara enjoyed the travels and benefits of a privileged lifestyle and was in no hurry to marry. However, she met James Roosevelt, several years her senior and a widower, and he captured her heart. She married him in 1880. The Delanos were Unitarian, but after Sara married James, she joined the Episcopal Church.
Sara and James Roosevelt had only one child, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was born in Hyde Park, NY. That summer, young FDR came to Fairhaven on the first of many visits. Sara’s lifelong devotion to the large Delano family extended itself without reservation to Franklin. They had been mourning the premature death of an infant relative and Sara kept her newborn within reach. She instilled qualities of self-reliance and responsibility in Franklin, and she taught him to accept full responsibility not only for his actions but for his possessions. Sara and James never tried to influence Franklin against his own inclinations to shape his own life.
When James died at 72 years old, Sara was 46 and Franklin almost 18. Sara was left in charge of the Roosevelt household. She was appointed Franklin’s sole guardian because at that time in many states married women did not have automatic right to guardianship of their children.
As her son grew to independence, he fell in love with Eleanor Roosevelt, his fifth cousin. Much has been made about the relationship of Sara Delano Roosevelt and her daughter-in-law Eleanor. Sara was a significant presence throughout her son’s life. She was not fond of his choice of Eleanor, but she supported them emotionally and financially throughout their marriage. She was a doting grandmother to their five children and a consistent loving presence in their lives.
Sara died in Hyde Park on September 7, 1941. She left a fortune of 12 to 13 million dollars before taxes. Editorials about her death stated that she “was noted for her broad-mindedness and understanding, for generosity. . . .” Probably no woman has fitted more closely the public’s conception of what a President’s mother should be than Sara Ann Delano has.
Pottker, Jan. Sara and Eleanor: The Story of Sara Delano Roosevelt and Her Daughter-In-Law, Eleanor Roosevelt. St. Martin’s Press, 2004.
Roosevelt, Sara Delano. My Boy Franklin. R. Long & R.R. Smith, 1933.