Hulton Archive/Keystone Hulton Archive/Keystone
By Amy Phillips Penn


“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”  — Eleanor Roosevelt

 

“Eleanor Roosevelt would come to Hewitt assemblies and speak about civic affairs,” said a Hewitt alum, class of ’61, quite clearly into my iPhone.

We were discussing an entirely different subject when she segued into this, as nonchalantly as if we were discussing the green and blue plaid in our uniforms.

I went to Hewitt’s and had never heard one word about Eleanor Roosevelt.

I listened to volumes about her granddaughter Sally who went there, and knew Sally’s sister, Joanie who was a friend and riding companion.

“She would come over on Fridays for assembly, every month or six weeks,” continued my new found fascinating alumna.

“Mrs. Roosevelt was proudly led in by Mrs. Comfort (our headmistress). She had a drawl and was very difficult to understand. In the winter she wore a stole with a fox head; in the spring it was two-toned dresses, often shirt dresses. She always wore black shoes and a hat.”

While my friend could describe Mrs. Roosevelt’s clothes in details, she had little idea — back when — of the gravitas of the visitor; the wife of a four term president, and a pioneering woman of epic historic impact.

Hewitt’s was known for many daughters of esteemed or “social” parents. Debutantes like Brenda Frazier and Cobina Wright, who were the most famous debs of their time, make the society pages and “good marriages,” and modeled for Town & Country and Vogue.

But Eleanor Roosevelt speaking at an assembly?

This was new turf, and oh-how-I-wish-I’d-been-there. If only her voice could have been saved and embraced for generations to come.

My memories of Roosevelts at Hewitt’s are horse-entwined. My favorite stories often are.

I had heard the heart wrenching tale of Sally Roosevelt, who I had never known.

The story has been told and retold, but was never in need of embellishment.

Sally was fourteen when she went away to camp. There are variations on the theme — she had a fall, she was wearing a helmet, the infirmary didn’t pay adequate attention — but the ending was the same: Sally died a few days later.

Her sister Joanie was in our Hewitt riding group. Twice a week, we would trot off to Claremont Riding Academy and take a lesson inside a ring that was way too small for all of us, or brave the streets and go for a ride in Central Park.

Claremont had a horse show once a year, and I waited for it more enthusiastically than for a Tiffany turquoise box with a white ribbon and bow under the Christmas tree.

Claremont had a pair class. Girls traded stirrups in order to ride as closely together on horses matching in coloring and stature.

Joanie and I entered a pair class, without having practiced. We rode in on two bays, who were fortunately a happy fit.

My riding instructor announced the winners. Joanie and I were pinned with matching blue ribbons.

My mother was elated.

“Your grandfather would have been so proud to see this. He loved Roosevelt,” she beamed on the sidelines.

A mutual friend interjected.

“The announcer pronounced it Roo-sevelt. It’s Row-sevelt,” she semi- smirked.

Joanie didn’t say a word. Did it really matter?

The privileges of going to a good New York School know no bounds.

It took years to find out that Eleanor Roosevelt had talked at assembly. Who knows how many extraordinary people have addressed New York students?

My mother went to hear Toni Morrison speak at Spence, when my sister was a student there.

I imagine that Eleanor Roosevelt would have smiled to hear that.

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