Campobello Connections

Eleanor Welcoming Guests at Campobello Institute

Eleanor Roosevelt welcomes participants to the Student Leadership Institute on Campobello Island in the summer of 1941, shown here with Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, President-Emeritus William Neilson of Smith College, while Joseph Lash, general secretary of the International Student Service, carries an armload of books onto the porch.

During the summer of 1941, while Franklin was preoccupied with national affairs and preparations for his meeting with Winston Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt, with his concurrence, offered the use of their Campobello summer cottage to the International Student Service (ISS) to host a Summer Leadership Institute. With her secretary "Tommy" Thompson, she arrived on Campobello on June 18, to prepare the rooms, bedding and make other arrangements necessary for hosting 29 college students and a rich array of distinguished visiting lecturers. 

In the third volume of her biography, Eleanor Roosevelt: the War Years and After, (2016), Blanche Wiesen Cook, described the five week conference, frequently quoting from Eleanor's young friend Joseph Lash who served as General Secretary of the ISS:

Eleanor Roosevelt with Student Institute on Campobello

Eleanor Roosevelt engaged in discussion with student participants during the summer institute on Campopbello Island, July and August 1941

    The summer institute was marked by serious discussions, earnest effort, brilliant exchanges, marvelous entertainment, and jolly times.  Some of the students who participated had been recommended by their colleges, while others had participated in earlier ISS conferences.  Among the notable speakers were Shakespearian scholar and former Smith College President William Allan Neilson and his best-selling author wife, Elisabeth Muser Neilson, whose recently published book, The House I Knew, described her girlhood in Germany.  The Neilsons set a delightful pace, despite the adolescent pranks and late-night noise in very close quarters.

     Archibald MacLeish read poetry, discussed literature, and hosted several evenings during which his wife, concert vocalist Ada Hitchcock, sang German Lieder and French ballads with Elisabeth Neilson.  ACLU cofounder Roger Baldwin, Louis Fischer and his son George, journalist James Wechsler, William Agar, and many others spoke about politics, international relations, and the need to organize for peace and justice.  Walter White of the NAACP "did most to fire the group with the need to 'do something.'"  His description of southern bigotry and “the discrimination and humiliation he encountered in the defense industries and in the armed services shocked and aroused the institute."  The students vowed "to change the situation [he] so vividly and horrifyingly described."  Petitions to congress were only the beginning; the students intended to return to their campuses and clubs to make racial discrimination a focus of their efforts.

   The ISS event was stellar.  ER enjoyed the students and was impressed by the work and sincerity of the notables who volunteered their time to galvanize the youth movement."  (p. 394-5)

Sara Roosevelt: Farewell to Campobello.

Sara Roosevelt's departure from Campobello

Eleanor had also accompanied Sara Delano Roosevelt, to Campobello in July, for what turned out to be the President’s mother’s last summer on the island.  Blanch W. Cook writes: 

Sara Delano Roosevelt was also at Campobello, spending her vacation mostly in bed.  She was attended by a companion/helper, Kathleen Crawford, a nurse, her sister Aunt Kassie, and various friends who did not mind this "very quiet life" as much as Sara Roosevelt did.  Eleanor left Campobello after the ISS Institute ended, relieved above all that "Mama was really well & cheerful."  

    FDR, delighted, wrote his mother on 2 August, "I’m so glad you really are feeling better, & that you like the nurse, & that you do what she says! . . . . We go aboard the Potomac . . . and cruise away from all newspapermen and photographers & I hope to be gone ten days — There is I fear little chance of my getting to Campobello.”

From Blanche Wiesen Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt: The War Years and after, 1939-1945, Volume 3, New York: Viking, 2016, pp. 394-5,

See also Joseph P. Lash, Eleanor Roosevelt: a Friend’s Memoir, Doubleday, 1964.