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Franklin D. Roosevelt: Early Life, Childhood & Education

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  • 0:02 The People's President
  • 0:51 FDR's Early Life
  • 2:33 Early Education
  • 3:48 Later Education
  • 4:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Franklin D. Roosevelt is often remembered as a people's president, but why? In this lesson, we'll see how FDR's childhood impacted his political attitudes and goals and prepared him for the presidency.

The People's President

When we think of American presidents who became champions of the common people, we often think of figures like Abraham Lincoln or Franklin D. Roosevelt. We hear a lot of stories about Lincoln's upbringing in rural America and how his childhood helped him connect to the average American. But we don't hear those stories with our other people's president.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) was the 32nd President of the United States, holding that office from 1933 to 1945. Coming into office during the Great Depression, FDR championed welfare, social security, job creation, and other things primarily devoted towards helping the working class. Unlike Lincoln, FDR didn't have personal experiences with this. His childhood was one of extreme privilege, but that didn't stop him from becoming the people's president.

FDR's Early Life

Franklin D. Roosevelt was born January 30, 1882, in Hyde Park, New York. That's about 90 miles north of New York City, situated in the beautiful Hudson Valley. While FDR was born into a very wealthy family, being in the agricultural Hudson Valley did expose him to farmers and the rural lifestyle. He developed something of a romanticized fascination and love of rural America, which would both impact his commitment to America's working class during the Depression, as well as his passion for conservation.

Other interests of FDR's childhood would also follow him throughout his life. For example, young FDR developed a fascination with boats and stamps. The interest in boats helped motivate him to join the U.S. Navy, where he served in World War I. His hobby of stamp collecting carried into his presidency; FDR oversaw the development of the more decorative stamps we know today, and he was personally involved in designing or promoting roughly 200 stamps between 1933 and 1945.

Of course, we can't forget that young Franklin was born into a life of absolute privilege. His parents, James and Sara Roosevelt, were wealthy members of Hudson Valley's elite society. When we talk about how powerful and connected the Roosevelts were, we have to remember that they were even related to former presidents. By the last name, we can deduce the relationship to president Theodore Roosevelt (FDR's fifth cousin). Ultimately, however, FDR was also related to ten other former presidents (by blood or marriage) including John Adams, James Madison, John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison, and William Howard Taft.

Early Education

So, James and Sara Roosevelt were well-connected, wealthy, and powerful, and Franklin (their only child) benefited from this. He spent the first fourteen years of his life educated at home by private tutors. He entered an elite private school called Groton in 1896. Allegedly, the transition to school was somewhat difficult for FDR who, while very intelligent, was not used to working in an academic environment with other students.

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