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Marguerite Alice “Missy” LeHand (1896-1944) was born in upstate New York and grew up in a working-class suburb of Boston. She graduated from high school in 1917, passed the Civil Service exam, and moved to Washington to serve briefly as a clerk in the Navy Department during World War I. Three years later, she became a secretary with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s unsuccessful vice-presidential campaign. In 1921, Roosevelt hired her as his personal secretary. When Roosevelt spent the winter on his houseboat off the Florida coast, LeHand acted as hostess, and accompanied him to Warm Springs, Georgia, for his physical therapy. Based in part on her own experience (at the age of fifteen, rheumatic fever damaged her heart) she opposed his running for Governor of New York. After he won, though, she moved into the governor’s mansion and continued as his secretary. When Roosevelt became President in March 1933, LeHand became the first woman to serve as a presidential secretary. Living in the White House, she managed Roosevelt’s daily business and was treated as part of the family. Observers differed on whether her relationship with the President was platonic. In June 1941, LeHand collapsed at a White House dinner party and had a paralyzing stroke two weeks later. Roosevelt paid her medical bills and even provided for her in his will. After a visit to Warm Springs for physical therapy, she returned briefly to the White House in early 1942 before going to live with her sister in Massachusetts. When she died in July 1944, the President issued a statement that “she was utterly selfless in her devotion to duty,” words that appear on her gravestone. Eleanor Roosevelt attended her funeral.

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