Meet Missy LeHand
FDR's Conscience and Intimate Friend

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt considered his savvy personal secretary, Marguerite Alice “Missy” LeHand, as one of the most vital, and certainly one of the most loyal, members of his inner circle—he often remarked that Missy was “my conscience.” Missy worked with FDR for more than twenty years, starting from his first failed vice presidential campaign in 1920, through his time as governor of New York, and for almost a decade in the White House. Yet while hundreds of books have chronicled FDR’s four historic terms in office, as he steered the country through the Great Depression and World War II, Missy has literally been relegated to the footnotes of history … until now.

Far more than a secretary, Missy fulfilled the crucial duties of White House Chief of Staff (long before the position was formally created), and she was a persuasive voice in policy decisions and appointment recommendations. She was also FDR’s confidante, his support when he contracted polio, and his intimate friend.

The youngest child of an Irish American Catholic family, Missy remade herself from humble beginnings in working-class Boston into a worldly and glamourous figure. She moved in the inner circles of power in the Roosevelt administration, and even appeared on the cover of Time in 1934. Considered one of the best-dressed women in the capital, she hobnobbed with Hollywood film stars and Broadway playwrights, and had an enduring long-distance romance with William Christian Bullitt, the dashing and mercurial American ambassador to Moscow and Paris. However, she faded out of the public eye after suffering a debilitating stroke at the age of just 44, and was even more overlooked after her death three years later.

What little has been written about her since is all too often wrong, dismissing her as a love-starved secretary at best, an in-house mistress at worst. THE GATEKEEPER, which draws on the photos, letters, papers and artifacts lovingly kept by Missy’s heirs as well as the archives of the FDR Library and other institutions, brings this fascinating woman to life and claims her rightful place in history.

Queen of the White House Staff: Missy, seated at center, presided over a flock of presidential stenographers, secretaries and switchboard operators. Source: Library of Congress

Queen of the White House Staff: Missy, seated at center, presided over a flock of presidential stenographers, secretaries and switchboard operators. Source: Library of Congress

No. 45 1941 office scene

Gathered around FDR’s desk with Missy (right) are her assistant, Grace Tully, and Steve Early, Roosevelt’s press secretary.

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The President’s Gatekeeper: Missy is shown working with FDR at his Oval Office desk late in her White House career, in 1941. Source: FDR Library