This week on the Historians Podcast, author Christopher C. Gorham discusses his biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman aide Anna Rosenberg, The Confidante: The Untold Story of the Woman Who Helped Win WW II and Shape Modern America (Citadel Press, 2023).
Anna Rosenberg was dubbed by Life magazine as “far and away the most important woman in the American government.” From New York City, Rosenberg devised a plan that helped diversify the ranks of factory workers during the Second World War. She also served as deputy defense secretary during the Korean War.
As Franklin D. Roosevelt’s special envoy to Europe in World War II she went where the president couldn’t go. She was among the first Allied women to enter a liberated concentration camp, and stood in the Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s mountain retreat, days after its capture.
She also guided the direction of the G.I. Bill of Rights and the Manhattan Project. Though Anna Rosenberg emerged from modest immigrant beginnings, equipped with only a high school education, she was the real power behind national policies critical to America winning the war and prospering afterward, yet her story remains largely forgotten.
With a disarming mix of charm and Tammany Hall-hewn toughness, Rosenberg began her career in public relations in 1920s Manhattan. She became friends with Eleanor Roosevelt, who recommended Anna to her husband, who was then running for Governor of New York. As FDR’s unofficial adviser, Rosenberg soon wielded enormous influence — no less potent for being subtle. Roosevelt dubbed her “my Mrs. Fix-It.” Her extraordinary career continued after his death.
By 1950, she was tapped to become the assistant secretary of defense—the highest position ever held by a woman in the US military — prompting Senator Joe McCarthy to wage an unsuccessful smear campaign against her. In 1962, she organized John F. Kennedy’s infamous birthday gala, sitting beside him while Marilyn Monroe sang. Until the end of her life, Rosenberg fought tirelessly for causes from racial integration to women’s equality to national health care.
Author Christopher C. Gorham is a lawyer and teacher of modern American history at Westford Academy, a public high school outside of Boston. He has degrees in history from Tufts University and the University of Michigan, where he studied under labor historian Sidney Fine. He has a J.D., summa cum laude, from Syracuse University College of Law, where he served on the editorial staff of the Syracuse Law Review. His writing has appeared in the Washington Post and in online journals.
You can listen to Historians Podcast interview with the author here. You will find more Historians Podcasts archived at at bobcudmore.com. The Historians Podcast has been online weekly since 2014 produced by Bob Cudmore and Dave Greene.
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