Lela Mae Stiles Papers, 1914-1980 | Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum
Primary Creator: Lela Mae Stiles (1914-1980)
Extent: 15.0 Cubic Feet
Lela Mae Stiles was born in Cecelia, Kentucky on September 5 at the turn of the century. She made it a point to not reveal the year of her birth. Her parents were George A. Stiles and Sarah Elizabeth Carlton Stiles, referred to in all of their correspondence as “de Muddy”. After working at the State Capitol in Frankfort, Kentucky for the Secretary of State, Mrs. Emma Guy Cromwell, Lela Stiles moved to New York City in 1928 to work as a journalist. Shortly thereafter, Mr. F. G. Bonfils, publisher of the Denver Post, hired Ms. Stiles to write a column entitled “Girl’s Eye View of New York”, which was an out-of-towner’s guide to the New York scene syndicated in newspapers in the American South and West. She also wrote “Girl’s Eye View of Broadway” for Broadway Magazine.
In 1928, Ms. Stiles joined the Democratic National Committee in New York during the Al Smith campaign for presidency, and was assigned to the Commerce and Industry Division headed by Franklin D. Roosevelt. There she became the assistant to Louis Howe, Mr. Roosevelt’s chief political advisor. Lela Stiles worked for Louis Howe from 1928 until his death in 1936. She wrote a successful biography of Louis Howe, The Man Behind Roosevelt, published in 1954.
She began work on the White House secretarial staff as a research assistant on March 4, 1933, the first day of Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency. She stayed in the White House for exactly twenty years serving during the entire Roosevelt-Truman presidencies, and for several months under President Eisenhower. She did not have a close working relationship with the President as did Marguerite LeHand or Grace Tully. As a research assistant she worked with correspondence, newspapers and other material, and was more “behind the scenes” than in the Oval Office. She was known as the resident poet laureate, and wrote most of the comic verse which was read at intimae, private White House functions such as the informal parties held for President Roosevelt on his birthday. Her verse is for the most part unsigned, and appears in the papers of President Roosevelt as well as in her own collection. Ms. Stile did not attend most of the gathering where her poetry was read, rather her poems were written to be read by Ms. LeHand or Tully or others. She did attend the informal gatherings which the secretarial staff hosted for President Roosevelt, where the she sang country ballads and played the guitar. In the planned seating arrangements for these functions, she usually was placed immediately to the left of President Roosevelt.
She was a committed Democrat who attended almost every National Convention from 1932 until the 1960’s. As a native Kentuckian, she was particularly interest in that State’s politics. She was an officer in the Kentucky Society of Washington, D.C., and as such helped to plan its social functions, including the Miss Kentucky competition. She also arranged for Washingtonians to view the annual Kentucky Derby.
She left the White House on March 5, 1953 and worked for the Democratic National Committee under Stephen Mitchell until October 3, 1954. On March 1, 1955 she began work for the House Un-American Activities Committee (later Internal Affairs) as a research assistant gathering information on the Ku Klux Klan. She retired from this Committee and public service in 1986.
Aside from her biography of Louis Howe and her poetry, she published eulogies for John Kennedy and Sam Rayburn, an article entitled “The Day FDR Died” for the Saturday Evening Post, and another entitled “What Men Notice First About Women”, she also wrote doggerel for Arthur Godfrey’s radio program, an unpublished memoir of her experiences in the White House, and a manuscript of an infamous Kentucky feud.
She was a resident of the Mayflower Hotel for nearly fifty years, and an intimate friend of the Washington, D.C. society columnist, Peter Carter. She was a social belle and an avid party goer whose professed hero was “Scarlet O’Hara” whom she had seen in “Gone with the Wind” “countless times”. She dated Senator Joseph Guffey, Robert Ripley of “Believe It or Not” fame, newspaper correspondent, author and adventurer Linton Wells, as well as other politicians, writers, and individuals of note.
She maintained her ties to Cecelia, Kentucky throughout her life in the Nation’s Capitol. She supported her parents throughout their lives and until their deaths. She also gave financial assistance to family members, Kentucky friends and neighbors who were not doing as well as her. In 1980 she retired to the Villa Rosa Home in Mitchellville, Maryland, and died in Doctors Hospital in Lanham, Maryland on May 25, 1988.
Access Restrictions: Material that might constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy or libel of living persons has been closed.
Acquisition Method: Bequeathed by Lela Mae Stiles.
Related Materials: Louis McHenry Howe Papers and Franklin D. Roosevelt's Papers as President.
Browse by Series:
[Series 1: Personal Materials, 1914-1980],
Series 1: Personal Materials, 1914-1980
- The papers in this collection are arranged in a single series that is organized alphabetically by name of correspondent, subject, or organization of which Ms. Stiles was in contact with. The material is strictly personal in nature and for the most part, the correspondents are her family, neighbors of her parents, co-workers, friends, notables, and individuals associated with her professional writings.