A Trustworthy Collaboration: Eleanor Roosevelt and Martha Graham’s Pioneering of American Cultural Diplomacy

European Journal of American Studies. 2017;12(1) DOI 10.4000/ejas.11972


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Journal Title: European Journal of American Studies

ISSN: 1991-9336 (Print)

Publisher: European Association for American Studies

LCC Subject Category: History America: United States | Social Sciences: Sociology (General)

Country of publisher: France

Language of fulltext: English

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Camelia Lenart


Double blind peer review

Editorial Board

Instructions for authors

Time From Submission to Publication: 30 weeks


Abstract | Full Text

The article analyzes Eleanor Roosevelt’s intricate and innovative relationship with American arts during a time when Americans did not believe yet in the power of the arts in making (and un-making) political and diplomatic statements. Focusing on the collaboration between the First Lady and the modern dancer Martha Graham, it also proves that their partnership and its valuable and long lasting outcomes qualify them as pioneers of American cultural diplomacy. As the article shows, Roosevelt invited Martha Graham to perform “American Document” at the White House when the USA was contemplating its entrance in the Second World War. Like in the case of Marion Anderson’s invitation, Graham’s performance of modernism and patriotism was by no means a social event, but a conscientious decision to use the arts in the service of politics and diplomacy. The article follows Roosevelt’s visionary involvement in the inception of American cultural diplomacy during the early fifties, when the former First Lady, now a recognized politician and savvy diplomat on her own, used her prestige and connections in helping Graham during her tours in Europe. Accompanied by the American Ambassador David Bruce, Roosevelt attended Graham’s opening night in Paris, during the dancer’s difficult first European tour in 1950. Subsequently, when Roosevelt’s old friend, Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, visited Hyde Park in 1952, she orchestrated the Queen’s meeting with Graham in New York City. On the occasion of Graham’s second European tour, in 1954, the Queen attended one of her performances, which was an unprecedented diplomatic and audience success for the dancer and American diplomacy in Europe. Based on research in archives, as well as public and private collections from the USA, The Netherlands, Britain and France, the article is not only a historical reconstruction of a special collaboration, but also an homage to the two fascinating First Ladies – of politics and dance – who pioneered American cultural diplomacy.