Teaching With Documents, Volume 2


Decision at Yalta: Anna Roosevelt’s Diary

In the decades since the Yalta Conference, humanity has passed from war to postwar, through cold war (and sometimes hot spots), to the post-cold war world. The decisions made, deferred, or ignored by a handful of leaders in a quiet Russian resort town in 1945 have had an impact on millions of people worldwide. The profound importance of the Conference and its results often obscure the reality that the decision makers were, after all, people like ourselves. True, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin, the Big Three, were leaders revered as powerful and insightful, but they were also, like other mortals, prone to error, illness, and even eccentricity. The Allied war leaders also shared another humanizing characteristic: All three were fathers of daughters. Franklin Roosevelt’s daughter, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, accompanied him to the Yalta Conference. Her diary offers many fascinating details about the Conference and the man who to the world was President of the United States of America but to her was father.

The size of each delegation to Yalta, including Roosevelt’s, was limited because the Russian hosts had difficulty providing housing and sustenance for the Conference participants due to the devastation of the nation by Nazi Germany. Anna Roosevelt reports, "The first hour and a half of our auto drive took us over Steppes, which I’m told is normally flat, wheat country. The airport itself, and all the surrounding countryside have, however, been badly bombed by the Germans, and so apparently wheat production has not been resumed on any large scale. We saw a few rebuilt homes, and what was left of small farming villages, but only once in a great while did I see any children. A few women were in evidence, but not many"

The complexity of travel to Yalta also persuaded Roosevelt to restrict the size of the Presidential party. The party departed on the evening of January 22, 1945, by private train from Washington, DC, to Norfolk, VA. From there, they sailed on the Navy cruiser U.S.S. Quinsy for 11 days to Malta, flew on a C-54 airplane to the Russian landing strip at Saki, then rode for six hours by automobile to Yalta to arrive in late afternoon on February 3.

Since every person in the delegation had to perform a number of tasks, what was Anna Roosevelt’s role? In part, she coordinated state dinners and served as the President’s hostess. She recounts one amusing scene where she spent nearly half an hour trying to placate a member of the delegation who had been offended and had decided not to attend a dinner. "I did not want to bother FDR with this sort of detail—and if Jimmy did not go, there would be 13 at the dinner table, which I knew would give superstitious FDR ten fits! I gave Jimmy a long song and dance about having to go to FDR and Uncle Joe with this little problem [sic] but finally won my argument on the stupid basis of superstition Jimmy saying that was the only ground on which he would give in."

Anna Roosevelt had a far more important reason for accompanying her father than merely supervising dining arrangements. Quietly, without fanfare, she helped conserve her father’s failing energy. Even though the press went out of its way not to show the President as a disabled person, Franklin Roosevelt’s struggles with polio were public knowledge. It was not common knowledge, however, that by 1945 President Roosevelt’s heart was also failing him. As his stamina waned, he found it even more difficult to compensate for his lower body paralysis, and his overall health, weight, and appearance declined. A scant two months after the Conference, he died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Warm Springs, GA.

Throughout her diary, Anna describes how she tried to help her father conserve his energy. On February 3, the day the party arrived at Yalta, she reported, "I got good cooperation from all including FDR in my suggestion that I ride alone with FDR, so that he could sleep as much as he wanted and would not have to ’make’ conversation. And I was much pleased that evening in Yalta when Ross and Bruenn told me that FDR showed no signs of fatigue-a great difference from last evening." Anna’s vigilance brought her into conflict with her father’s advisers from time to time, including Harry Hopkins on February 4, the first day of meetings. "It’s quite obvious that he thinks I’m trying to save FDR too much, so I’m augmenting my ’buttering’ process in this direction and Harry seems to be responding nicely! He said he didn’t think a long meeting was necessary with Churchill. FDR was fine when I saw him." Winston Churchill, a night owl, unwittingly complicated Anna’s problem: "I told everyone including Sarah [Winston Churchill’s daughter] and Eden and Stetinius [sic] that they should stay in my cabin until then as I wanted Father to have a little restful time to himself-explaining that the PM. had a 11/z hr nap and FDR had been going strong since 9:30 without a break."


During the Yalta Conference, the Big Three agreed to hold free elections in Poland and Eastern Europe as soon as possible, to divide defeated Nazi Germany into zones of occupation, and to schedule a conference to draft a charter for an international organization that became the United Nations. In a secret agreement, the Soviet Union promised to enter the war against Japan a few months after the surrender of Germany in return for concessions in the Far East.

The agreements were immediately controversial and grew more controversial with each passing month as details of the accords were revealed. Since Roosevelt’s death on April 12, historians have debated whether declining health clouded his judgment at Yalta. Most often the debates have centered on whether Roosevelt should have sided with Great Britain and demanded an interim government in Poland and whether he should have conceded territory in the Pacific to the Soviet Union when he knew scientists in the United States were developing the atomic bomb. Some, such as David Eisenhower, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s grandson, contend that the agreements made at Yalta were the best that could be expected given the Soviet Army’s rapid progress toward Berlin at the same time that the Anglo-American armies were stalled in the west. Although the atomic bomb was being developed at the time of the Conference, scientists could provide no assurances that the bomb would be powerful enough or that it would even work. To many, Roosevelt’s compromises appear consistent with his political instincts and Stalin’s military leverage. While Roosevelt may have been wrong to trust Stalin, the military situation was the overriding factor in the descent of the "Iron Curtain" over Eastern Europe.

In Churchill’s eulogy of Roosevelt before Parliament, he observed, "At Yalta I noticed that the President was ailing. His captivating smile, his gay and charming manner, had not deserted him, but his face had a transparency, an air of purification, and often there was a faraway look in his eyes." A fellow member of the British delegation, Lord Moran, more critically noted that the President, who left details to his staff, compensated with shrewdness, but at Yalta the shrewdness had left him, and so there was "nothing left."

Regardless of whether his ailments had an impact on decision making at Yalta, it is clear that Roosevelt was physically drained by the Conference. When he reported on the Yalta accords to Congress on March 1, he made an unprecedented reference to his paralysis. "I hope that you will pardon me for this unusual posture of sitting down but it makes it a lot easier for me not to have to carry about 10 pounds of steel around at the bottom of my legs."

The featured document is an entry from Anna Eleanor Roosevelt’s diary, which is held by the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park,NY, a Presidential library administered by the National Archives and Records Administration. In it, Anna describes an incident on the U.S.S. Quinsy involving her father and his wheelchair. Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born in 1906, the eldest of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s six children and the only girl. She was in her mid-twenties when her father was first elected to the Presidency. At the time of the Yalta Conference, she was nearly 40. Anna Roosevelt died in 1975.

Click the image to view a larger version

Click the image to view a larger version


Geographical Knowledge

1. Ask students to locate the following locations on a world map: Washington, DC; Norfolk, VA; Malta; Saki (closest large city is Simferopol), and Yalta, Crimea. Referring to the map’s scale, ask students to compute the round trip mileage President Roosevelt traveled. Ask them to estimate how long it would take to make the trip today and compare the estimate with the length of travel time needed by Roosevelt’s delegation.

Presidential Health

2. Duplicate and distribute the document for each student to read. Afterward, ask or assign students to take the roles of Anna, President Roosevelt, Admiral Brown, Commander Tyree, a sailor on the bow of the ship, and a sailor in the gun crew and to act out the episode.

Lead a class discussion with the following questions:

a. How would you feel if this scene were taking place today, with the sitting President, instead of during World War II?

b. Have American attitudes toward people with disabilities changed?

c. Has the press and media coverage of Presidents changed?

d. How important are the factors of health and age in selecting a President?

3. Ask students to research the health of previous Presidents. Washington’s dental problems, Jackson’s gunshot wounds, the theory that Lincoln had Marfan’s syndrome, Cleveland’s cancer, Eisenhower’s heart attack, and Kennedy’s back ailments are all possibilities for research.

Role of the Presidential Child

4. Anna Roosevelt is just one of many Presidential children. Ask each student to select a President and find out if he had children and then to report to the class any information found on the age of the child during the father’s Presidency, whether the child lived in the White House during the President’s term, and stories about the child’s life at the White House. Afterward, discuss with the class the aspects of being a Presidential child that would be fun and those that might be awful.

5. As a culminating activity, direct each student to write a letter as if he or she were one of the Presidential children researched, describing life in the White House and feelings about living there. Post a selection of the letters on the bulletin board along with any available photographs of Presidential children. Photographs, documents, and other information related to modern Presidents may be obtained from the Presidential library dedicated to preserving that President’s records. A list of names, addresses, and telephone numbers of the libraries is located at the end of this volume.

Decision-Making Model

6. Divide the class into four groups to study the decisions made at Yalta. The first group should examine the decision makers-their background, beliefs, training, personalities, health, and idiosyncrasies. The second group should focus on factors shaping the decisions, including the information used, military and scientific events, expectations of voters and supporters, national goals, and ideology. The third group should study the process of making the decisions, including the steps, guiding rules, formal procedures, and informal meetings. The last group should look at the decisions themselves-what was decided, whetherthe decisions were implemented, and the results of the decisions. After each group has reported its findings, ask students to write an essay in response to this question: Did President Roosevelt fail the United States at Yalta or did he get the best agreement possible given the circumstances?

Winston Churchill’s account of the Yalta Conference in Triumph and Tragedy is the most readily available firsthand account by a participant at the Yalta Conference, and it contains valuable information for members of all four groups.


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Chicago: "Decision at Yalta: Anna Roosevelt’s Diary," Teaching With Documents, Volume 2 in Teaching With Documents: Using Primary Sources from the National Archives, ed. Wynell B. Schamel (Washington, D.C.: National Archives Trust Fund Board for the National Archives and Records Administration and National Council for the Social Studies, 1998), 208–213. Original Sources, accessed March 1, 2024, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8T1VRV78CV1ZGWN.

MLA: . "Decision at Yalta: Anna Roosevelt’s Diary." Teaching With Documents, Volume 2, in Teaching With Documents: Using Primary Sources from the National Archives, edited by Wynell B. Schamel, Vol. 2, Washington, D.C., National Archives Trust Fund Board for the National Archives and Records Administration and National Council for the Social Studies, 1998, pp. 208–213. Original Sources. 1 Mar. 2024. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8T1VRV78CV1ZGWN.

Harvard: , 'Decision at Yalta: Anna Roosevelt’s Diary' in Teaching With Documents, Volume 2. cited in 1998, Teaching With Documents: Using Primary Sources from the National Archives, ed. , National Archives Trust Fund Board for the National Archives and Records Administration and National Council for the Social Studies, Washington, D.C., pp.208–213. Original Sources, retrieved 1 March 2024, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8T1VRV78CV1ZGWN.