March 17 Monuments

On Monday, October 5, 1941, Louis Dembitz Brandeis, who was a retired associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States after twenty-two years (1916-1939) in active service, died in Washington, D.C., at age eighty-four.

The date was, coincidentally, the start of the Supreme Court’s October Term 1941. For new associate justices James F. Byrnes and Robert H. Jackson, it was their first day on the Court’s bench. For Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone, who had been “elevated” during the Court’s summer recess from an associate justiceship, it was his first day in the Court’s center chair.

A year later, the president of the American Bar Association presented to the Court a bronze portrait bust of Justice Brandeis. Sculpted by Eleanor Platt of New York City, it was and is striking, powerful, indeed beautiful. Chief Justice Stone, on behalf of the Court, accepted the bust gratefully. The Court displayed it in its Library. (In subsequent years, this bust was in the Court’s West Conference Room. Today it is opposite one of the main visitor elevators on the Court’s ground floor.)

Six months later, on Wednesday, March 17, 1943—eighty years ago today—Eleanor Roosevelt, the First Lady of the U.S. (the wife of U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt), viewed this bust at the Court.

Mrs. Roosevelt came to the Court at 1:00 p.m., at the invitation of Justice Felix Frankfurter, for a private, relaxed luncheon with most of the justices. Frankfurter, Stone, Jackson, Owen J. Roberts, Hugo L. Black, Stanley Reed, and Wiley Rutledge were present. William O. Douglas and Frank Murphy were absent. Byrnes also was absent—he recently had resigned, leaving the Court after only one year to assist President Roosevelt in administering the economy during World War II.

Following the lunch, Stone and Frankfurter escorted Mrs. Roosevelt to the Court’s Library to see the Brandeis bust. She admired it, greatly. They also showed her painted portraits of some former justices. By 3:00 p.m., she was back at the White House.

That day, March 17, 1943, was the Roosevelts’ 38th wedding anniversary.

At 7:30 that evening, Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt celebrated the occasion at a private White House dinner with a small number of friends, including Treasury secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr., his wife Elinor, and their son U.S. Army Lieutenant Henry Morgenthau, III; presidential adviser (and White House resident) Harry Hopkins and his wife Louise; and Eleanor Roosevelt’s personal secretary and aide Malvina “Tommy” Thompson.

Here are some relevant images—

  • From the Supreme Court’s Journal, American Bar Association president George Maurice Morris’s October 5, 1942, remarks, presenting the Brandeis bust to the Court:

  • Chief Justice Stone’s remarks in response:

  • Excerpts from Eleanor Roosevelt’s March 18, 1943, “My Day” column, syndicated daily in newspapers across the nation, describing her visit the previous day to the Supreme Court:

  • Eleanor (knitting) and Franklin (reading) Roosevelt:

So have a very Happy March 17.

Remember to look up, at least metaphorically, at Louis Brandeis, at Eleanor Roosevelt, at Franklin Roosevelt, and, yes, at St. Patrick.