Eleanor Roosevelt

Although Eleanor Roosevelt served as first lady from 1932 to 1945, her influence lasted much longer than expected. Eleanor became her husband’s ears and eyes during her husband’s presidency and aided human rights during her entire life. She did what no other First Lady, or woman had dared to do before; she challenged society’s wrong doings. Many respected her; President Truman had called her “the First Lady of the World (Freedman, 168).” Eleanor Roosevelt was an amazing first lady who helped her husband, Franklin D. Roosevelt, run the country.

Eleanor was born on October 11th 1884 in New York City to Anna and Elliott Roosevelt. Six years later, Elliott was confined to a mental asylum and Anna died of diphtheria. Eleanor’s grandmother followed her mother’s wishes, and enrolled Eleanor at Allenswood School in England when she was 15 and was there until 1902 (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/eleanor/). During this time, President McKinley was assassinated and her Uncle, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt became president. When Eleanor finished school, she went back to New York and enmeshed herself into upper class society at the Waldorf- Astoria Hotel in New York City. When she was 19 she became engaged to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, her fifth cousin once removed. In 1903, Eleanor enrolled in the Junior League of New York where she taught calisthenics and dancing to immigrants (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/eleanor/). She also became involved in social warfare by joining the Consumers’ League, which investigated working conditions in the garment district. Eleanor and Franklin were married on March 17th 1905, with President Teddy Roosevelt giving the bride away (http://www.whitehouse.gov/history/firstladies/ar32.html).

From 1906 to 1916, Eleanor had 6 children, Anna, James, Franklin Jr., who dies in infancy of influenza, Elliott, another Franklin Jr. and John. In 1913 her husband became Assistant Secretary of the Navy, which enabled Eleanor to spend a great deal of time in Washington getting familiar with the ways of life. With the onset of World War I, Eleanor volunteered for the D.C. Red Cross, the Navy Department, and Navy League to help servicemen. In 1919, she volunteered at St. Elizabeth Hospital to visit World War I veterans, she also volunteered at the International Congress of Working Women.

In 1920 Eleanor traveled with her husband on his campaign for the vice presidency and joined the League of Women Voters. Later, Congress passes the Nineteenth Amendment granting women the right to vote. When, in 1921 Franklin Roosevelt became paralyzed from polio, Eleanor nursed him while still encouraging him to be involved in public life, much to F.D.R.’s mother’s dismay. Eleanor became a member of the Women’s Trade Union League, to help them pay off mortgage on their club house and to carry through plans on the Val-Kill experiment (Roosevelt, This I Remember. 31). She also joined the Democratic State Committee and met Marion Dickerman and Nancy Cook in 1922. Marion and Nan had lived and worked together for years.

In WWI Marion and Nancy had gone overseas to serve as nursing orderlies and served in a London hospital. After the war, Marion ran for New York State Assembly, the first woman in the state to do so and Nan was her campaign manager. Eleanor relied on the two when she joined the Democrat’s Women’s Division and they became close friends (Freedman, 79-80) In 1925 and 1926 Eleanor, along with Marion and Nancy founded the Val- Kill Furniture factory, corresponding with the Val-Kill estate in Hyde Park built by Franklin for Eleanor, and purchased the Todhunter School, where Eleanor taught history and government (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/eleanor/). The Democratic National Committee appointed her Director of the Bureau of Women’s Activities in the same year F.D.R. won the governorship in New York, they escalated in upper class society even more.

In November 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt is elected President of the United States, this aided Eleanor’s rise to the pinnacle of American Society. “She understood social conditions better than any of her predecessors and she transformed the role of First Lady accordingly.” (http://www.whitehouse.gov/history/firstladies/ar32.html) The initial months that Roosevelt spent in Washington, D.C. were difficult. The Great Depression was in full swing and by March there were 13,000,000 people unemployed. Almost every bank had closed and the economy was collapsing. To increase public awareness and morale, Eleanor became the first wife of a president to hold press conferences (Freedman, 98). On March 6th, 35 press women met with Eleanor because she felt that the nation’s citizens had a right to know what the people in the White House were thinking and doing (Freedman, 98). As President Roosevelt implemented the New Deal, Eleanor assisted with the formation of the National Youth Administration. “She worried about the effects of the depression on the lives of millions of young people who could not find jobs when they left school” (Freedman, 108). She also coordinated a meeting between F.D.R. and the NAACP leader to discus anti-lynching legislation. In 1935 she also coordinated a meeting with F.D.R., the head of the Democratic National Committee and the head of the Women’s Division of the DNC to discuss the role of women in political elections.

In 1936, President Roosevelt ran and won re-election. In 1939, Eleanor defied segregation and sat between whites and blacks at the Southern Conference for Human Welfare in Birmingham, Alabama even after police had informed her she was violating segregation laws (Freedman, 110). She also arranged for black signer, Marion Anderson, to sing at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday for 75,000 people. Eleanor’s wish was that Mrs. Anderson would sing at the Daughter’s of the American Revolution’s auditorium, but DAR declared that they would not allow a black artist would appear there. So the Department of the Interior scheduled a free open-air concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with more than 75,000 people listening.

On July 17th 1940, Eleanor made an impromptu speech at the Democratic National Convention, which helped F.D.R. win a third term in office. In 1943, she toured the South Pacific to boost the soldiers’ morale after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In 1945, Eleanor influences the Army Nurse Corps to open its membership to black women and joined the NAACP board of directors. Eleanor Roosevelt’s refusal to withhold her opinion made her friends as well as enemies, her critics were offended by her liberal views, highly publicized travels and spirited independence, all of which made her the icon she is today.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt died on April 12th 1945, in Warm Springs, Georgia, Eleanor’s First Lady period ended. Although grief stricken, she did not wallow in pity, instead she “sat silently for a few minutes. Then she turned to the somber duties that awaited her” (Freedman, 142). Twenty- six days later, Germany surrendered and Eleanor was asked to broadcast a VE-message to the American people; they still felt she was important to society. In 1946, she bounced back and was elected the head of the United Nations Human Rights Commission. She began to draft the Declaration of Human Rights and initiated the creation of Americans for Democratic Action, a group that focused on domestic reform and resistance against Russia and the developing Cold War (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/eleanor/).

In 1948, Eleanor spoke on “The Struggles for the Rights of Man” at the Sorbonne during a meeting on the United Nations General Assembly in Paris. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was voted on on December 10th 1948 and was overwhelmingly approved. Then, something that had never happened at the UN before or since; the delegates rose to give a standing ovation to a single delegate, it was a “moving tribute to Eleanor Roosevelt’s leadership” (Freedman, 152) The Universal Declaration of Human Rights remains one of the most widely recognized statements of the rights to which every person on the planet is entitled. She then threatened her resignation for the UN if Truman did not recognize the newly formed state of Israel.

In 1952, she resigned from the United Nations and returned to politics to campaign for Adlai Stevenson’s presidency but Dwight D. Eisenhower won, and Eleanor returned to The Women’s Division of the Democratic National Committee. Following the abolishment of the Women’s Democratic Committee, Eleanor wrote a column for the New York Post. In 1957, Eleanor visits the Soviet Union as a representative of the New York Post and meets Nikita Khrushchev. In 1958, following the passage of the Civil Right’s Act, she spoke at a civil rights workshop at Highlander Folk School in Tennessee despite threats from the Ku Klux Klan. In 1960 she supports John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign and in 1961 he re-appoints her to the United Nations, but as chair of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women. In 1962, she furthers her Civil Right’s crusade by monitoring and reporting on the efforts and progress of the fight for civil rights in the United States. On November 7th 1962, she died at the age of seventy-eight of an extended illness. Many attended her funeral, President Kennedy, as well as Eisenhower and Truman attended. She was buried next to her husband at Hyde Park (http://www.whitehouse.gov/history/firstladies/ar32.html).

Through out her life, Eleanor Roosevelt had served the world. She helped so many people by doing simple work with Human Rights. She put her heart and soul into her work and gave the world, especially the United States, a new respect for both women and African Americans. From her years as a United Nations delegate, she gave over one hundred lectures a year, wrote daily newspaper columns, contributed to magazines and wrote three autobiographies. She hosted a weekly television interview show and broadcast a daily radio commentary. She was the most influential First Ladies to date, and continued her well doing for years until her death.