"You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face...You must do the thing you think you cannot do." --- Eleanor Roosevelt.
was truly an extraordinary
woman of her time, and still remains someone worthy of great admiration
today. The wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt
and First Lady
, she was a true role model
, and excellence
. Born Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (yes, it is possible - her father was the younger brother
of the late President Theodore Roosevelt) on October 11, 1884 in New York City
, she was soon living with her grandmother
(on mother's side) at the age of 8, and her father
died two years later.
While attending Allenswood School in England between 1899-1902, she was a teenager of overpowering shyness. It was at Allenswood that she was first recognized as a great potential leader by her headmistress Madame Souvestre. Madame Souvestre told Eleanor of her "superior intellect and encouraged her to believe that she was a born leader." Eleanor did not waste any time getting involved with the community. Immediately after leaving Allenswood, she joined the Junior League and the Consumers League which gave her a firsthand perspective on the hardships of poverty, discrimination and the horrible living conditions for the immigrants of the garment industry.
Picking Up The Pace
Before long, in 1903, she became engaged to Franklin Delano Roosevelt (her distant cousin) who happened to be a student at Harvard University. Two years later on March 17, 1905, they were married. The couple went on to have six children: Anna, James, Franklin Jr. (died of influenza as an infant), Elliot, Franklin Jr. II and John. Eleanor became very involved in the Democratic Party convention, mostly due to her already helping her husband as a "political helpmate". Continuing to help others, she joined the Red Cross during World War I and visited wounded veterans in the hospital, offering support and "morale-boosting". However, as well as things might have seemed, in 1918, Eleanor stumbled across a handful of love letters to her husband from her private secretary Lucy Mercer. This lead Eleanor to offer Franklin a divorce, but he would not allow it, he promised to end his affair instead. (This caused all physical intimacy between Eleanor and Franklin to vanish - even after Lucy was married. Lucy's husband later died, and the affair between her and the president came back to life - Lucy also attended him on his deathbed in 1945.)
The Speed Of Success
Her next accomplishments came with all of the work she did during the Feminist Movement. In 1920, she joined the League of Women Voters where she made her first public speeches. Two years later (1922) she joined the Women's Trade Union League and the Women's Divison of the Democratic State Committee as well. In the Women's Division committee, she became good friends with many of its top activists who she later joined to purchase a school for girls. At this school for girls, which took the name of Todhunter, she was a teacher of history and government. She continued to surge ahead in her leadership for women, having an article published in Redbook magazine titled "Women Must Learn to Play the Game as Men Do" in 1928. Eleanor also became the director of the Bureau of Women's Activities of the Democratic National Committee the same year. She maintained all of these positions while dealing with her husbands paralyzing disease poliomyelitis, which placed him in a wheelchair for the remainder of his life. She was always there for support and a does of optimism, and even travelled across the country speaking on his behalf on issues such as civil rights and feminist mobility.
Powers of the Position
Putting her leadership ability and her position as First Lady to use, she held her first press conference on March 6, 1933 (she was the first wife of a president to hold a press conference, but she made over 300 in her time as First Lady). She used this to the advantage of herself and many other women by allowing only women journalists to attend these conferences, therefore pressuring the overbearing male-staffed newspapers to hire female reporters. Then in 1935, she started making her opinion known in a daily column entitled "My Day". She wrote this column until her death in 1962.
No Time For Breaks
Being the busy-body that she was, she wasn't about to stop at working for just one cause. Eleanor "spearheaded an experimental homestead project for coal miners in West Virginia. Also, she gave the National Youth Administration a boost by assisting them in securing employment rights for young employees. She also took it upon herself to make sure that attention was brought to other issues by arranging meetings between her husband and various activists. Eleanor set up meetings for issues such as women in politics (which we have seen much of earlier), anti-lynching legislature that worked with the NAACP, and anti-segregation policies in the South. Oh, and I might as well mention that she wasn't one to be silenced, for she violated the segregation laws of Birmingham by "sitting defiantly in the center aisle at the Southern Conference for Human Welfare.
Let's take a quick moment to put in perspective the great lengths that Eleanor Roosevelt went to, and the impact that she had through her actions on everything she did. In February 1939, she publicly resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution after discovering that it had refused to allow the African-American singer Marian Anderson from performing at its assembly in Washington, D.C. She stated in her letter of resignation to the president of the DAR, "I am in complete disagreement with the attitude taken in refusing Constitution Hall to a great artist...You had an opportunity to lead in an enlightened way and it seems to me that your organization has failed." Needless to say, Marian Anderson soon received and invitation from the federal government to perform on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, 1939. An estimated 75,000 people attended and brought the singer to later remark, "All I knew then was the overwhelming impact of that vast multitude...I had the feeling that a great wave of good will poured out from these people." There is a perfect example of the ability to influence that Eleanor Roosevelt held.
Acknowledgment Of Excellence
In 1945, after her husband's death, she received a much deserved and prestigious position as a U.S. delegate for the United Nations at the request of President Harry S. Truman. During this time, she still held strong to improving awareness and international policies towards the issues of civil and human rights. It was due to her great devotion to such issues that the General Assembly voted her a cementing position as the "world's foremost human rights advocate." Then in 1948 she convinced President Truman to aid the newly created country of Israel - she threatened to resign from the U.N. if he did not. She did however end up resigning after the election of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, but was reappointed by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 where she continued the reports to the General Assembly regarding the status of civil rights in the United States. Eleanor died on November 7, 1962 and is now buried next to her husband at Hyde Park, NY.
You can read more about Eleanor Roosevelt in her autobiography (1960), You Learn By Living.