Roosevelt, Eleanor (Roosevelt)

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ROOSEVELT, Eleanor (Roosevelt)

Born 11 October 1884, New York, New York; died 7 November 1962, New York, New York

Daughter of Elliot and Anna Hall Roosevelt; married Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1905; children: one daughter, five sons

Eleanor Roosevelt wrote books, essays, and newspaper articles that inspired one's duty to work for the freedom and common good of the community of humankind. She wrote a total of 12 nonfiction books and a daily newspaper "letter" that started in 1935 and ended with her death in 1962. The column appeared in 140 papers and helped inspire the people of the U.S. through the challenging years of a worldwide depression and a world war. She also wrote a monthly magazine column and made numerous lecture tours. Her personal popularity as First Lady and as an undaunted proponent of world peace overshadowed her writing career, but it is in her writings that we find the roots of her strength and courage.

In This is My Story (1937), Roosevelt reveals that she had a privileged but unhappy childhood with a stern mother who doted on Roosevelt's brothers. Her father and mother died when she was young and she was raised by her grandmother. Despite being shy, awkward, and an unusually tall young girl, Roosevelt grew into a mature woman known throughout the world for her crusading efforts on behalf of democracy and equality. She writes of a strong commitment to her husband (this despite a painful revelation of his infidelity not yet made public in 1937) and her interest in national and international concerns.

Throughout her life she wrote a number of issue-oriented books, including The Moral Basis of Democracy (1940), an examination of the foundations of democracy, while India and the Awakening East (1953) looks at the then fledgling Indian nation, covering its challenges and successes. A strong proponent, indeed often considered the founder of the United Nations, Roosevelt's UN Today and Tomorrow (1953) presents a picture of the international organization and its potential.

But it was in her column, "My Day," syndicated by United Feature Syndicate and first appearing on 30 December 1935, that her strong philosophy of life came through and where at times she dropped her public persona and revealed Eleanor Roosevelt the woman. In each column she shared her "day" with the American people and though often written after hours of activities and meetings, Roosevelt's voice of compassion and justice was consistently expressed. Her style was simply to relate her activities to her readers and how she felt about them. The writing style was warm and intimate, often humorous, and through these "sharings" we find a woman sincerely concerned about the welfare and security of humankind, with an undaunted perseverance to work for changing the world for the better.

What I Hope to Leave Behind: The Essential Essays of Eleanor Roosevelt (1995) is a collection of Roosevelt's essays that appeared in various publications ranging from Harper's magazine to Good Housekeeping magazine. The collection traces the development of Roosevelt's style from a reticent political journalist to a self-assured activist for democracy and the "inherent responsibility of democratic citizenship." In these essays Roosevelt consistently argues for the rights of all people, regardless of nationality, sex, age, wealth, or race. During her lifetime Roosevelt was the recipient of numerous humanitarian awards. Because of her strong interest for and involvement in international events, she has often been called the First Lady of the World and Number One World Citizen.

Recent books have revealed that Roosevelt had intense relationships with women friends, but she never discussed them publicly. This circle of women provided nurturance and support throughout Roosevelt's adult life and undoubtedly had a major influence in her unceasing work for the civil rights of African Americans and women's equality.

Overall, the sum of Roosevelt's writings show her to have been a shy young woman who overcame her fear of criticism, grew in her independence, and became a world leader despite sadness and difficulty in her life. In overcoming her own difficulties, she became a role model for compassion and caring for all peoples. Her undefeated enthusiasm for life continues to draw generations to her writings.

Other Works:

When You Grow Up To Vote (1932). It's Up to the Women (1933). My Days (1938). If You Ask Me (1946). This I Remember (1949). On My Own (1958). You Learn By Living (1960). Tomorrow Is Now (1963).

Bibliography:

Cook, B. W., Eleanor Roosevelt, 1884-1933 (vol. I, 1992). Cook,. B. W., Eleanor Roosevelt: 1933-1938 (vol. 2, 1999). Hickok, L.A., Reluctant First Lady (1962). Lash, J. P., Eleanor and Franklin (1971).

—LINDA SPENCER

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