born october 11, 1884new york, new york
died november 7, 1962hyde park, new york
first lady of the united states, social activist
Eleanor Roosevelt in The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt">
"I think I must have a good deal of my uncle Theodore Roosevelt in me because I enjoy a good fight and I could not at any age really be contented to take my place in a warm corner by the fireside and simply look on."
eleanor roosevelt in the autobiography of eleanor roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt served as First Lady from March 1933 to April 1945, longer than any other president's wife. She was also one of the first First Ladies to work for social reforms both in the United States and worldwide. Checking on conditions throughout the nation, she was President Franklin D. Roosevelt's (1882–1945; served 1933–45; see entry) "eyes and ears." In the United States she promoted better working conditions for men and women, the elimination of child labor, and racial desegregation. Internationally, she challenged injustice and discrimination wherever she found them. Eleanor served as the first U.S. delegate to the United Nations from 1945 to 1951.
Privileged but lonely childhood
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born in New York City to Elliott Roosevelt and Anna Hall Roosevelt. Both of her parents came from wealthy families who were prominent in New York society. Elliott's family was less concerned with formal society than Anna's; they donated some of their wealth to help people such as newsboys on the streets of New York and the handicapped being aided by pioneering medical doctors. Elliott was dashing, witty, and loved by all. He was indulged by his mother and sisters and used his inheritance to travel on exotic expeditions such as hunting in India. His older brother Theodore would become president of the United States in 1901. Elliott married Anna Hall, who belonged to the old, traditional, and self-important New York society circle. Anna was beautiful and charming and a star within the social world. She dined and danced with only the right people.
Anna Eleanor was born in October 1884, and as she herself puts it in her autobiography, she was a "more wrinkled and less attractive baby than the average." Elliott adored young Eleanor, but her mother was dismayed with her daughter's looks and often called her "granny," which greatly embarrassed Eleanor. For unexplained reasons, Elliott developed a drinking problem. With great anxiety the family unsuccessfully attempted to help Elliott recover; the drinking was destroying his health. In December 1892 Anna suddenly contracted diphtheria and died. Elliott arranged for Grandmother Hall to take in Eleanor and her two younger brothers, Elliott and Hall. The three children and a nurse moved into the West Thirty-seventh Street house in New York City. Another tragedy struck the family later the same winter. Little Elliott died of diphtheria, just as his mother had. Eight-year-old Eleanor lived for visits from her father and dreamed of the day when she and her brother and father could all live together again. But Elliott's drinking problem continued, and on August 14, 1894, when Eleanor was nine years old, her beloved father died.
Discipline was strict in Grandmother Hall's house, and as an adult Eleanor remembered being forever fearful of displeasing people. Her grandmother raised Eleanor more out of duty than out of love. From her childhood Eleanor learned she was unattractive and that love and approval were hard to come by and not likely to last. As an adult she would constantly have to overcome self-doubt and the fear that she would not measure up.
Accompanying various relatives on charity missions at Thanksgiving and Christmas, Eleanor became aware at an early age that there were many needy people in the community. Eleanor experienced great joy in helping others. It gave her a sense of purpose and usefulness.
In 1899 at the age of fifteen Eleanor sailed to England to enroll in Allenswood, a school close to London, England, and under the direction of French headmistress Marie Souvestre. Souvestre was a strong, liberal-minded woman, partial to Americans, and was perhaps the first to see the intellect and compassion of the tall, slender young Eleanor. She chose Eleanor to accompany her on travels through Europe during school breaks. Souvestre taught Eleanor about the world of art, encouraged her to think for herself, and stressed service to the less fortunate. In later life Eleanor often credited Souvestre as starting her down a road of increased self-confidence.
In 1902 Eleanor returned to New York because her family insisted she participate in the formal New York social scene. She also began work that winter in Junior League and for the first time worked at a house for the poor, Rivington Street Settlement House. During this time Eleanor's distant cousin Franklin Roosevelt began to court her. He attended occasional dances on the social circuit that winter, and Eleanor was invited to a party at his Hyde Park home. He was attracted by her intelligence and caring—and also, no doubt, by the fact that she was the niece of President Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919; served 1901–09), a man he greatly admired. Franklin proposed in the fall of 1903, and they married on March 17, 1905, with President Theodore Roosevelt giving Eleanor away. The newly married couple first lived in a small apartment in a hotel in the West Forties of New York City while Franklin finished at Columbia Law School.
After traveling in Europe, Eleanor and Franklin returned to New York to a house at 125 East Fifty-sixth Street. Eleanor's mother-in-law, Sara Delano Roosevelt, had already hired their servants and decorated their house. Sara had a domineering personality, which Eleanor would begin to resent after a few years. Eleanor settled in as a young society matron dependent on others, with all decisions made for her. On May 3, 1906, Eleanor's first child, a baby girl named Anna Eleanor (1906–1975), was born. Eleanor and Franklin would have five more children. One died in infancy; the other four, all boys, were James (1907–), Elliott (1910–), Franklin Delano Jr. (1914–1988), and John (1916–1981).
Eleanor's first taste of politics came in 1910, when Franklin was elected to a seat in the New York State Senate. Then three years later he was appointed assistant secretary of the navy in President Woodrow Wilson's administration. Although she would always contend with shyness, Eleanor began to acquire some independence as she oversaw frequent travels involving the whole young family between Washington, D.C., Hyde Park, and her mother-in-law's vacation home on Campobello, an island near Eastport, Maine. Highly outgoing, Franklin enjoyed the Washington social life, but Eleanor found the endless string of teas, dinners, and parties meaningless and tiring.
On April 6, 1917, the United States entered into World War I (1914–18). For the first time since before her marriage, Eleanor began to do volunteer work again and was thankful that the formal teas and parties had stopped for the moment. She joined the Red Cross canteen, helped organize the Navy Red Cross, and, for the Navy League, distributed raw wool to be knit into clothing for the men in the services. The joy she had felt at a much younger age in helping others returned. She also learned she could quite capably manage groups of people working for a common cause. The war came to an end on November 11, 1918. However, an unhappy revelation in September had caused Eleanor's personal world to fall apart. Eleanor discovered that Franklin had fallen in love with her own young, beautiful, and capable personal secretary, Lucy Mercer. As was the social custom, Eleanor gave Franklin the option of divorce. Franklin declined a divorce and promised never to see Lucy again. Nevertheless, Eleanor's self-pride and confidence were severely tested. The old childhood insecurities about her unattractiveness and worthiness to be loved took over for a while. However, this personal marital crisis actually worked to set free a strong and determined woman who was ready to craft an independent public identity.
Her compassion for others and her management skills, together with the family name, launched Eleanor on a life path of social reform and political activism. During the 1920s Eleanor would become a leader in four New York groups: the League of Women Voters; the Women's City Club and the Women's Trade Union League, both groups seeking better working conditions for women; and the Women's Division of the New York State Democratic Committee.
Into the political spotlight
Franklin resigned his position as assistant secretary of the navy in the summer of 1920 to accept the Democratic nomination as the vice presidential candidate and running mate of presidential nominee James M. Cox (1870–1957). Franklin proved extremely popular with Democrats. The nomination put Eleanor in the national spotlight. Although both Eleanor and Franklin made numerous campaign trips, the election was lost to Warren G. Harding (1865–1923; served 1921–23). Franklin returned with his family to New York City and formed a law partnership with Grenville Emmet and Langdon Marvin.
In the summer of 1921 Franklin's life took a sudden dramatic turn. He was diagnosed with polio, a disease that caused paralysis of his legs. Franklin withdrew from public life to recuperate. For the next seven years Eleanor and his friend and adviser Louis Howe (1871–1936) kept him informed on issues until he could return to politics. Eleanor often said she was Franklin's "legs and eyes" during his years of healing.
As her association with the Women's City Club, the Women's Trade Union League, and the New York State Democratic Committee increased, Eleanor developed friendships with many women activists, including Molly Dewson (1874–1962; see entry), head of the newly formed Women's Division of the Democratic National Committee. When Franklin Roosevelt became president in 1933, Dewson and Eleanor were instrumental in getting women appointed to influential government posts.
In 1926 Franklin planned and had built for Eleanor a cottage, called Val-Kill, on the Hyde Park property. Eleanor spent much time there with Nancy Cook and Marion Dickerman, two friends who were leaders in Dewson's Women's Division. Cook and Dickerman both resided at Val-Kill. Together they operated an Early American furniture manufacturing company. In addition, the threesome bought Todhunter School in New York City, a private school for girls from elementary grades through high school. Eleanor began teaching the older girls in 1927 in American history, English, literature, and current events. In the current events courses Eleanor took students into New York courtrooms and into tenements. She wanted students to see the city as a real place—alive—rather than just seeing it through textbooks. Eleanor began to make a few political speeches on her own. Louis Howe would sit in the back of the room and evaluate her effectiveness and advise her. Eleanor also reported back to the much improved Franklin what the public thinking was on various issues. Franklin would depend on her for input for the rest of his life.
In the spring of 1928 Franklin had recovered his health, but he could walk only with extreme difficulty, with the aid of heavy braces and a cane. Franklin ran and won the 1928 governor's race in New York, and the Roosevelts moved to Albany, New York's capital, on January 1, 1929. Eleanor's life was consumed with being a mother and a governor's wife, and with teaching, which she continued to do two and a half days a week by traveling to New York City during the first half of each week. Eleanor also learned to be an expert reporter, describing conditions and situations to her husband when his disability prevented him from going and seeing all himself. Eleanor explains in her autobiography, The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt:
walking was so difficult for him that he could not go inside an institution and get a real idea of how it was being run from the point of view of overcrowding, staff, food, and medical care. i was asked to take over this part of the inspection, and at first my reports were highly unsatisfactory to him. i would tell him what was on the menu for the day and he would ask: "did you look to see whether the inmates were actuallygetting that food?" i learned to look into the cooking pots on the stove and to find out if the contents corresponded to the menu.… before the end of our years in albany i had become a fairly expert reporter.
First Lady and role model
In 1932 Franklin ran as the Democratic presidential candidate and won handily over Republican president Herbert Hoover (1874–1964; served 1929–33; see entry). Franklin Roosevelt was inaugurated as the thirty-second president of the United States on March 4, 1933, when the nation was at the depth of the Great Depression. Beginning with the stock market crash in the fall of 1929, the Great Depression had become the worst economic crisis in U.S. history. Approximately 25 percent of the nation's workforce was unemployed, and many Americans did not have enough food.
Eleanor approached being the First Lady with great apprehension. She feared losing her hard-won independence as a teacher and political activist. However, Eleanor would soon set the standard for political and social involvement against which future First Ladies would be measured. Even further, she became a role model for women actively involved in their communities and nation.
One of Eleanor's early innovations was to hold a weekly press conference for women journalists only. This required the media organizations to keep women on staff in Washington, D.C., and ensured that some of the nation's news was written from a woman's point of view. Eleanor began holding the conferences at the suggestion of journalist Lorena Hickok (1893–1968; see entry), a close friend who also became a trusted adviser to Eleanor in the 1930s. The press conferences continued throughout Franklin Roosevelt's presidency.
Champion for youth, women, and minorities
Eleanor believed it was the government's responsibility to aid people struggling through the Depression. She traveled around the country to observe firsthand the predicament of the American people. Besides reporting her observations to
her husband, she made sure that people who would not normally have access to the president gained his attention. Throughout Eleanor's time as First Lady thousands of individuals wrote personal letters to her about their troubles. She often passed requests on to the appropriate agency and answered many letters personally. Eleanor's energy and tireless work became legendary. She was determined that no group who needed New Deal projects would be left out. (The New Deal was the name given to the programs Roosevelt's administration designed to bring relief, recovery, and reform to the United States during the Depression.)
Eleanor supported appointments of women to government positions, and she was a strong voice in support of women's opportunities in general. She also promoted aid to young people, relief for miners trapped in some of the worst conditions of the Depression, and the civil rights of black Americans. Eleanor worked with others to ensure that programs for women were included in the New Deal's Works Progress Administration (WPA), which created work projects for people on relief. Likewise, programs in the National Youth Administration (NYA) benefited from her input. She believed that young people had a right to be heard and to be assisted by Washington. Eleanor worked with officials from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and supported federal antilynching laws that her husband had failed to endorse for fear of losing Southern votes. And in 1937, in a famous action that proclaimed her support for black Americans, she resigned her membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) when the group refused to allow black singer Marian Anderson (1897–1993) to perform in Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. The concert later took place on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where thousands heard Anderson sing.
By late 1940, following President Roosevelt's election to a third term in office, the nation's focus had shifted to preparation for war. In late 1941 the United States entered World War II (1939–45), effectively ending the Depression with the creation of many war-related jobs—more jobs than could be filled. Eleanor received a steady line of foreign visitors at the White House. In her autobiography she noted, "All the royal families whose countries had been overrun sooner or later appeared, looking for assistance."
Eleanor soon undertook extensive trips abroad. She went first to England in 1942 at the invitation of Elizabeth (1900–2002), wife of King George VI (1895–1952), to see what work the women were doing in the war and to visit U.S. servicemen. In 1943 Eleanor traveled to the South Pacific islands, New Zealand, and Australia. Although conditions were dangerous, she visited troops on Guadalcanal. Walking many miles in hospital wards each day, Eleanor had to accept the bravery of the men and hide her emotions at the horror of how severely they were injured—both physically and mentally. In March 1944 Eleanor took a 13,000-mile trip, going to the islands of the Caribbean, where U.S. servicemen were stationed, and then to Central and South America.
Eleanor realized at Franklin's fourth inauguration in January 1945 that his health might be failing. Still, he insisted on having all of his thirteen grandchildren, ranging in age from three to sixteen, attend the ceremony and spend a few days at the White House. Franklin then insisted on making a trip in February to Yalta, on the Black Sea. There he met with other world leaders to chart what the course of the world would be after the war.
In April 1945 Franklin went to his retreat at Warm Springs, Georgia, for a rest. On the afternoon of April 12 Franklin collapsed from a cerebral hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain) and died. It was a time of shock and sorrow for the Roosevelt family. Eleanor quickly made plans to move from the White House. In The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt she commented, "I was now on my own."
Eleanor Roosevelt, Prolific Writer
Throughout Eleanor's time in the White House and in later years she was a prolific writer. When Eleanor first came to the White House, she was writing a weekly column for the Women's Home Companion. A bit bored with this column, she began writing "My Day" in January 1936, signing a five-year contract with United Feature Syndicate for the daily column. In her later life she continued writing the column, but only three days a week. "My Day" ran from 1936 until Eleanor's death in 1962. From June 1941 until spring 1949 she wrote a monthly question-and-answer column called "If You Ask Me" for Ladies' Home Journal. And from 1949 until her death she wrote a monthly column for McCalls. It is estimated that she wrote 2,500 newspaper columns and 299 magazine articles between 1933 and 1945, her years at the White House.
Eleanor Roosevelt's books include This Is My Story (1937), This I Remember (1949), India and the Awakening East (1953), On My Own (1958), You Learn by Living (1960), The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt (1961), Ladies of Courage (1954) with Lorena Hickok, and UN: Today and Tomorrow (1953) with William DeWitt.
On her own
Although she felt a large void with the loss of her husband, Eleanor made the adjustments necessary to carry on and continue contributing. She commented that she had been making adjustments ever since Franklin first fell ill with polio. Eleanor made the necessary financial arrangements and enjoyed visits with friends and family at Hyde Park. She then turned the big house at Hyde Park over to the U.S. government for safekeeping but continued living at Val-Kill on the property. She also maintained an apartment overlooking Washington Square in New York City.
In 1946 President Harry Truman (1884–1972; served 1945–53) appointed Eleanor as a delegate to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly. Her appointment was confirmed by the U.S. Senate. She was elected chairperson of the UN Commission on Human Rights, and she helped author the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Eleanor referred to her time at the UN as "one of the most wonderful and worthwhile experiences in my life." She served as a UN delegate until 1952. In 1952 Eleanor traveled throughout the world in support of humanitarian causes. First she visited the Arab countries and then Israel, Pakistan, and India. In 1953, as a volunteer for the American Association for the United Nations (AAUN), she traveled to Japan, Hong Kong, Turkey, Greece, and Yugoslavia.
In 1952 and again in 1956 Eleanor supported Democrat Adlai E. Stevenson (1900–1965) for president, but he lost to war hero Dwight Eisenhower (1890–1969), a Republican, in both elections. Eleanor was bitterly opposed to the anti-communist campaign of persecution led by Senator Joseph McCarthy (1908–1957) during the 1950s. McCarthy and his followers accused many loyal citizens of being communist sympathizers and would then conduct investigations that bordered on harassment.
Continuing to travel worldwide, Eleanor related that two of her most interesting trips were to the Soviet Union in 1957 and 1958. There she met with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971). As a result of these trips, during which Eleanor witnessed firsthand a communist political system in which all industry and property was government-owned (in opposition to the capitalist United States, where industry and property are owned by the people), she believed even more strongly that only in a democracy could people fully function.
Although Eleanor's family urged her to slow down, slowing down was not in her nature. In September 1960 she made her first trip to two cities in Poland, Warsaw and Kraków. She found the Poles full of optimistic energy and suggested they might be the people to help bring understanding between Western and Eastern nations.
Eleanor continued writing her regular newspaper column, but cut back to only three times a week rather than daily as she had been doing since 1935. She also wrote a monthly column for McCalls magazine. She also did radio and television work, lectured widely, and served as a volunteer member of the American Association of University Women (AAUW). Although she vowed not to actively campaign in the 1960 presidential election, by autumn she was on the campaign trail. She had supported Adlai Stevenson at the Democratic nominating convention, but the chosen candidate, John F. Kennedy (1917–1963), soon won her approval.
Eleanor loved to celebrate anniversaries, birthdays, and other special occasions, and she continued to enjoy these events at Hyde Park or at her apartment in New York City. A steady stream of dignitaries, family, and friends came and went at Hyde Park. Eleanor also enjoyed corresponding with President Kennedy and with Mrs. Kennedy, both of whom she thought were serving the country well. In February 1962 Eleanor made her last trip to Europe. Sensing her time was very limited, she began sending out checks months early for school tuition for godchildren, to friends, and to favorite organizations. She died on November 7, 1962, at Val-Kill.
For More Information
beasley, maurine h. eleanor roosevelt and the media: a public quest forself-fulfillment. urbana, il: university of illinois press, 1987.
hareven, tamara r. eleanor roosevelt: an american conscience. chicago, il: quadrangle books, 1968.
hoff-wilson, joan, and marjorie lightman, eds. without precedent: thelife and career of eleanor roosevelt. bloomington, in: indiana university press, 1984.
lash, joseph p. eleanor and franklin. new york, ny: new american library, 1971.
lash, joseph p. eleanor: the years alone. new york, ny: norton, 1972.
roosevelt, eleanor. the autobiography of eleanor roosevelt. new york, ny: harper & brothers publishers, 1961.
Born October 11, 1884
Died November 7, 1962
First lady of the United States, social activist
Eleanor Roosevelt served as first lady from March 1933 to April 1945, longer than any other president's wife. She also was one of the first first ladies to work tirelessly for social reforms both in the United States and worldwide. Checking on conditions throughout the nation during World War II (1939–45) and earlier, she was President Franklin D. Roosevelt's (1882–1945; served 1933–45; see entry) "eyes and ears." During the war years, she advocated for improved employment opportunities for women and minorities and helped her husband give comfort to the nation during the times of crisis.
Early childhood lessons
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born on October 11, 1884, in New York City to Elliott Roosevelt and Anna Hall Roosevelt. She had two younger brothers. Both of her parents were from wealthy, prominent families in New York society. Elliott's older brother Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919; served 1901–09) became president of the United States in 1901. Anna was beautiful, charming, and very popular within the social world.
Anna was dismayed with her young daughter's plain appearance and often called her "granny," to Eleanor's embarrassment. Elliott had a drinking problem. In December 1892, when Eleanor was only eight years old, Anna contracted diphtheria and suddenly died. Eleanor and her two younger brothers, Elliott and Hall, went to her maternal grandmother's home in New York City. That winter the youngest brother, Elliott, also died of diphtheria. Tragedy struck again in August 1894 when Eleanor's father died.
Little warmth existed in Eleanor's childhood. She was raised by her grandmother more out of duty than love. From her childhood, Eleanor learned that love and approval were hard to find and not likely to last. The resulting feeling of self-doubt would pursue her all her life. Eleanor found great joy in helping others, which gave her a sense of purpose and usefulness.
A calling to social service
In 1899 at the age of fifteen, Eleanor was enrolled in Allenswood, a school near London, England. French head-mistress Marie Souvestre, a strong, liberal-minded woman, liked Eleanor and took her along on travels through Europe during school breaks. Souvestre taught Eleanor about the world of art, encouraged her to think for herself, and stressed service to the less fortunate. This experience would have a lasting effect on Eleanor.
At eighteen, Eleanor returned to New York in 1902 to enter the New York social scene. However, she also began social work that winter, joining the National Consumer's League, which promoted worker safety and taught children of immigrants at a house for the poor, the Rivington Street Settlement House. Later in 1902, Eleanor's distant cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt began courting her. They would see each other on various occasions such as parties at his Hyde Park home and at White House events. They married just over two years later in March 1905. Her uncle, President Theodore Roosevelt, gave Eleanor away. Eleanor and Franklin first lived in a small apartment in New York City while Franklin attended Columbia Law School. They would have one daughter and four sons.
Eleanor and Franklin
Eleanor's mother-in-law, Sara Delano Roosevelt, had a very domineering personality. Sara insisted that Eleanor drop her social activism and become a young society matron dependent on others. Eleanor would increasingly resent her intrusion in their lives as the years went by.
Eleanor's first experience in politics came in 1911, when Franklin won election to a seat in the New York State Senate. Two years later, she and Franklin moved to Washington, D.C., when he was appointed assistant secretary of the navy by President Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924; served 1913–21). Though Franklin enjoyed the Washington social life, Eleanor at first found it meaningless.
When the United States entered World War I (1914–18) in April 1917, Eleanor was able to resume volunteer work. She helped operate a Red Cross canteen and tended to navy wounded. She also helped organize the Navy Red Cross. As the war came to an end in November 1918, Eleanor's personal life seemingly fell apart. She discovered Franklin had fallen in love with her own young and beautiful personal secretary, Lucy Mercer. Franklin promised never to see Lucy again, but Eleanor's self-pride and confidence suffered. Out of her marital crisis Eleanor launched a more determined career in social reform and political activism.
Franklin resigned his naval post in 1920 to be the vice presidential running mate of James M. Cox. Though they lost badly, Franklin's campaign abilities proved extremely popular with Democrats. The campaign also put Eleanor in the national spotlight. They returned to New York City and Franklin formed a law partnership.
In the summer of 1921, another tragedy came to the family when Franklin became ill with polio-like symptoms that included paralysis of his legs. For the next seven years, while pursuing her own causes, Eleanor and others kept Franklin informed on political issues. During Franklin's lengthy recuperation, Eleanor served as his "legs and eyes." During the 1920s Eleanor became a leader in four New York groups: the League of Women Voters, the Women's City Club, the Women's Trade Union League, and the Women's Division of the New York State Democratic Committee. The City Club and Trade Union League sought social reform, particularly better working conditions for women. Through these organizations, Eleanor developed friendships with many women activists who would be influential throughout the remainder of her political life.
In 1926 Franklin planned and had built for Eleanor a cottage, called Val-Kill, on the Hyde Park property. At Val-Kill Eleanor operated an Early American furniture manufacturing company with two friends. Also, the threesome bought Todhunter School in New York City, a private school for girls. Eleanor began teaching there in 1927 in several subjects including American history, English, literature, and current events. Eleanor also began making political speeches on her own and continued to relay to the improving Franklin the thinking on various issues. Franklin would rely on Eleanor in this way for the rest of his life.
Recovered such that he could walk with the aid of heavy braces and a cane, Franklin won the 1928 governor's race for New York. The Roosevelts moved to Albany, New York's capital, but Eleanor continued to teach two and a half days a week in New York City.
In 1932 Franklin handily won the presidential election. The nation was at the depth of the Great Depression (1929–41). Beginning in the fall of 1929, the Great Depression was the worst economic crisis in U.S. history. Approximately 25 percent of the nation's workforce was unemployed, and many Americans did not have enough food. In this time of national need, Eleanor set the standard for first lady social involvement against which future first ladies would be measured. Even further, she became a role model for women actively involved in their communities and nation.
Eleanor believed government had the responsibility to aid those people struggling most. She made sure that people who do not normally have access to the president, such as women, youth, blue-collar workers, and black Americans, gained his attention. Eleanor's energy and tireless work became legendary. Eleanor pressed for appointments of women to high government positions and for women in general to benefit from government programs. She supported federal antilynching laws that her husband would not endorse for fear of losing Southern votes.
A source of advice and information
From 1933 to 1945 Eleanor would write or dictate thousands of newspaper and magazine articles, publish six books, make numerous speeches, travel thousands of miles, and hold weekly press conferences. Her weekly press conferences were for women journalists only. Media organizations had to employ women reporters on their staff in Washington, D.C. One effect was that it led to national news from a woman's point of view. Thousands of individuals wrote personal letters to Eleanor about their troubles. She often passed requests on to the appropriate agency and personally answered many letters.
Office of Civilian Defense Controversy
Eleanor Roosevelt was very busy during the war trying to keep morale high on the home front and pursuing rights for women and minorities. For five months, beginning in September 1941, she also served as assistant national director for the Office of Civilian Defense (OCD). It was the first government position ever held by a first lady in U.S. history. Roosevelt worked with the OCD director, Fiorello La Guardia (1882–1947; see entry), to support a wide range of home front volunteer programs in support of the war effort. While La Guardia focused primarily on air raid warning systems, Roosevelt sought to include social services such as nursery schools, recreation centers, and homes for the aged in OCD. These efforts by Roosevelt attracted considerable criticism from the media and Congress. Roosevelt's hiring of a close friend to teach dancing to children was finally the last straw for the critics. Congress even began withholding funds from OCD. The criticism increased to such an extent that Roosevelt finally concluded the mission of OCD was being jeopardized by her involvement. In addition, she and La Guardia were suffering from a conflict in personalities. In February 1942 both she and La Guardia stepped down from their OCD duties. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45) restored calm to the agency with new leadership.
At first Eleanor wrote a weekly column for the Women's Home Companion, but she began writing "My Day," which became a syndicated daily column in January 1936. The column continued until her death in 1962. With war developing in early 1941, Eleanor wrote a monthly question-and-answer column, "If You Ask Me," for Ladies' Home Journal from June 1941 to the spring of 1949 and for McCall's from 1949 until her death. Between the years 1933 and 1945 alone, it is estimated she wrote twenty-five hundred newspaper columns and three hundred magazine articles.
In her articles and public appearances during the war, Eleanor answered questions on a wide range of topics, including prospects for continued employment of women after the war, postwar educational opportunities for servicemen, the condition of servicemen overseas following her journeys, women's issues in the service, the conduct of war in China, service allowances for wives of soldiers, various military policies, and rationing.
A spokeswoman for the common person
During the war, Eleanor often boldly spoke out in favor of unpopular issues on the home front. For example, she strongly supported the Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) that promoted fairness in the hiring of black Americans and other minorities in the war industries. Despite the criticism directed at Eleanor for her public support, particularly from the South, President Roosevelt never publicly objected to her position on this issue.
Eleanor also took a position supporting the draft of individuals, including women, to work in war industries. By late in 1942 workforce shortages were appearing. Eleanor and others argued that some form of government control was needed to ensure critical war industries had a sufficient and stable workforce. The public opposed Eleanor's position and her husband did as well. The home front draft was never instituted.
America's wartime ambassador
With Franklin hampered by his physical disabilities and busy with the conduct of World War II (1939–45), Eleanor served as his personal ambassador to other nations. Eleanor
received numerous foreign visitors at the White House, often from countries looking for U.S. assistance.
Eleanor also took extensive trips at home and abroad. For example, after touring the United States in September 1942 with Franklin inspecting war factories, military camps, and navy shipyards, Eleanor left for Britain in October. Queen Elizabeth (1900–2002) had invited her to see the types of work the women were doing to assist in Britain's war effort and to visit U.S. servicemen stationed there. The following year Eleanor journeyed to the Pacific front, including the South Pacific islands, New Zealand, and Australia. Supporting the American Red Cross, she visited numerous hospital wards where U.S. servicemen were recovering physically and emotionally from severe injuries. In March 1944 she took a thirteen thousand-mile trip to the Caribbean, where U.S. servicemen were stationed, and on to Central and South America.
In April 1945 as the war was winding down, Franklin went to his retreat at Warm Springs, Georgia, for a rest. On the afternoon of April 12 he collapsed from a cerebral hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain) and died. It was a time of shock and sorrow for the Roosevelt family as well as for the nation.
Serving the postwar world
Eleanor quickly moved from the White House to her Val-Kill cottage. She also maintained an apartment overlooking Washington Square in New York City. She turned the large family house at Hyde Park over to the U.S. government for safekeeping. World War II would end only a few months later. Eleanor regretted that Franklin did not live long enough to enjoy watching the celebrations.
The following year, in 1946, President Harry S. Truman (1884–1972; served 1945–53) appointed Eleanor Roosevelt as a delegate to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly. The UN delegates elected Roosevelt chairman of the UN's Human Rights Commission. In that position she helped author the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a major worldwide statement of the basic rights of individuals. Roosevelt thoroughly enjoyed her time as a UN delegate traveling throughout the world for humanitarian causes, visiting the Arab countries, Israel, Pakistan, and India. She left the UN in 1953 when Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969; served 1953–61) moved into the White House as president. Following her departure from the UN, Roosevelt traveled as a volunteer for the American Association for the United Nations (AAUN), which promoted the need and work of the UN. She traveled to Japan, Hong Kong, Turkey, Greece, and Yugoslavia. In 1957 and 1958 Eleanor traveled to the Soviet Union, meeting with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971).
A full life
After leaving the UN, Roosevelt continued writing her regular newspaper column, published three times a week since 1935. She also wrote a monthly McCall's magazine page, did radio and television work, lectured widely, and served as a volunteer member of the AAUN.
A steady stream of dignitaries, family, and friends made their way to Hyde Park during Roosevelt's last years to pay respects and gain her insights on issues. She also campaigned for various Democratic Party political candidates. Knowing her health was fading, in February 1962 Roosevelt made her last trip to Europe. She died later that year on November 7, 1962, at Val-Kill of a rare ailment, bone-marrow tuberculosis.
For More Information
Freedman, Russell. Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery. New York: New Clarion Books, 1993.
Goodwin, Doris Kearns. No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, the Home Front in World War II. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.
Hareven, Tamara R. Eleanor Roosevelt: An American Conscience. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1968.
Roosevelt, David B. Grandmere: A Personal History of Eleanor Roosevelt. New York: Warnerbooks, 2002.
Roosevelt, Eleanor. The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1961.
Skarmeas, Nancy J., ed. Eleanor Roosevelt: A Photobiography. Nashville, TN: Ideals Publications, 1997.
Winget, Mary. Eleanor Roosevelt. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 2003.
Eleanor Roosevelt (October 11, 1884–November 7, 1962), niece of President Theodore Roosevelt, wife of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, first lady of New York State (l924–l932), and first lady of the United States (l933–l945), left the American people a great legacy. Considered by many to be the first lady of the world and a harbinger of human rights for all, she always said, governments exist for only one reason: to make life better for all people. But, she quickly added, you can never depend on governments to do anything about that: you have to organize, door to door, block by block, community by community, to make your wants and needs known.
EARLY LIFE AND REFORM EFFORTS
Activist, organizer, journalist, and devoted public citizen, Eleanor Roosevelt struggled to create and embolden communities of democratic might; to fight poverty, discrimination, homelessness, ignorance, and war. Born into a family of wealth, privilege, and power, she was the lonely orphaned daughter of an alcoholic who died at the age of thirty-four, when Eleanor was ten years old. Her father Elliott, Theodore Roosevelt's brother, was her hero, but he was embattled all his life. Her mother Anna, bitter and weary, died at the age of twentynine, when Eleanor was eight. After the deaths of her parents, Eleanor spent her life trying to make things better for people in want, in need, in trouble—people just like her own mother and father. Raised mostly by her grandmother, Eleanor was away at Allenswood School in England when her uncle Theodore became president. Headmistress Marie Souvestre appreciated and encouraged her leadership qualities and many skills. Eleanor flourished and returned to New York society with bold convictions: She believed personal involvement could improve conditions; individual action mattered; democracy was essential; politics was not an isolated individualist adventure. She never went anywhere without her gang.
Eleanor was eighteen when she joined her girl-hood chums (Mary Harriman, Jean Reid, Gwendolyn Burden, and others) and helped build the Junior League for the Promotion of Settlement Movements. In 1903, she volunteered at the University Settlement on Rivington Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. She also joined the National Consumers' League and the Women's Trade Union League. Every day Eleanor sought to alleviate suffering, and she met and was inspired by her uncle's primary women advisers, Lillian Wald, Florence Kelley, and Jane Addams. Eleanor became ardent about public affairs, and she pursued a life of responsibility. To the end of her life, she believed that research and understanding, respect for people, and a politics of real concern would end mandated poverty, as well as racial and ethnic violence. From an early age, Eleanor was committed to a square deal and a new deal, for the United States and for the world.
Also in 1903, Eleanor became engaged to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, her fifth cousin once removed, then a student at Harvard University. She encouraged his career, while she sought to maintain her own activities. After their marriage on March 17, 1905, she had six children (one died in infancy) in ten years. She served as her husband's best advocate and volunteered her time mostly through the women's progressive movement. During World War I, Eleanor became aware of her own executive abilities, and after 1920 she plunged into a new level of activity, with new allies—most notably, Esther Lape and Elizabeth Read—with whom she rallied to get the United States into the World Court.
NEW DEAL LEADER
Eleanor Roosevelt's campaign for the World Court occupied many of her days between 1924 and 1935, when U.S. participation in the court failed to win approval in the Senate by six votes. With fascism on the rise and war looming, her public efforts during the 1930s were divided between the peace movement and the crying needs of the Great Depression. During her husband's presidency, she was notable as the most traveled public spirit behind the New Deal. Eleanor's work as leader, columnist, and broadcaster ensured specific victories concerning jobs, housing, and education. She put youth, race, and women's issues on the national agenda. In 1933, she protested the sex discrimination of her favorite New Deal agency, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and successfully demanded "She She She" camps as well as CCC camps. At the suggestion of her great friend Lorena Hickok, Eleanor held press conferences for women journalists only, and she lobbied for women's right to work with dignity and for equal wages. As early as 1934, she spoke out against lynching and school segregation. With new allies, including the great black educator Mary McLeod Bethune and Walter White, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, as well as several white radicals, notably Aubrey Williams, Virginia Foster Durr, and Lucy Randolph Mason, Eleanor Roosevelt championed an end to discrimination in New Deal agencies and programs, elimination of the poll tax, and racial justice. She helped create the Southern Conference on Human Welfare (l938–l948), and championed unionism for all workers, including farm workers. She also became associated with the Southern Tenant Farmers' Union, and in 1936, when her My Day column was launched, she joined the Newspaper Guild, an affiliate of the Committee for Industrial Organization (later the Congress of Industrial Organizations, or CIO).
Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt did not have a traditional, correct, or conventionally happy marriage, but it was one of Washington's most notably successful marriages. Together, they did more than either could have done alone. The first lady served her husband's interests and was his primary ambassador to neighborhood people, and to poor and hardworking and hidden communities in the mountains and deltas of the United States. Eleanor brought people who could not vote and, until the New Deal, did not count, into the mainstream of American life.
Eleanor Roosevelt remains the only first lady to use her pen to disagree with her husband. In 1938 she wrote an entire book, This Troubled World, to illustrate alternatives to her husband's undistinguished international policies. Regarding housing and the creation of model communities, she made vital decisions and helped engineer policy. A particularly successful adventure was the building of Arthurdale in Preston County, West Virginia. On model communities and an end to suffering and homelessness, she worked closely with Will Alexander, head of the Resettlement Administration, which presided over the fifty-seven New Deal communities. She also relied on her longtime friends and allies Clarence Pickett, head of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), and Senator Robert Wagner, architect of America's affordable housing efforts.
UNITED NATIONS DELEGATE
By 1939 the domestic New Deal was eclipsed by the needs of World War II. During the war, Eleanor continued her work for democracy, racial justice, and women's rights, and she traveled the globe on behalf of her husband's diplomatic needs. Franklin Roosevelt died before the war ended, on April 12, 1945, and the first lady announced to a group of journalists who sought to interview her: "The story is over." But for Eleanor Roosevelt a new story was about to begin. President Harry S. Truman appointed her to attend the United Nations' first general assembly in London in December 1945.
That declaration gave Eleanor an opportunity to fight for her vision of the future from an official position of leadership for over six years. She considered her appointment a great victory for women and a great opportunity. She wanted the United States to take the lead in a campaign for planetary decency and peace; to extend the best of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal vision to the needs of the world. Her colleagues on the U.S. team included adversaries who initially resented her presence and generally opposed her views. But Eleanor took her own advice: "If you have to compromise, be sure to compromise UP!" With hard work, a relentless schedule, and good advice from allies and State Department officials who kept her well briefed, Eleanor Roosevelt became an earnest, informed diplomat who usually achieved her goals against political conservatives within her own delegation and the disparate visions of a world that had shifted from world war to Cold War.
Eleanor's greatest victories involved Committee Three, the social, humanitarian, and cultural committee, where she was especially concerned about the plight of refugees and which quickly expanded to include all issues relating to human rights, fundamental freedoms, social progress, and world development. Eleanor's vigor at the first meetings impressed even U.S. delegate John Foster Dulles, who had been appalled, he told her, by her appointment, but now acknowledged that her "work had been fine." Eleanor wrote in her diary: "So—against odds, the women move forward...."
Eleanor left London optimistic. After all the disagreements were aired, "we still are a group of 51 nations working together." She was particularly pleased that the United Nations would be located in the United States because she felt that Americans had seen so little of the costs of war, the dislocation and human disasters, and she believed they needed to realize "that peace requires as much attention as war." Furthermore, public support for the United Nations was imperative because Eleanor felt that the federation was "the last and best hope for our civilization."
As chair of the Human Rights Commission from 1946 to 1952, Eleanor Roosevelt's most significant diplomacy involved the passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948. Consisting of a preamble and thirty articles, the declaration was to serve as "a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations," and a yardstick to measure decency and human dignity, fundamental freedoms, and economic and social rights. At first, Truman instructed Eleanor to limit the principles to civil and political rights, and to ignore the Soviet-initiated social and economic rights. She refused and offered to resign: "You can not talk civil rights to people who are hungry." Moreover, Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal had promised freedom from want as well as freedom from fear. Truman acquiesced, and Eleanor agreed to divide the declaration and negotiate two enabling covenants.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a compromise; every word was an agony of disagreement. The vote was forty-eight in favor, two absent, and eight abstentions, including Russia and its allies, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa. Eleanor Roosevelt understood that the declaration was a "first step," and she believed the United States would shortly ratify the binding covenants. But Roosevelt submitted her resignation in 1952 when Dwight David Eisenhower was elected president, and John Foster Dulles, who became Eisenhower's secretary of state, wanted nothing binding. In April 1953, Dulles told the Senate that the U.S. State Department no longer cared even to ratify the civil and political covenant. The matter did not come up again until President Jimmy Carter signed the covenant in 1977. Finally, at the Cold War's end in 1992, President George H. W. Bush called upon the Senate to ratify the covenant, which it did by acclamation. While most of the 191 member nations of the United Nations have ratified both covenants, the United States has still not brought up for discussion the Economic and Social covenant. With her work undone, Eleanor left the United Nations and joined the American Association for the United Nations, later called the United Nations Association, an activist lobby group she had founded in 1943 to bring United Nations issues to the public. From 1953 until her death, she traveled the United States and the world with messages of peace and human rights.
Eleanor Roosevelt was convinced that on the day the atomic bomb was dropped a new world situation had been created: "a world in which we had to learn to live in friendship with our neighbors of every race and creed and color, or face the fact that we might be wiped off the face of the earth." In Tomorrow Is Now, her last book, published posthumously in 1963, she wrote of America's responsibilities for the future, and its difficulties. She concluded that the United States needed to resurrect with conviction and daring the good American word liberal, "which derives from the word free. ... We must cherish and honor the word free or it will cease to apply to us."
By the beginning of the twenty-first century the domestic New Deal, from housing to jobs to Social Security, has been largely deboned. Every issue of Eleanor Roosevelt's struggle for decency and dignity for all Americans is once again on the national agenda. Internationally, peace and human rights are on the global agenda with ever more urgency and heartbreak. For hope, the American people have Eleanor Roosevelt's legacy of activist democracy—a timeless source of inspiration and faith in the global community.
Asbell, Bernard. Mother and Daughter: The Letters of Eleanor and Anna Roosevelt. 1988.
Beasley, Maurine H. Eleanor Roosevelt and the Media. l987.
Beasley, Maurine H., et al., eds. The Eleanor Roosevelt Encyclopedia. 2001.
Black, Allida M. Casting Her Own Shadow: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Shaping of Post-War Liberalism. l996.
Black, Allida M. ed. Courage in a Dangerous World: The Political Writings of Eleanor Roosevelt. 1999.
Black, Allida M. ed. What I Hope to Leave Behind: The Essential Essays of Eleanor Roosevelt. l995.
Burns, James MacGregor, and Susan Dunn. The Three Roosevelts. 2001.
Cook, Blanche Wiesen. Eleanor Roosevelt: 1884–1933. 1992.
Cook, Blanche Wiesen. Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume 2, The Defining Years. 1999.
Cook, Blanche Wiesen. "Eleanor Roosevelt and Human Rights," In Women and American Foreign Policy, edited by Edward Crapol. l987.
Flemion, Jess, and Colleen O'Connor, eds. Eleanor Roosevelt: An American Journey. 1987.
Glendon, Mary Ann. A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 2001.
Goodwin, Doris Kearns. No Ordinary Time. l994.
Hareven, Tamara K. Eleanor Roosevelt: An American Conscience. 1968.
Hickok, Lorena A. Eleanor Roosevelt: Reluctant First Lady. 1980.
Hoff-Wilson, Joan, and Marjorie Lightman, eds. Without Precedent: The Life and Career of Eleanor Roosevelt. 1984.
Lash, Joseph. Eleanor and Franklin: The Story of their Relationship Based on Eleanor Roosevelt's Private Papers. 1971.
Neal, Steve, ed. Eleanor and Harry: The Correspondence of Eleanor Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman. 2002.
Roosevelt, Eleanor. This I Remember. 1949.
Roosevelt, Eleanor. This Is My Story. 1937.
Roosevelt, Eleanor. On My Own. 1958.
Blanche Wiesen Cook
Excerpt from "Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt's Address to the Democratic National Convention on the Importance of the United Nations, Chicago, Illinois, July 23, 1952" Reprinted in A Treasury of Great America Speeches, published in 1970
"In examining what the cUN has done, and what it cis striving to do, it must be remembered that peace, like freedom, is elusive, hard to come by, harder to keep. It cannot be put into a purse or a hip pocket and buttoned there to stay."
I n Chicago, Illinois, on July 23, 1952, Eleanor Roosevelt (1884–1962), wife of the late U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45), spoke to the Democratic National Convention concerning the United Nations (UN). Since President Roosevelt's death in 1945, Eleanor Roosevelt had continued to be an influential public figure. In this speech, she spoke to those in the Democratic Party not yet convinced of the worth of the UN. She was also speaking to those outside the party who considered the UN to be only a forum for communists to proclaim their party line.
The UN was born in 1945 when fifty member nations voted to accept a charter, or document establishing the organization. The UN was the second attempt to establish a worldwide peacekeeping organization in the twentieth century. The first attempt, known as the League of Nations, was formed after World War I (1914–18), but it proved ineffective. On December 10, 1948, the UN approved a Universal Declaration of Human Rights that Eleanor Roosevelt had helped to author. In June 1950, the Security Council of the UN approved a resolution to send UN troops to Korea to halt communist North Korea's invasion of democratic South Korea.
In her speech, Eleanor Roosevelt first related that her husband had been determined to establish "another world organization to help us keep the peace of the world." She stated that the United Nations was "mankind's best hope" to promote peace. She reminded her audience that peace was "elusive, hard to come by, harder to keep." She affirmed that the United States could "no longer live apart from the rest of the world." Calling those who attack the United Nations "short-sighted," she stated that the United States, because of its "national strength," must provide a key leadership role for the democratic nations of the world. She spoke of the tragedy in Korea and of the many men still fighting there at the time. She also pointed out that Korea was the first "application," or use of combined forces from a number of nations, under the banner of the UN. (The UN had also helped to keep the peace in Iran, Greece, Palestine, Indonesia, Pakistan, and India.) Eleanor Roosevelt, while strongly affirming the need to halt the spread of communism, also noted that it was fortunate that the UN provided a place where the United States and communists could meet.
Since her husband died, Eleanor Roosevelt had, as an individual, carved a place for herself in foreign affairs. She had a strong, forceful character and obvious talent for persuasive public speaking. This speech was considered an example of her strength of expression. Even critics of the United Nations credited her with stimulating thought and debate on the important subject of the peacekeeping organization.
Things to remember while reading "Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt's Address to the Democratic National Convention on the Importance of the United Nations":
- Eleanor Roosevelt was a member of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations from 1945 to 1951.
- The UN was only seven years old and had many critics. It was still unclear if the UN could indeed survive as the world's forum for debate and compromise to keep peace.
Excerpt from "Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt's Address to the Democratic National Convention on the Importance of the United Nations"
You are very kind to me and I am glad to have been asked to talk to you about the United Nations, about its past, about what it is doing today and more important, about its future.
I remember well, even though it seems a long time ago, hearing for the first time a statement and the reasons why, when the war ended, we must make another try to create another world organization to help us keep the peace of the world. This talk took place in my husband's study in the White House one evening during the bitter days of the last war when victory was not yet in sight.
My husband, discussing what would happen after the war, turned to a friend and said in effect, "When this war is over and we have won it, as we will, we must apply the hard lessons learned in the war and in the failure of the League of Nations to the task of building a society of nations dedicated to enduring peace. There will be sacrifices and discouragements but we must not fail for we may never have another chance."
There have been sacrifices and discouragements, triumphs and set-backs. The United Nations is attempting to convert this last chance, carrying mankind's best hope, into an effective instrument that will enable our children and our children's children to maintain peace in their time. The path upon which we have set our course is not an easy one. The trail is often difficult to find. We must make our maps as we go along but we travel in good company with men and women of good-will in the free countries of the world.
Without the United Nations our country would walk alone, ruled by fear, instead of confidence and hope. To weaken or hamstring the United Nations now, through lack of faith and lack of vision, would be to condemn ourselves to endless struggle for survival in a jungle world.
In examining what the UN has done, and what it is striving to do, it must be remembered that peace, like freedom, is elusive, hard to come by, harder to keep. It cannot be put into a purse or a hip pocket and buttoned there to stay. To achieve peace we must recognize the historic truth that we can no longer live apart from the rest of the world. We must also recognize the fact that peace, like freedom, is not won once and for all. It is fought for daily, in many small acts, and is the result of many individual efforts.
These are days of shrinking horizons, a "neighborhood of nations though unhappily all of us are not as yet good neighbors."
We should remember that the UN is not a cure-all. It is only an instrument capable of effective action when its members have a will to make it work. It cannot be any better than the individual nations are. You often ask what can I, as an individual, do to help the US, to help in the struggle for a peaceful world.
I answer—Make your own country the best possible country for all its citizens to live in and it will become a valuable member of the Neighborhood of Nations. This can only be done with home, community, representatives.
The UN is the machinery through which peace may be achieved and it is the responsibility of 60 nations and their delegations to make that machinery work. Yet you and I may carry the greatest responsibility because our national strength has given us opportunities for leadership among the nations of the free world.
The UN is the only machinery for the furtherance of peace that exists today. There is a small articulate minority in this country which advocates changing our national symbol which is the eagle to that of the ostrich and withdrawing from the UN. This minority reminds me of a story of a short-sighted and selfish man who put green goggles on his cow and fed her sawdust. The cow became sick and died. I warn you against the short-sighted and selfish men who are trying to distort the vision of the American people. We must have eagle eyes. These men who lack vision are poor in hope. They turn their backs on the future and live in the past. They seek to weaken and destroy this world organization through their attacks on the UN. They are expressing a selfish, destructive approach which leads not to peace but to chaos and might eventually lead to World War Three.…
This brings us to the action taken by the UN which has brought sorrow into many American homes. The Communist attack on Korea and the brilliant fight put up by our armies is a matter of history. When the attack occurred we had two choices. We could meet it or let aggression triumph by default and thereby invite further piecemeal conquests all over the Globe. This inevitably would have led to World War Three just as the appeasement of Munich and seizure of Czechoslovakia led to World War Two, the most destructive war in history.…
We pray for a just and lasting peace in Korea for the sake of the people of that land and for our own men and those soldiers of the United Nations fighting with them. We cannot hurry this peace until the Communists agree to honest terms. If you ask the reason why our men are in Korea I think it was perhaps best summed up by an American flying Ace, Major James Jabara, who upon returning to his home in Wichita, Kansas, in an interview was asked what his feelings were while fighting in Korea. Major Jabara said, "I fought in Korea so I would not have to fight on Main Street in Wichita."
Korea was not only the first successful application of collective security on the part of the UN to stop aggression, without provoking general war, but it has stimulated a free world to build up its defenses. It has not been as quick in the achievement of results as it would have been if the UN had been fully organized to put down any aggression. It has been impossible to organize that machinery as yet because two nations, the US and the USSR [the Soviet Union] haven't been able to come to an agreement as to how this collective security within the UN may be organized. We think the fault lies with the USSR because she will not see that without a planned
method of disarmament and control of all weapons, adequately verified through inspection, we and many other nations in the world cannot feel safe, but at least through the UN we can go on with negotiations and pray for a pure heart and clean hands which may eventually bring us the confidence even of the Soviet Union and lead us to the desired results.
In the UN we meet with the Communists and it is fortunate this meeting place exists. We know we cannot relax our vigilance or stop our efforts to control the spread of communism. Their attacks on us in the UN have one great value—they keep us from forgetting our shortcomings or to become apathetic in our efforts to improve our democracy.
The UN has helped to keep the peace in many areas of the world, notably in Iran and Greece and Palestine and Indonesia, and Pakistan and India. These disputes might have spread into a general war and torn the free world apart and opened the way for Communist expansion and another world war.
While the UN came into being under the present Administration and President [Harry] Truman has been steadfast in his support of the organization, the UN would not be in existence today if it were not for strong bi-partisan support in the very beginning.
I beg you to keep an open mind, never to forget the interests of your own country but to remember your own country may be ableto make a contribution which is valuable in the area of human rights and freedoms in joining with other nations not merely in a declaration but in covenants.
I returned not long ago from parts of the world where our attitude on human rights and freedoms affects greatly our leadership.
Some of you will probably be thinking that once upon a time the old lady speaking to you now did a tremendous amount of traveling around the United States. In fact, you may remember a cartoon showing two men down in a coal mine, one man saying to the other: "Gosh, here comes Eleanor. Now what is she doing—traveling around the world just making more trouble?"…
I hope all our travels may serve the great common hope that through the United Nations peace may come to the world.…
What happened next …
One year later, on July 27, 1953, the United Nations' forces signed a cease-fire agreement with North Korea, ending the Korean War. The UN survived its early critics to become the key organization for keeping world peace, security, and human rights. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, it had more than 160 member nations.
Eleanor Roosevelt remained an influential figure in international affairs. She received dignitaries from all over the world at her home, Val Kill, in Hyde Park, New York. Presidents of the United States also sought out her advice. She died in 1962.
Did you know …
- Although the energetic Eleanor Roosevelt was sixty-seven years of age when she gave this address, she continued to write and to travel around the world pursuing human rights for oppressed people and worldwide peace.
- President Franklin D. Roosevelt served the country the longest of any U.S. president, from 1933 to 1945. Throughout that time, Eleanor Roosevelt, as first lady, maintained a high public profile traveling throughout the United States, acting, in effect, as the eyes and ears of the president. President Roosevelt, confined to a wheelchair after contracting polio as a young adult, could not move about the country as easily.
Consider the following …
- Eleanor Roosevelt quotes Korean veteran Major James Jabara (1923–1966) from Wichita, Kansas, as saying, "I fought in Korea so I would not have to fight on Main Street in Wichita." Explain what he meant.
- Research the United Nations, its structure, and the important dates in its history through 2000.
For More Information
Bauer, Andrew, ed. A Treasury of Great America Speeches. New York: Hawthorne Books, 1970.
Cook, Blanche W. Eleanor Roosevelt. New York: Viking, 1992.
Glendon, Mary Ann. A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. New York: Random House, 2001.
Hilderbrand, Robert C. Dumbarton Oaks: The Origins of the United Nations and the Search for Postwar Security. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990.
Pruden, Caroline. Conditional Partners: Eisenhower, the United Nations, and the Search for a Permanent Peace. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998.
White, N. D. Keeping the Peace: The United Nations and the Maintenance of International Peace and Security. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997.
Eleanor Roosevelt was the wife of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882– 1945), the thirty-second president of the United States. She was a well-known philanthropist (a person who works to aid others through charity). She was also an author, a world diplomat, and a tireless champion of social causes.
A lonely girlhood
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born in New York, New York, on October 11, 1884. Her family was financially comfortable but troubled. Her father was Elliott Roosevelt, the younger brother of Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), who served as president of the United States. Although handsome and charming, Elliott suffered from frequent mental depression and alcoholism. Eleanor's mother was preoccupied with the family's image in upper-class society and embarrassed by Eleanor's appearance—which was not considered pretty.
Although Eleanor's father was often absent, she regarded him as a glamorous and exciting parent. When Eleanor was a child, her father entered an institution for alcoholics. It was one of many early losses for the young girl, whose mother died when she was just eight years old. After her mother's death, Eleanor and her two younger brothers went to live with their maternal grandmother in New York. Shortly thereafter the older brother died, and when Eleanor was not yet ten, she learned that her father had died. Her grandmother sheltered her from all outside contact except for family acquaintances.
Eleanor Roosevelt began discovering a world beyond her family after entering a school for young women at South Fields, England, at age fifteen. The school's head-mistress (female principal) taught her students a sense of service and responsibility to society. Eleanor began to act upon this teaching after her return to New York, plunging into work for the good of others. At that same time, her tall, handsome cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, began courting her. They were married in March 1905. Eleanor now had to contend with a controlling mother-inlaw and with a husband who loved to be out in public and who did not really understand Eleanor's struggle to overcome her shyness and insecurity.
Becoming a public figure
Between 1906 and 1916, the Roosevelts had six children, one of whom died as an infant. The family lived in Hyde Park, New York, while Franklin pursued his political ambitions to become a leading figure in the Democratic Party. He served a term in the New York State Senate before President Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924) appointed him assistant secretary of the Navy in 1913. Although Eleanor did much work for the Red Cross (a charitable medical organization) during World War I (1914–18), she remained out of the public eye.
A major turning point in Eleanor's life came in 1921, when Franklin contracted polio (an infectious disease that can cause paralysis). Franklin suffered from paralysis and permanently lost the use of his legs. Although Franklin's mother insisted that Franklin accept his condition and retire, Eleanor finally asserted her will over her mother-in-law and nursed him back into activity. Within a few years he had regained his strength and political ambitions. Meanwhile, Eleanor had become more of a public figure, speaking and working for the League of Women Voters (an organization that promoted active involvement in government), the National Consumers' League (an organization focused on the welfare of consumers and workers), the Women's Trade Union League (an organization concerned with better working conditions for women), and the women's division of the New York State Democratic Committee. She began to act as Franklin's "legs and ears" and acquired a certain reputation of her own. After Franklin became governor of New York in 1928, she kept busy inspecting state hospitals, homes, and prisons for her husband.
Franklin Roosevelt's election to the presidency in 1932 meant, as Eleanor later wrote, "the end of any personal life of my own." She quickly became the best-known (and also the most criticized) first lady in American history. She evoked both intense admiration and strong hatred from her fellow Americans.
As first lady, Eleanor gave radio broadcasts and wrote a column that appeared in newspapers across the country. She traveled throughout the United States on fact-finding trips for Franklin. In particular, she became a voice for those in need, including working women, African Americans, youth, and tenant farmers. Such groups had been severely affected by the economic crisis known as the Great Depression (1929–39; the longest and most severe economic depression in the United States), which Franklin Roosevelt had tried to combat through the series of social programs known as the New Deal. Eleanor spoke out freely on issues, and she also became a key contact within the administration for officials seeking the president's support. In short, Eleanor became a kind of go-between between the individual citizen and the government, as well as between the president and some members of his administration.
During the 1930s Eleanor was particularly concerned with creating equal opportunities for women and with making sure that appropriate jobs for writers, artists, musicians, and theater people became a key part of the New Deal employment program known as the Works Progress Administration (WPA). She also promoted the cause of Arthurdale, a farming community built by the government for unemployed miners in West Virginia. She was concerned with providing work for jobless youth, both white and black. Much more than her husband, she spoke out against racism and tried to aid the struggle of black Americans toward full citizenship.
As the United States moved toward war in the late 1930s, Eleanor Roosevelt spoke out forcefully in favor of her husband's foreign policy. She accepted an appointment as deputy director in the Office of Civilian Defense but resigned in 1942 after being criticized for being a poor administrator in this position. After the United States formally entered World War II (1939–45) in 1941, she made numerous trips overseas to boost the spirits of troops and to inspect Red Cross facilities.
After Franklin Roosevelt died in office in April 1945, Eleanor was expected to retire to a quiet, private life. However, by the end of the year she was back in public. America's new president, Harry S. Truman (1884–1972), made her the American representative to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. She remained in this post through 1952. Later, she continued to work for international understanding and cooperation as a representative of the American Association for the United Nations.
During the last decade of her life Eleanor Roosevelt traveled to numerous foreign countries, including the Soviet Union. She completed her Autobiography (1961), which included her earlier books This Is My Story (1937), This I Remember (1949), and On My Own (1958). By the early 1960s her strength had lessened. She died in New York City on November 6, 1962.
Despite her shy and lonely girlhood, Eleanor Roosevelt became one of the most important American women of the twentieth century. Her personal and social outlook inspired millions.
For More Information
Freedman, Russell. Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery. New York: Clarion Books, 1993.
Goodwin, Doris Kearns. No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt—The Home Front in World War II. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.
Jacobs, William Jay. Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Happiness and Tears. New York: Coward-McCann, 1983.
Roosevelt, Eleanor. The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1984. Reprint, New York: Da Capo Press, 1992.
Somerville, Mollie. Eleanor Roosevelt As I Knew Her. McLean, VA: EPM Publications, 1996.
Youngs, J. William T. Eleanor Roosevelt: A Personal and Public Life. Edited by Oscar Handlin. Boston: Little, Brown, 1985. Reprint, New York: Longman, 2000.
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962), wife of the thirty-second president of the United States, was a philanthropist, author, world diplomat, and resolute champion of liberal causes.
Eleanor Roosevelt was born in New York City on Oct. 11, 1884, into an economically comfortable but troubled family. Her father was Elliott Roosevelt, the younger brother of Theodore Roosevelt, a future president of the United States. Although handsome and charming, Elliott was plagued by frequent mental depressions and by alcoholism. Her mother, beautiful but neurotic, was preoccupied with the family's image in upper-class society and embarrassed by Eleanor's homeliness. Eleanor's father entered a sanitarium for alcoholics when she was a child. When Eleanor was 8 years old, her mother died, and she and two younger brothers went to live with their maternal grandmother in New York. Shortly thereafter the older brother died, and when Eleanor was not yet ten, she learned that her father was dead. Her grandmother sheltered her from all outside contacts except for family acquaintances.
Eleanor Roosevelt began discovering a world beyond the family at Mademoiselle Souvestre's finishing school at South Fields, England, where she went at 15. Mademoiselle Souvestre taught a sense of social service and responsibility, which Eleanor began to act upon after her return to New York. She plunged into social work, but soon her tall, handsome cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, began courting her. They were married in March 1905. She now had to contend with a domineering mother-in-law and a gregarious husband who did not really understand his wife's struggle to overcome shyness and feelings of inadequacy.
Beginnings of a Public Career
Between 1906 and 1916, the Roosevelts had six children, one of whom died in infancy. The family lived at their estate at Hyde Park, from which Franklin pursued his political ambitions in the Democratic party. He served a term in the New York State Senate before President Woodrow Wilson appointed him assistant secretary of the Navy in 1913. Although Eleanor did much Red Cross relief work during World War I and even toured the French battlefields shortly after the armistice, she remained obscure.
A major turning point in Eleanor's life came in 1921, when Franklin contracted polio and permanently lost the use of his legs. Finally asserting her will over her mother-in-law (who insisted that Franklin quietly accept invalidism), Eleanor nursed him back into activity. Within a few years he had regained his strength and political ambitions. Meanwhile, she entered more fully into public life. Speaking and working for the League of Women Voters, the National Consumers' League, the Women's Trade Union League, and the women's division of the New York State Democratic Committee, she not only acted as Franklin's "legs and ears" but began to acquire a certain notoriety of her own. During Franklin's New York governorship she saw the last of her children off to boarding school and kept busy inspecting state hospitals, homes, and prisons for her husband.
Roosevelt's election to the presidency in 1932 meant, as Eleanor later wrote, "the end of any personal life of my own." She quickly became the best-known (and also the most criticized) First Lady in American history. She evoked both intense admiration and intense hatred but almost never passivity or neutrality.
Besides undertaking a syndicated newspaper column and a series of radio broadcasts (the income from which she gave to charity), she traveled back and forth across the country on fact-finding trips for Franklin. She assumed the special role of advocate for those groups of Americans— working women, blacks, youth, tenant farmers—which Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal efforts to combat the Depression tended to neglect. Holding no official position, she felt she could speak more freely on issues than could Roosevelt, and she also became a key contact within the administration for officials seeking the President's support. In short, Eleanor became an intermediary between, on the one hand, the individual citizen and his government and, on the other, the President and much of his administration.
Of particular concern to her was securing equal opportunities for women under the New Deal's work relief projects; ensuring that appropriate employment for writers, artists, musicians, and theater people became an integral part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) program; promoting the cause of Arthurdale, a farming community built by the Federal government for unemployed miners in West Virginia; and providing work for jobless youth, both white and black (accomplished under the National Youth Administration, set up in 1935). Much more than her husband, she denounced racial oppression and tried to aid the struggle of black Americans toward full citizenship. Largely because of her efforts, African Americans, for the first time since the Reconstruction years, had reason to feel that the national government was interested in their plight.
As the United States moved toward war in the late 1930s, Eleanor Roosevelt spoke out forcefully in favor of the adminstration's policy of aiding antifascist governments. She accepted an appointment as deputy director in the Office of Civilian Defense. She applied herself diligently to her new job but proved inefficient as an administrator and resigned in 1942 in the face of growing congressional criticism. That was her first and last official position under Roosevelt. Once the United States formally entered the war, she made numerous trips to England, Europe, and the Pacific area to boost troop morale and to inspect Red Cross facilities.
After Roosevelt's death in April 1945, Eleanor was expected to retire to a quiet, uneventful private life. By the end of the year, however, she was back in public life. President Harry S. Truman appointed her American delegate to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. As chairman of the Commission, she worked the other delegates overtime to complete the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948. She remained in her post at the UN through 1952. She became the target for virulent right-wing attacks during the presidential campaign of that year. After the election of Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower, she gave up her UN post, but continued to work for international understanding and cooperation as a representative of the American Association for the United Nations.
During the last decade of her life Eleanor Roosevelt traveled to numerous foreign countries, including two trips to the Soviet Union, and authored several books. She continued to articulate a personal and social outlook which, while never profound and sometimes banal and obtuse, still inspired millions. But by the early 1960s, although she had accepted three new government appointments from President John F. Kennedy (delegate to the U.N., adviser to thePeace Corps, and chairman of the President's Commission on the Status of Women), her strength was waning. She died in New York City on Nov. 6, 1962.
Her candid autobiographical writings are invaluable: This Is My Story (1937); This I Remember (1949); and On My Own (1958). These works are combined with an additional updated chapter in Autobiography (1961). An even more intimate view of Eleanor can be gained from Joseph P. Lash, Eleanor and Franklin: The Story of their Relationship Based on Eleanor Roosevelt's Private Papers (1971) and Eleanor: The Years Alone (1972). Also helpful is Tamara K. Hareven, Eleanor Roosevelt: An American Conscience (1968). James R. Kearney, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt: The Evolution of a Reformer (1968), is less a biography than a topically organized analysis of various facets of Roosevelt's public life. Less critical though useful are Alfred Steinberg, Mrs. R. (1959); Joseph P. Lash, Eleanor Roosevelt: A Friend's Memoir (1965); and Archibald MacLeish, The Eleanor Roosevelt Story (1965). Information about Roosevelt's role in relation to her husband's career is in Frank Freidel's uncompleted biography Franklin D. Roosevelt (3 vols., 1952-1956); Alfred B. Rollins, Roosevelt and Howe (1962); and James MacGregor Burns, Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox (1963). □
Roosevelt, Anna Eleanor
ROOSEVELT, ANNA ELEANOR
Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of U.S. President franklin d. roosevelt (FDR), transformed the role of first lady and influenced the course and content of twentieth-century U.S. politics. During FDR's nearly four terms in office (1933–1945), Roosevelt was an acknowledged political adviser with her own progressive agenda.
Roosevelt was a committed reformer. Born into wealth and privilege, she lent early and conspicuous support to child welfare laws, equal pay and employment legislation, civil rights, and women's rights. Her ideals helped define FDR's new deal and modern Democratic liberalism. Although Roosevelt was admired by many, her high political profile was harshly criticized by people who believed she was too opinionated and influential.
After FDR's death in 1945, Roosevelt continued to support social and benevolent causes throughout the United States and the world. Although no longer first lady, she secured her reputation as a tireless activist and humanitarian. Roosevelt was born on October 11, 1884, in New York City. Her parents, Elliott and Anna Hall Roosevelt, were socially and politically prominent. Her father was the younger brother of U.S. President theodore roosevelt.
Roosevelt's childhood was lonely; she had an emotionally detached mother and a loving but alcoholic father. Both parents died by the time Eleanor was ten years old. A serious, timid child, Roosevelt was sent by her grandmother in 1899 to Allenswood, a private girls' school near London. There she overcame her shyness and became an active, well-liked student. When Roosevelt returned to New York, she entered high society. At the same time, she taught at a settlement house in a New York slum.
Roosevelt married FDR, her distant cousin, on March 17, 1905. Her domineering mother-in-law, Sara Roosevelt, disapproved of Roosevelt and put an immediate strain on the marriage. The couple had six children, five of whom survived to adulthood.
Roosevelt was not fulfilled by running a large household and attending social functions. When FDR was elected to the New York State Senate in 1910, she turned her attention to politics. In time, she discovered her talent for political organization and strategy.
FDR became the assistant secretary of the Navy in 1913. After the United States entered world war i, Roosevelt found an outlet for her tremendous energy, organizing Red Cross efforts and working in military canteens.
In 1918 Roosevelt discovered that FDR was having an affair with her social secretary Lucy Page Mercer. The marriage survived but became a union based primarily on politics, not love.
Roosevelt was determined to carve out her own niche in public service and national affairs. She became active in the League of Women Voters (although she had opposed female suffrage at one time) and the Women's trade union League. She assumed an increasingly active role in Democratic politics. In 1926 Roosevelt opened a furniture company in Hyde Park, New York, to provide jobs for unemployed workers. In 1927 Roosevelt and some colleagues founded the Todhunter School, where she was vice principal and taught government and history.
FDR was the unsuccessful Democratic candidate for vice president in the 1920 U.S. presidential election. In 1921 he contracted poliomyelitis, which left him permanently disabled. Because FDR could no longer walk independently, Roosevelt became his surrogate, filling in for him at meetings, state inspections, and public appearances. Her political skills and confidence grew in her role as FDR's emissary.
FDR was elected governor of New York in 1928. Four years later he became the thirty-second president of the United States, defeating incumbent Republican President herbert hoover. FDR's mandate was to pull the country out of the Great Depression. His economic recovery plan, popularly known as the New Deal, included sweeping, government-sponsored programs that were supported by Roosevelt.
From the outset Roosevelt was a different kind of first lady. Visible and outspoken, she wrote her own newspaper column, entitled "My Day," from 1935 to 1962. She held regular press conferences with female reporters, and insisted on hard news coverage, not society-page trivia. Roosevelt lectured extensively throughout the United States, donating her fees to charity. Most importantly, she was FDR's legs and eyes, describing to him the actual, on-site progress of his social and economic programs.
Roosevelt wielded considerable influence over the development of the New Deal. She openly supported legislation to create the National Youth Administration, a program that provided jobs for young people. Roosevelt worked hard for measures to improve the lives of children, women, unemployed workers, minority groups, and poor people. She also encouraged the appointment of women to key positions within FDR's administration, such as the appointment of frances perkins to secretary of labor.
Roosevelt demonstrated the courage of her convictions. In 1939 she publicly resigned her membership to the elite Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). The DAR had denied permission to African American singer Marian Anderson to perform in Constitution Hall. Outraged at the group's racism, Roosevelt helped organize an alternate concert for Anderson at the Lincoln Memorial.
Roosevelt served in an official public capacity for a short time. From 1941 to 1942, she was assistant director of the Office of Civilian Defense (OCD). When some of her appointments were criticized, however, Roosevelt stepped down from the position.
The United States' involvement in world war ii meant increased travel for Roosevelt. As a fact finder and a morale booster, she visited U.S. armed forces throughout the world. After the war Roosevelt supported the resettlement of European Jews in newly established Israel.
FDR died of a cerebral hemorrhage on April 12, 1945. After his death Roosevelt remained in the public eye. She was one of the first U.S. delegates to the united nations, appointed by President harry s. truman in December 1945. She served as chair of the Commission on human rights and helped draft the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights.
Roosevelt also remained active in Democratic politics and organized Americans for Democratic Action, a liberal unit within the party. She backed adlai stevenson in his unsuccessful quest for the U.S. presidency in 1952 and 1956 and was a player in the 1952, 1958, and 1960 Democratic conventions. In 1952, with Republican dwight d. eisenhower in the White House, she resigned from the U.N. Democratic President john f. kennedy reappointed her to the post in 1961.
Roosevelt published several books, including This Is My Story (1937), This I Remember (1949), On My Own (1958), and You Learn By Living (1960).
"It is not fair to ask of others what you are not willing to do yourself."
Roosevelt died in New York City on November 7, 1962.
Black, Allida M. 1996. Casting Her Own Shadow: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Shaping of Postwar Liberalism. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.
Glendon, Mary Ann. 2001. A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. New York: Random House.
Hoff-Wilson, Joan, and Marjorie Lightman. 1984. Without Precedent: The Life and Career of Eleanor Roosevelt. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press.
Purcell, Sarah J., and L. Edward Purcell. 2002. The Life and Work of Eleanor Roosevelt. Indianapolis, Ind.: Alpha.
Youngs, J. William T. 2000. Eleanor Roosevelt: A Personal and Public Life. New York: Longman.
(b. October 11, 1884; d. November 7, 1962) First Lady from 1933 to 1945, during the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt; one of the most important public figures of the twentieth century.
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was a First Lady, social reformer, diplomat, and one of the most important public figures of the twentieth century. Throughout her political life she was a powerful advocate for human rights, international peace, and race and gender equality. She devoted herself to the underprivileged, disenfranchised, and downtrodden of the nation and the world.
Eleanor Roosevelt was born in New York City to a wealthy and politically active family. At the age of ten, following the death of her parents, Eleanor Roosevelt went to live with her grandparents and later attended boarding school in England. It was after she finished school that she first became active in the social reform movement, where she worked to better the working and living conditions of the urban poor, and performed settlement house work. In 1905 she married Franklin Delano Roosevelt, her fifth cousin once removed and the future four-term president of the United States. During the United States' participation in World War I, Eleanor Roosevelt coordinated activities at a Red Cross canteen in Washington, D.C., worked with wounded soldiers recovering in area hospitals, spoke at patriotic rallies, and performed other duties at home to aid the war effort abroad.
In the years leading up to World War II, Eleanor Roosevelt became more active in the social reform movement on an increasingly large scale. During the period between the World Wars she reversed her opposition to women's suffrage and became active in the League of Women Voters, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and other political groups. After Franklin was elected president, Eleanor became the first politically active first lady in the history of American democracy. She stepped outside the role of the "politician's wife" and created her own distinct political identity. Eleanor Roosevelt effectively lobbied to enhance the role women played at all levels of American government. She worked with her husband and congress to ensure that women were not neglected in the New Deal programs of the 1930s. She tried to use her influence to focus public attention on injustice and racial inequality, publicly resigning from the Daughters of the American Revolution to protest racism in the organization in 1939. She also presented her social and political views through radio programs, lectures, political writings, and her nationally syndicated daily newspaper column "My Day."
Prior to the outbreak of World War II, Eleanor Roosevelt publicly supported the use of international economic pressure, rather than arms, to fight fascism overseas. She changed her mind in the years immediately preceding U.S. entry into the war, however, as she gradually developed a belief that Adolf Hitler and other Fascist leaders could not be stopped without the use of military force. During the war itself, Eleanor Roosevelt continued to champion the rights of oppressed citizens. She worked toward justice and equality for African Americans, consistently objecting to the hypocrisy of American political discourse that criticized Nazi racism abroad while condoning racism towards African Americans at home. She also attempted to work with the U.S. State Department, both during and after the war, to find a safe haven for Jewish refugees who managed to flee persecution in Europe. Eleanor Roosevelt was an outspoken opponent of Japanese interment, and an outspoken supporter of conscientious objectors who opposed compulsory armed service.
At the onset of American participation in World War II, Eleanor Roosevelt served as codirector of the Office of Civilian Defense during the early stages of its development. In that capacity she was responsible for administering an agency that provided American citizens with protection in the event of enemy attack, until her resignation amid controversy over her physical fitness program in 1942. She influenced women to support the war effort by encouraging them to enlist, support the activities of the Red Cross, and work in war related industries. She carried on an active correspondence with soldiers in the field and with their family members who remained at home, as well as visiting troops in the European and Pacific theaters.
Following her husband's death and the end of the war, Eleanor Roosevelt emerged as a powerful figure inside the Democratic Party. She eschewed offers to run for elected office in order to continue her political activities independently. She gained an avid interest in veterans' issues, and publicly supported such measures as the GI Bill and full employment legislation that was designed to provide soldiers with jobs once they returned to civilian life. In 1946 President Harry Truman appointed her to the United States delegation to the United Nations, where she navigated the troubled waters of Cold War international diplomacy, lead the committee that drafted the International Declaration of Human Rights, championed democracy abroad, and tirelessly worked to maintain international peace.
Black, Allida M. Courage in a Dangerous World: The Political Writings of Eleanor Roosevelt. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.
Hoff-Wilson, Joan, and Lightman, Majorie. Without Precedent: The Life and Career of Eleanor Roosevelt. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984.
Lash, Joseph P. Eleanor and Franklin: The Story of their Relationship Based on Eleanor Roosevelt's Personal Papers. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1971.
Lash, Joseph P. Eleanor Roosevelt: The Years Alone. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1972.
Scharf, Lois. Eleanor Roosevelt: First Lady of American Liberalism. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1987.
Thomas I. Faith
Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the most popular Americans of the twentieth century. More than a president's wife, she was an eloquent diplomat, humanitarian, and spokeswoman for various causes throughout her life.
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born in New York City on October 11, 1884. Her parents, Anna Hall and Elliott Roosevelt, were wealthy members of New York's social elite. Her father was the younger brother of President Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919; served 1901–9). Her parents legally separated as a result of her father's struggles with depression and alcoholism. When Eleanor was only eight, her mother died of diphtheria. She and her brothers went to live with her maternal grandmother. Her older brother died shortly thereafter. Though her father only had visiting rights, Eleanor was very close to him, and it was very difficult for her when he died before her tenth birthday.
In 1899, Eleanor attended boarding school near London, England. She developed a special friendship with the headmistress, Marie Souvestre (1830–1905), and had a very positive experience at the school. When she returned to New York in 1902, she had developed an intellectual curiosity and sense of social responsibility. In New York, she plunged into social work.
Marriage and family
Eleanor was soon courted by future president Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1931–45), a distant cousin. In March 1905, they were married. Between 1906 and 1916, they had six children, one of whom died in infancy. The Roosevelts moved to Hyde Park, New York, and lived near Franklin's mother, Sara. Sara dominated much of their lives, and Eleanor struggled to maintain her independence.
Franklin's pursuit of a political career in the Democratic Party added to Eleanor's difficult family life. In 1910, Franklin won a seat in the state senate, and the family moved to Albany, where Eleanor took on the role of a politician's wife. In 1913, Franklin was appointed assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy , so the family moved to Washington, D.C. Eleanor continued to support her husband's career by performing the social duties expected of an official's wife.
World War I (1914–18) provided the first motivation for Eleanor to reclaim her independence and identity. Working for the American Red Cross in relief efforts, she revived her interest in social work, restoring a sense of public usefulness and dedication to those who were confronted with social struggles.
Eleanor's need to assert her independence from Franklin was reinforced by marriage difficulties. In 1918, she discovered that Franklin was having an affair with her social secretary, Lucy Mercer (1891–1948). Eleanor offered divorce. Franklin resisted, but their relationship shifted to a political and social friendship. They began to maintain their own agendas while continuing to support each other's careers.
Beginning in 1918, Eleanor became increasingly involved in politics herself. She began work with the League of Women Voters, the National Consumers' League, the Women's Trade Union League, and the women's division of the New York State Democratic Committee. In 1920, Franklin ran unsuccessfully for vice president, and Eleanor became an important collaborator during his campaign.
In 1921, Franklin was struck with polio. The disease left his lower limbs useless, and his political career faltered. Though Franklin's mother urged him to retire to Hyde Park, Eleanor encouraged him to remain active in the Democratic Party. Eleanor supported him by becoming his assistant and representative. She became more actively engaged in public politics, earning a reputation for herself, and continued her own political activism through Franklin's elections to the governorship of New York State in 1928 and the U.S. presidency in 1932.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt served as president from 1932 until his death in 1945. During that time, Eleanor dedicated herself to serving the public. She worked tirelessly for the causes of women's rights, racial equality, and conditions of the poor. She had a radio program, regular press conferences, and a daily column that appeared in sixty newspapers. She became a popular speaker at political events and institutions.
Having no official responsibilities, Eleanor was freer to express her views than her husband was and so she became an important intermediary between the public and the White House. Her devotion to liberal causes, however, often made her a more controversial figure than her husband.
Eleanor also devoted herself to the formal role of first lady. She hosted state dinners, attended receptions, and supported her husband as president both socially and politically. She was also much more involved in the administration than previous first ladies had been. In light of Franklin's illness, she often toured the country and reported back to him the conditions that she observed. This partnership attracted both great approval and criticism from the public.
The success of Roosevelt's presidency, and his election to four terms, is inseparable from the support he received from Eleanor.
After the White House
President Roosevelt died in April 1945. World War II (1939–45) was in its final phases, and Harry S. Truman (1884–1972; served 1945–53) took over as president. Truman offered Eleanor a role as the U.S. delegate to the newly formed United Nations (UN), where she served as chairman of the Commission on Human Rights. In this role, she played an important part in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948.
Eleanor remained at the United Nations until 1951, at which point she became active in the Democratic Party again. She campaigned on behalf of the Democratic presidential candidate, Adlai Stevenson (1900–1965), in 1952 and 1956. After she supported John F. Kennedy (1917–1963; served 1961–63) in the election of 1960, he appointed her chair to his Commission on the Status of Women.
In the last years of her life, Eleanor continued to devote herself to international and domestic social improvements. She traveled the world in hope of improving international understanding. She continued to speak on behalf of the disadvantaged to inspire millions to bring change to the world. Her legacy of experience and work is recorded in the books she authored. Eleanor Roosevelt died in New York City on November 7, 1962, from a rare bone-marrow tuberculosis.
[OCTOBER 11, 1884–NOVEMBER 7, 1962]
American first lady, humanitarian, and diplomat
No issue was more important to Eleanor Roosevelt than the question of how nations should respond to the refugee crisis after World War II, and her appointment by President Harry Truman to the U.S. delegation to the United Nations (UN) put her at the center of the discussion. Roosevelt's first major achievement as a delegate was to defeat Andrei Vishinsky, the leader of the Soviet delegation, in a debate in the General Assembly on the issue of whether European displaced persons should be forced to return to their countries of origin or be free to seek asylum. As the U.S. representative on the Committee for Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural Affairs, Roosevelt participated vigorously in the debates on the creation of the International Refugee Organization (IRO), which was established to resettle or repatriate the refugees. Vishinsky argued that those who did not wish to return were traitors, war criminals, or collaborators. Roosevelt replied that many displaced persons feared returning because they disagreed with the new regimes in their home countries and insisted that refugees decide for themselves under what form of government they wanted to live.
As chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights (CHR), Roosevelt guided her colleagues in the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). She insisted that the Declaration be written in clear, nonlegal language that the average person could understand. Under her leadership, the majority of the CHR thwarted the efforts of the Soviets and their allies to qualify the protection of individual rights in the Declaration by asserting the rights of the state. On the other hand, Roosevelt believed strongly that the Declaration should include economic and social rights as well as civil and political rights, and she persuaded a skeptical U.S. State Department to accept their inclusion. The majority of the CHR wanted to make the rights in the Declaration a part of international law. Once again bucking resistance in the State Department, Roosevelt sided with the majority but supported the drafting of two documents, a nonbinding statement of principles (the Declaration) and a covenant. She pushed for the drafting of the Declaration first, recognizing that drafting the covenant would take longer and that the Declaration would not require ratification by the U.S. Senate. When the Declaration came to a vote in the General Assembly in December 1948, the vote was 48 in favor, 0 against, 8 abstentions, and 2 absent. Although the CHR did not complete the covenants on civil and political rights and economic and social rights until 1966, Roosevelt's years as chairperson prepared the way for the CHR's later accomplishments.
Although successful in defending the rights of refugees at the UN, Roosevelt was less successful in persuading Americans to admit more displaced persons. In her newspaper column, "My Day," and speeches, she urged Congress to fund the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) and the IRO and argued that more refugees should be admitted to the United States. Her 1946 visit to displaced persons camps in Germany fueled the urgency of her appeal and made her "more conscious than ever of what complete human misery there is in the world" (Roosevelt, February 20, 1946). When the Daughters of the American Revolution opposed President Truman's modest 1946 proposal to fill the unfilled immigration quotas with displaced persons from Europe, Roosevelt asked, "Why should other countries make any sacrifices" when America refused to act accordingly? (Roosevelt, November 20, 1946).
In 1948 she supported a bill aimed at assisting the IRO in resettling thousands of European refugees by admitting 200,000 persons to the United States. She helped raise funds for refugee groups, such as the United Jewish Appeal. She supported the immigration of Jewish refugees to Palestine and, frustrated by the refusal of the United States and other nations to accept more Jewish immigrants, became a strong supporter of the establishment of the state of Israel. When war broke out in 1948 over the creation of the Jewish state, creating thousands of Palestinian refugees, Roosevelt supported a UN resolution granting $29 million in aid to them, although she blamed the problem on the Arab leaders for urging the Palestinians to leave their homes. When she visited the Middle East in 1952, she toured Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan. Upset by the conditions she observed, she urged continued international assistance, but she remained blind to Israel's share of responsibility for the situation. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s Roosevelt was frustrated by the unwillingness of the U.S. Congress to make it easier for refugees to immigrate to the United States. In 1955 she criticized the Refugee Relief Act of 1953 for placing obstacles in the way of European refugees seeking entry into the United States. She also responded to hundreds of pleas from refugees around the world.
Lash, Joseph P. (1972). Eleanor: The Years Alone. New York: W. W. Norton.
Roosevelt, Eleanor. "Address by Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt at the Opening Campaign Rally of the Women's Division." United Jewish Appeal of Greater New York, at the Hotel Waldorf-Astoria, Wednesday, February 20, 1946.
Roosevelt, Eleanor. "My Day." November 20, 1946.
Roosevelt, Eleanor. "My Day." June 5, 1948.
John F. Sears
Allida M. Black