Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962

Alternative names
Birth 1884-10-11
Death 1962-11-07
Birth 1881
Death 1962

Biographical notes:

Eleanor Roosevelt (October 11, 1884 - November 7, 1962), wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was an especially active and visible First Lady who, it was claimed, did more to popularize the Roosevelt administration than any other person or factor. Her innumerable trips across the country and visits to workers and their families did much to promote her as one of the people, a democrat with a small "d." She was the first president's wife to hold White House press conferences, and millions of people read her syndicated column, "My Day," and listened to her fifteen-minute radio broadcasts. She was deeply committed to social service projects, particularly those ushered in by her husband's New Deal program, including the National Youth Administration, slum clearance, nursery schools, and playgrounds. During World War II, she traveled to Great Britain, Australia, the South Pacific, and army camps in the United States, boosting the morale and good will of the Allies and American servicemen. Her almost constant public exposure, however, left her vulnerable to criticism, and she was often the butt of "Eleanor" jokes in cartoons, the press, and on radio. She was especially criticized for her sponsorship of the American Youth Congress and her membership in the American Newspaper Guild: both, her critics charged, were dominated by Communists, but she steadfastly refused to end her association with those groups. After her husband's death in 1945, Eleanor Roosevelt was appointed by President Truman to the U.S. delegation to the United Nations. She was also elected chairman of the Commission on Human Rights. By 1949, she was being called the "First Lady of the World" and "Number One World Citizen." A Woman's Home Companion poll showed that she was the most popular living American of either sex, and in 1948, the American Institute of Public Opinion revealed that she was the "most admired woman living today in any part of the world." She was the recipient of numerous awards, including the first annual Franklin Delano Roosevelt Brotherhood Award in 1946, the Four Freedoms award, and the highest honor award of the National Society for Crippled Children and Adults. In addition to her syndicated column, she was a contributor of numerous articles to magazines and the author of several books, including It's Up to Women, The Moral Basis of Democracy, and On My Own.

Epithet: wife of President F D Roosevelt

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000000688.0x00004c

Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born on October 11, 1884, in New York City into a rich and noted society family. Her mother died when she was eight, her younger brother a year later, and her father the year after that. She and her surviving brother spent the rest of their childhoods with her mother’s relatives. At 15, Eleanor entered Allenswood, a boarding school outside London. The headmistress, Marie Souvestre, inspired Eleanor’s own intellectual curiosity, and she viewed her three years at the school as the happiest and most formative of her life.

She returned to New York in 1902 for her debut into society, but Souvestre’s influence remained strong in her life. That November, her distant cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, began courting her. He was drawn to her serious intelligence, and she to his fun and liveliness, and they married on March 17, 1905. In the next eleven years, Eleanor bore six children, five of whom, one daughter and four sons, survived infancy. In 1911, Franklin was elected to the New York State Senate, and the family moved to Albany. Two years later, they moved to Washington, D.C., upon Franklin’s appointment as assistant secretary of the Navy. Several years were devoted to the social duties of her new position, which generally bored Eleanor. The outbreak of World War I gave her an acceptable excuse for going back to the volunteer work she had had to give up upon her marriage. She worked for the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, helped run a Red Cross Canteen, and spent time visiting wounded.

In 1918, Eleanor found out that Franklin was having an affair with Lucy Mercer, her social secretary. She offered him a divorce, but he was afraid it would ruin both his political career and his mother’s financial support. He instead promised never to see Mercer again. From this moment their lives grew increasingly separated, and she was able to focus on the causes and work that she found rewarding.

Franklin ran for vice president in 1920, which further spurred Eleanor’s interest in politics. When he was striken with polio in 1921 and withdrew from politics for several years, she used it as the explanation for her own growing activism, saying that she was keeping the Roosevelt name in the public eye. Though she had been unsure of women’s suffrage, once it passed, she devoted herself to giving women the information and strength to work in a bloc. She became active in the Democratic Party, lobbying hard in favor of causes viewed as women’s interest, such as the five-day work week. With Nancy Cook and Marion Dickerman, former suffragists, she bought the Todhunter School for Girls, where she taught government and literature.

From the guide to the Eleanor Roosevelt letter to Paul Carter (MS 224), April 15, 1955, (University of Colorado at Boulder Libraries. Special Collections Dept.)


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