Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962), wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was a leader involved in many causes. By the 1920s, Roosevelt, who raised five children, was involved in Democratic Party politics and numerous social reform organizations. In the White House, she was one of the most active first ladies in history and worked for political, racial, and social justice.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s Early Years

Anna Eleanor was born in 1884 in New York City. At school she learned the importance of being independent and supporting social causes. She volunteered as a teacher of poor children in New York and promoted the end of unsafe labor and working conditions in factories.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s Marriage and Family Life

Eleanor married Franklin Roosevelt in 1905. In 1910, he was elected to the New York State Senate and later appointed assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy. While raising their family, Eleanor Roosevelt volunteered with the American Red Cross and in Navy hospitals during World War I. In the 1920s, she became active in Democratic Party politics and involved with such activist organizations as the Women’s Union Trade League and the League of Women Voters.

In 1921, Franklin Roosevelt was diagnosed with polio, which left him paralyzed from the waist down. In 1928 he was elected governor of New York and six years later became President.

Eleanor Roosevelt as First Lady

Eleanor Roosevelt changed the role of First Lady into one that allowed her to be active in social reform.

The Roosevelts entered the White House during the Great Depression. Eleanor traveled around the country talking and listening to people. She supported civil rights for African Americans, and she worked for the rights of women, American workers, the poor, young people, artists, and writers. Her efforts led to more women working in government and in the press.

Eleanor Roosevelt helped European refugees come to the United States. She promoted issues important to American troops, encouraged volunteerism on the home front, and championed women employed in the defense industry. She also pushed for the continuation of New Deal programs during the war, against the wishes of some of her husband’s advisors.

The Roosevelts were strong political partners, but they also had a complicated personal relationship. Eleanor offered Franklin a divorce, but he chose to stay in the marriage for various reasons, including the fact that divorce carried a social stigma and would have hurt his political career.

Beyond the White House

Following Franklin Roosevelt’s death in 1945, Eleanor Roosevelt remained active as a private citizen. She served as a U.S. delegate to the United Nations, where she oversaw the drafting of the Universal Human Declaration of Rights, which continues to serve as a model for how people and nations should treat each other. Roosevelt headed the first Presidential Commission on the Status of Women and served on the board of numerous organizations. Roosevelt wrote 27 books and more than 8,000 newspaper columns on a wide range of social and political issues.

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