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. After President Roosevelt’s death, Eleanor was a delegate to the United Nations and continued to serve as an advocate for a wide range of human rights issues. She remained active in Democratic causes and was a prolific writer until her death at age 78.
ELEANOR ROOSEVELT’S EARLY YEARS
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born on October 11, 1884 in New York City. She did well at school, where she learned the importance of being independent and supporting social causes. She volunteered as 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 Roosevelt married Franklin Roosevelt in 1905. In 1910, he was elected to the New York State Senate. Three years later, he was 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 was also involved with such activist organizations as the Women’s Union Trade League and the League of Women Voters. She cofounded Val-Kill Industries, a nonprofit furniture factory, and she taught American history and literature at a girl’s school.
In 1921, Franklin Roosevelt was diagnosed with polio, which left him paralyzed from the waist down. Eleanor encouraged her husband’s return to politics, and in 1928 he was elected governor of New York. Six years later, Roosevelt 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 worked to help European refugees who wanted to come to the United States. She also promoted issues that were important to American troops, worked to boost soldiers’ morale, 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 returned to New York and remained active as a private citizen. She served as a U.S. delegate to the United Nations, where she oversaw the drafting and passage of the Universal Human Declaration of Rights. Roosevelt considered the document, which continues to serve as a model for how people and nations should treat each other, one of her most significant achievements. From 1961 until her death the following year, Roosevelt headed the first Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. She also served on the board of numerous organizations. Over the course of her life, Roosevelt wrote 27 books and more than 8,000 newspaper columns on a wide range of social and political issues.
Source: Eleanor Roosevelt
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