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Happy Birthday to Eleanor Roosevelt!

by Erik Fogel | Nov 4, 2017 12:00:00 AM |

Eleanor Roosevelt

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"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along." - Eleanor Roosevelt 

 

 

Born October 11, 1884, in New York City, Eleanor Roosevelt was a politician, diplomat, and activist; the longest-serving first lady, first chair of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women, and first chair of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, she is known as the most outspoken women in the history of the White House. 

 

With both of her parents dying before she was 10, Eleanor was raised by her grandmother and sent to boarding school in England during her teenage years. She was brought back to the US at the age of 17 to make her social debut and take her place in society as a debutant. 

 

Eleanor, however, had other plans. During her studies, she had become interested in social reform and was determined to make a change in the world. She became involved in the Junior League and began teaching language and skills to recent immigrants. She also became involved in the National Consumer's Leauge and began inspecting and creating pressure against the many sweatshops in New York. 

 

She married Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) in 1905 at the age of 20. At the time, FDR was a young law student with political ambition. In 1910 he was elected to the Senate and began steadily climbing the political ladder making his way into a position in Woodrow Wilson's presidential cabinet. During this time, Eleanor began attending Senate sessions introducing her to the world of politics. She began to recognize the importance of politics and policy in furthering social reform. She continued her work in aid organizations and even succeeded in pressuring the Red Cross to improve their facilities for wounded soldiers during WWI, and in getting Wilson's interior secretary to create an investigative commission into such facilities. 

 

In 1921, FDR fell ill with a paralytic illness which would leave him forever wheelchair bound. Eleanor was his first and most supportive caretaker. Throughout his recovery, however, she never gave up her endeavors and continued working with various organizations fighting for social change. When her husband was ready to re-enter political life, Eleanor supported him fully and worked hard to help him become elected as Governor of New York in 1929. 

FDR was elected president in 1923 making Eleanor the First Lady of the United States. Women in this role traditionally held fundraisers and social events to support charities and stayed in the background as keepers of the White House. Eleanor, however, was not one to sit back, she was one to induce change.

 

On March 6, 1933, just two days after FDR's inauguration, she held her first of what would be 348 press-conferences. In these press-conferences, she would speak of her life in the White House, the political activities of the administration, and social issues. Most importantly, men were banned from these conferences. This forced publications to employ women in order to gain access to Eleanor and the work she was doing.  

 

Throughout FDR's tenure as president, Eleanor remained active in reform movements. Because of his hidden paralysis, she often served as an unofficial representative for the president, something unheard of for as a First Lady, and an act she and the administration received much criticism for.

 

During the depression, she worked closely with the president on his New Deal reforms, traveling the country inspecting programs. At the invitation of the Queen, she traveled to England in 1942 during WWII, becoming the first First Lady to travel abroad without the president, to visit working women in London, and the American troops abroad. 

 

Following FDR's death, and thus the end of her status of First Lady, Eleanor remained involved in public life. In 1945, she as appointed by Harry Truman as one of the first, and only female, delegates to the newly formed United Nations. She remained in the public eye as a speaker, author, and activist until her death in 1968. 

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