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one of the most visible and active First Ladies in history
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born to Elliott and Anna Hall Roosevelt on October 11, 1884, in New York City. She had one brother, Elliott, and a half-brother, Hall (born to a family servant); President Theodore Roosevelt was her uncle. Eleanor's mother died when she was eight and her father was confined to a sanitorium as an alcoholic soon after, so she was raised by her maternal grandmother. She was educated by private tutors until age 15, and then attended Allenswood Academy, a private finishing school near London, until age 17.
After returning to the United States and taking her place within New York City society, Roosevelt became a social worker in the slums of New York's East Side and an active advocate for tenants and poor workers. She met Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a fifth cousin once removed, in 1903, and the two were married on March 17, 1905; she ultimately bore six children Anna Eleanor Jr., James, Franklin Delano (died in infancy), Elliott, Franklin Delano Jr., and John Aspinwall.
Although social convention of the day said that a married woman, especially one of social standing, should be content as wife and mother, Eleanor Roosevelt was never content to just sit and watch the world go by. While her husband was working his way up the political ranks, Eleanor was working on the many social causes of the day. She was an active member of the League of Women Voters (1920-1928), Women's Trade Union League (1922-1955), World Peace Movement and Bok Peace Prize Committee (1923-1924), Women's City Club of New York (1924-1928), and the New York State Democratic Party. She was also a co-owner of and teacher at the Todhunter School for Girls in New York City (1926-1933), which provided education for poor girls, and a co-owner of Val-Kill Industries (1927-1936), which employed needy people to make furniture for commercial projects. As the First Lady of New York State (1929-1933), Roosevelt often took her husband's place at conferences and meetings when either his health or schedule did not allow him to be present.
Although initially unsure about being the wife of a President, Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the most visible and active First Ladies in history. On March 6, 1933 (just a few days after her husband's inauguration), she held the first of a total 348 weekly press conferences, in which she addressed questions posed by both reporters and private citizens. In 1935, she began a syndicated column called "My Day" in which she addressed issues presented by citizens as well as topics she had a personal interest in; she continued the column until 1962. As she had done while Franklin was Governor of New York, Eleanor often sat in for President Roosevelt at Cabinet meetings and other engagements he was unable to attend. She also made personal appearances at labor meetings and was a vocal supporter of the civil rights movement. In 1939, she spoke out against the Daughters of the American Revolution when that organization refused to let black soprano Marian Anderson perform at Constitution Hall, and then arranged for Anderson to perform in front of the Lincoln Memorial. During World War II, she was active on a national committee on civil defense, visited wounded servicemen in the South Pacific in 1943, and pressured the President into ending the internment of Japanese-Americans. In 1944, she toured Latin America in order to promote better relations between that region and the United States.
After Franklin Roosevelt died, Eleanor moved out of the White House but remained active in the political and social arenas. A staunch supporter of the United Nations, she served as one of the first U.S. delegates to the UN General Assembly from 1945 to 1952. She also served as the chairperson of the UN Commission on Human Rights, which passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
Roosevelt addresses a Democratic party rally at the
University of Oklahoma on March 4, 1958. The occasion was
the 25th anniversary of the inauguration of Franklin
Roosevelt as President. A large painting of the former
Presidennt is on the wall behind Mrs. Roosevelt.
Eleanor Roosevelt died in New York City on November 7, 1962.
Up to the Women (1933)
Robinson Library >> American
History >> United States:
General History and Description
20th Century, 1901-1961
Roosevelt's Administration, 1933-1945
This page was last updated on October 10, 2017.