Birth of Eleanor Roosevelt
Birth of Eleanor Roosevelt
On October 11, 1884, America’s longest-serving First Lady was born.
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt chose at an early age to be addressed by her middle name. Though born into a very wealthy family, she lost both her parents when she was young. Eleanor was popular, a good student, fluent in French, and taught dance and calisthenics. Eleanor married Franklin Roosevelt on March 17, 1905, with her uncle, President Theodore Roosevelt, giving her away.
When Franklin was stricken with polio in 1921, Eleanor convinced him to remain in politics. She made public appearances on his behalf and used her contacts to further his career. At the same time, she joined the Women’s Trade Union League and helped raise funds for their goals, which included a 48-hour work week, minimum wage, and abolishment of child labor.
When Franklin was elected President in 1932, Eleanor made it her mission to redefine the role of First Lady. Eleanor continued her busy speaking schedule and was the first First Lady to hold a press conference. She would hold 348 while in the White House and banned male reporters, forcing newspapers to hire female reporters.
One of the projects most dear to Eleanor was Arthurdale, a community in West Virginia. In 1933, she visited homeless miners in Morgantown, West Virginia. She proposed building a new community where they could make their living with subsistence farming, handicrafts, and a manufacturing plant. Eleanor saw the town as a model for “a new kind of community” where workers could live better. While the project was largely considered a failure, Eleanor believed it was a success since the residents had become self-sufficient.
Another issue of great importance to Eleanor was civil rights. She frequently spoke out for the rights of African Americans, even challenging her husband’s New Deal policies because they did not equally benefit all races.
When World War II broke out, Eleanor encouraged her husband to allow European refugee children to immigrate to America. She hoped he would allow more immigration for those persecuted by the Nazis, but Franklin did the opposite. According to her son, Eleanor’s deepest regret was that she was not able to get Franklin to accept more refugees during the war. Eleanor co-chaired the Office of Civilian Defense (OCD), which gave volunteers more responsibility in war preparation. She also pushed for women and African Americans to take a larger role in the war effort.
After Franklin died in April 1945, Eleanor was appointed a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly. The following year she became the first chairperson of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights and later helped draft its Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She averaged 150 national and international speaking tours per year and received 35 honorary degrees. Eleanor died on November 7, 1962.
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