“Do what you feel in your heart to be right- for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.”
Eleanor Roosevelt was the longest running First Lady. She was first lady for 12 years, from 1933 to 1945, which only ended because of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s death. Before that she was First lady of New York from 1929 to 1932. She was married to Franklin Delano Roosevelt for 40 years, from 1905 to 1945. They had 6 children together, 2 named after Franklin and their one daughter named after Eleanor. She is said to be a great part of what made FDR a great president.
She was born Anna Eleanor Roosevelt on October 11, 1884 in New York City. Both of her parents died when she was a child. Her paternal uncle was President Theodore Roosevelt. She and FDR were 5th cousins. She considered herself an ugly duckling. From a young age she was very intelligent and intuitive. She was beloved throughout the entirety of her life. She was a big woman, at 5’11”, she and Michelle Obama are said to be the tallest first ladies.
Before getting married she was active in the social reform movement of the Progressive Era, under the influence of her uncle. For a year, while still in the beginning stages of romance with Franklin, she was a secretary and teacher.
She was given away at her wedding by President Theodore Roosevelt. Franklin’s mother was extremely controlling. That along with Franklin’s affairs led her to seek an identity and work of her own. She was an independent spirit and enjoyed having things of her own.
Although she mothered 6 children, she did not enjoy sex or motherhood. She said that it did not come naturally to her. Franklin and Eleanor almost divorced after 10 years of marriage, but his mother threatened to disinherit him. From that point forward the 2 remained married mostly for political partnership. It is believed that the 2 even had an open marriage.
She often had to stand in for Franklin due to his partial paralysis. She was controversial for being outspoken, particularly in matter of race. She was the first First Lady to hold her own press conferences (at which she banned male reporters), write newspaper columns and speak at a national convention. She went as far as to publicly disagree with President Roosevelt’s policies at times.
She advocated for women, as well as African and Asian Americans. She declared that President Roosevelt’s New Deal discriminated against black people. She invited many African Americans to the White House. She was friends with Marian Anderson and Mary McLeod Bethune. She lobbied to make lynching a crime. She contributed greatly to the shift of African Americans to the Democratic Party.
Even following her husband’s she remained active in politics. She encouraged the US to join the UN and was one of its first delegates. She oversaw the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She served as Chairwoman of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women under JFK. She was Chairman of the UN Commission on Human Rights from 1946 to 1951.
She died in 1962 at the age of 78. She continues to be known as one of the most popular first ladies. Before her first ladies were simply expected to play hostess at the White House. She was the first to have her own works and political ideas. She was the predecessor of first ladies like Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama. She worked hard to make change and was a phenomenal, strong, compassionate woman.