When Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born on October 11th, 1884, in New York City, women didn’t have voting rights and were treated very poorly in society, compared to today’s standards. By the time of her death on November 7th, 1962, the world was a completely different place, not only for females but for all victims of oppression.
Eleanor was orphaned before she turned eleven. Life with her orthodox grandmother wasn’t easy and made her very withdrawn and timid. After receiving schooling in England, Eleanor returned to the United States as a confident eighteen-year-old, ready to embark on a journey of fighting for human rights.
In 1905, Eleanor married Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a distant cousin. When World War I commenced, she gave up her life as a housewife and became more active in public service. In her work with the Red Cross, she came across countless wounded soldiers. Her interactions with these soldiers made her a firm believer in the evils of war and the importance of fighting for justice.
During this time, her husband was achieving success in politics. However, in 1921, their lives were again rocked as Franklin Roosevelt suffered a polio attack that essentially left him requiring physical support for the rest of his life. Eleanor took on the role of the supporting wife very graciously, always standing strong beside her handicapped husband. When Franklin Roosevelt became the U.S. president in 1933, Eleanor became the first lady. She then embarked on transforming the role of the first lady forever.
Accomplishments as the First Lady
After Franklin Roosevelt became handicapped in 1921, Eleanor Roosevelt had already started stepping up by helping him advance his political career. So, when she became the ‘First Lady,’ it was clear that she wouldn’t be content to sit back and act as a mere hostess. That’s exactly what she did after assuming the role of First Lady. She –
- Actively participated in discussions regarding politics, with human rights being her main focus.
- In the March of 1933, she became the first person to hold a press conference for only female reporters. Before that, only male reporters were allowed to attend White House press conferences.
- She regularly shared her progressive views in her own newspaper column titled ‘My Day.’
- She was already a member of the League of Women Voters. She had served as the organization’s vice president for legislative affairs in the late 1920s. In her twelve-year tenure as the First Lady, she continued advancing the League’s agenda to empower women’s participation in political roles. Her previous experiences working for the New York State Democratic Committee’s Women’s Division helped her create important policies for the League.
- She supported anti-lynching campaigns and was a ferocious critic of the racist ideologies that plagued the country in the early 20th century.
- Campaigned for fair housing measures for people of color, African Americans in particular.
- Roosevelt also participated in the Women’s Trade Union League.
More importantly, Eleanor Roosevelt helped the American people, especially the poor, regain hope in the post-Great Depression era. The president had limited mobility, so the First Lady had to become his “eyes, ears, and legs.”
Throughout her tenure, she traveled across the country, delivering speeches and providing objective information to the president. When World War II commenced, she started traveling abroad, visiting American and Allied troops in various remote locations such as the South Pacific islands. Some of the most popular quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt were spoken during these travels.
Life After the White House
When President Roosevelt passed on April 12th, 1945, Eleanor Roosevelt left the White House as the longest-serving First Lady in history. She had shown the country that First Ladies could play important roles in politics. But, her job wasn’t finished.
President Harry S. Truman appointed Roosevelt to the United Nations General Assembly in 1945. She was also asked to chair the U.N.’s Human Rights Commission. She thrived in this role, co-writing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the U.N.’s General Assembly implemented in 1948.
Widely considered to be her most significant achievement, this document was widely touted as the ‘International Bill of Rights.’ Over seven decades since its adoption, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is now the most translated document in history, serving as the moral and legal guide for the United Nations and for all nations of the world.