BORN: October 11, 1884
DIED: November 7, 1962
Every First Lady since Eleanor Roosevelt is measured against Eleanor Roosevelt because she completely transformed the role.
Her childhood was turbulent. When she was 8 her mother died suddenly, her little brother died the next year, and the year following takes her father. She was an orphan by the time she was 10 years old.
"If life were predictable, it would cease to be life and be without flavor."
At 14 she was sent to boarding school in London, the experience would be a major turning point in her life.
There she met Head Mistress Marie Souvestre. She was not only educating them but she was a radical feminist that was preparing them not to be wives but to be leaders.
"Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people."
In 1902, Eleanor met her fathers 5th cousin, a young Harvard student named Franklin. The couple married and Franklin began a political career in the senate.
Tragedy struck in 1921 when Franklin contracted polio and lost the use of his legs. Though polio devastated him physically, with Eleanor’s encouragement, FDR’s political comeback began in earnest in 1928 when he won governorship of New York.
"You must do things you think you cannot do."
By the presidential election season of 1932, the Great Depression had worsened. Promising a “New Deal” for the American people, FDR was swept into office in a landslide.
"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by ever experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself ‘I lived this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’"
Franklin’s inability to get around freed Eleanor. She was his eyes and ears and began to travel extensively promoting his policy. IN just her first of what would be 12 years as First Lady, she traveled over 40,000 miles
Over the course of her life, she visited every continent except Antarctica, and every state. She was legendary for her ability to turn up everywhere.
"A woman is like a teabag, you cant tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water."
It was then that she started to get involved with political causes of her own interest, chiefly humanitarian and civil rights struggles. She created a public constituency of her own, this was something that had never been done by any First Lady before.
"Sometimes I wonder if we shall ever grow up in our politics and sat definite things which mean something or whether shall always go on using generalities to which everyone can subscribe and which mean very little."
She was heavily criticized for her active role in policy public by the press
"Well behaved women rarely make history."
But became a role model for millions of American who applauded her activism on behalf of social causes. Unaffected by media attacks, she kept writing, lecturing and broadcasting affirming by example the right of married women to make money and promote their own career.
"Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have the obligation to be one."
She pioneered the use of mass media by forming a ‘women only’ press corp. She would hold press conferences limited to women reporters who faced discrimination from male colleagues giving women journalists an advantage. She leveraged the media as a way to connect with people.
"Too often the greatest decisions are originated and given born in bodies made up wholly of men, or so completely dominated by them that whatever of special value women have to offer is shunted aside without expression."
March 6, 1933 she held the first of 348 press conferences she would hold in her long public service life. This was just two days after Franklin’s inauguration. She established herself as an important contributor as she worked on Franklin’s New Deal program to combat the depression and discovered that she had a platform as First Lady, to speak up for the downtrodden.
"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
By the early 40s, Eleanor Roosevelt firmly believed civil rights to be the real test for American democracy.
Thus, she declared over and over agin throughout the war, there could be no democracy in the United States that did not include democracy for blacks. As a nationally syndicated columnist, popular lecturer, author, party leader, and social activists, Eleanor Roosevelt assured her friends of color:
"My voice will not be silent."
Following Franklin’s death during his 4th term, Eleanor told interviewers that she didn’t have plans for continuing her public service. But that same year President Harry Truman appointed her as a delegate to the United Nations and she became chair of the UN’s Human Rights Commission and helped to write the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—an effort that she considered to be her greatest achievement.
"When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than to avenge it?"
A revolutionary first lady to the world, Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the most outspoken women to live in the White House. She spoke and wrote with passion, eloquence, and honesty as she dedicated to the eradication of poverty and racism, war, and despair.
"As for accomplishments, I just did what I had to do as things came along."
Not without her share of critics, even those will agree she was a great humanitarian who devoted much of her life to fighting for political and social change.
"I have spent many years of my life in opposition and I rather like the role."
Eleanor Roosevelt was the definition of an Extraordinary Woman.