Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt Biography.com

Diplomat, U.S. First Lady(1884–1962)
The wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt changed the role of the first lady through her active participation in American politics.

Synopsis

Born in New York City on October 11, 1884, Eleanor Roosevelt—the niece of Theodore Roosevelt—was one of the most outspoken women in the White House. She married Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1905. During her husband's presidency, Eleanor gave press conferences and wrote a newspaper column. After his death, she served at the United Nations, focusing on human rights and women's issues.

Early Life

First lady, writer and humanitarian Eleanor Roosevelt was born Anna Eleanor Roosevelt on October 11, 1884, in New York City. The niece of President Theodore Roosevelt, Eleanor was known as a shy child, and experienced tremendous loss at a young age: Her mother died in 1892 and her father died two years later, when she was just 10 years old. Eleanor was sent to school in England when she was a teenager—an experience that helped draw her out of her shell.

In 1905, Eleanor married her distant cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who would later become president of the United States. The couple had six children: Anna, James, Franklin (who died as an infant), Elliott, Franklin Jr. and John. Despite her busy home life, Eleanor became active in public service during World War I, working for the American Red Cross.

U.S. First Lady

After her husband suffered a polio attack in 1921, Eleanor stepped forward to help Franklin with his political career. When her husband became president in 1933, Eleanor dramatically changed the role of the first lady. Not content to stay in the background and handle domestic matters, she showed the world that the first lady was an important part of American politics. She gave press conferences and spoke out for human rights, children's causes and women's issues, working on behalf of the League of Women Voters. She even had her own newspaper column, "My Day." She also focused on helping the country's poor, stood against racial discrimination and, during World War II, traveled abroad to visit U.S. troops.

For her active role in public policy, Eleanor was heavily criticized by some. She was praised by others, however, and today, she is regarded by as a leader of women's and civil rights, as well as one of the first public officials to publicize important issues through the mass media.

Life After the White House

Following her husband's death, on April 12, 1945, Eleanor told interviewers that she didn't have plans for continuing her public service: "The story is over," she reportedly stated. However, the opposite would actually prove to be true. President Harry Truman appointed Eleanor as a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly, a position in which she served from 1945 to 1953. She became chair of the U.N.'s Human Rights Commission and helped to write the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—an effort that she considered to be her greatest achievement.

President John F. Kennedy reappointed her to the United States delegation to the U.N. in 1961, and later appointed her to the National Advisory Committee of the Peace Corps and to chair the President's Commission on the Status of Women.

Outside of her political work, Eleanor wrote several books about her life and experiences, including This Is My Story (1937), This I Remember (1949), On My Own (1958) and Autobiography (1961). 

Death and Legacy

Eleanor died of aplastic anemia, tuberculosis and heart failure on November 7, 1962, at the age of 78. She was buried at the family estate in Hyde Park. A revolutionary first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the most outspoken women to live in the White House. While she's had her share of critics, most agree that she was a great humanitarian who dedicated much of her life to fighting for political and social change.

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