Next week we are welcoming the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum to give a two part lecture on Eleanor Roosevelt. Eleanor strived for civil and human rights. Eleanor is the longest serving First Lady due to her husband’s historic four terms.  Eleanor dedicated her life to civil service, serving on behalf of the United States to the United Nations, the civil rights movement, women in politics and much more. She is consistently rated the best First Lady of our country due to her courage, accomplishments and empathy for the American people.  We look forward to seeing you all next Tuesday for more about the most influential First Lady.

Eleanor was born Anna Eleanor Roosevelt in New York City on October 11th, 1884. Her father Elliott was the younger brother to Theodore Roosevelt and her mother Anna, was from the Livingston family.  Her mother Anna, was very displeased that her young daughter was not pretty and gave her the nickname, Granny. Eleanor adored her father, however, Elliott was suffering from extreme alcoholism and spent the last few years of his life in a sanatorium. After a series of tragedies in her young life, Eleanor and her brother Hall were sent to live with their grandmother, Mrs. Mary Livingston Ludlow Hall. Her grandmother wanted Eleanor to have a good education and after she turned 15, Grandmother Hall sent Eleanor to Allenswood Academy in England. The headmaster, Mademoiselle Marie Souvestre taught Eleanor how to use her position to help social issues.  Eleanor unwillingly returned to America when she was 18 in 1902. Eleanor’s time at Allenswood gave her a new sense of self confidence and Eleanor spent the majority of her time on social services, teaching at the Rivington Street Settlement House and the Junior League.  

In the summer of 1902, Eleanor was reintroduced to her cousin, Franklin. A year later, Franklin proposed which angered his mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt. Sara made the couple wait a year before announcing the engagement in hopes that Franklin would find another woman. Determined to marry Eleanor, Franklin and his mother announced the wedding for 1905. Theodore Roosevelt agreed to give away his favorite niece and the wedding was planned around Theodore. The wedding of Eleanor and Franklin was held on March 17, 1905. Sara immediately took control over the home lives of the newlyweds, even building a connecting brownstone. The obsessive behavior of Sara caused Eleanor to breakdown one evening to Franklin. In 1906, they became parents. Together, Eleanor had six children: Anna Eleanor, James, Elliott, Franklin Jr, and John. Franklin Delano Jr. died soon after birth. 

Franklin won a New York Senate seat in 1911 and the family moved to Albany. Two years later, the family moved to Washington DC. When World War I broke out, Eleanor volunteered with relief agencies which increased her political spotlight. However, in 1918, Eleanor suffered another blow. While Eleanor was unpacking Franklin’s suitcase, she discovered love letters between Franklin and his secretary Lucy.  Both of them wanted to divorce but Sara defending Eleanor threaten Franklin if he followed through. Eleanor would say this was the moment that they began leading different lives. Eleanor built herself a house where she could be independent and Val-Kill became her headquarters. After the passing of the 19th Amendment, Eleanor spoke out in favor of women joining political groups, and she was involved with the League of Women Voters and Women’s Trade Union. Slowly, Eleanor eventually was surrounded by other politically involved women and becoming more involved with her own agendas. 

When the family was on vacation at the home on Campobello Island, Franklin became terribly sick. The doctors at the time diagnosed him with polio but did not know the extent of the damage to his body. Eleanor strongly encouraged Franklin to keep going in politics despite Sara’s insistence he retire.  In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt became the 34th President. 

First Lady of the United States

Upon entering the White House in 1933, Eleanor set out to change the perspective of the role of the First Lady. On March 6, 1933 she held her first all women press conference from her office in the East Office. Throughout her 12 years as First Lady, Eleanor wrote more than 3,000 articles, and her popular daily column “My Day”.  Mrs. Roosevelt expanded her outreach but never missed important white house events. She was involved with the American Youth Congress which became National Youth Administration which provided education and work for young adults. After Eleanor visited Morgantown, West Virginia, she proposed to create a town for miners who were blacklisted by unions in the area. This settlement would be known as Arthurdale and was  to incorporate a mixed racial community. However, the white miners reject the inclusion of black and jewish miners. Eleanor became more outspoken to raise awareness of racial discrimination. 

In the 1930s, Eleanor joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and pushed for Franklin to meet with leaders to pass anti lynching laws. She also pushed Franklin to make sure that the New Deal programs in the South be equally distributed. The Daughters of the American Revolution refused to allow singer Marion Anderson to perform in the Constitution Hall in Washington DC. In protest, Roosevelt gave up her DAR membership and worked with the Marian Anderson Citizens Committee to find an outdoor venue to hold the performance. On April 9th 1939, Marian Anderson sang at the Lincoln memorial to 75,000 people. This historic concert, brought national attention to the civil rights movement. Marian Anderson would later sing the National Anthem at the inauguration of President Kennedy,  

When the outbreak of World War II started, Eleanor became the President’s eyes and ears. She travelled to the South Pacific to meet with soldiers and help boost their morale. Eleanor persisted Franklin to allow more refugees in the country who were fleeing Germany, primarily Jews. She joined a group of supporters of the Wagner-Rogers Bill, which would have permitted 20,000 German refugee children 14 and under to enter the US. She was also a strong supporter of women and Black Americans having more increased roles in the military and in the war effort. Eleanor endorsed the Tuskegee Airmen and took flight with Chief Alfred Anderson. The media attention from the flight increased the Tuskegee Institute and their Air program. 


In April 1945, President Franklin D. Roosevelt died. 

First Lady of the World

 In 1946, President Truman appointed Eleanor as the first delegate to the newly founded United Nations. At the UN, Eleanor headed the Human Rights Commission and helped write the draft of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. Eleanor spoke against McCarthyism in the 1950s and continued her work to advance the civil rights movement. In 1960, President John F. Kennedy appointed her to the President’s Commission on the Status of Women which released the first study on gender discrimination. Eleanor also worked on the Equal Pay Act in 1963.  Eleanor died on November 7 1962 due to tuberculosis. President Clinton declared that October 11 would called Eleanor Roosevelt day to honor her life of service.