Distinguished Women of Past and Present


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Eleanor Roosevelt

From: United States: New York
Fields: Activism and Social Service, Human Rights, Other
Key Words/Phrases: First Lady, author, writer, speaker, activist
Roosevelt, (Anna) Eleanor (1884-1962), social activist, author, lecturer, and United States representative to the United Nations. She was the wife of United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Eleanor Roosevelt was born in New York City on October 11, 1884, to Elliott Roosevelt and Anna Hall Roosevelt, descendants of a prominent family of Dutch ancestry. She was a niece of President Theodore Roosevelt. Eleanor's mother died when she was eight, her father when she was ten. She then lived with her maternal grandmother and at the age of 15 was sent to a boarding school in England. On her return home she did social work in New York before marrying her distant cousin Franklin Roosevelt in 1905. They had six children, one of whom died in infancy. The couple's domestic life was dominated by Franklin's mother, Sara, and Franklin avoided involvement in the management of their home or the discipline of their children. Eleanor's discovery of Franklin's affair with her social secretary, Lucy Page Mercer, in 1918 was a turning point in their marriage. Although the affair ended and the Roosevelts reconciled, Eleanor resolved to have a career of her own. She became involved in the League of Women Voters and the Women's Trade Union League. In 1921 Eleanor began to work politically on behalf of Franklin, who had been stricken with poliomyelitis after his unsuccessful bid for the vice presidency in 1920. She became active in Democratic party politics as a means of keeping her handicapped husband's political career alive. When he was elected to the presidency in 1932, Eleanor continued to assist him, and although she held no office, she soon became an influential figure in his administration. The Great Depression during the 1930s broadened Mrs. Roosevelt's concerns. She sponsored an experiment at Arthurdale, West Virginia, designed to bring small-scale manufacturing to impoverished coal miners in a self-sustaining community. Widespread unemployment, particularly among youth, led to her support of the National Youth Administration, a program for youth employment, and of the leftist-dominated American Youth Congress. More liberal than the president, she worked to promote racial equality, and in a famous incident resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution when the black singer Marian Anderson was denied the use of their facilities. During World War II (1939-1945) she visited American soldiers around the world, championed desegregation of the armed forces, and at the war's end urged admission to Palestine of Jewish refugees from Europe. Following the death of her husband in 1945, Roosevelt founded Americans for Democratic Action, a liberal group within the Democratic party. During the 1950s she was a strong supporter of party leader Adlai Stevenson. As a U.S. delegate to the United Nations from 1945 to 1953, she chaired the commission that drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Roosevelt was the author of "My Day," a widely read newspaper column, and of numerous books, including It's Up to the Women (1933) and This I Remember (1949). She died in New York City on November 7, 1962.

Contributed by: Elliot A. Rosen

"Roosevelt, (Anna) Eleanor" Microsoft Encarta.
Copyright 1995 Microsoft Corporation.


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