Eleanor Roosevelt: Personal Hero, Powerful Advocate, World Leader In Her Own Right

Women’s History Month 2019

Eleanor Roosevelt was one of America’s most beloved First Ladies, reformers, and female leaders of the 20th century. She continues to inspire leaders to this day and is the second women leader profile during Women’s History Month.

Eleanor was born in New York City in October 1884. When her mother died in 1892, the children went to live with Grandmother Hall; her father died only two years later.

In her circle of friends was a handsome young man, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. They became engaged in 1903 and were married in 1905, with her uncle the President, Theodore Roosevelt, giving the bride away. Within eleven years Eleanor bore six children; one son died in infancy.

Although initially wary of women’s suffrage, after its passage in 1920, Roosevelt was a staunch advocate for women’s political engagement. She occupied a leadership role in several organizations, including the League of Women Voters. She surrounded herself with other politically savvy women such as Molly Dewson and Rose Schneiderman. She was the leader of the Women’s Division of the Democratic National Committee during Al Smith’s presidential bid. Her activities were widely covered in the media in the 1920s and lauded by Democratic chairs and activists across America, making her even more publicly recognizable than her husband when he decided to run for governor in 1928.

As first lady of New York, Eleanor used the position to advance many of her progressive and egalitarian goals across the Empire State. She embraced the progressive tendencies of her Uncle Theodore and husband’s administration in Albany to fight for fairer labor standards, women’s rights and conservation of lands across New York.

When Mrs. Roosevelt came to the White House in 1933, she understood social conditions better than any of her predecessors and she transformed the role of First Lady. She never shirked official entertaining; she greeted thousands with charming friendliness. She also broke precedent to hold press conferences, travel to all parts of the country, and give lectures and radio broadcasts.

After the President’s death in 1945 she returned to a cottage at his Hyde Park estate; she told reporters: “the story is over.” Within a year, however, she began her service as American spokesman in the United Nations. She died in New York City that November and was buried at Hyde Park beside her husband.

In 1962, when Eleanor Roosevelt died, she left behind a legacy is a matriarch of truly unique American causes. Few lives, if any, were not touched by Eleanor Roosevelt. Of the many statements of praise were printed from her admirers, few were as powerful those attributed to Adlai Stevenson, America’s representative to the United Nations:

“Like so many others. I have lost more than a beloved friend. I have lost an inspiration. She would rather light a candle than curse the darkness, and her glow has warmed the world.”