- Marriage: Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (October 11, 1884 \endash November 7, 1962) was an American political leader who used her influence as an active First Lady from 1933 to 1945 to promote the New Deal policies of her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as well as taking a prominent role as an advocate for civil rights. After her husband's death in 1945, she continued to be an internationally prominent author and speaker for the New Deal coalition. She was a suffragist who worked to enhance the status of working women, although she opposed the Equal Rights Amendment because she believed it would adversely affect women. In the 1940s, she was one of the co-founders of Freedom House and supported the formation of the United Nations. Eleanor Roosevelt founded the UN Association of the United States in 1943 to advance support for the formation of the UN. She was a delegate to the UN General Assembly from 1945 and 1952, a job for which she was appointed by President Harry S. Truman and confirmed by the United States Congress. During her time at the United Nations chaired the committee that drafted and approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. President Truman called her the "First Lady of the World" in tribute to her human rights achievements.
She was one of the most admired persons of the 20th century, according to Gallup's List of Widely Admired People.
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born October 11, 1884, at 56 West 37th Street in New York City, New York. Her parents were Elliott Roosevelt and Anna Hall Roosevelt. She was named Anna for her mother and for her aunt, Anna Cowles and Eleanor for her father, who was nicknamed "Ellie". From the beginning, she preferred to be called by her middle name, Eleanor. Two brothers, Elliott, Jr. (1889\endash 1893) and Hall Roosevelt (1891\endash 1941) were born later. She was born into a world of some wealth and privilege, as her family was part of New York high society called the "swells".
When Eleanor was eight, her mother died of diphtheria and she and her brothers were sent to live with her maternal grandmother, Mary Ludlow Hall (1843\endash 1919) at Tivoli, New York and at a brownstone in New York City. Just before Eleanor turned ten, she was orphaned when her father died of complications of alcoholism. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, author Joseph Lash describes her during this period of childhood as insecure and starved for affection, considering herself "ugly". So painfully shy was the unhappy little girl that she could not even spell when called upon in class. In the fall of 1899, with the encouragement of her paternal aunt Bamie Cowles, it was decided to send Eleanor to Allenswood Academy, an English finishing school. The headmistress, Marie Souvestre, was a noted feminist educator who sought to develop independent minds in young women. Eleanor learned to speak French fluently and gained self-confidence. Her first-cousin Corinne Robinson, whose first term at Allenswood overlapped with Eleanor's last, said that when she arrived at the school, Eleanor was "everything".
In 1902 at age 17, Eleanor Roosevelt returned to the United States, ending her formal education, and was later given a debutante party. Soon afterward, she became reacquainted with her father's (Elliott Roosevelt's) fifth cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt ("FDR"), then a 20-year-old junior at Harvard University. Following a White House reception and dinner with her uncle, President Theodore Roosevelt, on New Year's Day, 1903, Franklin's courtship of Eleanor began. In November, 1903, they became engaged, although the engagement was not announced for more than a year, until December 1, 1904, at the insistence of FDR's mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Anna Eleanor Roosevelt were married on St. Patrick's Day (March 17, 1905) at Eleanor's great-aunt's home in New York City. The marriage produced six children, five of whom survived infancy: Anna Eleanor, James, Franklin Delano, Jr. (who was born and died in 1909), Elliott, Franklin Delano, and John Aspinwall. Following a honeymoon in Europe, the newlyweds settled in New York City, in a house provided by Sara, as well as at the family's estate overlooking the Hudson River in Hyde Park, New York.
The family began spending summers at Campobello Island, New Brunswick, on the Maine\endash Canada border, where Franklin was stricken with high fever in August, 1921, which resulted in permanent paralysis of his legs. Although the disease was widely believed during his lifetime to be poliomyelitis, some retrospective analysts now favor the diagnosis of Guillain-Barré syndrome (see also Franklin D. Roosevelt's paralytic illness). FDR's attending physician, Dr. William Keen, believed it was polio and commended Eleanor's devotion to the stricken Franklin during that time of travail, "You have been a rare wife and have borne your heavy burden most bravely", proclaiming her "one of my heroines". Sunrise at Campobello, a play and movie depicting that time, were produced almost forty years later.
Eleanor had a somewhat contentious relationship with her domineering mother-in-law, Sara Delano Roosevelt. Long before Eleanor fell in love with her future husband and distant cousin, Franklin, she already had a relationship with Sara as a distant but highly engaging cousin with whom she corresponded. Although they had a somewhat contentious relationship, Sara sincerely wanted to be a mother to Eleanor and did her best before and during the marriage to fill this role. Sara had her own reasons for attempting to prevent their marriage and historians continue to discuss them. Historians also have had widely diverging opinions on the pluses and minuses of this relationship.
From Sara's perspective, Eleanor was relatively young, inexperienced and lacked the support from her late mother, Anna Hall Roosevelt. Despite her forceful and domineering personality, Sara had much to teach her new daughter-in-law on what a young wife should know. Eleanor, while sometimes resenting Sara's domineering nature, nevertheless highly valued her opinion in the early years of her marriage until she developed the experience and confidence a wife gains from the school of marital "hard knocks". Historians continue to study the reasons Eleanor allowed Sara to dominate their lives, especially in the first years of the marriage. Eleanor's income was more than half of that of her husband's when they married in 1905 and could have lived still relatively luxuriously without Sara's financial support.
From Sara's perspective, she was bound and determined to ensure her son's success in all areas of life including his marriage. Sara had doted on her son to the point of spoiling him, and now intended to help him make a success of his marriage with a woman that she evidently viewed as being totally unprepared for her new role as chatelaine of a great family. Sara would continue to give huge presents to her new grandchildren, but sometimes Eleanor had problems with the influence that came with "mother's largesse."
Although Eleanor was always in the good graces of her Uncle Theodore, the paterfamilas of the Oyster Bay Roosevelts, as the Republican branch of the family was known, she often found herself at odds with his eldest daughter, Alice Roosevelt. Uncle Theodore felt Eleanor's conduct to be far more responsible, socially acceptable and cooperative: in short, more "Rooseveltian" than that of the beautiful, highly photogenic but rebellious and self-absorbed Alice, to whom he would ask, "Why can't you be more like 'cousin Eleanor'?" These early experiences laid the foundation for life-long strain between the two high-profile cousins. Eleanor's relationship with her cousin and other Oyster Bay Roosevelts would be aggravated by the widening political gulf between the Hyde Park and Oyster Bay families as Franklin D. Roosevelt's political career began to take off. Characteristically caustic comments by "Cousin Alice", such as her later description of Franklin as "two-thirds mush and one-third Eleanor" certainly did not help. When Franklin was inaugurated president in 1933, Alice was invited to attend along with her brothers, Kermit and Archie.
Despite its happy start, the Roosevelts' marriage almost disintegrated over Franklin's affair with Eleanor's social secretary Lucy Mercer (later Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd). When Eleanor learned of the affair from Mercer's letters to FDR, which she discovered in September 1918, she was brought to despair and self-reproach. She told Franklin she would insist on a divorce if he did not immediately end the affair. So implacable was Sara's opposition to divorce that she warned her son she would disinherit him. Aunt Corinne, Uncle Ted, and Louis Howe, FDR's political advisor, were also influential in persuading Eleanor and Franklin to save the marriage for the sake of the five children and FDR's political career. Furthermore, Lucy Mercer was a Roman Catholic, which made any thought of her marrying a divorced Protestant problematic at best. Franklin agreed not to see Mercer, but much evidence points to a continued affair right up to Franklin's death in 1945 at Warm Springs, Georgia, where Mercer was with FDR when he died.
Although the marriage survived, Eleanor Roosevelt emerged a different woman, coming to the realization that she could achieve fulfillment only through her own influence and life, not someone else's.
In 1933 Eleanor Roosevelt had a very close relationship with Lorena Hickok, which spanned over her early years in the White House. On the day of Roosevelt's inauguration, she was wearing a sapphire ring that Lorena had given her. Later, when their correspondence was made public, it became clear that Eleanor would write such endearments as, 'I want to put my arms around you & kiss you at the corner of your mouth.' It is however unknown if FDR was aware of that relationship, which Lillian Faderman has deemed to be lesbian. Hickok's relationship with Roosevelt has been the subject of much speculation and it is not universally accepted by historians that the two were romantically connected.
Following FDR's paralytic illness attack in 1921, Eleanor began serving as a stand-in for her incapacitated husband, making public appearances on his behalf. She also started working with the Women's Trade Union League (WCTU), raising funds in support of the union's goals: a 48-hour work week, minimum wage, and the abolition of child labor. Throughout the 1920s, she was increasingly influential as a leader in the New York State Democratic Party. In 1924, she actively campaigned for Alfred E. Smith in his successful re-election bid as governor of the Empire State. By 1928, she was actively promoting Smith's candidacy for president and Franklin Roosevelt's nomination as the Democratic Party's candidate for governor of New York, succeeding Smith. Although Smith lost, Roosevelt won handily and the Roosevelts moved into the governor's mansion in Albany, New York.
She also taught literature and American history at the Todhunter School for Girls in New York City in the 1920s.
Having seen her aunt Edith Roosevelt's strictly circumscribed role and traditional protocol during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt (1901\endash 1909), Eleanor set out on a different course. Despite criticism, she continued with the active business and speaking agenda she had begun before becoming First Lady, in an era when few women had careers outside the home. She was the first First Lady to hold weekly press conferences and started writing a syndicated newspaper column, "My Day". Eleanor Roosevelt maintained a heavy travel schedule over her twelve years in the White House, frequently making personal appearances at labor meetings to assure Depression-era workers that the White House was mindful of their plight. In one widely-circulated cartoon of the time lampooning the peripatetic First Lady, she was pictured appearing inside a coal mine wearing a miner's hat, to the astonishment of a startled miner who exclaims, "My gosh! There's Mrs. Roosevelt".
During Franklin Roosevelt's terms as President, Eleanor was vocal in her support of the African-American civil rights movement. She was outspoken in her support of Marian Anderson in 1939 when the black singer was denied the use of Washington's Constitution Hall and was instrumental in the subsequent concert held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Eleanor became an important connection for FDR's administration to the African-American population during the segregation era.
Eleanor Roosevelt saw the job of the First Lady as a buffer between depression victims and the government bureaucracy, a guardian of human values within the administration not just as a social, ceremonial position.
In 1941, Eleanor Roosevelt, Wendell Willkie, and other Americans concerned about threats to democracy established Freedom House. Once the United States entered World War II, she was active on the homefront, co-chairing a national committee on civil defense with New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and frequently visiting civilian and military centers to boost war morale.
She especially supported more opportunities for women and African-Americans, notably the Tuskegee Airmen in their successful effort to become the first black combat pilots. At a time when there was still racial segregation in the armed forces and considerable opposition to allowing blacks to train as pilots, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was openly supportive of the Tuskegee Airmen. She visited the Tuskegee Air Corps Advanced Flying School in Alabama and flew with one of the black student pilots, which had great symbolic value and brought visibility and support to Tuskegee's pilot training program. The president of the Tuskegee Institute, F.D. Patterson, wrote that Mrs. Roosevelt's support of Tuskegee was instrumental in the success of its programs during that period.
She was a strong proponent of the Morgenthau Plan to de-industrialize Germany, and was in 1946 one of the few prominent individuals to remain a member of the campaign group lobbying for a harsh peace for Germany.
In 1946, U.S. President Harry S. Truman appointed Eleanor Roosevelt as a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly. She played an instrumental role, along with René Cassin, John Peters Humphrey and others, in drafting the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Roosevelt served as the first chairperson of the UN Human Rights Commission. On the night of September 28, 1948, Roosevelt spoke on behalf of the Declaration calling it "the international Magna Carta of all mankind" (James 1948). The Declaration was adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948. The vote of the General Assembly was unanimous except for eight abstentions.
Roosevelt resigned from her UN post in 1952.
In July 1949, she had a public disagreement with Francis Cardinal Spellman, the Catholic Archbishop of New York, which was characterized as "a battle still remembered for its vehemence and hostility". In her columns, Eleanor had attacked proposals for federal funding of certain nonreligious activities at parochial schools, such as bus transportation for students. Spellman cited the Supreme Court's decision which upheld such provisions, accusing her of anti-Catholicism. Most Democrats rallied behind Roosevelt, and Cardinal Spellman eventually met with Eleanor Roosevelt at her Hyde Park home to quell the dispute. However, Eleanor maintained her belief that Catholic schools should not receive federal aid, evidently heeding the writings of secularists such as Paul Blanshard.
During the Spanish Civil War, she favored the republican Loyalists against General Francisco Franco's Nationalists; after 1945, she opposed normalizing relations with Spain. She told Spellman bluntly that "I cannot however say that in European countries the control by the Roman Catholic Church of great areas of land has always led to happiness for the people of those countries." Her son Elliott Roosevelt suggested that her "reservations about Catholicism" were rooted in her husband's sexual affairs with Lucy Mercer and Missy LeHand, who were both Catholics.
Her defenders deny that Eleanor Roosevelt was anti-Catholic, citing her public support of Al Smith, a Catholic, in the 1928 presidential campaign and her statement to a New York Times reporter that year quoting her uncle, President Theodore Roosevelt, in expressing "the hope to see the day when a Catholic or a Jew would become president" (New York Times, January 25, 1928).
In the late 1940s, Roosevelt was courted for political office by Democrats in New York and throughout the country.
In the 1948 campaign, she was touted by some as the ideal running mate for President Truman. The North Dakota State Democratic Central Committee passed a resolution in 1947 calling for a Truman-Roosevelt ticket, and when Truman was asked if he would consider, he replied, "Why, of course, of course... What do you expect me to say to that?" Nevertheless, Eleanor rejected the appeals and insisted she had no interest in elective politics. Her son James Roosevelt would later say she refused to be considered for the vice presidency "because she was afraid of it."
In 1954, Tammany Hall boss Carmine DeSapio campaigned against Eleanor's son, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr., during the New York Attorney General elections, which Franklin (Jr.) lost. Roosevelt held DeSapio responsible for her son's defeat and grew increasingly disgusted with his political conduct through the rest of the 1950s. Eventually, she would join with her old friends Herbert Lehman and Thomas Finletter to form the New York Committee for Democratic Voters, a group dedicated to enhancing the democratic process by opposing DeSapio's reincarnated Tammany. Their efforts were eventually successful, and DeSapio was removed from power in 1961.
Eleanor was a close friend of Adlai Stevenson and supported his candidacies in the 1952 and 1956 presidential elections. When President Truman backed New York Governor W. Averell Harriman, who was a close associate of Carmine DeSapio, for the Democratic presidential nomination, Roosevelt was disappointed but continued to support Stevenson who ultimately won the nomination. She backed Stevenson once again in 1960 primarily to block John F. Kennedy, who nevertheless received the presidential nomination. However, she nevertheless worked hard to promote the Kennedy-Johnson ticket in 1960 and was appointed to policy-making positions by the young president, including the National Advisory Committee of the Peace Corps.
By the 1950s Roosevelt's international role as spokesperson for women led her to stop publicly attacking the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). But she never supported it and never thought it was wise. In 1961, President Kennedy's undersecretary of labor, Esther Peterson proposed a new "President's Commission on the Status of Women". Kennedy appointed Roosevelt to chair the commission, with Peterson as director. Roosevelt died just before the commission issued its final report. It concluded that female equality was best achieved by recognition of gender differences and needs, and not by an Equal Rights Amendment.
Roosevelt was responsible for the eventual establishment, in 1964, of the 2,800 acre (11 km²) () Roosevelt Campobello International Park on Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada. This followed a gift of the Roosevelt summer estate to the Canadian and American governments.
Roosevelt received 35 honorary degrees during her life, compared to 31 awarded to her husband. Her first, a Doctor of Humane Letters or D.H.L. on June 13, 1929, was also the first honorary degree awarded by Russell Sage College in Troy, New York. Her last was a Doctor of Laws, LL.D. degree granted by what is now Clark Atlanta University in June 1962.
In 1968, she was awarded one of the United Nations Human Rights Prizes. There was an unsuccessful campaign to award her a posthumous Nobel Peace Prize; however, a posthumous nomination has never been considered for the award.
Following FDR's death in 1945, Eleanor Roosevelt moved from the White House to Val-Kill Cottage in Hyde Park, NY, where she lived the rest of her life.
Eleanor Roosevelt was a member of the Brandeis University Board of Trustees, delivering the University's first commencement speech, and joined the Brandeis faculty as a visiting lecturer in international relations at the age of 75.
In 1960, Greer Garson played Eleanor Roosevelt in the movie Sunrise at Campobello, which portrayed Eleanor's instrumental role during Franklin Roosevelt's paralytic illness and his protracted struggle to reenter politics in its aftermath.
Later that year, on November 15, she met for the last time with former US President, Harry S. Truman and his wife, Bess, at the Truman Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri. Roosevelt had raised considerable funds for the erection and dedication of the building. The Trumans would later attend Roosevelt's memorial service in Hyde Park, NY in November, 1962.
In 1961, all volumes of Eleanor Roosevelt's autobiography, which she had begun writing in 1937, were compiled into The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt, which is still in print (Da Capo Press, ISBN 0-306-80476-X).
In April 1960, at age 76, Eleanor Roosevelt was injured when she was struck by a car in New York City and was subsequently diagnosed with aplastic anemia. During treatment of the disease, she developed bone marrow tuberculosis, recurring from a primary 1919 infection for which she was initially advised to see a physician and chose not to. Roosevelt died at her Manhattan apartment on November 7, 1962 at 6:15 p.m., at the age of 78.
At her memorial service, Adlai Stevenson asked, "What other single human being has touched and transformed the existence of so many?" Stevenson also said that Roosevelt was someone "who would rather light a candle than curse the darkness."
She was buried next to Franklin at the family compound in Hyde Park, New York on November 10, 1962. A laconic cartoon published at the time showed two angels looking down towards an opening in the clouds with the caption "She's here".
Eleanor Roosevelt, who considered herself plain and craved affection as a child, had in the end transcended whatever shortcomings she felt were hers to bring comfort and hope to many, becoming one of the most admired figures of the 20th century.
Eleanor married Franklin Delano Roosevelt, son of James Roosevelt and Sarah Delano.