Born Eleanor Anna Roosevelt to an affluent New York family (her uncle was the American president Theodore Roosevelt) in 1886, she was catapulted into New York high society from her birth. After losing a brother and both her parents at an early age, she took on the role of a mother of her surviving brother, Hall, and moved with her maternal grandmother, Mary Livingston Ludlow, in Tivoli, New York.
At the age of 15, she was sent to a private finishing school, Allenswood Academy, near London, where she was heavily influenced by the headmistress, Mary Souvestre, who took a special interest in her and promoted independent thinking and education of women. In 1902, she met her fifth cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, on a train to Tivoli.
They got engaged in 1903 and married in 1905 despite his mother’s opposition. Following the onset of Franklin’s paralytical illness in 1921, she began acting as a stand-in for her husband and made several public appearances on his behalf. In 1929, Franklin was elected governor of New York, making Eleanor first lady. After his election as the American president in 1932 and their move to the White House in March 1933, Eleanor struggled with the previous role of the First Lady who was not supposed to be at all engaged in any political activities during her husband’s tenure at the White House.
Eleanor revolutionised the role of the First Lady of the US throughout her husband’s four terms in office until 1945, becoming the first First Lady to hold press conferences, write political columns, fight for various causes, such as women’s rights, and even publicly oppose her husband’s policies from time to time. She also publicly spoke against racial discrimination and promoted the equality of women and minorities in the US.
She is also known as the first First Lady to have made such extensive use of the media to her own advantage. Following her husband’s death, she became heavily engaged in promoting human rights and was appointed the first United States representative to the UN Commission on Human Rights between 1947 and 1953 and the first Chair of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women between 1961 and 1962, for which she was appointed by President John F. Kennedy.
She was one of the main drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 1948. She was posthumously awarded a Human Rights Prize in 1968 by the UN. She died in 1962 at the age of 78.
She continues to be one of the most important political figures in contemporary history, credited with several achievements associated with the promotion of human rights in general and also rights of women and minorities.
Did you know:
- that she was a member of the New York crème de la crème and brought up in a wealthy New York family associated with the then President of the US, Theodore Roosevelt,
- that her husband, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was her fifth cousin,
- that she maintained a year-long friendship with flying pioneer and aviator Amelia Earhart and even contemplated becoming a pilot herself;
- that she learnt French and became an independent thinker as a result of the efforts of her headmistress at her finishing school, Mary Souvestre;
- that she never completely grieved her parents’ and brother’s death which led to a life-long depression;
- that she campaigned against her first cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., in 1924, for which her aunt never forgave her;
- that she was a strong advocate for the so-called New Deal (a post-war Europe restoration project);
- that she refused to remain a typical First Lady at the White House not only owing to her independent nature but also due to her husband’s paralysis;
- that she attempted to create an experimental community in Arthurdale, West Virginia;
- that she made the same amount of money as her husband during his presidential tenure as a result of her speaking engagements and monthly column;
- that she was also a civil rights activist that advocated for equal rights of African-American despite heavy opposition;
- that she fought to make lynching a federal crime;
- that she was one of the main drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?
Most Inspiring Eleanor Anna Roosevelt
“People grow through experience if they meet
life honestly and courageously”
“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events;
small minds discuss people”
“Friendship with one’s self is all important,
because without it one can not be friends
with anyone else in the world.
“Do what you feel in your heart to be right
for you’ll be criticized anyway.”
“It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence
by every experience in which
you really stop to look fear in the face.
You are able to say to yourself,
‘I lived through this horror
I can take the next thing that comes along.’
You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
“It isn’t enough to talk about peace
One must believe in it.
And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.”
“A woman is like a tea bag; you never know
how strong it is until it’s in hot water.”
“I believe anyone can conquer fear
by doing the things he fears to do,
provided he keeps doing them until he gets a record
of successful experience behind him.”
“Since you get more joy out of giving joy to others,
you should put a good deal of thought
into the happiness you are able to give.”
“You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think
of you if you realized how seldom they do.”
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
“The purpose of life is to live it,
to taste experience to the utmost,
to reach out eagerly and without fear
for newer and richer experience.”
“It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.”
“When you have decided what you believe,
what you feel must be done,
have the courage to stand alone and be counted.”
“The giving of love is an education in itself.”
“The future belongs to those who believe
in the beauty of their dreams.”
“A stumbling-block to the pessimist is
a stepping-stone to the optimist.”
“You can often change your
circumstances by changing your attitude.”
“Never mistake knowledge for wisdom.
One helps you make a living; the other helps you make a life.”
“Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product.”
“A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader.
A great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves.”
“To handle yourself, use your head;
to handle others, use your heart.”
“Tomorrow is a mystery.
Today is a gift.
That is why it is called the present.”
“Do one thing every day that scares you.”