White House portrait
|Born||October 11, 1884 |
New York City, New York, USA
|Died||November 7, 1962 |
New York City, New York, USA
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (October 11, 1884 – November 7, 1962) was an American political leader who used her stature as First Lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945 to promote her husband's (Franklin D. Roosevelt's) New Deal, as well as Civil Rights. She was the most activist First Lady the country had ever seen. After her husband's death in 1945 she built a career as an author-speaker, a New Deal Coalition advocate and spokesperson for human rights. She was a suffragist who worked hard to enhance the status of working women, opposing the Equal Rights Amendment)because it would hurt them. In the late 1940s she became a leader in supporting the United Nations, the United Nations Association and Freedom House. She chaired the committee that drafted and approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. President Harry S. Truman called her the First Lady of the World in honor of her extensive human rights promotions.
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born at 56 West 37th St. New York City, New York to Elliott Roosevelt and Anna Rebecca Livingston Ludlow Hall and was the favorite niece and goddaughter of Theodore Roosevelt. She rarely went by her real first name of Anna except in signing checks and other official documents and always preferred to be called Eleanor. Eleanor's family was descended from Claes Martenszen van Rosenvelt who immigrated to New Amsterdam (Manhattan) from the Netherlands in the 1640s. His grandsons, Johannes and Jacobus, began the Oyster Bay and Hyde Park, New York branches of the Roosevelt family. Eleanor was descended from the Johannes branch while her future husband, Franklin was descended from the Jacobus branch. They were fifth cousins once removed.
The former President was the surrogate father to the future First Lady. Roosevelt is also a descendant through her mother's family, of William Livingston, a signer of the U.S. Constitution. Two brothers followed young Anna Roosevelt. The Roosevelt family was completed with the addition of Elliott Jr. (1889-1893) and Hall Roosevelt (1891-1941).
Following her parents' deaths, young Anna Eleanor was raised by her maternal grandmother Mary Ludlow Hall (1843-1919), an emotionally cold woman, in Tivoli, New York. Eleanor was looked down upon by most of her mother's family, presumably because they deemed Eleanor plain looking with an uncommon six foot tall frame. Her mother's family were not the only ones who thought little of her; her Hyde Park cousin and future mother-in-law, Sara Delano Roosevelt would condescend to her less wealthy Manhattan Roosevelt cousins by saying, "We got all the looks and the money." In her grandmother's home, Eleanor's Hall uncles tended to be wealthy alcoholic playboys and recent historical allegations have surfaced that Eleanor may have felt insecure around lecherous eyes. It is known that multiple locks were placed on her room from the inside and when she once visited her Aunt Bamie, she started sobbing and exclaiming, "Auntie I have no real home." Bamie was instrumental in getting Eleanor away from the Halls to seek educational opportunities. Eleanor's grandmother, Mary Hall, has limited contact with the Roosevelts after Elliott's death. Uncle Ted, however, had Eleanor at his Sagamore Hill house where she was given special attention as an emotionally vulnerable child. The only other contact she had with young men was at a house party given by her aunt Corinne Robinson at Christmas and it was at one of these parties that she met her 5th cousin and future husband Franklin Roosevelt.
With the encouragement of her aunt, Anna "Bye or Bammie" Cowles, Theodore Roosevelt's sister, she was sent to Allenswood, a girls' boarding school outside of London where she studied from 1899 to 1902. At Allenswood the headmistress, Mademoiselle Marie Souvestre (1830-1905), made a lasting impression. Souvestre had a fierce interest in liberal causes and the summers Eleanor spent traveling Europe with her as well as her studies in history, language and literature gave her an abiding interest in social justice as well as the knowledge and poise to articulate her opinions clearly and eloquently. At this school, Eleanor won the affection both of the instructors as well as the students. One of her proudest moments at Allenswood was when she made the field hockey team. She was one of the school's favorite students and would be highly missed when she returned to the States. Eleanor would list Souvestre as one of the three major influences in her life and said of her: "Mlle. Souvestre shocked one into thinking, and that on the whole was very beneficial." At that school, Eleanor seemed to come out of her shell of childhood loneliness and isolation. She thrived both academically and emotionally. When it was time for her to return to New York, her mentor, Mlle. Souvestre did her best to prepare her for a return to the far less structured world of the Hyde Park Roosevelts.
In 1902 Eleanor ran into her fifth cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a Harvard student, on a train during the summer after her return from England, and they began a discreet courtship which led to their engagement in November 1903. Eleanor and Franklin were fifth cousins, once removed. Sara Ann Roosevelt, FDR's mother, was dead set against the match and managed to delay their marriage for 16 months. In a vain attempt to preoccupy Franklin's mind in hopes that he would forget Eleanor, Sara sent her and him on a trip with friends for an extended period of time. Most of Eleanor's Hall and Roosevelt clans approved the match with only one of Eleanor's Hall aunts asking, "What does she see in him?" Theodore Roosevelt approved as well and sent Franklin a letter and after the wedding ceremony told him "Well Franklin, there's nothing like keeping the name in the family."
On St. Patrick's Day (17 March) 1905, she married Franklin D. Roosevelt; President Theodore Roosevelt took the place of his late brother in giving Eleanor away in marriage. Her cousins Alice Roosevelt and Corinne Robinson were bridesmaids along with Isabella Greenway. Eleanor's mother-in-law insisted on dominating the young couple's daily life. "Mother" went so far as to choose their first home, three blocks from her own; she also decorated and furnished it to her tastes and hired the staff to run it.
Their marriage produced six children, Anna Eleanor Jr., James, Franklin Delano Jr. (1909-1909), Elliott, Franklin Delano Jr. and John Aspinwall. As the children grew older and married, Mrs. Roosevelt was often depressed and disappointed by the "lack of self-discipline" displayed by her children. Eleanor Roosevelt often was more upset about her children's unsuccessful private lives than her husband's infidelity. In her later years, she frequently commented after arguments with her adult son that she "would be better off dead" and that her "being alive caused them to compete because she had overshadowed" them.
Following the death of her husband in 1945, Roosevelt continued to live on the Hyde Park Estate, in Val-Kill, the house that her husband had remodeled for her near the mainhouse. Originally built as a small furniture factory for Val-Kill Industries, it afforded Eleanor a level of privacy that she craved for many years. The home served as a private sanctuary from her domineering and oppressive mother-in-law, Sara Delano Roosevelt (Faber 1983). Roosevelt also entertained her circle of friends in informal gatherings at the house. The site is now the home of the Eleanor Roosevelt Center at Val-Kill.
During Franklin Roosevelt's terms as President, Eleanor was very vocal about her support of the American Civil Rights Movement and of African-American rights. However, her husband needed the support of Southern Democrats to advance other parts of his agenda. Eleanor became the connection to the African-American population.
Eleanor Roosevelt was very active on the homefront. With New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia she cochaired a national committee on civil defense. She made innumerable visits to civilian and military centers to boost war morale. She especially supported more opportunities for African Americans and women. In 1943, Eleanor, along with Wendell Willkie and other Americans concerned about the mounting threats to peace and democracy established Freedom House.
Eleanor earned large amounts of money from advertising activities. The Pan-American Coffee Bureau, which was supported by tax revenues from eight foreign governments, paid Roosevelt $1000 a week for advertising. When the State Department found out that the First Lady was being paid so handsomely by foreign governments, they unsuccessfully tried to have the deal cancelled.
After World War II, Roosevelt 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 chairman of the UN Human Rights Commission (Glendon 2000). 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 (Kenton 1948). The vote of the General Assembly was unanimous except for eight abstentions. The Declaration was Roosevelt's crowning achievement.
From the 1920s until her death in 1962, Roosevelt remained involved heavily in politics. She opposed the Equal Rights Amendment because it would prevent Congress and the states from passing special protective legislation that she thought women workers needed (Pfeffer 1996).
In July 1949, her ambivalent attitude toward American Catholics caused a high visibility fight with Francis Cardinal Spellman, the Catholic Archbishop of New York. In her columns, Eleanor had attacked proposals for federal funding of certain (nonreligious) activities, such as bus transportation for students, at Catholic schools. Spellman pointed out that the Supreme Court had recently upheld such provisions, and accused her of anti-Catholicism. Most Democrats rallied behind Roosevelt, so Spellman came to Eleanor's Hyde Park home to bury the hatchet. However, Eleanor retained her belief that Catholic schools should not receive federal aid. She seems to have paid attention to the anti-Catholic polemics of people like Paul Blanshard. Privately, she said that if Catholics got school aid, "Once that is done they control the schools, or at least a great part of them." Mrs. Roosevelt was never as popular among Catholics as her husband. While he kept the country neutral in the Spanish Civil War, she openly favored the republican Loyalists (who were anticlerical) against General Francisco Franco's Nationalists (whom many American Catholics favored); 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." Catholics resented her quiet support of Margaret Sanger and the birth control movement, and her prewar sponsorship of the American Youth Congress, in which the Communists had been heavily represented, but Catholic youth groups were not represented. 
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 but John F. Kennedy received the presidential nomination instead.
By the 1950s Roosevelt's international role as spokesman 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, who was a former union official and an adamant foe of the ERA, 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 was a massive study that restated the decades-old stance 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 establishment, in 1964, of the 2,800 acre (11 km²) () Roosevelt Campobello International Park on Campobello Island, New Brunswick. This followed a gift of the Roosevelt summer estate to the Canadian and American governments.
Eleanor Roosevelt was outspoken on numerous causes and continued to galvanize the world with her comments and opinions well into her 70s.
Eleanor had a sometimes contentious relationship with her domineering mother-in-law, Sara Delano Roosevelt, who at 5'10" was only 2 inches shorter than Eleanor.  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 plusses and minuses of this relationship.  From Eleanor's perspective, she was relatively young, inexperienced and with a mother long dead, lacked the support that her own mother, Anna Eleanor, might have given had she lived. Despite her forceful and domineering personality, Sara Delano Roosevelt 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". 
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, 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 split over Franklin's affair with Eleanor's social secretary Lucy Mercer (later Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd). Eleanor immediately offered a divorce if the affair continued. Franklin told his mother that he was considering a divorce. So implacable was Sara's opposition to this proposition that she warned that she would disinherit him. By the time of this affair, Sara had grown extremely fond of Eleanor. Sara told Eleanor that "Roosevelts don't do divorce", and said that Eleanor would have to raise her five children alone in the event of a divorce. Aunt Corinne and Uncle Ted were influential in convincing their niece to remain in the marriage, likely for reasons similar to Sara's. Franklin was widely considered a candidate for the presidency in 1920 and could not afford the damage of a family scandal. Furthermore, Lucy was a Roman Catholic which made any thought of her marrying a divorced Protestant problematic at best. Franklin agreed not to see Lucy, but much evidence points to a continued affair or at least much personal contact between him and Lucy, occurring right up to Franklin's death in 1945. Eleanor learned that Lucy Mercer had been there, and some of Eleanor's children (most notably her daughter Anna Roosevelt Boettiger) knew this as well. An altercation occurred between Eleanor and Anna because Anna helped arrange meetings between Lucy and Franklin, including their last when he died. By the fall of 1944, almost everyone in the family knew that Franklin was extremely ill from a host of ailments, and the children saw Lucy's presence as a way for their dying father to find some comfort in his last months.
In 1928, Eleanor met Associated Press reporter Lorena Hickok, a White House correspondent. They became close friends after Hickok conducted a series of interviews with Roosevelt in 1932, and remained so for the rest of their lives. Hickok suggested the idea for what would eventually become Roosevelt’s column My Day. My Day was a daily newspaper column which started in 1935, in which she talked about interesting things that happened to her each day. After a few years away from Washington, Hickok returned in 1940 and lived in the White House with the first family. Eleanor Roosevelt and Hickok maintained a personal correspondence when Roosevelt wrote to Hickok in 1933:
Other letters between Hickok and Roosevelt are published in Roger Streitmatter's 1998 book Empty Without You: The Intimate Letters of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok.
These affectionate (and ambiguous) letters, along with the fact that Hickok burned Roosevelt's letters after her death, have led some historians to conclude that Eleanor Roosevelt and Hickok might have been lovers. It has also been assessed that due to the incomplete correspondence, some of the letters may have been altered, especially since they are so few in number. It is also widely known that Roosevelt discarded very little correspondence, excepting in 1933, and no writings from Hickok were ever found among Roosevelt's possessions. There have been conflicting opinions on this topic; the biographer Doris Faber rejected the idea. Blanche Wiesen Cook, by contrast, made a well-documented argument for a love relationship between the two in her work. Doris Kearns Goodwin, who wrote a prize-winning biography of Franklin and Eleanor ("No Ordinary Time"), has publicly disputed Cook's assessment that Roosevelt had a lesbian side.
Roosevelt family members and friends have refused to consider the idea that Eleanor may have been bisexual. Her son James Roosevelt maintained that his mother "did not know what a homosexual was" and believed that his mother who grew up in the Victorian era often used tones that could seem overly affectionate leading to her statements being misconstrued. Her cousin Alice Longworth refuted the claim, stating loudly in a fashionable restaurant one day, "I don't care what they say. I simply cannot believe that Eleanor Roosevelt is a lesbian." Eleanor Seagraves has stated in recent years that her grandmother, Eleanor did indeed love Lorena Hickok but determined to remain asexual in the years following her husband's affair. A longtime friend of Eleanor's, a lesbian named Esther Lape, reviewed the contents of some of the letters, concluding that Eleanor was not a lesbian and that "... never expressed herself on homosexuals". Esther Lape and her partner, Elizabeth Read, were political activists and long-time friends of Eleanor. They rented an apartment in their building in New York to Eleanor when she sought to have a private retreat while First Lady. Eleanor also built and owned a cottage in Hyde Park with Nancy Cook and her lesbian partner Marion Dickerman, for several years. The linens and dishes for the cottage (Val-Kill) were monogrammed with EMN - the initals of all three women. Roosvelt, Cook and Dickerman jointly owned the cottage, a furniture factory and the Todhunter School for Girls; and they lived and travelled to together for many years. [Cook; Goodwin; ibid]
In 1961, all volumes of her autobiography were compiled into The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt, still in print some 45 years later.
Eleanor Roosevelt survived her husband by nearly 20 years. By 1960, Roosevelt's health began to fail her. While leaving a hair appointment in New York City she was run over by a car, taking a heavy fall to the ground. With encouragement from family and friends, she was advised to see a specialist as her general health declined and was diagnosed with aplastic anemia. During treatment of the disease, she developed bone marrow tuberculosis, recurring from a primary 1919 infection, and died at her Manhattan apartment on the evening of November 7, 1962 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?"
Mrs Roosevelt was buried next to Franklin D. Roosevelt in Hyde Park, New York on November 10, 1962. So revered was she among the public that a commemorative cartoon published at the time simply showed two angels looking down towards an opening in the clouds with the caption "She's here", since no introduction was needed.
Mrs. Roosevelt maintained a strong loyalty to "Uncle Ted" even nearly forty-five years after his death. Among her belongings was her membership card for the Theodore Roosevelt Association.
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, the Nobel Prize has only once been awarded posthumously.  Roosevelt is the ninth most admired person in the 20th century, according to Gallup.
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