First Lady Spotlight: Eleanor Roosevelt

February 16, 2010 | Elizabeth

“When you have decided what you believe, what you feel must be done, have the courage to stand alone and be counted…”

Not only is that an infamous quote by Eleanor Roosevelt, it was also the quote I chose to put under my picture in the 8th grade yearbook.

Eleanor Roosevelt served as first lady from 1933-1945. While her husband was in office, she became a chief activist for civil rights and an advocate of the New Deal policy. She tried to help improve the working status of women, but she did not support the Equal Rights Amendment because she feared it would hurt women more than it would help them.

She is known for holding the first weekly press conferences and having a column in the newspaper called “My Day” where she took time to inform and educate the American public about important issues.

Her personal life wasn’t always easy or picture perfect. It is widely known now that her husband had an affair early on in their marriage. For the sake of the children, they both agreed it was best to end the affair and continue on in their marriage. However, this hardship made her a strong, independent woman who knew what she wanted and wasn’t afraid to fight for it. She was not your average housewife or your average woman of that day. She had one of the most powerful, influential, and active female working positions; she certainly utilized that power.

In 1945, Franklin D. Roosevelt died of a cerebral hemorrhage and Eleanor was left as a widow. The following quote is from her memoir, This I Remember:

“All human beings have failings, all human beings have needs and temptations and stresses. Men and women who live together through long years get to know one another’s failings; but they also come to know what is worthy of respect and admiration … He might have been happierwith a wife who was completely uncritical. That I was never able to be,and he had to find it in some other people. Nevertheless, I think I sometimes acted as a spur, even though the spurring was not always wanted or welcome.”

After her husband’s death, Eleanor continued to work for the betterment of society, but this time she expanded her outreach globally.  In 1945, President Truman appointed her to be a delegate to the United Nations. She helped draft the UN Universal Declaration of Rights and eventually entertained the idea in 1948 that she would run as Truman’s running mate in the next election. Many said that Truman thought postively of the idea, but Eleanor was not fond of elective politics.

Outside of elections, Eleanor Roosevelt won many awards and achieved many honors. President Truman deemed her “The First Lady of the World;” she received a United Nations Human Rights Prize; a community rename it self as NORVELT (EleaNOR RooseVELT); she was the first First Lady inducted into Alpha Kappa Alpha, the world’s first and oldest sorority for African American women; and, all in all, she received a total of 48 honorary degrees.

Eleanor Roosevelt died in 1962, at the age of 72 after being diagnosed with a plastic anemia and bone marrow tuberculosis. The current President at the time, JFK, ordered flags to be raised at half mast that day.

Eleanor Roosevelt is a symbol of a strong and independent woman in a time where many women were believed to be submissive and powerless. She utilized the media to the utmost and influenced politics and society not only nationally, but also globally. Just like her quote, we too should find the courage inside to stand for what we believe in.

Learn More about Eleanor Roosevelt: Read “My Day” Columns, see pictures, and watch a great movie!

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