Eleanor Roosevelt was married to FDR. He served three terms as President, despite being struck down with Polio. They were both aristocrats and yet identified with the 98%, as we would say these days. Franklin Roosevelt was fifth cousin to Teddy Roosevelt.
Eleanor was a wife, mother, a reformer, a visionary and an activist. She was extremely independent and traveled often on behalf of her husband, the President, because of Franklin’s mobility issues due to the polio. No other first lady to date has ever had a greater influence on the course of our Democracy.
She came from a family that battled many demons such as alcoholism and self-destruction. Eleanor learned her progressive ideals from dealing with life.
“Education ends only with death.” —Eleanor Roosevelt
She was an eloquent spokesperson and in 1911, said, “I realize that if my husband were a suffragist, I probably must be one, too.” She often gave speeches for the President, again due to his mobility problems. She was highly respected for her many talents, but she was also ridiculed for not being a beauty. Her beauty was within her. Her heart was one that was touched by the difficulties of the average man and she went to great lengths to help those she met.
She gave speeches after the Stock Market Crash of 1929, when the President came up with his strategy for recovering from the terrible crash. There were no computers or televisions then, and so FDR began giving radio speeches called Fireside Chats. In this way he was able to speak to most Americans.
Eleanor’s many feminist and close friends gave her the support she needed and she developed a large network of people who accompanied her through the White House years. Eleanor was a non-conformist and followed the impulses of her own vision and the needs of her own heart.
Eleanor Roosevelt was a woman of principle who understood the vagaries of politics and competition. She always advised her friends: “If you have to compromise, be sure to compromise up.” After the Depression, while President Roosevelt was working on the New Deal and his vision to help the ordinary American, Eleanor was trying to form a new deal for American women. She personally carried her commitment to liberty, individual freedom, equal rights, civil rights, and human dignity into tiny villages and hamlets, as well as into the citadels of governments around the world.
Eleanor kept her liberal agenda and energies until her death on November 7, 1962. This woman made the noblest values seem globally possible. She believed in the power of the people, and in the power of ideas to transform society. She believed that social change required that ideas be faced with imagination, integrity, and courage.
FDR led us into WWII and worked closely with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The Pacific arena was not easy to win, but Americans fought bravely, and Eleanor took a tour of the hospitals set up to provide medical care to our injured soldiers. It was expected that she would stick her head into a few wards and then be off. The hospitals were primitive and full of suffering. Eleanor surprised the military commanders when she stopped and talked to each soldier, giving each one words of encouragement and hope. After returning home, she wrote to the mothers of the injured soldiers she had met. Mother to mother, she gave them news and hope. She was uniquely qualified to do so, as her own sons fought in the war.
Eleanor Roosevelt was an original woman. She was real and authentic in her approach to people and to life. She spoke out against racism, and class warfare. Having huge amounts of energy, she never slowed down in her work to bring to reality her vision of what this world could be. She never tired of working for the eradication of poverty, and better working conditions. She worked on issues of reform and education for both men and women. She would become visibility upset when she witnessed examples of women in politics who were treated without respect, which she felt they were due, if for no other reason than their commitment to democracy and America. Eleanor publically supported strike efforts and believed in the importance of workers being able to unionize. She continually attacked the status quo, stating that women together can do a great deal.