Eleanor Roosevelt: A Woman of Firsts

Article excerpt

"Do what you feel in your heart to be right--for you'll be criticized anyway." Eleanor Roosevelt spoke these words from experience. During her years in public service, she was often criticized for her progressive and democratic opinions. While her husband, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was initiating the New Deal policies that would enable the nation to recover from the Great Depression, Eleanor was breaking ground in race relations, women's rights and international diplomacy. Her words of wisdom and determination are still an inspiration to Americans of all ages.

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"I think I have a good deal of my Uncle Theodore in me, because I could not, at any age, be content to take my place by the fireside and simply look on."

Eleanor Roosevelt was born in 1884 in New York City to a wealthy family with a firm position in New York high society. But her childhood was anything but idyllic. Alter her mother died from diphtheria in 1892 and her father died from complications from alcoholism in 1894, young Eleanor and her surviving siblings were sent to live with their maternal grandmother. She was educated at an English finishing school by a progressive feminist educator, who enhanced Eleanors self-confidence and social grace.

At 17, while her uncle Theodore Roosevelt was serving as president of the United States, Eleanor met her distant cousin, Franklin. They married in 1905 and later had six children.

Franklin Roosevelt first gave his famous fireside chats while he was governor of New York in 1929. He later used them to great success as a way to reach a wide radio audience during his presidency. While Eleanor often agreed with her . husband's policies, she was not a passive bystander, as her aunt had been during Theodore Roosevelt's terms in the White House. Instead, she made a name for herself I as a public reformer in her own right.

"You get more joy out of the giving to others, and should put a good deal of thought into the happiness you are able to give."

When Eleanor's husband entered the political arena, she was a great ally in his efforts to institute reform while winning both public and political approval. In 1921, Franklin suffered a paralytic illness, and she committed herself to his care. She also began serving as his stand-in at public appearances, helping maintain his status in the Democratic Party.

During the 1920s, Eleanor began working with the Women's Trade Union League to raise money in support of its goals, which included a 48-hour workweek, minimum wage and the abolition of child labor. Her prominent standing with Democratic women helped her husband gain their support and win the governor's race in New York. Meanwhile, Eleanor taught literature and American history at the Todhunter School for Girls in New York City.

"One philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed the choices one makes. In the long run, we shape our lives and we shape ourselves."

Throughout the 1920s, she engaged in an active speaking agenda, an unusual role for a woman at that time and unprecedented for a first lady. …