Eleanor Roosevelt: Transformative First Lady

By Watts, Elizabeth | Journalism History, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

Eleanor Roosevelt: Transformative First Lady


Watts, Elizabeth, Journalism History


Beasley, Maurine H. Eleanor Roosevelt: Transformative First Lady. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2010. 304 pp. $29.95.

Both Eleanor Roosevelt and Maurine Beasley have left their mark: Mrs. Roosevelt on the role of a president's wife and Beasley on the impact of the former. A professor emeritus of the Univeisity of Maryland's Phillip Merrill College of Journalism, she has published considerable research on Mrs. Roosevelt's use of the media and her developmenr as a journalist, and she is without doubt one of the leading scholats focusing on her.

Beasley's new work, Eleanor Roosevelt: Transformative First Lady, allows her the opportunity to draw on her extensive knowledge of the first lady. Her previous research includes Eleanor Roosevelt and The Media: A Public Quest For Self-Fulfillment, First Ladies and The Press: The Unfinished Partnership of the Media Age, and The White House Press Conferences of Eleanor Roosevelt.

Beasley explains that she began the research for the book with the Eleanor Roosevelt papers at the Fianklin D. Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park, New York. She said she attempted to cite Mrs. Roosevelt's own words whenever possible to show how she ttansformed the role of the first lady and to argue rhat she wrote a new script for the first lady's role, which could not be ignored by her successors even if they wanted to ignore that role.

Readers may not know how unhappy that Eleanor Roosevelt was over her husband's election to the presidency in 1932. She did not want to give up her paying job as a teacher, and she did not want to move to Washington, where she had lived before World War I while Franklin was an assistant secretary of the Navy. For her, Washington was filled with painful memories of her social secretary and her husband having an affair.

Overcoming loss differentiated Mrs. Roosevelt's life. She lost her parents at an early age, a son died, and her marriage, if it did not fail, stalled. She confronted these losses and moved ahead, and as she faced the prospect of returning to Washington, she decided to pursue an active agenda, which she set herself. Before the 1 932 presidential election, she joined forces with two activists, who became her close friends, and they worked together on causes in the Democratic Party and the Women's Tiade Union LeagUfe. In the chapter titled "Launching a Careei," Beasley recounts Mrs. Roosevelt's experiences, which included giving speeches, speaking on the tadio, and writing and editing the Women's Democratic News.

During the 1932 campaign, Mis. Roosevelt limited hei direct participation but acted as an observer and gathered political intelligence, which she provided to hei husband. …

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