Thank you to my wonderful friend Rachel for providing me with Eleanor for this week’s focus. It is always great to hear who inspires my friends and family and I encourage you to reach out if you have a beautiful human that I could feature!
Eleanor Roosevelt is niece to the former President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt. He taught her the power of political influence and she married her fifth cousin (once removed). Before looking into her story, I didn’t think much past the overwhelming notion of privilege that comes with these facts and knew very little about her. Here is a quick download of things that might surprise you:
- Eleanor’s father was an alcoholic and drug user. He was committed to mental asylums in both France and the United States.
- It is understood that he had an illegitimate child to a servant.
- Her mother died at 29 years old from diphtheria. Eleanor was 8 years old.
- Her and her brother were placed in their grandmother’s care. She was described as “formidable”.
Her life was once of both extreme luxury and intense challengers.
- Eleanor received private tutoring and could write fluently in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.
- When she married her husband, Franklin D Roosevelt, she was dominated by her mother-in-law, living in discomfort until she re-emerged on the social scene following the birth of her 5 children.
- Eleanor “played the role” particularly well as a spouse to an elected figure. At each stage of Franklin’s career she volunteered, engaged other spouses and participated in fundraising and social gatherings as needed.
- She worked as a French translator during WWI.
- She gave primary nursing care to her husband first became unwell and independently cared for her children during this time.
Some of the many bad-ass commitments she held before becoming First Lady include:
- The Women’s City Club of New York, board of directors, vice president, City Planning Department chair, Finance Committee Chair
- The Women’s Trade Union League, member
- Women’s Division of the New York State Democratic Committee, member, Vice President, Finance Chair, and Women’s Democratic News newsletter editor and columnist
- The League of Women Voters, New York State branch and national organization, Board member, Legislative Committee Chair (state league), Constitutional Revision Chair (state league), County Delegate, State Delegate, Vice-Chair of the New York State League
- World Peace Movement and Bok Peace Prize Committee
- and ooon and on it goes 🙂 (source)
During her husband’s campaign for President she actively campaigned for another candidate and refused to make speeches for her husband, yet she did vote for him and supported him absolutely in the role.
This really sums up her role as First Lady:
“No presidential wife served as First Lady for a period longer than did Eleanor Roosevelt – twelve years, one month, one week and one day. No First Lady served through two nationally traumatic events such as did Eleanor Roosevelt, presiding at the White House during the Great Depression and World War II. Unique to her tenure was the fact that the President was physically limited by his then-hidden condition of polio. Thus apart from finding a way to integrate her own professional interests and experiences into the public role of First Lady and assume the traditional management of the mansion’s functioning as a political-social arena, Eleanor Roosevelt worked closely with the President and his staff as an unofficial Administration representative and on policy-related issues.” (Source)
Her influence was far reaching and powerful:
- Eleanor hosted women-only press conferences at the White House, resulting in the hiring of more and more women reporters so news companies could have their staff in attendance.
- She wrote 6 weekly articles called “My Day”. She is reported to only have missed one entry, following the death of her husband. This humble blog writer is put to shame!!
- She defied segregation rules and openly sat beside an African American Associate, risking imprisonment.
- She helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
- She often traveled on behalf of her ailing husband, allowing him to retain control over his presidency.
I really like hearing stories about women as detailed, curious and incredible as Eleanor. She is clearly an outlier, having achieved more in a lifetime that many of us could dream to. This was in part afforded to her by circumstance, social standing and opportunity. It was also driven by a spirit that couldn’t be tethered and full intention to just “get on with it”.
I think we all have tenacity in ourselves that we are unaware of. It comes out when we most need it. When, like Eleanor, you have multiple children and a sick husband and you just get on with caring for him. Or when you pursue your own political and social aspirations whilst helping to run a goddamn country.
For you or I it comes down to this:
If you think you’re tired, now’s the time to start working. If you think you’re defeated, now’s the time to start fighting. And if you think you aren’t capable of it, afford yourself a moment of worry before putting that aside and getting on with business.
We have got this.
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