Eleanor Roosevelt is one of the most influential women to have ever lived. She stepped out from behind President Roosevelt’s impressive shadow to become one of the most beloved women in the country.
Eleanor Roosevelt was born on October 11, 1884 to Elliot Roosevelt and Anna Hall Roosevelt. She had two younger brothers as well as a half-brother that was the result of an extramarital affair. As a child, she was very serious so her mother nicknamed her “Granny.” Her mother died when she was 8 and her father, an alcoholic who had been put into a sanitarian, died two years later. She was raised by her grandmother, Mary, in New York. Her teenage years, she considered herself ugly. She was sent to school in England where she learned to speak French.
Eleanor returned to the US when she was seventeen, becoming a social worker. That same year she met her fifth cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who instantly became enamored with her. Following a big White House reception dinner, Franklin formally courted her on New Year’s Day. During this time, she took him on a tour of the slums she worked in, shocking the sheltered young man.
They became engaged in 1903 but didn’t announce it until a year later, after his mother insisted. Franklin’s mother took him on a cruise, hoping the romance would fizzle, but it didn’t work. Instead, they married on March 17, 1905. They settled in New York City and had six children, five of whom survived infancy: Anna, James, Franklin (who passed away), Elliot, Franklin, and John. When Franklin fell ill and was paralyzed in 1921, it was Eleanor who forced him out of bed and back into his life. Their marriage even survived Franklin’s affair in 1918.
Interestingly, it was her husband’s lack of mobility that forced Eleanor to step into the public eye. Although she had been pushing for reform on behalf of the impoverished since she was very young, she soon gained the confidence she needed to make her wishes come true.
Despite criticism that the First Lady’s place was behind her husband, she spoke out about the plight of the average worker and the racially segregated. She pushed for better conditions for any she considered oppressed including the young, black people, women, the abused, or anyone who needed a voice. She aided the Red Cross during World War I. After her husband’s death, she was appointed to the United Nations and helped draft the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She even helped establish the state of Israel.
Eleanor Roosevelt passed away on November 7, 1962 of bone marrow tuberculosis. She was one of the most influential women in American history.