Eleanor Roosevelt shared her husband’s profound love for the American people. Her public life increasingly became defined by her commitment to civil rights and equality for African-Americans and women. By doing so, she reshaped the role of the First Lady at a time when women’s participation in politics and public policy was limited. She ignored conventional wisdom and restrictive moves, drawing instead upon a reservoir of intensity.
Eleanor learned to be a strong woman early in her life. Both of her parents were dead by the time she was ten years old, and she was raised by her grandmother. When she married Franklin, her distant cousin, she inherited a situation that, to a lesser person, would have been extremely taxing. Franklin’s mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt, was a constant presence, and the emotion triangle among the three was often difficult. The situation was made more complex by Franklin’s bout with polio. Eleanor, however, learned to cope, and, little by little, she found independence within her marriage.
Through Roosevelt’s election to the Presidency, Eleanor suddenly found herself on the national stage. She used her recognition to push for many of her husband’s New Deal programs. She worked particularly hard to make sure that the New Deal was responsive to the needs of women and minorities. To that end, she worked with such Civil Rights luminaries as Walter White, head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Where injustice existed, she acted decisively. When the Daughters of the American Revolution prevented African-American vocalist Marian Anderson from performing in their concert hall, she publicly resigned her membership. When the Second World War broke out, she traveled the world, visiting troops to maintain their morale. Her efforts were dealt a blow with FDR’s death in 1945, but she refused to succumb to inactivity. In 1946, President Truman placed her on the delegation to the United Nations, where she helped to enact the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Her political activities continued after her husband’s death. She co-founded Americans for Democratic Action in 1948 to promote liberal values at home at opposition to Communism abroad. She remained a Democratic Party stalwart, supporting Adlai Stevenson in the elections of 1952 and 1956. She reluctantly supported John Kennedy in 1960. One of her major disagreements with the Kennedy Administration was their perceived sluggishness in desegregation efforts.
After FDR’s death, Eleanor moved into her cottage at Val-Kill, where she remained until 1962. Though she also maintained a residence in New York City—where she died of a rare form of tuberculosis—and traveled extensively during her later years, Val-Kill remained her home. Today, the Eleanor Roosevelt Center at Val-Kill (ERVK) dedicates itself to "perpetuating her courageous ideas and high ideals in the areas of human rights, social justice, gender and racial equality, youth education and development, conflict resolution and the pursuit of peace.”
Eleanor Roosevelt Center at Val-Kill (ERVK)
National Park Service Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site Page
National Park Service Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site Lesson Plan Page
National Park Service “Eleanor Roosevelt: American Visionary”
Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project - George Washington University
Universal Declaration of Human Rights - United Nations Page
FDR Library - Eleanor Roosevelt
Biographies of Roosevelt Era Figures
Eleanor Roosevelt College - University of California, San Diego
Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy Committee
Teacher Link Lesson Plan. Author Belinda Olsen
Eleanor Roosevelt Page at the National First Ladies’ Library (exhaustive bibliography of works on ER)