I watched Ken Burns’s The Roosevelts: An Intimate History this week (thanks PBS for putting all fourteen hours online!). Eleanor Roosevelt is my ultimate hero. I’ve often thought it I could be 1/4 the woman she was, I can be proud. Watching her wonderful story (Teddy and Franklin included too, of course) inspired me to dedicate this month’s “Things You Should Know About . . .” to this amazing woman. This list could go on and on, but instead I will just pick five general things.
1. Eleanor wrote twenty-eight books, five newspaper and magazine column series, and an overwhelming number of articles. One of her columns, “My Day,” started in 1935 and continued, six days a week, until her death in 1962. She wrote about current events, her personal philosophies, and key issues such as race and women’s rights. [Can we consider her an early inspiration for blogging?]
2. Eleanor was the 1st first lady to hold a press conference. Only female reporters were allowed to attend. She eventually held 348 press conferences about her White House life, political issues, and breaking news. Interestingly, the regular President’s Press Office coordinated her press conferences. According to firstladies.org, there is some evidence to suggest they preferred to have her break news related to the president or administration.
3. President Truman appointed Eleanor to the United Nations General Assembly after FDR’s death and she chaired the Human Rights Commission. Eleanor was instrumental in drafting and pushing for adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted December 10, 1948).
4. Eleanor has one of the largest FBI files in history, mostly related to her often controversial – and ahead of her time – views on civil rights, women’s rights, and race relations. A formal investigation was never launched; I like to think Hoover was annoyed when he never got to make use of the file.
5. Eleanor’s father was Elliot Roosevelt, President Theodore Roosevelt’s younger brother. He died when Eleanor was only a teenager after struggling with illness and alcohol abuse and spending some time in an asylum. This was not the only sad and unfortunate part of her childhood.
I’ll finish with some memorable Eleanor quotes. Perhaps you will find one to inspire you.
“One thing I believe profoundly: We make our own history. The course of history is directed by the choices we make and our choices grow out of the ideas, the beliefs, the values, the dreams of the people. It is not so much the powerful leaders that determine our destiny as the much more powerful influence of the combined voices of the people themselves.” – from Tomorrow is Now, 1963
“No, I have never wanted to be a man. I have often wanted to be more effective as a woman, but I have never felt that trousers would do the trick!” – from If You Ask Me, 1940
“Do not stop thinking of life as an adventure. You have no security unless you can live bravely, excitingly, imaginatively; unless you can choose a challenge instead of competence.” – from The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt, 1961