Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the most significant American women of the 20th century, and she remains one of the most admired. Her life spanned the crises that American society faced as it confronted two world wars, the Great Depression, the dawn of the nuclear age, as well as the Cold War that followed in its wake. Through each episode, moreover, her activities tracked closely the convergence of intense debates over civil rights, civil liberties, multiculturalism and human rights that remain at the center of contemporary scholarship and historical inquiry.
Her transition from progressive reformer to New Dealer to “First Lady of the World” put a human face on these debates, as well as the policies that Franklin Roosevelt, the United Nations and the Democratic Party crafted to address them.
As her husband’s chief collaborator in drawing together the New Deal coalition, Eleanor Roosevelt was also the surviving partner who carried on the work of molding it into a powerful instrument of social reconstruction after his death — one that would ultimately dismantle Jim Crow, transform the United States from an isolationist into an internationalist power and unleash economic opportunity on a scale not seen before or since.
Get to Know Eleanor Roosevelt
Questions and Answers About Eleanor Roosevelt
- How was Eleanor Roosevelt Related to F.D.R. and Teddy Roosevelt?
Eleanor and Franklin were fifth cousins, once removed. They are both descended from Claes Martenszen van Rosenvelt who arrived in New Amsterdam (Manhattan) from Holland in the 1640s. His two grandsons, Johannes and Jacobus, began the Oyster Bay, Long Island, and Hyde Park, Dutchess County, branches of the Roosevelt family, respectively. Eleanor Roosevelt is descended from the Johannes branch and FDR is descended from the Jacobus branch.
Eleanor’s relationship to Theodore Roosevelt is easier to explain. Eleanor Roosevelt was Theodore Roosevelt’s niece. Her father, Elliott, was Theodore’s younger brother.
Sources: Cook, Blanche Wiesen. Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume One, 1884-1933. (New York: Viking Press, 1992), 21-37.
- Who were Eleanor Roosevelt's parents?
Eleanor Roosevelt’s parents were Anna Hall (March 7, 1863–December 7, 1892) and Elliott Roosevelt (February 28, 1860–August 14, 1894). Hall, a debutant from a wealthy family whose lineage could be traced back to the American Revolution, married Elliott Roosevelt, brother to future President Teddy Roosevelt, on December 1, 1883. Anna gave birth to Eleanor, the first of three children, ten months later on October 11th, 1884. Elliott and Anna faced a difficult marriage. Elliott suffered from depression, alcoholism, and a litany of physical ailments. Because of his addictions, Elliott’s brother, Theodore, forced him into a two year convalescence.
Eleanor loved her father and the two were very attached — his absence was difficult for her. Anna, conversely, had a more difficult relationship with her daughter. Perhaps due to her own health concerns, or her failing marriage, Anna was often cold and detached. Eleanor recalled her mother calling her “Granny” for her allegedly old fashioned behavior. She also refused to teach Eleanor how to read until her own mother intervened. In response to her mother’s neglect, Eleanor remembered acting out in school and deliberately disobeying her mother by stealing candy from the pantries.
Unfortunately, ER’s relationship with her parents had little time to improve as both died at a young age. Anna died of diphtheria in December 1892, and her father died two and a half years later as a result of his alcoholism. Orphaned, Eleanor spent the rest of her childhood living with her grandmother, away at boarding school, or abroad in Europe with her tutor, Mademoiselle Marie Souvestre.
Sources: Joseph P. Lash, Love, Eleanor: Eleanor Roosevelt and Her Friends (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1982), 1-17; Blanche Wiesen Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt: Vol. 1: 1884-1933 (New York: Penguin Books, 1992), 38-78.
- Where did Eleanor Roosevelt live?
Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt's homes:
- New York City: Eleanor Roosevelt was born in her parents' first home, 56 West 37th Street.
- When she was seven, her mother moved the family to 54 East 61st Street while her father stayed in a Paris hospital to battle his addiction to alcohol.
- After her mother died, Eleanor went to live with her grandmother, Mary Ludlow Hall, who divided her time between her 11 West 37th Street home and Tivoli, New York, where Grandmother Hall managed Oak Wood, the family country estate.
Homes after the White House:
- Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt lived in several cities during their marriage: New York City, Albany, Hyde Park, and Washington, D.C. They also vacationed at the Roosevelt homes on Campobello Island. FDR spent many summers at his Warm Springs, Georgia, retreat.
- New York City: When they were first married, they rented rooms in the Hotel Webster so that FDR could finish his first year at Columbia Law School. Later in 1904, after they returned from their honeymoon, they moved into a house Sara Delano Roosevelt had rented for them at 125 East 36th Street. In 1908, they moved into the 49 East 65th Street townhouse (adjoining Sara's home at 47 East 65th Street) SDR had built for the couple as a Christmas present. This remained the Roosevelt base in New York City until SDR's death in 1941. FDR then sold the house to Hunter College.
- Albany, New York: In 1910, after FDR was elected to the state assembly, the couple moved to the state capital where they rented a six-story house at 248 Upper State Street.
- Washington, DC: In 1913, when Woodrow Wilson appointed FDR assistant secretary of the navy, Eleanor and her husband moved to Washington, D.C., where they rented Auntie Bye's home at 1733 N Street, NW. In autumn 1917, they rented a larger home at 2131 R Street, NW.
- Hyde Park, New York: After FDR's defeat in the 1920 election, the Roosevelts divided their time between the East 65th Street house and Springwood. In 1925, ER, with FDR's strong support and with the partnership of friends Marion Dickerman and Nancy Cook, built Val-Kill, a stone cottage on a popular picnicking site on the Roosevelt estate.
- Warm Springs, Georgia: After being paralyzed by polio, FDR sought treatment to restore his strength and mobility. He discovered the restorative power of exercising in the mineral waters of Warm Springs, Georgia, bought the declining resort hotel there in 1926, and established a therapeutic center devoted to helping polio patients like himself. He built a small cottage for himself near the center and, in 1932, a somewhat larger one that came to be called "The Little White House." Although Eleanor visited FDR when he was in Warm Springs, she never spent long periods of time there.
- Albany, New York: In 1929, the family moved into the governor's mansion in Albany; however, as Eleanor divided her time between New York City and Albany, she spent the first part of each week in New York at the East 65th Street house.
- Washington, DC: From March 1933 until April 12, 1945, the Roosevelts lived in the White House. However, Eleanor often used her friend Esther Lape's Manhattan apartment at 20 East 11th Street as her "hiding house," a comfortable private space where she could meet friends and colleagues without fanfare. In 1940 or 1942, she leased an apartment at 29 Washington Square West, also in Manhattan, for both her and FDR to use after they left the White House. The war and failing health prevented FDR from ever visiting the apartment.
- Campobello Island: They also had a family home on Campobello Island off the coast of New Brunswick, Canada. Both Franklin and Eleanor loved to vacation there and the family spent summer vacations there from 1909 to 1921. Sailing, tennis, horseback riding, and hiking filled their days. On August 10, 1921 FDR and the children battled a small forest fire. That evening he complained of chills and aches and went to bed early. Two days later he was paralyzed from the chest down. (This house is now part of the Roosevelt Campobello International Park.)
- Hyde Park, New York: Eleanor Roosevelt loved Val-Kill Cottage and made that her Hyde Park home.
- New York City: After FDR's death, Eleanor moved into an apartment at 29 Washington Square West in Greenwich Village. In 1950, she rented suites at The Park Sheraton Hotel (202 West 56th Street). She lived here until 1953 when she moved to 211 East 62nd Street. When that lease expired in 1958, she returned to The Park Sheraton as she waited for the house she purchased with Edna and David Gurewitsch at 55 East 74th Street to be renovated.
Sources: Cook, Blanche Wiesen. Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume One, 1884-1933. New York: Viking Press, 1992, 24, 169, 182-183, 187, 314, 382; Cook, Blanche Wiesen. Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume Two, The Defining Years, 1933-1938. New York: Penguin Books, 1999, 2; Goodwin, Doris Kearns. No Ordinary Time: Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front During World War II. New York: Touchstone Books, 1994, 336; Lash, Joseph P. Eleanor and Franklin. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1971, 45, 66-67,146,153,160, 187, 305.
- Did Eleanor Roosevelt have a job?
Pre White HouseWhile Eleanor Roosevelt is best known for being First Lady of the United States, her public life began well before her time in the White House. In 1903, she volunteered at the College Settlement on Rivington Street. Located in New York’s Lower East Side, then a poverty-stricken neighborhood of mostly Italian and Eastern European Immigrants, the College Settlement provided options in education, vocational training, and leisurely activities for the area’s residents. ER’s experiences on Rivington Street gave her a first hand look at the dire poverty many Americans lived in and helped start her life-long interest in education and anti-poverty advocacy.
Roosevelt's interest in politics was greatly accelerated by America’s entry into the First World War. Inspired by the activism of her close friends Esther Lape and Elizabeth Read, two women heavily involved in New York politics and women’s rights, Eleanor began volunteering at a canteen for soldiers leaving New York to fight in Europe. Her activism in the Red Cross eventually took her to France, where she witnessed the war’s carnage first hand. Deeply moved by what she saw, Eleanor became a strong advocate for peace, supporting the League of Nations and the World Court.
She also received her first experiences in political campaigning during this period while travelling across the country in support of James M. Cox, the Democratic nominee for president in 1920, who selected FDR as his running mate. Although Cox lost the election, Eleanor Roosevelt impressed many with her ability to draw support for the campaign. After FDR lost the use of his legs to polio, Eleanor pushed him to remain in the public eye-- against the wishes of her mother-in-law, Sara Delano Roosevelt, who encouraged FDR to retire to private life. With the help of ER’s encouragement, her connections in the Women’s Division of the Democratic State Committee, and her stalwart campaigning, FDR won election as the governor of New York in 1928.
While her husband served as governor, Eleanor Roosevelt paid close attention to the workings of his administration. In this period, she edited Women’s Democratic News and worked with New York Democratic State committee, Woman’s City Club of New York, Non-Partisan Legislative Committee. She also accepted a teaching position at the Todhunter School, a private all-girls school in Manhattan. Mostly, however, Eleanor operated as a spokesperson for the administration, appearing at public events, visiting local neighborhoods, and addressing the needs of the poor constituency. These skills would prove invaluable in 1932, when she began her first of nearly four terms as first lady.
As First LadyEleanor Roosevelt, arguably the most accomplished first lady in American history, was initially tepid about accepting the position. ER, who had worked hard to shape her own public life, feared that becoming first lady would resign her to the typical hostess duties of the White House. After arriving in the Washington, D.C., however, Eleanor discovered that she could again carve out a unique role for herself in Franklin’s administration.When Roosevelt entered the White House, the United States was near the height of the Great Depression. With unemployment at nearly 25 percent and with hunger and homelessness on the rise, Eleanor took a great interest in relief for the poor. While she had no power in any official sense, she worked behind the scenes to encourage FDR to enact programs assisting in unemployment relief (Civilian Conservation Corps, Public Works Administration), increasing public arts funding (Federal Arts Project), and encouraging fair labor practices (National Labor Relations Act). She also took a particular interest in the creation of planned communities for working class families. She worked with the Interior Department to help construct several new settlements, notably in Greenbelt, Maryland, and Arthurdale, West Virginia. The settlements were designed to provide its residents with decent housing, available land, and a style communal and cooperative living.During World War II, ER became a strong supporter for patriotism and national service, but also emphasized the importance of maintaining freedom at home. For instance, ER tried her best to encourage the federal government to accept more refugees from war-torn Europe and to avoid unnecessary curtailment of American civil liberties. Her efforts, however, were met with limited success. ER had much more success in her efforts to ensure fair employment in war-time industry. She encouraged the creation of state-assisted daycares, allowing women to leave the home and join the workforce, and also played a key role in the creation of the Fair Employment Practices Commission, which sought to eliminate racial discrimination in the workplace.Eleanor also expanded on her already well established role as FDR’s “eyes and ears.” She travelled vociferously during the War. To examine the conditions in which soldiers lived, and to boost morale, ER travelled to army bases foreign and domestic. Despite war conditions, Eleanor travelled to bases in England and in the South Pacific. Notably she visited to Navy hospitals in New Zealand to investigate the state of the wards and to visit with wounded soldiers. She led a very busy and visible public life during her 12 years in the White House, winning the affections, and at times resentment, of countless Americans. Furthermore she shared her views and opinions through her widely syndicated “My Day” columns (1936-1962) and a monthly column in Ladies’ Home Journal titled “If You Ask Me” (1941-1962).*
Post White HouseFDR’s death in 1945 allowed Eleanor to participate in politics outside of her husband’s shadow. She supported the Truman administration which, in 1945, appointed her as a member of the United States delegation to the United Nations. She served on the UN’s Commission on Human Rights until she stepped down in 1951 after Dwight Eisenhower’s successful presidential campaign. Eleanor also served as something of an an “ambassador-extraordinary” for the United States. As a private citizen, she travelled to countries including Japan, India, Pakistan, Greece, Yugoslavia, and Chile, meeting with foreign dignitaries along the way. Notably, ER travelled to the Soviet Union in 1957 where she interviewed Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev for Look magazine.
Aside from being a member and advocate of the UN, an unofficial ambassador, and political elder for the Democratic Party, Eleanor Roosevelt supported herself financially through her radio and television programs, her newspaper columns, and her lectures. ER’s calendar was constantly filled and it was not uncommon for her to fly several times a week to meet her engagements. Indeed, ER often worked late into the evening with her assistants, Malvina “Tommy” Thompson or Maureen Corr, responding to her mail, organizing her lectures, and preparing her columns and articles for publication. Even in her old age, Eleanor rarely afforded herself an opportunity to rest.*“If You Ask Me” was moved to McCalls in 1949.Sources: Black, Allida M. Casting Her Own Shadow: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Shaping of Postwar Liberalism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996, 7-11, 89-174; Cook, Blanche Wiesen. Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume One, 1884-1933. New York: Viking Press, 1992, 9, 134-138, 209, 215-217, 242-245, 258-259, 275-276, 278-282, 288-301; Lash, Joseph P. Eleanor and Franklin. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1971, 167-264; Lash, Joseph P. Eleanor: The Years Alone. New York: W.W. Norton, 1972; Ware, Susan. Beyond Suffrage, Women in the New Deal. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981; Ware, Susan. Partner and I: Molly Dewson, Feminism, and New Deal Politics. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987; Goodwyn, Doris Kearns. No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994).
- What was Eleanor Roosevelt's attitude toward Japanese internment?
Eleanor had a complex attitude toward Japanese internment. When FDR signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19th, 1942, officially ordering the internment of Japanese Americans, she was shocked by his decision. A strong supporter of civil liberties and the Bill of Rights, Eleanor did not believe that the United States government had the right to intern its own citizens without due process. Her reservations regarding internment, however, were mostly kept privately.Eleanor did initially protest the president’s decision, but his “frigid” response discouraged her from broaching the issue further (Goodwyn, 321). Publicly, she was fully dedicated to the war effort and would not have risked undermining the position of the president and the federal government. Therefore, ER was careful not to misstep and directly challenge the policy directly. In a 1943 article written by Eleanor entitled, “A Challenge to American Sportsmanship,” Eleanor describes internment as a necessary war-time measure enacted quickly because the attack on Pearl Harbor had made it impossible “to adhere strictly to the American rule that a man is innocent until he is proved guilty.” The Japanese were “not convicted of any crime,” they were interred because “emotions ran high” and the government had no way of discerning who among the Japanese was loyal to the United States. ER wrote that most Japanese Americans had handled their internment “courageously” and, if proved to not be an enemy subversive, deserved to be released. Furthermore, she appealed to the American people to reject the idea that “a Japanese is always a Japanese.” Every citizen in this country has a right to our basic freedoms, to justice and to equality of opportunity,” Eleanor wrote, “and we retain the right to lead our individual lives as we please, but we can only do so if we grant to others the freedoms that we wish for ourselves.”Eleanor was eventually able to convince the president to begin releasing some of the interned Japanese. After her visit to the Gila River Camp in 1943, Eleanor reported to Franklin that while the living conditions of the camp seemed “bearable,” it was still a prison and “normal American life is hardly possible under and form of detention. (Goodwin, 430)” She particularly lamented the camps’ effects on family structure. Upon her return to the White House, Eleanor detailed her opinions regarding internment and convinced FDR to make reforms to the system. By allowing Japanese Americans who had demonstrated their “loyalty” to join the army or apply for exit work visas, nearly one-third of camp occupants had left the camps by the end of 1943.
Sources: Goodwyn, Doris Kearns. No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994), 427-31, 513-515.
- What was Eleanor Roosevelt's connection to the women's rights movement?
Looking back on her political development, ER wrote that she had her “first contact with the suffrage movement rather late.” In fact, she did not consider herself a suffragists until 1911, when FDR, then a state assemblyman in New York, came out for women’s right to vote. “I realized that if my husband were a suffragist I probably must be, too.”
It was only in the 1920s that ER became fully involved in the women’s rights movement. Soon after moving back to New York City after the the 1920 presidential election, ER became a board member of the New York State League of Women Voters and began to direct the League of Women Voters’ national-legislation committee. By mid-decade ER played a central role in a network of women who led New York’s most influential organizations; including the League of Women Voters, the Women’s Trade Union League (WTUL), the Women’s Division of the New York State Democratic Committee, and the Women’s City Club. She was particularly drawn to the social feminists of the League of Women Voters and the labor feminism of the Women’s Trade Union League. These alliances led to ER’s interest in the poor and working class women, and legislation designed specifically to protect women in the workplace.
As a social feminist and supporter of legislative protections for women, ER did not endorse the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The ERA, a product of Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party, was an amendment that if ratified would “erase all the laws that discriminated against women.” ER and her allies believed that an amendment that got rid of all the protective legislation for women in the workplace would do more harm than good. The ERA, ER argued, was impractical and ignored political and social realities of sexism and, particularly, the everyday experience of working women. ER’s position on the ERA began to waver in the late thirties, as she felt labor unions and the right to collective bargaining negated the need for protective legislation. However, because of her connections with the WTUL and her friendship with Rose Schneiderman, a leader in the WTUL, ER did not publicly withdraw her opposition to the ERA until 1946. Even then she held reservations because she believed that there was still a place for protective legislation.
With her move to the White House as first lady in 1932, ER found she had new sources of power to push for improvements for women’s rights.She worked tirelessly to improve the access women had to New Deal legislation, notably by creating what were known as “she-she-she camps,” or women's organizations of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Eleanor also held press conferences in which only female journalists could attend-- a way she could subtly encourage women to maintain prominent careers.
In the postwar years, ER continued her advocacy for women’s rights at home and abroad. She continued to support the advancement of women in professional and political positions, and supported the rights of working-class women, through labor unions and other organizations. In 1961, JFK asked Eleanor Roosevelt, who took the Kennedy administration to task for its lack of women in federal appointments, to chair his Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. Eleanor was able to secure the appointment of Pauli Murray, a seasoned activist in the movements for both women’s and African-American rights, to draft the report. Unfortunately, ER died before the committee’s findings could be reported.
Sources: Cook, Blanche Wiesen. Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume One, 1884-1933. New York: Viking Press, 1992, 338-356; Black, Allida M. Casting Her Own Shadow: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Shaping of Postwar Liberalism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996. 193; "Women Have Come a Long Way," Eleanor Roosevelt Papers vol 2, Virginia: University of Virginia Press, 2012 (Originally published in Harper’ Magazine, 01/10/1950).
- What did Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt's children do?
ER and FDR had five children who lived into adulthood, and a sixth, Franklin, who died in 1909 of influenza at seven months old. Of these five children, Anna was the only daughter. Their four sons were James, Elliott, Franklin, Jr, and the youngest, John.Anna (May 3, 1906 - December 1, 1975), the eldest child, held multiple jobs throughout her life. After her first divorce in 1934, Anna started a career as a writer and journalist, working for the Seattle Post-Intelligence with her second husband, John Boettinger. Then from 1943 until FDR’s death, Anna worked for her father as his confidential assistant. This job allowed Anna to travel with FDR to the Yalta Conference in 1945. After the war Anna and Boettiger attempted to run a newspaper in Arizona. The effort failed, and the couple separated in 1947 after more than ten years of marriage and one child. Then in 1949, to help pay off Anna’s debts, ER agreed to join her daughter on the NBC radio show The Eleanor and Anna Roosevelt Program. In 1952, Anna married Dr. James Halstead, a physician, and embarked on a new career in medical public relations.James (December 23, 1907 - August 13, 1991), or “Jimmy,” along with Anna,was the most active child in FDR’s administration. James was a partner in a Boston insurance company; a position he left in 1937 to serve, for a short stint, as an assistant to FDR. After his short stint working in the White House, James worked as a Hollywood executive and then in 1940 enlisted in the Marines. After the war, James established a branch of his old insurance company in California and focused more on his political career. James served as chairman of the California State Democratic Central Committee, a Democratic National committeeman, and lost the 1950 California gubernatorial race to Earl Warren before winning a congressional seat in California’s 26th Congressional district in 1954. He would hold this seat until until 1965 when President Lyndon Johnson appointed him a delegate to the United Nations Economic and Social Council. Later in life, James worked as a business consultant and wrote three books Affectionately, F.D.R., My Parents, and A Family Matter.Elliott (September 23, 1910- October 27, 1990), the child ER was most fond of, bounced from one career to another. In the early thirties, Elliott served as manager of the Hearst radio chain. In this period, Elliott was also involved in Democratic party politics. Although, much to the chagrin of ER and FDR, he often associated with Texas anti-New Dealers. During War World II, Elliott flew missions as an Army photo reconnaissance pilot. After the war, Elliott moved to Hyde Park and started an ill-fated farming venture that ER also invested in. In the early 1950s, Elliott also worked with ER on her short-lived radio and television shows. Elliott entered electoral politics in the late 1960s when he served as mayor of Miami Beach. In his late life, Elliott wrote several mystery novels featuring ER as an amateur detective.Franklin Jr. (August 7, 1914 - August 17, 1988), was a lawyer and politician who sought to continue the political project that his parents helped to build. After serving as an officer in the Navy during World War II, Franklin worked for the American Veterans Committee and the Americans for Democratic Action. In 1949, Franklin was elected congressman from New York’s Twentieth Congressional District, a position he held until 1954. In 1954, he lost out on the New York Democratic Party gubernatorial nomination to Averell Harriman. In the 1960s, Franklin served as secretary of commerce under John F. Kennedy and as the first head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under Lyndon Johnson. In addition to politics, Franklin Jr. also worked in the banking industry and, for a time, imported foreign cars.John (March 13, 1916 - April 27, 1981), the youngest of ER and FDR’s children was also the only son not to have political aspirations. He was, though, involved in politics, and caused frictions in the family when in 1947 he registered as a Republican and later headed the organization Citizens for Eisenhower. Instead of politics, John focused his attention on business. In the ‘40s and ‘50s, he worked for several department stores, including Filene’s Department Store and Grayson and Robertson. He also worked in a public relations firm, and in the late 1960s began working for the investment firm, Bache and Company.
Sources: Beasley, Maurine H., Holly C. Schulman and Henry R. Beasley, eds. The Eleanor Roosevelt Encyclopedia. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001; Caroli, Betty Boyd. The Roosevelt Women. New York: Basic Books, 1998; Goodwin, Doris Kearns. No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Homefront in World War II. New York: Touchstone Books, 1994; Graham, Otis L., Jr. and Meghan Robinson Wander. Franklin D. Roosevelt: His Life and Times. New York: Da Capo Press, 1985; Lash, Joseph P. Eleanor and Franklin. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1971; Lash, Joseph P. Eleanor: The Years Alone. New York: W.W. Norton & Company 1972.
- Was Eleanor Roosevelt an ambassador to the United Nations?
ER was never an official ambassador of the United States, she was, however, appointed as a delegate to the United Nations by President Harry S Truman. Her official tenure in the US delegation spanned from her appointment on December 31st, 1945 to December 31st, 1952, when President Dwight Eisenhower requested her resignation.
The American delegation, headed by Secretary of State James Byrnes and former Secretary of State Edward Stettinius, placed ER on the Committee on Humanitarian, Social and Cultural Concerns, also known as Committee Three. In this committee, ER dealt with concerns related to refugees and political repatriation. Among the first concerns Eleanor faced was the creation of Israel. Although initially in favor of a UN trusteeship over Palestine, in which the UN would oversee immigration and settlement until a negotiation could take place between Jews and Arabs, Eleanor came to support the UN’s position on partition and Israeli statehood. ER became one of Israel’s staunchest supporters, both in the United Nations and as a private citizen. Aside from her sympathies for a Jewish state after witnessing first hand the effects of the holocaust, she believed that Israelis were more “Western” and, therefore, capable of developing the more “primitive” Middle East (Lash, 137).
ER was also named as chair of the UN’s Commission on Human Rights-- a position she held until she stepped down in 1951. As chair of Commission on Human Rights, ER played a vital role in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Adopted in December 1948, the document established a fundamental charter for basic human rights to be followed by the member nations of the UN. Keeping in mind the carnage of World War II, the UDHR sought to establish a groundwork for the prevention of further human atrocities. ER was proud of her work regarding the document and continuously touted it as a milestone for achieving peace universal human dignity.
In both the U.S. and abroad, ER was a relentless advocate for the United Nations. ER was a key member of the American Association for the United Nations (AAUN), an organization tasked with increasing awareness and support for the UN amongst the common people. ER defended the importance of the UN in public addresses, private correspondences, in her My Day Column, and on her numerous television and radio programs. Eleanor had a deep-seeded faith that global cooperation through the UN was a key element in ensuring lasting peace and prosperity.
Sources: The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Vol. 1: The Human Rights Years: 1945-1948. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2007; Joseph P. Lash, Eleanor: The Years Alone. New York: W.W. Norton & Company,1972.
- Did Eleanor Roosevelt participate in the Civil Rights Movement?
From her time as first lady until her death, ER was a firm supporter of African Americans’ struggle for civil rights.Prior to her time in the White House, ER did not show much interest in discrimination in the country nor in the efforts to end Jim Crow. As first lady, however, ER pushed for better housing for African Americans, the appointment of Mary Mcleod Bethune to the National Advisory Committee of the National Youth Administration, and for the legislation of a federal anti-lynching bill. In 1939, ER publicly resigned from the DAR after they refused to allow the famed African American opera singer Marian Anderson to perform at the DAR-owned Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. ER, in this period, was careful in her support of the black freedom movement; she was particularly worried about potential political backlash. She was particularly careful in her wording, and was slow to come to support “social equality” as opposed to equality in fields like education, employment, housing, and voting rights.
After FDR’s death, ER had more freedom to support civil rights organizations. She joined the board of directors of both the NAACP and CORE in 1945. ER was particularly active with the NAACP and formed a close working relationship with NAACP President Walter White. In 1946, for example, ER supported the NAACP’s legal efforts to defend the African American victims of the Columbia, Tennessee, riot. Throughout the 1950s, ER would support the NAACP’s legal attack against segregated schools wound through courts through her daily column and by eagerly fundraising for the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund.Occasionally, ER’s other political positions would come into conflict with her support of the NAACP and their defense of civil rights. In 1947, for example, the organization decided to submit W.E.B Dubois’s “Statement on the Denial of Human Rights to Minorities in the Case of the Citizens of Negro Descent in the USA” as a petition of grievances to the United Nations. The State Department feared such a petition because they did not want the United Nations to reveal human rights violations at home while the US was fighting a Cold War abroad against the USSR. ER, who did not vote to submit the petition, rejected the NAACP’s request that she introduce the document. Nor did she agree to represent the Human Rights Commission when the NAACP presented their grievance. ER explained that while she supported the argument in the statement, the petition needed to go through “proper procedure” and not rely on her sponsorship. To further emphasize her disagreement with the NAACP’s approach, ER threatened to resign from her position on the NAACP’s board if the organization continued to push its petition of grievance.
Despite her disagreement over the “Statement on Denial of Human Rights,” ER continued her close working relationship with Walter White and the NAACP. By the late 1950s, as the civil rights movement entered its “classical” phase, ER broadened her support to include the nonviolent protests of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and CORE. In the early 1960s, she pressured John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy to provide legal protection to Freedom Riders who had been attacked in Alabama, and she chaired the Committee of Inquiry into the Administration of Justice in the Freedom Struggle. While ER may have been slow to fully embrace the strategies, tactics, and goals of civil rights activists, by the end of her life she was a prominent and vocal supporter of the continuing black freedom movement.
Sources: Allida M. Black, Casting Her Own Shadow: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Shaping of Postwar Liberalism, Columbia University Press, 1996. 85-151; Carol Anderson, Eyes off the Prize: The United Nations and the African American Struggle for Human Rights, 1944-1955, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. 58-112.
- Was Eleanor Roosevelt a Democrat or Republican?
ER was an influential operative in the Democratic Party, first in New York state then nationally, from the 1920s until her death in 1962. She wasn’t always an unabashed Democrat though. ER was born into a Republican family that included her uncle, the Republican president Theodore Roosevelt. As a young adult, she showed little enthusiasm for politics. She wrote in her autobiography that “Uncle Ted’s campaign and re-election had meant little to me except in general interest, for again I lived in a totally unpolitical atmosphere.” (Autobiography, 43) Her interest in politics, particularly Democratic Party politics, grew after FDR became a state senator in 1910. In this period, ER was particularly adept at creating alliances between the two sides of the New York Democratic Party: politicians connected with the Tammany machine, and the FDR-supported anti-Tammany “Insurgents,”
From 1921 until 1928, while FDR focused on his rehabilitation from polio, ER expanded her political networks, honed her political skills, and transformed herself into a nationally recognized political leader. She helped lead the Women's Division of the State Democratic Party, a group the party created to organize women voters after they had achieved the right to vote in 1920. She edited and wrote articles and editorials for the Women's Democratic News and worked with Molly Dewson, Marion Dickerman, and Nancy Cook to establish women's Democratic clubs throughout the state. She became an effective public speaker after working with Louis Howe, FDR's political strategist, and soon engaged in debates across the state and a national lecture tour. ER resigned from the offices she held in the Democratic Party when FDR became governor of New York to protect FDR from possible political embarrassment; however, she continued to exert her influence in the party and within the powerful network of women with which she was now allied.When FDR was elected president in 1932, ER worried that her life as first lady would end her freedom to speak out and act for the causes she cared so deeply about, ER soon found ways of exerting her influence in her new role. As first lady, ER pushed for more appointments of women in the Roosevelt administration, she pressed for the creation of youth programs, including the establishment of the National Youth Administration, she worked with the Housing Division of the Public Works Administration and the Washington Housing Authority to support planned communities ("greenbelt towns") and slum clearance projects. She enthusiastically supported federal aid to the arts, played a key role in establishing the Federal Arts Projects, and defended the projects against congressional attacks.She also supported the expansion of pro- civil rights policies, such as the Fair Employment Practices Committee, within the Democratic Party.
In the years after FDR’s death, ER’s role and influence within the Democratic Party transformed as she moved out from the shadow of FDR. ER’s primary concern was to maintain the legacy of the New Deal and to keep the Democratic Party as the home of American liberalism. In order to protect this legacy, ER and fellow liberals founded the pressure-group Americans for Democratic Action in 1947. The ADA sought to advance policies associated with the New Deal while also maintaining an anti-communist stance that distanced the ADA from Henry Wallace’s Progressive Citizens of America.
ER was an especially strong proponent of Adlai Stevenson’s campaigns for Presidential office in 1952, 1956, and 1960. She was particularly central to Stevenson’s campaign in 1956. Eleanor campaigned for Stevenson around the country in both his primary, and later general election. Despite her vigorous campaigning and the Democrats capture of both the House and Senate, Stevenson lost the election badly. ER concluded that “the love affair between President Eisenhower and the American people is too acute at present for any changes evidently to occur.” (Lash, 264.)
By 1960, ER once again pushed Adlai Stevenson to seek Democratic nomination. While Stevenson was reluctant to run for a third nomination, ER hoped his candidacy would diminish support from rising star, Senator John F. Kennedy. Scholars have attributed Eleanor’s initial disdain for Kennedy to her distrust of Catholics after her public altercation with Cardinal Francis Spellman, her negative opinion of Joseph P. Kennedy, who, while ambassador to the United Kingdom, told FDR that Britain could not stop the Nazi invasion, and most importantly, JFK’s refusal to satisfactorily condemn Joe McCarthy (Lash, 282-287). ER softened to Kennedy, however, after he appeared on her television show and endorsed his campaign after his victory in the Democratic primary. Eleanor worked closely with JFK’s administration and supported democratic initiatives in congress until her death in 1962.
Sources: Cook, Blanche Wiesen. Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume One, 1884-1933. New York: Viking Press, 1992; Lash, Joseph P. Eleanor: The Years Alone. New York: W.W. Norton, 1972; Allida Black, Casting Her Own Shadow: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Shaping of Postwar Liberalism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.
- Was Eleanor Roosevelt a communist?
ER neither joined the Communist Party nor subscribed to communist ideology. Although during the 1930s, she did have some affiliation with Communists and their “fellow travelers.” From 1934 to 1939, communist parties from across the globe entered what was known as the “Popular Front.” Essentially, to combat the rise of fascism in Europe, and prevent an invasion of the USSR, Communists were willing to halt their calls for communist revolution in order join forces with liberals and other progressives. In the United States, this meant that Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) supported FDR and the New Deal.
During the Popular Front, ER sympathized with the American Youth Congress (AYC), whose members included communists. The AYC was a coalition of student groups who organized to bring more American youths into progressive political activity. In 1938, ER even gave the opening address to the Second World Youth Conference, a meeting of international leftist student movements, including the AYC, at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York.
In 1939, however, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed a treaty of nonaggression known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Almost overnight, the CPUSA terminated their liberal alliances and returned to their previous calls for revolution against the Roosevelt Administration. Feeling deceived and betrayed, ER’s suspicion of communism and the Soviet Union became resolute-- an attitude she would have for the rest of her life.
Despite her open hostility to communists, ER was quick to defend liberals who, like her, worked alongside the CPUSA during the Popular Front. Indeed, Joseph Lash, a journalist who became ER’s life long friend and biographer, was once a leader in the AYC and the affiliated American Student Union (ASU). Lash never joined the Communist Party and became hostile toward the Party after the collapse of the Popular Front in 1939. ER met Lash on a train from New York City to Washington, D.C. shortly before his being called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. ER sympathized with Lash’s situation and appeared in Congress during his hearing to provide moral support and later invited Lash and his co defendants to dinner at the White House.
ER only became more hostile to communism following the end of World War II and the onset of the Cold War. Alongside Lash and several prominent former New Dealers, including Hubert Humphrey, John Kenneth Galbraith, and Arthur Schlesinger Jr., ER helped to form Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), an independent political organization that advocated liberal domestic policy alongside rigid anti-communism. The ADA was formed, in part, to counter the Progressive Citizens of America (PCA), formed by former Vice-President Henry Wallace and other pro-communist individuals. The PCA, who supported Soviet positions including an end to Marshall Plan aid and the immediate disarmament of nuclear weapons, unsuccessfully ran against Harry Truman in 1948 presidential election. Although ER was fond of Wallace during his time as head of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration and as vice president, she was quick to denounce him for his communist leanings and seeming betrayal of American interests.
ER also carried a deep distrust toward the foreign policy of the Soviet Union (USSR). While she was willing to work with the Soviets in the United Nations and called for open dialogue with Communist China, she was fearful of the effects of Communist expansion.. ER, like many liberal “cold warrios.” was dedicated to using a combination of humanitarian aid and military measures to prevent the spread of communism. To this end, Eleanor supported financial measures, including the Marshall Plan, and more aggressive policies, such as universal military training. Unlike many “hawks,” or politicians more eager to employ military force, ER believed in utilizing the United Nations and other formal diplomatic channels before resorting to violent measures. For instance, she was insistent on the use of UN forces in the Korean War.
Despite ER’s anti-communism, she was equally critical of the House Un-American Activities Committee. She was a staunch defender of Alger Hiss -- an employee of the State Department accused of being a communist spy. Convinced that Republicans in Congress were unethically using HUAC hearings to draw false connections between Communism and the New Deal, ER continued to support Hiss, even after the discovery of classified materials purportedly stolen by Hiss and his conviction for perjury 1948.
ER would also come to loathe both Senator Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon, who were allies during the “Second Red Scare” of the 1950s. While ER believed that the federal government had the right to monitor individuals in order to protect Americans from Communist plots, she did not believe Congress had this authority. ER saw McCarthyism as politically motivated and an affront to civil liberties. Even after McCarthy’s death, ER retained lingering mistrust of any politician who was complicit in Mccarthyism. She often derided Richard Nixon, and even questioned JFK’s qualifications for the presidency based upon his family’s friendship with McCarthy.
Sources: Klehr, Harvey. The Heyday of American Communism: The Depression Decade. New York: Basic Books, Inc. 319-323; Oshinsky, David M. A Conspiracy So Immense: The World of Joe McCarthy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. 100; Patterson, James T. Grand Expectations: The United States 1945-1974. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. 146; Fried, Richard M. Nightmare in Red: The McCarthy Era in Perspective. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. 80; Wechsler, James A. The Age of Suspicion. New York: Random House, 1953. 72; Pitt, David E. “Joseph P. Lash is Dead,” New York Times Aug. 23, 1987.
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