First Lady of the World

Eleanor Roosevelt was legendary for her ability to turn up anywhere. In just her first year as First Lady, she traveled over 40,000 miles. Over the course of her life, she visited every continent except Antarctica, and all 48 of the (then) United States. The documents in this mini-edition show a little of the insight ER gained from traveling so widely, and demonstrate the importance of her roles as both an international correspondent and an informal diplomat. This is an ongoing project of the ERPP, and does not yet come close to listing all of ER's travels. We still have trips to Central and South America, Africa, and many more trips to Europe and Asia to account for, in addition to all of ER's domestic travel.

Some of the material included here was written during ER's voyages; other documents in this series represent her later reflections on what she saw and experienced.

As First Lady, ER spent most of her time traveling within the United States giving lectures, visiting New Deal projects, and touring schools, mines, factories and other institutions. During World War II she also traveled to the South Pacific, England, and Latin America. Two of these trips took her into war zones, and the trip through the South Pacific was deemed so dangerous that the troops often found out she was coming only when she arrived.

After FDR’s death in 1945, ER’s travels became even more extensive. As a delegate to the United Nations she journeyed regularly to Europe to attend meetings of the General Assembly and the Human Rights Commission. She wanted to go to communist China, but settled for the Soviet Union. She met with Nehru in India, interviewed Tito in Yugoslavia and Khrushchev in Yalta, chastised women for their support of Hitler in postwar Germany, and defended the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. Often her trips lasted only a day or two, but when ER really wanted to get to know a country she spent as much as a month in a single nation. Wherever ER went, she visited royal palaces and housing projects, spoke to world leaders and student groups and gave speeches, press conferences, and interviews. She always sought, however, to escape the spotlight long enough to see and speak to average citizens. The world was her neighborhood, and as a good neighbor she believed it was her responsibility to see that all people everywhere lived with dignity and hope.


Emma Bugbee. "America's Most Traveled First Lady," in Literary Digest (28 April 1934): 9, 39; Blanche Wiesen Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt Volume 2: The Defining Years (New York: Penguin Books, 1999); Kelly, A. J. Powers, “Travels” in The Eleanor Roosevelt Encyclopedia, ed, Maurine H. Beasley, Holly C. Shulman and Henry R. Beasley, (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2001).