Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Women's History Month - Eleanor Roosevelt

Women's History Month

Eleanor Roosevelt

- 1884 - 1963

A shy, awkward child, starved for recognition and love, Eleanor Roosevelt grew into a woman with great sensitivity to the underprivileged of all creeds, races, and nations. Her constant work to improve their lot made her one of the most loved women of her generation.

She was born in New York City on October 11, 1884, daughter of lovely Anna Hall and Elliott Roosevelt, younger brother of Theodore. Eleanor was eight when her mother died in 1892, the children went to live with Grandmother Hall; her adored father died only two years later. Attending a distinguished school in England gave her, at 15, her first chance to develop self-confidence among other girls.

Six feet tall, slender, graceful of figure but apprehensive at the thought of being a wallflower, she returned for a debut that she dreaded. In her circle of friends was a distant cousin, handsome young Franklin Delano Roosevelt. She was 19 when they became engaged in 1903 and they were married in 1905. Within eleven years Eleanor bore six children; one son died in infancy.

Franklin served in the NY state Senate from 1910 to 1913 and Eleanor started her long career as political helpmate. When he was stricken with poliomyelitis in 1921, she tended him devotedly. From his successful campaign for governor in 1928 to the day of his death, she dedicated her life to his purposes. She became eyes and ears for him, a trusted and tireless reporter.

FDR and Mrs. Roosevelt came to the White House in 1933, and she understood social conditions better than any of her predecessors. She transformed the role of First Lady accordingly. She broke precedent to hold press conferences, travel to all parts of the country, give lectures and radio broadcasts, and express her opinions candidly in a daily syndicated newspaper column, "My Day."

In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused permission for African American contralto, Marian Anderson to sing to an integrated audience in Constitution Hall. With the aid of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Ms. Anderson performed a critically acclaimed open-air concert on Easter Sunday, 1939 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. ER as usual stood up for civil rights and in protest wrote a letter of resignation. (see above)

Another example of her willingness to make change was during WWII, when due to racial discrimination, African American servicemen were not allowed to learn to fly until 1941, when African American college graduates were selected for what the Army called "an experiment" they were assigned to an airfield adjacent to Alabama's Tuskegee Institute. The experiment involved training black pilots and ground support members. The squadron, quickly dubbed the Tuskegee Airmen, was activated on March 22, 1941.
However, no-one would fly with an African American pilot. When Eleanor Roosevelt visited Tuskegee Army Air Field in 1941, she insisted on taking a ride in an airplane with a black pilot at the controls. ER's pilot was Charles Anderson. She then insisted that her flight with Anderson be photographed. Eleanor used this photograph as part of her campaign to convince FDR to activate the participation of the Tuskegee Airmen in North Africa and in the European Theater.
In June 1943, the Tuskegee Airmen entered into combat over North Africa. When the war ended, the Tuskegee Airmen returned home with one hundred and fifty Distinguished Flying Crosses, its success would contribute to the eventual integration of the United States military.

Eleanor was First Lady for 12 years. An outspoken advocate of social justice, she became a moral force during the Roosevelt administration, using her position as First Lady to promote social causes. As a nationally syndicated columnist, popular lecturer, author, party leader, and social activist, ER assured her friends that "my voice will not be silent. ER dedicated her unstinting energy to "winning the peace."

FDR died in 1945 and within a year she began her service as American spokesperson in the United Nations. She became the champion of human rights — dignity, security, respect for all people; and diplomatic justice between nations. Eleanor Roosevelt’s life was dedicated to the eradication of poverty, racism, war and despair.


I have always admired Eleanor Roosevelt, especially her willingness to stand up for others. I am also encouraged to know that a letter written in protest could still be talked about 73 years later. It takes courage to make change in the world and Eleanor Roosevelt is an excellent example of that.


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