Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born on October 11th, 1884 in New York City; Eleanor Roosevelt was the niece of Theodore Roosevelt. Eleanor was known as a shy child, and experienced tremendous loss at a young age: Her mother died in 1892 and her father died two years later, when she was just 10 years old. Eleanor was sent to school in England when she was a teenager that experience was a stepping stone that helped draw her out of her shell. Eleanor was the Fifth cousins (once removed) of President Franklin Roosevelt; Franklin and Eleanor had met briefly as children though neither remembered the occasion. Although both were Roosevelts, they had grown up in competing New York branches of the family, Franklin from Hyde Park and Eleanor from Oyster Bay on Long Island. A chance meeting in 1902, shortly before Eleanor’s debutante ball, reacquainted the pair, who began dating later that year after a New Year’s reception at the White House hosted by Eleanor’s uncle, President Theodore Roosevelt.
Her years of shyness behind her, Eleanor became one of the most outspoken women in the White House. She became an American politician, diplomat, and activist. She was the longest-serving First Lady of the United States, having held the post from March 1933 to April 1945 during her husband President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s four terms in office, and she also served as United States Delegate to the United Nations General Assembly from 1945 to 1952.President Harry S. Truman later called her the “First Lady of the World” in tribute to her human rights achievements.
The Roosevelts’ marriage was complicated from the beginning by Franklin’s controlling mother, Sara, and after discovering an affair of her husband’s with Lucy Mercer in 1918, Roosevelt resolved to seek fulfillment in a public life of her own. She persuaded Franklin to stay in politics after he was stricken with debilitating polio in 1921, which cost him the use of his legs, and Roosevelt began giving speeches and appearing at campaign events in his place. Following Franklin’s election as Governor of New York in 1928, and throughout the remainder of Franklin’s public career in government, Roosevelt regularly made public appearances on his behalf, and as First Lady while her husband served as President, she significantly reshaped and redefined the role of that office during her own tenure and beyond, for future First Ladies.
Though widely respected in her later years, Roosevelt was a controversial First Lady for her outspokenness, particularly her stance on racial issues. She was the first presidential spouse to hold press conferences, write a syndicated newspaper column, and speak at a national convention. On a few occasions, she publicly disagreed with her husband’s policies. She launched an experimental community at Arthurdale, West Virginia, for the families of unemployed miners, later widely regarded as a failure. She advocated for expanded roles for women in the workplace, the civil rights of African Americans and Asian Americans, and the rights of World War II refugees.
Following her husband’s death, Roosevelt remained active in politics for the rest of her life. She pressed the United States to join and support the United Nations and became its first delegate. She served as the first chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights, and oversaw the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Later she chaired the John F. Kennedy administration’s Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. By the time of her death, Roosevelt was regarded as “one of the most esteemed women in the world”; she was called “the object of almost universal respect” in her New York Times obituary in 1999, she was ranked ninth in the top ten of Gallup’s List of Most Widely Admired People of the 20th Century.