Eleanor Roosevelt: An Ambitious First Lady

Eleanor and the United Nation’s Human Rights Declaration.
Eleanor (second from the right), her father Elliot and two siblings.
A school photo of Eleanor.
Eleanor and her husband, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt.
Eleanor Roosevelt and her Scottish Terrier Fala.
Eleanor Roosevelt gesturing with her arms and hands.

Eleanor Roosevelt was born in 1884 into a privileged American family. Her uncle, Theodore, was to become president of the United States in 1901, and Eleanor was groomed for a life in New York’s high society. Nevertheless, Eleanor’s childhood was full of disappointments and ordeals. Her father, to begin with, was a caring but unreliable man who had drinking problems, and her beautiful mother let Eleanor know that she may not be attractive enough to win successful men’s hearts. Both parents, then, as it turned out, died before Eleanor’s tenth birthday.

Perhaps as a natural consequence of her upbringing, as a young adult Eleanor struggled with her self-image and socially awkward behavior. For this reason, it seemed out of the blue when an outgoing and politically aspiring distant relative showed interest in her. The suitor’s name was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and he and Eleanor got married in 1905. The withdrawn young woman, thereby, became the wife of an influential socialite associated with the Democratic Party, but when Franklin became paralyzed in the legs by polio in 1921, it was Eleanor who was going to take center stage.

Politics and charity work

With Franklin bound to a wheelchair and recuperating, Eleanor was asked to become more engaged within the Democratic Party to keep the family’s connections there fresh and relevant. This gave her a chance to cultivate her interest in political affairs, and as a part of her political commitments, Eleanor now began helping employed women become organized so that they would be able to deal with abuse in the work place. She also concerned herself with child labor in various sectors of society, and in line with her ambition to improve unsatisfactory conditions wherever they presented themselves, acted to achieve better gender equality within the Democratic party itself. Her new role excited her, with the enthusiasm of trying to make society better even leading Eleanor to hire a speech coach to help get over her fear of public speaking.

Franklin made a comeback on the political scene and was elected U.S. president in 1932. As a result of this, Eleanor became First Lady, and she took advantage of her prestigious role to the fullest. With the objective of helping the sick, the poor and the disenfranchisedsimilar in spirit to the work she had previously done — she now began to travel around the United States to see what was lacking. Eleanor then reported back to an accommodating FDR what needed to be done, and public funds were subsequently often allocated to the aims she proposed. No other president’s wife before Eleanor Roosevelt had ever been this forward and had this much influence over American politics.

Human rights

When her terms as First Lady were over after twelve years, Eleanor continued her tireless work for the nation’s and the world’s downtrodden. As part of this undertaking, in a sense crowning her previous work, she used a position as delegate to the United Nations to be the main driving force behind the compilation and proclamation of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in 1948. This U.N. document, though daringly progressive at the time it was written, has since gained the status as one of the world’s most important guiding principles for moral behavior.

Smiling more in old age

Looking back at Eleanor Roosevelt’s life, it is hard not to be impressed by her achievements and by who she was as a person. However, in contrast to Eleanor Roosevelt’s accomplishments and big heart for suffering people, she struggled with relationships in her own family. Her marriage, in many respects, was loveless, and her children believed Eleanor did not dedicate enough time to them. Still, Eleanor became a person who was admired all around the world, and in old age she smiled and socialized more than ever before, seemingly content with who she was.