If you were running for president, it would be good to have Eleanor Roosevelt on your side. Franklin Roosevelt had this advantage. Eleanor’s hard work helped her husband win four terms in office. She rallied women around the Democratic Party. Thousands of women worked to elect FDR.
2 Eleanor was glad when her husband became President. She was also wary. She greatly admired Franklin as a leader. She agreed that government had a duty to make life better for its people. What she wasn’t sure about was being First Lady. Would she be pushed into the role of hostess? Would her time be taken up by a stream of social functions?
3 FDR’s first months in office were a rush of activity. Meanwhile, the new First Lady launched a whirlwind of her own. What Eleanor did was mold the office to fit her own talents and interests. She became the first woman ever to hold frequent press conferences. These meetings had an “Eleanor twist”—only women were allowed to attend. Agencies that wanted news of the First Lady had to hire female reporters.
4 Eleanor made many trips around the U.S. In the depths of the Depression, people welcomed her. They responded to her warm smile. They knew she cared about their struggles. She observed the plight of coal miners, farmers, and many others. When she reported on these visits, her husband caught a glimpse of the real problems of the people.
5 The details gleaned from these travels sparked many of the New Deal programs. One of Eleanor’s pet projects was the National Youth Administration. This job program helped students stay in school. Eleanor supported the WPA, another work program. Besides public works, the WPA sponsored projects in the arts. Artists, writers, actors, and musicians found work through them. These projects were favorites of the First Lady.
6 On a trip to the South, Eleanor discovered that blacks were being shut out of the New Deal. Civil rights became one of her highest concerns. She joined the NAACP and worked to stop racism. At a meeting in Alabama, Eleanor challenged laws that excluded blacks. She purposely chose a seat between the black and white sections.
7 Eleanor belonged to the prestigious group called Daughters of the American Revolution. She resigned her membership when the DAR refused to allow black singer Marian Anderson to perform at their hall. The First Lady arranged to have Anderson sing at the Lincoln Memorial. The event drew an audience of 75,000 people.
8 Eleanor was a powerful force in politics. She was the first woman to speak at the Democratic Convention. Her influence got women’s issues included in the party platform. When the nation entered World War II, she traveled the world. Her visits to soldiers and allies boosted the war effort.
9 President Roosevelt died suddenly in 1945. “The story is over,” Eleanor told a group of reporters. But that was far from true. After a brief rest, Eleanor went back to the work she loved. She continued to speak for the poor and downtrodden. She chaired the U.N. Human Rights Commission. She even helped to write the U.N.’s Declaration of Human Rights. President Harry Truman declared Eleanor the “First Lady of the world.”
10 In 1961, John F. Kennedy made Eleanor head of the Commission on the Status of Women. She continued to speak for the oppressed until her death in 1962. Until Eleanor, most Presidents’ wives did little more than decorate and entertain. Eleanor was determined to make her life count for something more. Life had given her a place in the halls of power. She used this place to help those in need.