March 17th

On March 17th 1905, future US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt married Eleanor Roosevelt, his fifth cousin once removed. She was given away by the current President, her uncle Theodore Roosevelt.

Eleanor bared six of Franklin’s children, but became platonic partners following Franklin’s affair with her secretary Lucy Mercer in 1918. Divorce was only avoided so as not to wreck her husband’s presidential ambitions, and individually Eleanor’s prior social volunteering and reform work blossomed as First Lady of the United States. Whilst becoming a highly advisory figure to her husband she pursued interests in civil rights and humanitarian causes, publishing her strong views in the daily column “My Day” (1936-62). Eleanor became a stalwart of feminism and championed the New Deal’s compassionate and liberal agenda, and championed the work of men and women on the home front and arms industry in World War II. She was not afraid to challenge her husband on Japanese internment camps, and demanded he introduced legislation to secure the voting rights of African-Americans, but was rebutted by the President’s fear of losing the support of the southern states, who lambasted her in the press. She was also criticised for her support for labor unions and her secret erotic relationship with close friend Lorena Hickok.

Every time Eleanor opens her big mouth, it’s big news for the Negro newspapers…. The past week, Eleanor was journeying as usual but stopped at Newark, New Jersey, where a bunch of Negroes were having a jamboree, and naturally Eleanor had to stop there and have her picture taken with a nigger. – Alabama Sun (1930s)

Eleanor had kindled her love for public service, and she continued to venture into a man’s world of politics following her husband’s death. Despite him spending his final hours with Lucy Mercer, who he had vowed never to see again, his death still devastated her, a invariably close partner and friend, she had been a rock in his battle with polio. In 1945 she was chosen by President Truman to head the United Nations Human Rights Commission, and was instrumental in the drafting of the Declaration on Human Rights. However she did battle with the president to secure the Democrat nomination for Adlai Stevenson in 1956, ironically the first divorced politician to win a presidential nomination. A tireless campaigner for democratic candidates, she also hosted radio and television shows, gave lectures and wrote texts. She wrote 27 books and more than 8,000 columns over her lifetime. She was also on the board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Advisory Council for the Peace Corps.

The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience. – Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt, of the well-established and wealthy Roosevelt dynasty, defied the conventions of Victorian femininity and came to symbolise a new independent and politically-active kind of woman. She was buried next to her husband on the Roosevelt estate in 1962, her funeral attended by current president Kennedy, who had just recently asked her to head the first Presidential Commission on the Status of Women, and also Truman and Eisenhower. Kennedy’s perfect family set-up and ‘style over substance’ was a far cry from Eleanor’s complex marriage, ‘plain looks’ and staunch outspokenness and activism. She seemed a very unique and inspirational first lady and beyond.

Eleanor Roosevelt

 

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