Who Was Eleanor Roosevelt? - Biography, Facts & Accomplishments

Instructor: Victoria Savage
In this lesson, we will explore the life and accomplishments of Eleanor Roosevelt. See how she changed the role of First Lady through her active participation in American politics and avocation for human rights.

Early Life

Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born in New York City on October 11, 1884. She was the niece of President Theodore Roosevelt. Eleanor had a difficult childhood; her mother died when she was eight years old and her father died two years later. After the death of her parents, she was sent to live with her strict grandmother. Eleanor was very shy and withdrawn, but attending school in England as a teenager helped draw her out of her shell. At the age of 18, she returned to the United States with new confidence in herself and her abilities.

On March 17, 1905, she married her distant cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Her uncle, Theodore Roosevelt, walked her down the aisle. The couple went on to have six children. In later years, Franklin's many affairs drove the couple apart, although they remained married. During World War I, Eleanor Roosevelt became active in public service, working for the Red Cross.

Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt with two of their oldest children in 1908
Franklin and Eleanor

Accomplishment as First Lady

After Franklin suffered a polio attack in 1921, Eleanor Roosevelt stepped forward to help her husband in his political career. She became very active in women's rights, joining the League of Women Voters, participating in the Women's Trade Union League, and working for the Women's Division of the New York State Democratic Committee. When her husband became President in 1933, Eleanor Roosevelt dramatically changed the role of First Lady. She was not content to sit back and be a hostess but took an active role in politics and human rights. She was the first First Lady to hold a press conference and invited only female reporters to attend. She also had her own newspaper column called 'My Day.'

In addition, she stood against racial discrimination and focused on helping the nation's poor during the Great Depression. As a result of Franklin's limited mobility due to polio, Eleanor Roosevelt became ''The President's eyes, ears, and legs,'' traveling the country and providing objective information to her husband. During World War II, she traveled abroad, visiting American troops. Eleanor was the longest-serving First Lady in history and showed the world that a First Lady could have an important role in U.S. politics.

Eleanor at about the time she became First Lady in 1933
Eleanor Roosevelt

Accomplishments after the White House

After President Roosevelt's death on April 12, 1945, Eleanor Roosevelt continued her role in public life. President Truman appointed her to the United Nations General Assembly. She also became chair of the U.N.'s Human Rights Commission, where she helped write the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the General Assembly in 1948. She considered this to be her greatest achievement. Eleanor Roosevelt also was in huge demand as a speaker and lecturer and published several books.

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