Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) was the First Lady, wife of Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882 – 1945). She was a leader in her own right and was involved in many humanitarian causes throughout her own life. She also served as Chairman of the Human Rights Commission (1946–51).
During Roosevelt’s first 12 years as first lady, she was determined to make changes. The breadth of her advocacy work brought much attention to her. She instituted regular White House press conferences for women correspondents, and wire services that had not formerly employed women were forced to do so in order to have a representative present in case important news broke. And beginning in 1936 she wrote a daily syndicated newspaper column titled ‘My Day.’
Roosevelt was a widely sought-after speaker at political meetings and at various institutions. She showed particular interest in child welfare, housing reform, and equal rights for women and racial minorities. In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused to let Marian Anderson, an African-American opera singer, perform in Constitutional Hall. Roosevelt decided to withdraw her DAR membership and arranged a concert nearby the Lincoln Memorial. Over 75,000 people attended this celebration. Roosevelt stood up for the rights of African Americans, youth, and the poor helped to bring groups into government that formerly had been alienated from the political process.
In 1945, shortly after President Roosevelt’s death, Eleanor was appointed a delegate to the United Nations (UN) by President Harry Truman, who had succeeded to the White House after the death of Franklin Roosevelt in 1945. She was appointed as chairman of the Commission on Human Rights (1946–51) where she played a major role in the drafting and adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).
“We stand today at the threshold of a great event both in the life of the United Nations and in the life of mankind. This Declaration may well become the international Magna Carta for all men everywhere.”
Called “First Lady of the World” by President Truman for her lifelong humanitarian achievements, Roosevelt worked to the end of her life to gain acceptance and implementation of the rights set forth in the Declaration. The legacy of her words and her work appears in the constitutions of scores of nations and in an evolving body of international law that now protects the rights of men and women across the world.
“Do what you feel in your heart to be right—for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.” —Eleanor Roosevelt
Shortly before her death, Roosevelt was appointed Chair of President John F. Kennedy’s commission on the Status of Women in 1961. Eleanor Roosevelt continued to remain involved in Democratic Party activities during her post-White House years, campaigning for candidates around the country. She also traveled extensively throughout her life, meeting with many leaders across the world. Additionally, she hosted radio programs and a television news show, and continued to write her newspaper column and give lectures. Over the course of her life, Roosevelt wrote 27 books and more than 8,000 columns. Her final ‘My Day’ columns continued up until weeks prior to her death from tuberculosis in 1962.