Born on October 11th, 1884, Eleanor Roosevelt first rose to prominence as the First Lady of the United States, serving alongside her husband Franklin D Roosevelt from 1933 to 1945. This makes her the longest serving First Lady in the history of the country. But Eleanor Roosevelt wasn’t just famous for being the president’s wife, she also has a vast legacy resulting from her own work as a diplomat, an activist, and a writer.
Civil Rights Activism
At a time when the Roosevelt administration was eager to placate the southern states in the era of segregation, Eleanor Roosevelt was vocal in her support of the Civil Rights Movement. She saw that the New Deal programs in southern states were discriminatory, with African Americans receiving a disproportionately small amount of the relief money, and she became one of the only people in the Roosevelt administration to insist that benefits be equally distributed to Americans of all races.
Eleanor Roosevelt also lobbied on behalf of the National Training School for Girls, a predominantly Black reform school. She demanded additional funding for the school and pressed for staffing and curriculum changes that would benefit the students.
She left the Daughters of the American Revolution, a lineage-based organization whose members are limited to direct lineal descendants of those who aided the cause of independence during the American revolution. The resignation was due to the DAR’s refusal to allow Black musicians to perform at the DAR Constitution Hall.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, she spoke out against prejudice toward Japanese Americans, and opposed Executive Order 9066, which called for the internment of Japanese Americans in camps.
The First Lady of the World
In December of 1945, Eleanor Roosevelt was appointed as a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly by then president Harry S Truman. She became the first chairperson of the preliminary United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and remained chairperson when the commission was permanently established in January 1947. During her time with the commission, she played a key role in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a foundational document in the history of human and civil rights. The declaration detailed 30 articles detailing an individual’s basic rights and freedoms. While the declaration is not legally binding, it inspired the development of international human rights law, and many of its provisions have passed into customary international law. The UDHR has been a tremendously influential document in ensuring that human rights are acknowledged and respected throughout the world.
Even after stepping down as chair of the commission, she served as the first United States Representative to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
During her time at the UN, she also supported the creation of a UN agency dedicated to addressing problems of food and nutrition.
This work prompted Harry S. Truman to call her the First Lady of the World. She was also posthumously awarded one of the first Human Rights Prizes by the United Nations.
Eleanor Roosevelt: The Writer
Roosevelt was also an avid writer, and she authored or co-authored 27 books between 1932 and 1963. But her writing wasn’t limited to books.
She wrote a column for Woman’s Home Companion from 1933 to 1936, and after that contract ended, she continued to write articles in other venues, publishing over 60 articles during her tenure as First Lady. She also began a syndicated newspaper column titled “My Day,” which was published six days a week from 1936 to 1962. From 1941 to 1962, she wrote an advice column titled “If You Ask Me,” published first in the Ladies Home Journal and later in McCall’s.
She was well spoken, and held 348 press conferences during her time as First Lady. In response to sexism in news journalism, she banned male reporters from these press conferences, forcing news organizations to keep women reporters on staff in order to cover them.Eleanor Roosevelt was more than just a president’s wife. She was a fearsome speaker and leader in her own right, and she left a legacy that we still feel today. In honor of this powerful woman, we have necklaces featuring two quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt: “No one can make you feel inferior without your permission,” and “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” Find inspiration in Roosevelt’s strength, eloquence, and dynamism by wearing her words close to your heart.