Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) dictionary: “American diplomat, writer, humanitarian, and political figure; wife of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.”

First Lady:

Eleanor: "Now I'll have no identity."

"I have never tried to influence Franklin on anything he did."

"set the tone" for administration;

Longest-serving First Lady;

Mother died when she was 8, father when 10;

Girls’ school England - Marie Souvestre:

“the happiest years of my life”;

settlement house, NY Lower East Side;

National Consumers League;

1905 married cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt;

birth to six children;

WWI, Washington - FDR asst sec’y Navy;

volunteer hospital, Red Cross, canteens;

1921 FDR hit by polio;

“I’m only being active until you can be again, it isn’t such a great desire on my part to serve the world again and I’ll fall back into habits of sloth quite easily!”


earlier, Eleanor dismissed politics as “a sinister affair”;

League of Women Voters;

Women’s Trade Union League;

head women’s division NY Democratic party;

1928 headed national women’s division of Democrat Al Smith’s run for presidency; 

New York Times editorial: “Mrs. Roosevelt, a highly intelligent and capable politician.”

Eleanor was “the strongest argument that could be presented against those who hold that by entering politics, a woman is bound to lose her womanliness and charm.”

1928 FDR elected governor of NY state;

Eleanor: for women, “Home comes first.  But in second and third and last place there is room for countless other concerns… and so if anyone were to ask me what I want out of life, I would say – the opportunity for doing something useful.”


the Great Depression - 

1920s prosperity;

1928 consumer spending falling, slowdown in production – layoffs;

Oct. 24, 1929 stock market crash;

Oct.-Dec. unemployment jumped to 4 million. 

By 1931, 5000 banks closed;

Unemployment rate over 25%;

1929-1933 GNP fell 29%;

breadlines, soup kitchens;

over one million tramps - a "migration of despair."

Starvation, malnutrition:

dysentery, pellagra;

Marriage and birth rates down; 

Number of working women actually rose;

Backlash - “don’t steal a job from a man.”

Stereotype – women working for “pin money”;

Ames - 3 women teachers forced to leave job;

Federal govt fired hundreds of women;

more than 80% of Americans believed that as long as husband had job, women’s place was in home;

“I would rather turn on the gas and put an end to the whole family rather than let my wife support me”

domestic service, office work, teaching, nursing;


1932 FDR carried all but six states;

"a pleasant man who without any important qualifications for the office, would very much like to be president." 

"a new deal for the American people" -

inauguration: "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself". 

New Deal - “alphabet soup” of new programs;

Eleanor - New Deal place for women;

“I never wanted to be a President’s wife, and don’t want it now.”

“Things cannot be completely changed in five minutes.  Yet I do believe that even a few people who want to understand, to help and to do the right thing for the great numbers of people… can help.”


1934, 75,000 homeless single women in NY;

White House Conference on the Emergency Needs of Women;

helped create jobs for 100,000 women;

news conferences for women reporters;

daily column, “My Day”;

weekly radio show;

proud she had “earned as much as Franklin”


racial justice  & civil rights -

1934: “to deny any part of a population the opportunities for more enjoyment in life, for higher aspirations is a menace to the nation as a whole… We must learn to work together, all of us, regardless of race or creed or color; we must wipe out… any feeling of intolerance.   We go ahead together or we go down together.”

1939 Daughters of the American Revolution - contralto Marian Anderson;

Lincoln Memorial - audience of 75,000;


“getting the pants off Eleanor and onto Franklin”;

Eleanor: “every woman in public life needs to develop skin as tough as rhinoceros hide.”

18-year old factory girl, “Say, she’s swell.  Why, I’m not ashamed of being a girl any more.”

1938 Life greatest woman alive;

WWII co-director Office of Civilian Defense

1942 state visit to England;

visited almost every theater of war;

April, 1945 FDR died.


1945 Truman named Eleanor to US delegation to United Nations.

Eleanor, “this old lady holds up very well under the load of work here, and believe me, it is formidable.”

chair of new UN Human Rights Commission -

push to write Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).

Michigan Senator Vandenberg, “I take back everything I ever said about her, and believe me, it’s been plenty.”

77th birthday, “I suppose I should slow down… [but] life must be lived, curiosity must be kept alive…. The thing I am most grateful for is for an interesting life – and the opportunities I had to learn along the way.”

Nat’l Advisory Council for Peace Corps;

“I do not think women should be judged as women alone when it comes to appointing them or electing them purely because they are women,” but plenty of women were talented & deserved chance.



1932 Frances Perkins secretary of labor - first woman cabinet officer;

Mt Holyoke, Hull House, National Consumers League, investigating 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist fire;

In NY, first woman state industrial commissioner;

Dewson “After all, you owe it to the women.  Don’t be such a baby, Frances.  You do the right thing. I’ll murder you if you don’t.”

1935 Social Security Act -

support of dependent widows & children

disadvantage “only when climbing trees.”

“I have always felt that it was not I alone who was appointed to the cabinet, but that it was all the women in America.”


1935 Mary McLeod Bethune -director of the National Youth Administration’s Office of Minority Affairs -

the “Black Cabinet”;

president Bethune-Cookman College;

the National Association of Colored Women;

the National Council of Negro Women;

committees for National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Urban League;

Bethune, “if these talented white women were working at such responsible jobs at a time of national crisis, I could do the same thing.  I visualized dozens of Negro women coming after me, filling positions of high trust and strategic importance.”


Ruth Bryan Owen first female US ambassador (Denmark, 1933-36);

Florence Allen first woman judge on US Court of Appeals;