What is Eleanor Roosevelt most famous for

Eleanor Roosevelt : Mrs. America

No first lady had dared to do that before. No sooner had the Roosevelt family moved into the White House than the wife of the new Democratic President gave a press conference. What did she say? The journalists wanted to know that too. Only female members of the guild were admitted, a custom that Eleanor Roosevelt was to maintain until the last of her 350 or so conferences. Newspapers and news agencies that had no female employees in 1933 had to hire them as quickly as possible. Even if no global political issues were negotiated at the meetings - no one could afford to miss them.

If Eleanor Roosevelt couldn't just break open the "old boys' network", she would knit her own network for women. And most of the time she actually knitted: She couldn't even let her hands rest. The fact that the proportion of women in important positions in Washington rose sharply during Franklin Delano Roosevelt's twelve-year tenure was due not least to his stubborn wife. After all, it was always women who had encouraged and politicized them themselves, gave them support, became close friends (as some speculate, sometimes also lovers): social workers, teachers, unionists, journalists. She even lived with some of them, in the White House as well as in Hyde Park, New York State. Franklin, then governor of New York, had built a cottage for his wife on the property of the family estate, which became their true home.

Reluctantly, Eleanor Roosevelt had given up her volunteer work as a teacher in Manhattan. But if she was going to take up the office of first lady, at least she wanted to make something of it. And the first of the underprivileged to benefit from it during the Great Depression were women. In her column, her magazine articles, famous radio speeches and public appearances, the lay politician appeared from then on as an enlightener, yes, agitator of her nation, but in harmless, old-fashioned garb. "Mrs. Democrat ”(“ New York Times ”) fought against the discrimination of blacks, visited slums and afterwards loudly advocated better social housing. Mocked by some as politically naive, criticized by others as too radical, exceeding their competencies, she fought against poor working conditions, for better educational opportunities and general health insurance.

No wonder that Hillary Clinton declared her predecessor to be her great role model when she moved into the White House in 1993. Bill had taken his wife on his ticket from the beginning of the election campaign: "You get two for the price of one."

The Roosevelts were a team too - more than a married couple. After giving birth to six children, one of whom died as a baby, Eleanor Roosevelt first moved out of the shared bedroom (she thought she had done her marital duties) and then discovered that her husband was cheating on her: with her own secretary, Lucy Mercer. Separation was out of the question, Roosevelt's mother threatened to disinherit him, he himself feared for his political career, and his Catholic lover did not want a divorced husband. His wife, deeply wounded, was ready to continue the marriage for the sake of the children if he ended the affair immediately.

Only a few years later, the aspiring democrat fell ill with polio and was practically unable to use his legs. During this time his wife kept the name Roosevelt in public, attended party meetings, gave speeches. Louis Howe, her husband's advisor, helped her. A chain-smoking, sensitive gnome, he got the six-foot-tall woman to control her shrill voice, and introduced her to the mechanisms of politics. As "Roosevelt's eyes, ears and legs," as it was called, she traveled the world from then on and told her husband what it was like there. Open and warm-hearted, curious and straightforward, she quickly made friends everywhere.

“On a typical day,” said historian Betty Boyd Caroli, “she had breakfast with guests, read several newspapers, attended a conference, returned to the White House to hold her own press conference, made a radio recording, and dictated her column - everything before lunch. In the afternoon she saw visitors, went to a five-cent dinner to see how people were getting on with the minimum wage, sat down with her husband, and then dealt with her correspondence until three in the morning. "The First Lady was America's sorrows aunt , was inundated with letters, which she encouraged her readers to read in the column "My Day", which she wrote six times a week for 26 years and which reached millions of newspaper readers.

Franklin listened to his wife's reports and demands - and was glad to get rid of them every now and then. Because Eleanor was exhausting: she was always on duty. Even over a cocktail, she came up to him with a request, a new social project. She was too serious for her fun-loving, charming husband, said daughter Anna - and invited Franklin's now married ex-lover to dinner in the White House when the mother was away. She said the father deserved some fun.

Lucy Mercer was with him when he died of a cerebral haemorrhage two weeks before the end of World War II. At the funeral, Eleanor asked the pastor to include in the sermon the sentence with which Roosevelt had taken office in 1933: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” The sentence could have been hers.

As a child, she was dominated by fear. “I was always afraid of something: of the dark, of displeasing others, of failing. For everything I wanted to achieve, I had to get over this hurdle of fear. "

It was a long way: from the shy, ugly duckling "to the most famous and at times most influential woman in the world", according to her biographer Lois Scharf; Roosevelt made it onto the cover of "Time" three times, and people applauded her when they only saw her. From the senior daughter, favorite niece of the former (Republican) US President Teddy Roosevelt to the civil and women's rights activist who could put on a dozen honorary doctoral hats without ever having attended college.

Her family was one of the oldest in the country and her parents were on the jet set of New York. Eleanor's mother was a great, cool beauty - who reproached the little daughter (at least that's what she said) for being terribly ugly. "Granny", Grandma called her the child with the large, protruding teeth and the thick lips. The mother died at 29 of diphtheria, the father, idolized by the daughter for life, a bon vivant, shortly afterwards of drugs and alcohol. Eleanor was an orphan at the age of nine, grew up with her strict grandmother until she finally went to England on a girls' boarding school . There she experienced the three happiest years of her life, as she later explained. The headmistress, a progressive French, lesbian and atheist, took care of her, aroused her intellectual curiosity, traveled with her through Europe, gave her, like her classmates, self-confidence. A year before graduation, Eleanor was cited back to New York to make her social debut and soon to be married: Franklin, her fifth cousin.

She herself liked to explain her incredible energy with her robust health, the support of her loyal secretary Malvina Thompson (on whom she also let go of her bad mood) and the habit of never being rushed. But it was probably more than that, more than discipline and a sense of duty: a being driven. Roosevelt had close friendships, she was so close to her chauffeur that they were said to have had a relationship, she was swarmed around like a queen bee by strangers and confidants. Apparently this did not protect her from the deep feeling of loneliness.

Even in the family, no matter how often she gathered them around, she did not necessarily find support. Her children made headlines with broken marriages and professional errors, and at family gatherings there were fierce debates, up to and including a row. In addition to the fraternal rivalries, there was also jealousy of the confidants of Eleanor, to whom she seemed much closer than they were. At the end of her life, the exasperated mother explained to her children that she loved them all, but only wanted to see them individually.

She accused herself of not caring enough for her to leave the field to the dominant mother-in-law Sara. "Franklin, Sara and me - that makes three" is how she described her marriage as a three. Sara was always there, rearranging furniture, explaining to the grandchildren that Eleanor had given birth to her, but that she was actually her mother.

"The story is over," Eleanor Roosevelt told journalists after her husband's death. But the story was far from over. Harry S. Truman, who rose from vice president to real president in 1945, made the 62-year-old official delegate to the very young UN. Convinced of the importance of the League of Nations, she threw herself into the work, became chair of the Commission for Human Rights, and fought vehemently with the Soviets. When, after tough negotiations, the Declaration of Human Rights was passed in 1948, it received a standing ovation. Republican Arthur Vandenberg said he was taking back everything he said about her - "and believe me, that was a lot".

As “First Lady of the World”, her new title, she supported the young state of Israel, traveled to India - usually a handsome man at her side: her doctor, the great love of her life. “You know,” she wrote to David Gurevich, who was 18 years her junior, “without my having to tell you that I love you as I love or have never loved anyone else.” It was a romance that never took place. They even bought a house in Manhattan where they lived under one roof: Eleanor, David and his wife, who later wrote a book about the relationship: "Kindred Souls", soul mates.

Despite recurring rumors that she would be aiming for a seat in the Senate or the post of Vice President, the amateur was smart enough not to run for political office. She knew how much consideration a politician would have to show potential voters on issues that were close to her heart. She herself had adopted a more progressive stance in the White House, especially with regard to black equality, than her husband's advisors liked. For example with her spectacular resignation from the traditional women's organization “Daughters of the American Revolution”, which prevented the black singer Marian Anderson from appearing in her Constitution Hall in 1939 - whereupon the Minister of the Interior held an open-air concert in front of the Lincoln Memorial for 75,000 people organized. “You had the opportunity to go forward in an enlightening way,” the Democrat wrote to the chairwoman, “and it seems to me that your organization has failed.” For Roosevelt, morality was something that was not preached, but lived. And after moving out of the White House, she felt even more free to say what she thought. In her post-war columns, she vehemently outlawed the witch hunt on alleged communists. (Which earned her the even greater hatred of FBI President J. Edgar Hoover, who had already accused her of “Negro” blood and kept a thick folder on her over the decades.) For her this agitation was the sowing of suspicion , deeply un-American.

It was also what she resented John F. Kennedy (whose entire family she was very skeptical of about political morality): that he did not speak out clearly against the witch hunter McCarthy. That's why she first supported Adlai Stevenson in the Democratic primary campaign - until Kennedy prevailed. And immediately came to her to get her blessing. After his appointment as president, he made the old lady chairman of the new "Commission on the Status of Women".

Even today, the Democrat would take sides in the primary campaign. But even if Hillary Clinton still likes to refer to Eleanor Roosevelt today: Perhaps she would be closer to the even more unconsumed, upright black woman than the woman who is perhaps already too versed in (power) politics. Perhaps Barack Obama would actually have been the greater hope for change for them.

For the poor and the oppressed, she herself had become the statue of liberty in person. Instead of cursing the darkness, Adlai Stevenson said after her death on November 7, 1962, she would have preferred to light candles. She was an American through and through, an optimist and a pragmatist, believed in the possibility of change - but also considered this to be a duty. What distinguishes her from many compatriots: that she not only viewed the individual as the maker of his or her happiness, but also saw the whole of society and the government as responsible. Never before and since has there been such strong government intervention as under Roosevelt. The fact that Franklin was elected President of the United States an incredible four times was also a vote for Eleanor.

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