Homeschool Heroes: Eleanor Roosevelt for Kids
An early feminist, this famous First Lady transformed the position of presidential wife into an activist role. She chaired the League of Women Voters, campaigned for racial equality, and even disagreed with her husband (the President) on some policies. She took press conferences, spoke on the radio, and wrote a syndicated newspaper column. This was a woman who understood how to live a public life long before Twitter and Instagram made it a social necessity.
Known for more than just her husband’s name, this woman was a game-changer in American politics. Want to know more? Meet Eleanor Roosevelt:
Belle of the Ball
Born in 1884, shy, timid Eleanor was the niece of President Theodore Roosevelt and the daughter of New York socialites. Sadly, she became an orphan at the age of 10 and never felt she would live up to socialite expectations. She encountered feminist ideas for the first time at an English all-girls boarding school where she gained confidence and inspiration.
She fell in love with her fifth-cousin, Franklin Roosevelt, and married him at the age of 20. Her Uncle Teddy – president at the time – gave the bride away. In married life, she had six children and remained happy with Franklin until finding some love letters from Franklin’s secretary, with whom he was having an affair.
Instead of getting divorced, Eleanor got a career. She and Franklin partnered as one political force, especially after her husband lost the use of his legs from polio. She began making public appearances for him, traveling to places he couldn’t, and making alliances for him within the Democratic party.
Throughout his political career, she broke boundaries and remained an active, independent spokeswoman for the rights of women, minorities, and children. Although much of what she did was controversial at the time, she is now regarded as one of the most important First Ladies and feminist political figures in American history.
After Franklin died in 1945, her husband’s successor appointed Eleanor to serve in the United Nations’ General Assembly; later, she chaired the Commission on Human Rights. She continued to speak all over the country and on the radio and television, as well as write columns, organize for women's’ rights movements, and support political candidates.
Upon her death in 1962, President John F. Kennedy had American flags throughout the country and all over the world lowered to half-staff to observe a day of mourning.
Eleanor was a prolific writer and speaker and many of her accomplishments are still in circulation and common use. Learn more about her views and values by heading to the library for some essential reading material.
One of Roosevelt’s finest accomplishments was drafting the Universal Declaration on Human Rights for the United Nations. The document was adopted in 1948 and is still used across the world to fight for freedom in repressive countries and to set standards for national and international behavior.
During her White House years, Eleanor began writing a syndicated column called My Day, which chronicled her daily activities as First Lady, as well as her humanitarian efforts. She was a champion for bringing women’s issues into the public sphere in a way they had not been seen before. A series of these articles are compiled in the book My Day: Best of Eleanor Roosevelt’s Acclaimed Newspaper Columns, 1936-1962.
An autobiography of Eleanor’s life was released by the woman herself in 1961. She had kept track of her travels, exploits, and ideas in journals and pages throughout the year, which resulted in a tremendously candid and personal portrait. Read the book for a greater understanding of a very eventful life.
The American people didn’t know a first lady could be so productive, intelligent, and well-liked; Eleanor Roosevelt taught them that activism takes the will to be active. She stood up for things she believed in, made a stand against things she disliked, and wasn’t afraid to stand her ground, even if it was unpopular.
Want to try a little social, political or community activism, Eleanor-style? Here are some suggestions that the First Lady of the World would approve:
Just do it. Use your voice as a platform to create change. If something unsettling is being forced upon you, take Eleanor’s tactic of switching the script. Eleanor famously banned male reporters from her press room. In order for newspapers to cover her many press conferences at the White House, this required them to keep female reporters on staff. This move supported her goal of giving women equal opportunity in the workplace. In another instance, when an African-American singer was denied performance space at the Daughters of the Revolution club, Eleanor resigned her membership and set up a high-profile performance venue for the singer on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Start a conversation. In Eleanor’s day, she had the platform of radio speeches and magazine articles to stir up conversations and bring up issues that women usually faced in isolation. She wanted to “make public communication a two-way channel.” In our modern times, we all have the opportunity to start a conversation. Whether it’s by circulating a petition on change.org, starting a hashtag on Twitter, or creating a video on YouTube addressing your social issue, there are plenty of ways for ordinary citizens to start a conversation on the internet. If you’re really stumped, write a letter to the editor of your favorite newspaper.
Be the boots on the ground. Volunteering is the greatest form of activism because it takes your physical energy instead of just your mind or your money. Eleanor was often called Franklin’s “eyes, ears, and legs,” because she traveled the country charting the progress of the New Deal, and then traveled the world boosting morale during World War II. The best way to test your ideals and principles is to go out and volunteer your time to your cause.
Learning from the Best
As Laurel Thatcher Ulrich famously wrote, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” Eleanor Roosevelt, with her pro-active and unconventional approach to being a political wife, is a perfect example of what can happen when women make waves.
Who are some political figures/role models you’d want your kids to look up to? Share with us!