This article is about the First Lady of the United States. For other uses, see Eleanor Roosevelt (disambiguation).
|1st Chair of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women|
January 20, 1961 – November 7, 1962
|President||John F. Kennedy|
|Preceded by||Position established|
|Succeeded by||Esther Peterson|
|1st United States Representative to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights|
|President||Harry S. Truman|
|Preceded by||Position established|
|Succeeded by||Mary Pillsbury Lord|
|1st Chair of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights|
|Preceded by||Position established|
|Succeeded by||Charles Malik|
|First Lady of the United States|
March 4, 1933 – April 12, 1945
|President||Franklin D. Roosevelt|
|Preceded by||Lou Henry Hoover|
|Succeeded by||Bess Truman|
|First Lady of New York|
January 1, 1929 – December 31, 1932
|Governor||Franklin D. Roosevelt|
|Preceded by||Catherine Dunn|
|Succeeded by||Edith Altschul|
|Born||Anna Eleanor Roosevelt|
(1884-10-11)October 11, 1884
New York City, U.S.
|Died||November 7, 1962(1962-11-07) (aged 78)|
New York City, U.S.
|Cause of death||Cardiac failure complicated by tuberculosis|
|Resting place||Home of FDR National Historic Site, Hyde Park, New York|
|Spouse(s)||Franklin D. Roosevelt (m. 1905; d. 1945)|
|Relatives||See Roosevelt family|
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (; October 11, 1884 – November 7, 1962) was an American politician, diplomat and activist. She was the longest-serving First Lady of the United States, having held the post from March 1933 to April 1945 during her husband President Franklin D. Roosevelt's four terms in office, and served as United States Delegate to the United Nations General Assembly from 1945 to 1952. President Harry S. Truman later called her the "First Lady of the World" in tribute to her human rights achievements.
Roosevelt was a member of the prominent American Roosevelt and Livingston families and a niece of President Theodore Roosevelt. She had an unhappy childhood, having suffered the deaths of both parents and one of her brothers at a young age. At 15, she attended Allenwood Academy in London and was deeply influenced by its headmistress Marie Souvestre. Returning to the U.S., she married her fifth cousin once removed, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in 1905. The Roosevelts' marriage was complicated from the beginning by Franklin's controlling mother, Sara, and after Eleanor discovered her husband's affair with Lucy Mercer in 1918, she resolved to seek fulfillment in a public life of her own. She persuaded Franklin to stay in politics after he was stricken with a paralytic illness in 1921, which cost him the normal use of his legs, and began giving speeches and appearing at campaign events in his place. Following Franklin's election as Governor of New York in 1928, and throughout the remainder of Franklin's public career in government, Roosevelt regularly made public appearances on his behalf, and as First Lady while her husband served as President, she significantly reshaped and redefined the role of First Lady.
Though widely respected in her later years, Roosevelt was a controversial First Lady at the time for her outspokenness, particularly her stance on racial issues. She was the first presidential spouse to hold regular press conferences, write a daily newspaper column, write a monthly magazine column, host a weekly radio show, and speak at a national party convention. On a few occasions, she publicly disagreed with her husband's policies. She launched an experimental community at Arthurdale, West Virginia, for the families of unemployed miners, later widely regarded as a failure. She advocated for expanded roles for women in the workplace, the civil rights of African Americans and Asian Americans, and the rights of World War II refugees.
Following her husband's death in 1945, Roosevelt remained active in politics for the remaining 17 years of her life. She pressed the United States to join and support the United Nations and became its first delegate. She served as the first chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights and oversaw the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Later she chaired the John F. Kennedy administration's Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. By the time of her death, Roosevelt was regarded as "one of the most esteemed women in the world"; she was called "the object of almost universal respect" in her New York Times obituary. In 1999, she was ranked ninth in the top ten of Gallup's List of Most Widely Admired People of the 20th Century.
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born in 1884 at 56 West 37th Street in Manhattan, New York City, to socialites Anna Rebecca Hall and Elliott Bulloch Roosevelt. From an early age she preferred to be called by her middle name, Eleanor. Through her father, she was a niece of President Theodore Roosevelt. Through her mother, she was a niece of tennis champions Valentine Gill "Vallie" Hall III and Edward Ludlow Hall. Her mother nicknamed her "Granny" because she acted in such a serious manner as a child. Her mother was also somewhat ashamed of Eleanor's plainness.
Eleanor had two younger brothers: Elliott Jr. and Hall. She also had a half brother, Elliott Roosevelt Mann, through her father's affair with Katy Mann, a servant employed by the family. Roosevelt was born into a world of immense wealth and privilege, as her family was part of New York high society called the "swells".
Her mother died from diphtheria on December 7, 1892, and Elliott Jr. died of the same disease the following May. Her father, an alcoholic confined to a sanitarium, died on August 14, 1894 after jumping from a window during a fit of delirium tremens. He survived the fall but died from a seizure. Eleanor's childhood losses left her prone to depression throughout her life. Her brother Hall later suffered from alcoholism. Before her father died, he implored her to act as a mother towards Hall, and it was a request she made good upon for the rest of Hall's life. Eleanor doted on Hall, and when he enrolled at Groton School in 1907, she accompanied him as a chaperone. While he was attending Groton, she wrote him almost daily, but always felt a touch of guilt that Hall had not had a fuller childhood. She took pleasure in Hall's brilliant performance at school, and was proud of his many academic accomplishments, which included a master's degree in engineering from Harvard.
After the deaths of her parents, Eleanor was raised in the household of her maternal grandmother, Mary Livingston Ludlow of the Livingston family in Tivoli, New York. As a child, she was insecure and starved for affection, and considered herself the "ugly duckling". However, Roosevelt wrote at 14 that one's prospects in life were not totally dependent on physical beauty: "no matter how plain a woman may be if truth and loyalty are stamped upon her face all will be attracted to her."
Roosevelt was tutored privately and with the encouragement of her aunt Anna "Bamie" Roosevelt, 15-year-old Eleanor was sent to Allenswood Academy, a private finishing school in Wimbledon, outside London, England, where she was educated from 1899 to 1902. The headmistress, Marie Souvestre, was a noted educator who sought to cultivate independent thinking in young women. Souvestre took a special interest in Roosevelt, who learned to speak French fluently and gained self-confidence. Roosevelt and Souvestre maintained a correspondence until March 1905, when Souvestre died, and after this Eleanor placed Souvestre's portrait on her desk and brought her letters with her. Eleanor's first cousin Corinne Douglas Robinson, whose first term at Allenswood overlapped with Eleanor's last, said that when she arrived at the school, Eleanor was "'everything' at the school. She was beloved by everybody." Roosevelt wished to continue at Allenswood, but she was summoned home by her grandmother in 1902 to make her social debut.
At age 17 in 1902, Roosevelt completed her formal education and returned to the United States; she was presented at a debutante ball at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel on December 14. She was later given her own "coming out party". She said of her debut in a public discussion once, "It was simply awful. It was a beautiful party, of course, but I was so unhappy, because a girl who comes out is so utterly miserable if she does not know all the young people. Of course I had been so long abroad that I had lost touch with all the girls I used to know in New York. I was miserable through all that."
Roosevelt was active with the New York Junior League shortly after its founding, teaching dancing and calisthenics in the East Side slums. The organization had been brought to Roosevelt's attention by her friend, organization founder Mary Harriman, and a male relative who criticized the group for "drawing young women into public activity".
Marriage and family life
In the summer of 1902, Eleanor encountered her father's fifth cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on a train to Tivoli, New York. The two began a secret correspondence and romance, and became engaged on November 22, 1903. Franklin's mother, Sara Ann Delano, opposed the union, and made him promise that the engagement would not be officially announced for a year. "I know what pain I must have caused you," he wrote his mother of his decision. But, he added, "I know my own mind, and known it for a long time, and know that I could never think otherwise." Sara took her son on a Caribbean cruise in 1904, hoping that a separation would squelch the romance, but Franklin remained determined. The wedding date was set to accommodate President Theodore Roosevelt, who was scheduled to be in New York City for the St. Patrick's Day parade, and who agreed to give the bride away.
Eleanor and Franklin were married on March 17, 1905, in a wedding officiated by Endicott Peabody, the groom's headmaster at Groton School. Her cousin Corinne Douglas Robinson was a bridesmaid. Theodore Roosevelt's attendance at the ceremony was front-page news in The New York Times and other newspapers. When asked for his thoughts on the Roosevelt-Roosevelt union, the president said, "It is a good thing to keep the name in the family." The couple spent a preliminary honeymoon of one week at Hyde Park, then set up housekeeping in an apartment in New York. That summer they went on their formal honeymoon, a three-month tour of Europe.
Returning to the U.S., the newlyweds settled in a New York City house that was provided by Franklin's mother, as well as in a second residence at the family's estate overlooking the Hudson River in Hyde Park, New York. From the beginning, Eleanor had a contentious relationship with her controlling mother-in-law. The townhouse that Sara gave to Eleanor and Franklin was connected to her own residence by sliding doors, and Sara ran both households in the decade after the marriage. Early on, Eleanor had a breakdown in which she explained to Franklin that "I did not like to live in a house which was not in any way mine, one that I had done nothing about and which did not represent the way I wanted to live", but little changed. Sara also sought to control the raising of her grandchildren, and Eleanor reflected later that "Franklin's children were more my mother-in-law's children than they were mine". Eleanor's eldest son James remembered Sara telling her grandchildren, "Your mother only bore you, I am more your mother than your mother is."
Eleanor and Franklin had six children:
Despite becoming pregnant six times, Eleanor disliked having sex with her husband. She once told her daughter Anna that it was an "ordeal to be borne". She also considered herself ill-suited to motherhood, later writing, "It did not come naturally to me to understand little children or to enjoy them".
In September 1918, Eleanor was unpacking one of Franklin's suitcases when she discovered a bundle of love letters to him from her social secretary, Lucy Mercer. He had been contemplating leaving Eleanor for Lucy. However, following pressure from his political advisor, Louis Howe, and from his mother, who threatened to disinherit Franklin if he followed through with a divorce, the couple remained married. Their union from that point on was more of a political partnership. Disillusioned, Eleanor again became active in public life, and focused increasingly on her social work rather than her role as a wife.
In August 1921, the family was vacationing at Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada, when Franklin was diagnosed with a paralytic illness, at the time believed to be polio. During the illness, through her nursing care, Eleanor probably saved Franklin from death. His legs remained permanently paralyzed. When the extent of his disability became clear, Eleanor fought a protracted battle with her mother-in-law over his future, persuading him to stay in politics despite Sara's urgings that he retire and become a country gentleman. Later, Joseph P. Lash noted that Franklin's attending physician, Dr. William Keen, had commended Eleanor's devotion to the stricken Franklin during the time of his travail. "You have been a rare wife and have borne your heavy burden most bravely," he said, proclaiming her "one of my heroines".
This proved a turning point in Eleanor and Sara's long-running struggle, and as Eleanor's public role grew, she increasingly broke from Sara's control. Tensions between Sara and Eleanor over her new political friends rose to the point that the family constructed a cottage at Val-Kill, in which Eleanor and her guests lived when Franklin and the children were away from Hyde Park. Eleanor herself named the place Val-Kill, loosely translated as waterfall-stream from the Dutch language common to the original European settlers of the area. Franklin encouraged Eleanor to develop this property as a place where she could implement some of her ideas for work with winter jobs for rural workers and women. Each year, when Eleanor held a picnic at Val-Kill for delinquent boys, her granddaughter Eleanor Roosevelt Seagraves assisted her. She was close to Eleanor throughout her life. Seagraves concentrated her career as an educator and librarian on keeping alive many of the causes Eleanor began and supported.
In 1924, she campaigned for Democrat Alfred E. Smith in his successful re-election bid as governor of New York State against the Republican nominee and her first cousin Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. Theodore never forgave Eleanor. Her aunt, Anna "Bamie" Roosevelt, publicly broke with Eleanor after. She wrote of Eleanor to her son:
I just hate to see Eleanor let herself look as she does. Though never handsome, she always had to me a charming effect. Alas and alack, ever since politics have become her choicest interest, all her charm has disappeared!
Eleanor dismissed Bamie's criticisms by referring to her as an "aged woman". Bamie and Eleanor eventually reconciled, and in an article in the Ladies Home Journal, "How to Take Criticism", Eleanor referred to her, saying, "I can honestly say that I hate no one, and perhaps the best advice I can give to anyone who suffers from criticism and yet must be in the public eye, would be contained in the words of my aunt, Mrs. William Sheffield Cowles. She was President Theodore Roosevelt's sister and the aunt to whom many of the young people in the family went for advice. I had asked her whether I should do something which at that time would have caused a great deal of criticism, and her answer was: 'Do not be bothered by what people say as long as you are sure that you are doing what seems right to you, but be sure that you face yourself honestly.'" Theodore's elder daughter Alice also broke with Eleanor over her campaign. Alice and Eleanor reconciled after Eleanor wrote Alice a comforting letter upon the death of Alice's daughter, Paulina Longworth.
Eleanor and her daughter Anna became estranged after she took over some of her mother's social duties at the White House. The relationship was further strained because Eleanor desperately wanted to go with her husband to Yalta in February 1945 (two months before FDR's death), but he took Anna instead. A few years later, the two were able to reconcile and cooperate on numerous projects. Anna took care of her mother when she was terminally ill in 1962.
Eleanor's son Elliott authored numerous books, including a mystery series in which Eleanor was the detective. However, these murder mysteries were researched and written by William Harrington. They continued until Harrington's death in 2000, ten years after Elliott's death. With James Brough, Elliot also wrote a highly personal book about his parents called The Roosevelts of Hyde Park: An Untold Story, in which he revealed details about the sexual lives of his parents, including his father's relationships with mistress Lucy Mercer and secretary Marguerite ("Missy") LeHand, as well as graphic details surrounding the illness that crippled his father. Published in 1973, the biography also contains valuable insights into FDR's run for vice president, his rise to the governorship of New York, and his capture of the presidency in 1932, particularly with the help of Louis Howe. When Elliott published this book in 1973, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr. led the family's denunciation of him; the book was fiercely repudiated by all Elliot's siblings. Another of the siblings, James, published My Parents, a Differing View (with Bill Libby, 1976), which was written in part as a response to Elliot's book. A sequel to An Untold Story with James Brough, published in 1975 and titled A Rendezvous With Destiny, carried the Roosevelt saga to the end of World War II. Mother R.: Eleanor Roosevelt's Untold Story, also with Brough, was published in 1977. Eleanor Roosevelt, with Love: A Centenary Remembrance, came out in 1984.
In the 1930s, Eleanor had a very close relationship with legendary aviator Amelia Earhart. One time, the two sneaked out from the White House and went to a party dressed up for the occasion. After flying with Earhart, Roosevelt obtained a student permit but did not further pursue her plans to learn to fly. Franklin was not in favor of his wife becoming a pilot. However, the two friends communicated frequently throughout their lives.
Roosevelt also had a close relationship with Associated Press (AP) reporter Lorena Hickok, who covered her during the last months of the presidential campaign and "fell madly in love with her". During this period, Roosevelt wrote daily 10- to 15-page letters to "Hick", who was planning to write a biography of the First Lady. The letters included such endearments as, "I want to put my arms around you & kiss you at the corner of your mouth," and, "I can't kiss you, so I kiss your 'picture' good night and good morning!" At Franklin's 1933 inauguration, Eleanor wore a sapphire ring Hickok had given her.FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover despised Roosevelt's liberalism, her stance regarding civil rights, and her and her husband FDR's criticisms of Hoover's surveillance tactics, and so Hoover maintained a large file on Roosevelt, which the filmmakers of the biopic J. Edgar (2011) indicate included compromising evidence of this relationship, which Hoover intended to blackmail Roosevelt with. Compromised as a reporter, Hickok soon resigned her position with the AP to be closer to Eleanor, who secured her a job as an investigator for a New Deal program.
There is considerable debate about whether or not Roosevelt had a sexual relationship with Hickok. It was known in the White House press corps at the time that Lorena Hickok was a lesbian. Scholars, including Lillian Faderman and Hazel Rowley, have asserted that there was a physical component to the relationship, while Hickok biographer Doris Faber has argued that the insinuative phrases have misled historians. Doris Kearns Goodwin stated in her 1994 Pulitzer Prize–winning account of the Roosevelts that "whether Hick and Eleanor went beyond kisses and hugs" could not be determined with certainty. Roosevelt was close friends with several lesbian couples, such as Nancy Cook and Marion Dickerman, and Esther Lape and Elizabeth Fisher Read, suggesting that she understood lesbianism; Marie Souvestre, Roosevelt's childhood teacher and a great influence on her later thinking, was also a lesbian. Faber published some of Roosevelt and Hickok's correspondence in 1980, but concluded that the lovestruck phrasing was simply an "unusually belated schoolgirl crush" and warned historians not to be misled. Researcher Leila J. Rupp criticized Faber's argument, calling her book "a case study in homophobia" and arguing that Faber unwittingly presented "page after page of evidence that delineates the growth and development of a love affair between the two women". In 1992, Roosevelt biographer Blanche Wiesen Cook argued that the relationship was in fact romantic, generating national attention. A 2011 essay by Russell Baker reviewing two new Roosevelt biographies in the New York Times Review of Books (Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage, by Hazel Rowley, and Eleanor Roosevelt: Transformative First Lady, by Maurine H. Beasley) stated, "That the Hickok relationship was indeed erotic now seems beyond dispute considering what is known about the letters they exchanged."
In the same years, Washington gossip linked Eleanor romantically with New Deal administrator Harry Hopkins, with whom she worked closely. Roosevelt also had a close relationship with New York State Police sergeant Earl Miller, who was assigned by the president to be her bodyguard. Roosevelt was 44 years old when she met Miller, 32, in 1929. He became her friend as well as official escort, taught her different sports, such as diving and riding, and coached her in tennis. Biographer Blanche Wiesen Cook writes that Miller was Eleanor's "first romantic involvement" in her middle years.Hazel Rowley concludes, "There is no doubt that Eleanor was in love with Earl for a time ... But they are most unlikely to have had an 'affair'."
Eleanor's friendship with Miller occurred at the same time that her husband had a rumored relationship with his secretary, Marguerite "Missy" LeHand. Smith writes, "remarkably, both ER and Franklin recognized, accepted, and encouraged the arrangement....Eleanor and Franklin were strong-willed people who cared greatly for each other's happiness but realized their own inability to provide for it." Eleanor and Miller's relationship is said to have continued until her death in 1962. They are thought to have corresponded daily, but all letters have been lost. According to rumor, the letters were anonymously purchased and destroyed, or locked away when she died.
Eleanor was longtime friends with Carrie Chapman Catt, and gave her the Chi Omega award at the White House in 1941.
In later years, Eleanor was said to have developed a romantic attachment to her physician, David Gurewitsch, though it was likely limited to a deep friendship.
Public life before the White House
In the 1920 presidential election, Franklin was nominated as the running mate of Democratic presidential candidate James M. Cox. Eleanor joined Franklin in touring the country, making her first campaign appearances. Cox and Roosevelt were defeated by Republican Warren G. Harding, who won with 404 electoral votes to 127 electoral votes.
Following the onset of Franklin's paralytic illness in 1921, Eleanor began serving as a stand-in for her incapacitated husband, making public appearances on his behalf, often carefully coached by Louis Howe. She also started working with the Women's Trade Union League (WTUL), raising funds in support of the union's goals: a 48-hour work week, minimum wage, and the abolition of child labor. Throughout the 1920s, Eleanor became increasingly influential as a leader in the New York State Democratic Party while Franklin used her contacts among Democratic women to strengthen his standing with them, winning their committed support for the future. In 1924, she campaigned for Democrat Alfred E. Smith in his successful re-election bid as governor of New York State against the Republican nominee and her first cousin Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. Franklin had spoken out on Theodore's "wretched record" as Assistant Secretary of the Navy during the oil scandals, and in return, Theodore said of him, "He's a maverick! He does not wear the brand of our family," which infuriated Eleanor. She dogged Theodore on the New York State campaign trail in a car fitted with a papier-mâché bonnet shaped like a giant teapot that was made to emit simulated steam (to remind voters of Theodore's supposed, but later disproved, connections to the Teapot Dome Scandal), and countered his speeches with those of her own, calling him immature. She would later decry these methods, admitting that they were below her dignity but saying that they had been contrived by Democratic Party "dirty tricksters." Theodore was defeated by 105,000 votes, and he never forgave Eleanor. By 1928, Eleanor was promoting Smith's candidacy for president and Franklin's nomination as the Democratic Party's candidate for governor of New York, succeeding Smith. Although Smith lost the presidential race, Franklin won handily and the Roosevelts moved into the governor's mansion in Albany, New York. During Franklin's term as governor, Eleanor traveled widely in the state to make speeches and inspect state facilities on his behalf, reporting her findings to him at the end of each trip.
In 1927, she joined friends Marion Dickerman and Nancy Cook in buying the Todhunter School for Girls, a finishing school which also offered college preparatory courses, in New York City. At the school, Roosevelt taught upper-level courses in American literature and history, emphasizing independent thought, current events, and social engagement. She continued to teach three days a week while FDR served as governor, but was forced to leave teaching after his election as president.
Also in 1927, she established Val-Kill Industries with Nancy Cook, Marion Dickerman, and Caroline O'Day, three friends she met through her activities in the Women's Division of the New York State Democratic Party. It was located on the banks of a stream that flowed through the Roosevelt family estate in Hyde Park, New York. Roosevelt and her business partners financed the construction of a small factory to provide supplemental income for local farming families who would make furniture, pewter, and homespun cloth using traditional craft methods. Capitalizing on the popularity of the Colonial Revival, most Val-Kill products were modeled on eighteenth-century forms. Roosevelt promoted Val-Kill through interviews and public appearances. Val-Kill Industries never became the subsistence program that Roosevelt and her friends imagined, but it did pave the way for larger New Deal initiatives during Franklin's presidential administration. Nancy's failing health and pressures from the Great Depression compelled the women to dissolve the partnership in 1938, at which time Roosevelt converted the shop buildings into a cottage at Val-Kill, that eventually became her permanent residence after Franklin died in 1945. Otto Berge acquired the contents of the factory and the use of the Val-Kill name to continue making colonial-style furniture until he retired in 1975. In 1977, Roosevelt's cottage at Val-Kill and its surrounding property of 181 acres (0.73 km2), was formally designated by an act of Congress as the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, "to commemorate for the education, inspiration, and benefit of present and future generations the life and work of an outstanding woman in American history."
First Lady of the United States (1933–1945)
Eleanor became First Lady of the United States when FDR was inaugurated on March 4, 1933. Having known all of the twentieth century's previous First Ladies, she was seriously depressed at having to assume the role, which had traditionally been restricted to domesticity and hostessing. Her immediate predecessor, Lou Henry Hoover, had ended her feminist activism on becoming First Lady, stating her intention to be only a "backdrop for Bertie." Eleanor's distress at these precedents was severe enough that Hickok subtitled her biography of Roosevelt "Reluctant First Lady".
With support from Howe and Hickok, Roosevelt set out to redefine the position. According to her biographer Cook, she became "the most controversial First Lady in United States history" in the process. Despite criticism of them both, with her husband's strong support she continued with the active business and speaking agenda she had begun before assuming the role of First Lady in an era when few married women had careers. She was the first presidential spouse to hold regular press conferences and in 1940 became the first to speak at a national party convention. She also wrote a daily and widely syndicated newspaper column, "My Day", another first for a presidential spouse. She was also the first First Lady to write a monthly magazine column and to host a weekly radio show.
In the first year of FDR's administration, Eleanor was determined to match her husband's presidential salary, and she earned $75,000 from her lectures and writing, most of which she gave to charity. By 1941, she was receiving lecture fees of $1,000.
Roosevelt maintained a heavy travel schedule in her twelve years in the White House, frequently making personal appearances at labor meetings to assure Depression-era workers that the White House was mindful of their plight. In one famous cartoon of the time from The New Yorker magazine (June 3, 1933), satirizing a visit she had made to a mine, an astonished coal miner, peering down a dark tunnel, says to a co-worker, "For gosh sakes, here comes Mrs. Roosevelt!"
In early 1933, the "Bonus Army", a protest group of World War I veterans, marched on Washington for the second time in two years, calling for their veteran bonus certificates to be awarded early. The previous year, President Herbert Hoover had ordered them dispersed, and the US Army cavalry charged and bombarded the veterans with tear gas. This time, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited the veterans at their muddy campsite, listening to their concerns and singing army songs with them. The meeting defused the tension between the veterans and the administration, and one of the marchers later commented, "Hoover sent the Army. Roosevelt sent his wife."
Also in 1933 after she became First Lady, a rose was discovered and named after Eleanor, with the name Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt (Rosa x hybrida “Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt”). It is a hybrid tea rose. However, though this is true, there is no evidence to support the story that Eleanor later quipped, "I once had a rose named after me and I was very flattered. But I was not pleased to read the description in the catalogue: no good in a bed, but fine up against a wall".
In 1937 she began writing her autobiography, all volumes of which were compiled into The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt in 1961 (Harper & Brothers, ISBN 0-306-80476-X).
American Youth Congress and National Youth Administration
The American Youth Congress was formed in 1935 to advocate for youth rights in U.S. politics, and was responsible for introducing the American Youth Bill of Rights to the U.S. Congress. Roosevelt's relationship with the AYC eventually led to the formation of the National Youth Administration, a New Deal agency in the United States, founded in 1935, that focused on providing work and education for Americans between the ages of 16 and 25. The NYA was headed by Aubrey Willis Williams, a prominent liberal from Alabama who was close to Roosevelt and Harry Hopkins. Speaking of the NYA in the 1930s, Roosevelt expressed her concern about ageism, stating that "I live in real terror when I think we may be losing this generation. We have got to bring these young people into the active life of the community and make them feel that they are necessary." In 1939 the Dies Committee subpoenaed leaders of the AYC, who, in addition to serving the AYC, also were members of the Young Communist League. Roosevelt was in attendance at the hearings and afterward invited the subpoenaed witnesses to board at the White House during their stay in Washington D.C. Joseph P. Lash was one of her boarders. On February 10, 1940, members of the AYC, as guests of Roosevelt in her capacity as First Lady, attended a picnic on the White House lawn where they were addressed by Franklin from the South Portico. The President admonished them to condemn not merely the Naziregime but all dictatorships. The President was reportedly booed by the group. Afterwards, many of the same youth picketed the White House as representatives of the American Peace Mobilization. Among them was Joseph Cadden, one of Roosevelt's overnight boarders. Later in 1940, despite Roosevelt's publication of her reasons "Why I still believe in the Youth Congress," the American Youth Congress was disbanded. The NYA was shut down in 1943.
Roosevelt's chief project during her husband's first two terms was the establishment of a planned community in Arthurdale, West Virginia. On August 18, 1933, at Hickok's urging, Roosevelt visited the families of homeless miners in Morgantown, West Virginia, who had been blacklisted following union activities. Deeply affected by the visit, Roosevelt proposed a resettlement community for the miners at Arthurdale, where they could make a living by subsistence farming, handicrafts, and a local manufacturing plant. She hoped the project could become a model for "a new kind of community" in the U.S., in which workers would be better cared for. Her husband enthusiastically supported the project.
After an initial, disastrous experiment with prefab houses, construction began again in 1934 to Roosevelt's specifications, this time with "every modern convenience", including indoor plumbing and central steam heat. Families occupied the first fifty homes in June, and agreed to repay the government in thirty years' time. Though Roosevelt had hoped for a racially mixed community, the miners insisted on limiting membership to white Christians. After losing a community vote, Roosevelt recommended the creation of other communities for the excluded black and Jewish miners. The experience motivated Roosevelt to become much more outspoken on the issue of racial discrimination.
Roosevelt remained a vigorous fundraiser for the community for several years, as well as spending most of her own income on the project. However, the project was criticized by both the political left and right. Conservatives condemned it as socialist and a "communist plot", while Democratic members of Congress opposed government competition with private enterprise.Secretary of the InteriorHarold Ickes also opposed the project, citing its high per-family cost. Arthurdale continued to sink as a government spending priority for the federal government until 1941, when the U.S. sold off the last of its holdings in the community at a loss.
Later commentators generally described the Arthurdale experiment as a failure. Roosevelt herself was sharply discouraged by a 1940 visit in which she felt the town had become excessively dependent on outside assistance. However, the residents considered the town a "utopia" compared to their previous circumstances, and many were returned to economic self-sufficiency. Roosevelt personally considered the project a success, later speaking of the improvements she saw in people's lives there and stating, "I don't know whether you think that is worth half a million dollars. But I do."
Civil rights activism
During Franklin's administration, Eleanor became an important connection to the African-American population in the era of segregation. Despite the President's desire to placate Southern sentiment, Eleanor was vocal in her support of the civil rights movement. After her experience with Arthurdale and her inspections of New Deal programs in Southern states, she concluded that New Deal programs were discriminating against African-Americans, who received a disproportionately small share of relief moneys. Eleanor became one of the only voices in the Roosevelt White House insisting that benefits be equally extended to Americans of all races.
Eleanor also broke with tradition by inviting hundreds of African-American guests to the White House. In 1936 she became aware of conditions at the National Training School for Girls, a predominantly black reform school once located in the Palisades neighborhood of Washington, DC. She visited the school, wrote about it in her My Day column, lobbied for additional funding, and pressed for changes in staffing and curriculum. Her White House invitation to the students became an issue in Franklin's 1936 re-election campaign. When the black singer Marian Anderson was denied the use of Washington's Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1939, Eleanor resigned from the group in protest and helped arrange another concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Roosevelt later presented Anderson to the King and Queen of the United Kingdom after Anderson performed at a White House dinner. Roosevelt also arranged the appointment of African-American educator Mary McLeod Bethune, with whom she had struck up a friendship, as Director of the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration. To avoid problems with the staff when Bethune would visit the White House, Eleanor would meet her at the gate, embrace her, and walk in with her arm-in-arm.
She was involved by being "the eyes and the ears" of the New Deal. She looked to the future and was committed to social reform. One of those programs helped working women receive better wages. The New Deal also placed women into less machine work and more white collar work. Women did not have to work in the factories making war supplies because men were coming home so they could take over the long days and nights women had been working to contribute to the war efforts. Roosevelt brought unprecedented activism and ability to the role of the First Lady.
In contrast to her usual support of African-American rights, the "sundown town" Eleanor, in West Virginia, was named for her and was established in 1934 when she and Franklin visited the county and developed it as a test site for families. As a "sundown town", like other Franklin Roosevelt towns around the nation (such as Greenbelt, Greenhills, Greendale, Hanford, or Norris), it was for whites only. It was established as a New Deal project.
Eleanor lobbied behind the scenes for the 1934 Costigan-Wagner Bill to make lynching a federal crime, including arranging a meeting between Franklin and NAACP president Walter Francis White. Fearing he would lose the votes of Southern congressional delegations for his legislative agenda, however, Franklin refused to publicly support the bill, which proved unable to pass the Senate. In 1942, Eleanor worked with activist Pauli Murray to persuade Franklin to appeal on behalf of sharecropperOdell Waller, convicted of killing a white farmer during a fight; though Franklin sent a letter to Virginia Governor Colgate Darden urging him to commute the sentence to life imprisonment, Waller was executed as scheduled.
Roosevelt's support of African-American rights made her an unpopular figure among whites in the South. Rumors spread of "Eleanor Clubs" formed by servants to oppose their employers and "Eleanor Tuesdays" on which African-American men would knock down white women on the street, though no evidence has ever been found of either practice. When race riots broke out in Detroit in June 1943, critics in both the North and South wrote that Roosevelt was to blame. At the same time, she grew so popular among African-Americans, previously a reliable Republican voting bloc, that they became a consistent base of support for the Democratic Party.
Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Roosevelt spoke out against Japanese-American prejudice, warning against the "great hysteria against minority groups." She also privately opposed her husband's Executive Order 9066, which required Japanese-Americans in many areas of the U.S. to enter internment camps. She was widely criticized for her defense of Japanese-American citizens, including in a call by the Los Angeles Times that she be "forced to retire from public life" over her stand on the issue.
On May 21, 1937, Roosevelt visited Westmoreland Homesteads to mark the arrival of the community’s final homesteader. Accompanying her on the trip was the wife of Henry Morgenthau, Jr., the president's Secretary of the Treasury. "I am no believer in paternalism. I do not like charities," she had said earlier. But cooperative communities such as Westmoreland Homesteads, she went on, offered an alternative to "our rather settled ideas" that could "provide equality of opportunity for all and prevent the recurrence of a similar disaster [depression] in the future." Residents were so taken by her personal expression of interest in the program that they promptly agreed to rename the community in her honor. (The new town name, Norvelt, was a combination of the last syllables in her names: EleaNOR RooseVELT.) The Norvelt firefighter's hall is also named Roosevelt Hall in honor of her.
Use of media
Roosevelt in 1932
Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt in August 1932
Is Rainbow your real name?
No, seriously -- is that on your birth certificate?
What are the three words at the end of Eleanor & Park?
Smell. You. Later.
Will you write an Eleanor & Park sequel?
I'm not sure. I always thought I would -- I almost started it as soon as I finished Eleanor & Park. And now I sort of wish that I had. The success of the book has made the prospect of writing a sequel really intimidating. I'd hate to disappoint readers who really love the characters. (I don't want to Jar-Jar Binks myself!) And I know I'd disappoint somebody! It would be impossible to write a sequel that lives up to everyone's hopes and imaginations.
Will you write a Fangirl sequel?
I don't think so. Cath and Levi make an important cameo in my book Landline. And I've written a spin-off book about Simon Snow -- Carry On.
What are the three words?!
Get. A. Job.
Is it true that Eleanor & Park is a banned book?
Yes, this book has been challenged in various school districts since it was published in 2013. If Eleanor & Park is being challenged in your school, you can get help and resources from the National Coalition Against Censorship.
Here is an interview I did with The Toast the first time the book was challenged
This opinion piece was written by Linda Holmes of NPR. It talks about why we need stories with hard things in them
Another interview, this one with the National Coalition Against Censorship
Readers all over the world talk about Eleanor & Park in this NCAC video
Cory Doctorow digs into why Eleanor & Park is challenged, and why the book matters
Will any of your books be made into movies?
i would love for that to happen. You may have heard Eleanor & Park was in development with DreamWorks, but the rights have reverted back to me. Keep your fingers crossed.
Did Cath kill Baz at the end of Fangirl?
NO. NEVER. NO ONE CAN KILL BAZ.
Cath finished her paper for class. And she finished her fic, after the last Gemma Leslie novel came out. But she did NOT kill Baz. BAZ LIVES.
What is Levi's last name in Fangirl?
Levi's last name originally wasn't mentioned in the book, but so many people have asked that I decided to name him. IT'S STEWART. LEVI STEWART. Like the other Fangirl characters, he's named after a building on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus. (Cather, Abel, Piper, Avery ...)
What happened to Eleanor's family? What about her cat?
Eleanor's mom and siblings all moved to Minnesota. This is implied when Park notices that all signs of the kids are gone, even though Richie is still there. Of course, they took the cat. He's very happy in Saint Paul and lives an unusually long life for a cat.
Is Eleanor actually fat?
I've written a blog entry about this; you can read it here. The short answer is: yes. Kaye Toal at Buzzfeed has written my favorite-ever piece about Eleanor & Park, specifically about Eleanor's weight. You can read that piece here.
Why did you make Park Korean?
This is something that I didn't consciously think about when I was writing the book. Characters come to me pretty fully formed. But when readers asked why I wrote Park as a race different from my own, I tried to sort out why. I wrote this blog entry a few months after Eleanor & Park came out.
WHAT ARE THE THREE WORDS?????????????????
Okay, look. I haven't even told my mom the three words. But let's talk about this for a few minutes . . .
I always knew, when I started Eleanor & Park, what the last line would be. I knew Eleanor was going to send Park a postcard, and that it would be “just three words long.”
And I knew that readers would assume those three words were “I love you.” I want readers to assume that. It’s the obvious answer – and it’s a happy answer. Wouldn’t it be lovely if Eleanor finally said, “I love you”?
But I can’t bring myself to confirm that interpretation. Or to say anything conclusive about the postcard – beyond that I think Eleanor wrote something hopeful. Park responds hopefully. He sits up, he smiles, he feels like something with wings take off from his chest. That sounds like hope to me.
It drives people crazy when I talk like this: as if the characters have minds of their own, and I’m just interpreting their actions based on what I’ve read. I created Eleanor and Park! I should be able to tell you, concretely, what it is says on the postcard.
But there’s something about that moment between them . . .
It’s the end of the book, and we’re getting ready to leave the characters. Their story is about to become their own again. (If you imagine that characters keep on living after you close a book; I do.) So we’re backing away from them, and they’re having an intimate moment. And it just feels wrong to read their mail.
I know! It’s crazy for me to say that! We’ve been in their heads for 300 pages, and it’s a postcard – everyone at the post office probably read it. But in that moment, as the author, it didn’t feel right to read it, or to share it.
The important thing to know about that postcard is that Eleanor sent it. She worked through all her fear and anxiety and insecurity, and she reached out to Park. She sent him something that made him smile and feel wings fluttering in his chest.
Readers often ask me – after they’ve asked about the three words – why I decided to end the book this way. Why couldn’t I give Park and Eleanor a happy ending?
I think I did give them a happy ending.
I mean, I know it’s not really an ending; there aren’t wedding bells and sunsets. This isn’t the end for these two people. It’s just where we leave them.
But they’re 17 years old.
And I don’t believe that 17-year-olds get happy endings. They get beginnings.
How can I contact you?
I'm sorry. I'm terrible at keeping up with email. The best way to contact me is on Twitter. I reply when I can -- and I try to read every tweet.
For media, interview, events, and appearances requests, contact:
St. Martin’s Press Publicity
My literary agent is Christopher Schelling at Selectric Artists. He is heartless and cold, so please only contact him with professional inquiries.
I still have questions! I'm writing a paper! I beg you!
If you're looking for more information about me and my books, I heartily recommend the following news stories and interviews. I talk a lot about my writing process, books, fandom, music -- all sorts of good stuff:
An interview about Carry On with Nicole Chung at the much missed Toast
A beautiful essay by Kaye Toal at Buzzfeed about finding a fat protagonist in Eleanor
A New York Times review of Landline that pleased me greatly
Probably the most personal interview I’ve done, with Ashley Ford at Buzzfeed
My first interview about Carry On, with Time Magazine
Why Fangirl should be a movie. Tasha Robinson picks what up what I’m putting down on The Dissolve
A review of Fangirl that I especially love by Emily Nordling on Tor.com
Deconstructing Fangirl with Joy Piedmont on the School Library Journal blog
A really fun conversation about Fangirl with s.e. smith on xoJane.com
Maybe my favorite Q&A so far, with Elision: On fandom, music and writing
Publishers Weekly interview: Is true love real? Is Park a fantasy? (I really like phone interviews.)
BookPages: Extremely well-written profile/Eleanor & Park review
Deep thoughts about the Eleanor & Park cover with That Cover Girl
Ridiculous Attachments Q&A with Reading Rambo
Extra insightful Attachments Q&A with Bethany Actually