Eleanor Roosevelt (1884–1962) was the wife of thirty-second president Franklin D. Roosevelt and an influential public figure and humanitarian in her own right. Eleanor was raised by relatives after the death of her alcoholic father, the younger brother of Theodore Roosevelt. She attended boarding school in Europe. When she returned to America at age eighteen, she joined the National Consumer’s League and began working as a teacher at a settlement house in New York City. She also began a courtship with her distant cousin Franklin. The two were married in 1905 (over the initial objections of his mother). Franklin was elected to the New York State senate in 1911, which prompted the Roosevelts’ move to Albany. In 1913 they moved again, to Washington, DC, when Franklin was appointed assistant secretary of the Navy. In Washington, Eleanor was involved in relief efforts during World War I.

Eleanor and FDR’s relationship changed when she discovered his affair with her social secretary, Lucy Mercer, in 1918. Though they did not divorce, Eleanor and FDR began to live more independent lives. When Franklin fell ill and was forced to withdraw from public life in 1921, Eleanor became a kind of surrogate for him, taking up political causes and becoming active in the New York Democratic Party, the Women’s Trade Union League, and the League of Women Voters. Her activity helped keep her husband’s name in the minds of the public. Franklin re-entered public life despite the debilities resulting from polio and in 1929, became governor of New York.

Four years later, Eleanor became the First Lady of the United States after Franklin’s election to the presidency. She advised her husband about New Deal efforts and took up reform causes including child welfare, housing, women’s rights, and civil rights. She also began writing “My Day,” a newspaper column that ran from 1936 to just before her death in 1962. After Franklin’s death in 1945, President Truman appointed Eleanor as a delegate to the United Nations. She was the chairman of the Commission on Human Rights and helped draft the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She continued her important humanitarian work until the very end of her life and was appointed chairman of President Kennedy’s Commission on the Status of Women in 1961. She died in 1962 and left behind a legacy of civic engagement and dedication to equality.

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