Today’s GLBT History Month Icon: First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt
Today’s GLBT History Month icon is Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (October 11, 1884 – November 7, 1962). Roosevelt is credited with redefining the role of First Lady and for making a substantial contribution to multiple human rights causes. While Roosevelt’s bisexuality is still debated today, her contribution to history is undoubted.
From Equality Forum:
Roosevelt was born into a wealthy family in New York City. After both of her parents both died before she was 10, she moved in with her grandmother in upstate New York. At the age of 15, she lived in England, where she became fluent in French and Italian.
Soon after her return to New York, Roosevelt met her future husband, her father’s fifth cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was attending Columbia Law School. They married and had six children, five of whom survived infancy. Franklin took his first leap into politics, winning a seat in the New York State Senate. Shortly thereafter, the family moved to Washington, D.C. when he was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy by President Woodrow Wilson.
Life in the nation’s capital kindled Eleanor’s interests in policy making. She joined the board of the League of Women Voters in 1924 and became involved in Democratic Party politics. In 1928, after her husband was elected governor of New York, she became actively engaged in domestic and international issues. She had a syndicated newspaper column entitled “My Day.”
In 1933, Roosevelt became First Lady of the United States, a position she held for 12 years. While she assumed traditional duties, she did not allow them to compromise her ideals. In 1939, she announced in her column that she would resign her membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution after the group refused to allow Marian Anderson, a black singer, to perform in Washington’s Constitution Hall. “The basic fact of segregation,” Roosevelt wrote, “is itself discriminatory.”
While First Lady, Roosevelt developed a relationship with Lorena Hickock, a journalist who covered the White House. This relationship lasted through Roosevelt’s lifetime [and is documented through Roosevelt and Hick's correspondence, though the exact nature of the relationship is still debated].
Eleanor Roosevelt’s commitment to public service continued after her husband’s death in 1945. President Truman named her a delegate to the United Nations, where she was elected chairwoman of the Commission on Human Rights. In that role, she helped draft the influential Universal Declaration on Human Rights.
She was a member of the Board of Trustees of Brandeis University and delivered the school’s first commencement address. Roosevelt authored several children’s books. Her civic awards were many, as were her honorary degrees.
Below is a short documentary from the Film Archive which details in pictures many aspects of Roosevelt’s life:
- “Anna Eleanor Roosevelt.” The White House. 27 May 2010.
- Black, Allida. “Biography of Anna Eleanor Roosevelt.” George Washington University. 1 June 2010.
- “Eleanor Roosevelt.” PBS. 27 May 2010.
- “Eleanor Roosevelt: Timeline.” PBS. 1 June 2010.
- Goodwin, Doris Kearns. “TIME 100: Eleanor Roosevelt.” Time. 13 April 1998.
- “Mrs. Roosevelt, First Lady 12 Years, Often Called ‘World’s Most Admired Woman.’” The New York Times. 8 November 1962.
- The American Experience
- Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site (U.S. National Service)
- Eleanor Roosevelt Biography National First Ladies’ Library