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Today’s GLBT History Month Icon: First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt

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:

Bibliography:

  • “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.


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34 comments

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7:33AM PST on Feb 9, 2011

What a great woman! The US needs to listen to her and her ideas for a better world.

7:26AM PDT on Oct 26, 2010

Eleanor Roosevelt Is A Great Hero/Heroine. I have visited her home "Val-Kill" in Hyde Park and have read many books on her life. I would love to have known her.

12:06PM PDT on Oct 24, 2010

I've loved her all my life. I believe it can be said, "Without Eleanor, Franklin wouldn't have been FDR"
She was the conscience, the heart, the courage and the thought of the whole administration.
I remember how many men hated her. Everything bad was 'because of Eleanor'. She wasn't sexy or beautiful, and, believe it or not, that was an even greater sin in those days. But when Franklin's soothing voice came over the radio beside the invisible hearth and said, in effect, 'never fear, Daddy's here.' Eleanor visited the mines, and the breadlines, the unemployment lines and the tenements and made his words true. Nobody knew how little he could go out among the people, nobody ever knew how paralyzed he was. Eleanor was the eyes and the ears and the touch that connected the people and the government. Ultimately her considerable skill at communication helped build the first faltering steps of unity among all peoples.
Yes, there should be more homage shown her. She was the greatest of our several co-presidents.
Whatever her personal choices were, they were the right choices. I honor her for them.

10:07AM PDT on Oct 24, 2010

A great lady, and a great role model.

Looking at some of the women in the news today, they don't have the class, the sense of serving a purpose greater than their own position and profit. And THAT is the main problem with America today. All we do is ask what is in it for us. We have forgotten that what we GIVE matters more than what we get.

It's a cop-out to say hard times force us to just get by. In the past our nation has weathered hard times not by withdrawing to survival mode, but by reaching out and pulling together in spite of or because of hardships. In the past Americans have often given up immediate personal benefits for the greater good, done the right thing even if it's not the profitable thing.

Clearly we have lost our way.

7:03AM PDT on Oct 24, 2010

What a wonderful example she is/was to us all. How we could use her now as the US seems to be sinking into a new Dark Age of right wing fascism, bigotry, ignorance, superstition, fear, intolerance & greed. She deserves more recognition than she has ever gotten. There should be a monument to her in DC or name something important after her instead of a dizzy, bigoted, war-monger, lying ideologue like Reagan. What mixed up values. Thanks, Steve, for the nice vignettes of LGBT heroes since it is rare this ever gets to be public knowledge - all the LGBT people who have contributed so much to our civilization. How about telling us about some of the popular saints & religious who were gay too?

8:01PM PDT on Oct 23, 2010

Recently, a woman who provides support services for my young adult daughter in my home, happened to be there while I was watching a report on CNN. People were wearing purple and discussing efforts to reduce bullying against GLBT individuals in schools. The visitor said, "well, there should be an effort to make sure NO ONE gets bullied." I said nothing, because, of course, she was right, and I didn't want to tell her that I thought she was a bigot. Later that night, I wondered why she had felt the need to point out something so obvious as the fact that straight individuals get bullied, too. And I wondered how I could have, should have responded. I wondered if she had never heard of Matthew Shepard. I thought of my sweet friend who took his life rather than "confess"to his father his "sin". My friend, whose only "sin" was to love someone his father would not have approved of. Next time, I'll know what to say.

7:55PM PDT on Oct 23, 2010

Who CARES if she "had a relationship" with that journalist? I'm just glad there aren't any cameras around when I greet my best friends!

Eleanor Roosevelt had an intelligent head on her shoulders and a gift for expressing herself. They don't make 'em like her anymore! Can I get an amen?

6:35PM PDT on Oct 23, 2010

Eleanor Roosevelt was a person whose made our country a better place and will make all those who follow her example become better people. It matters not that she was a woman or what her sexuality was with the exception that it gave her more to overcome and a unique perspective. This woman has been my hero for a long time and it is very rewarding seeing her acknowledged for the amazing person that she was and her contribution to our world.

4:29PM PDT on Oct 23, 2010

Great lady. Great role model in every sense.

2:41PM PDT on Oct 23, 2010

Eleanor and FDR have always been 2 of my favorite people. They did so much!

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