Eleanor Roosevelt Biography
was born into the American aristocracy, in a family ravaged by alcoholism. She was the favorite niece of President Theodore Roosevelt. She married rising politician Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1905 and became fully immersed in public service. By the time she arrived in the White House as First Lady in 1933, Mrs. Roosevelt had overcome a painful childhood, a domineering mother-in-law, and her discovery of FDR’s enduring love affair with another woman. She was deeply committed to a public life of her own, fighting against injustice, racism and advancing the rights of women.
During the longest tenure of any First Lady, which included the Great Depression, the New Deal and World War II, Eleanor Roosevelt remained a controversial figure because of her outspoken views and activities. She was the first presidential spouse to hold press conferences, write a syndicated newspaper column, and speak at a national convention. In 1939 she publicly stood up for Marian Anderson when the African-American singer was denied the use of Washington’s Constitution Hall because of her race. She arranged for Anderson instead to perform on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
After FDR’s death in 1945, Mrs. Roosevelt was appointed as a delegate to the United Nations by President Harry Truman. As chair of the Human Rights Commission, she used her influence and prestige to persuade the UN General Assembly to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The legacy of her words and work appears in the constitutions of scores of nations and in an evolving body of international law that now protects the rights of people across the world. In the last two years of her life, from Jan. 1961 until Nov. 1962, she served as chair for President Kennedy’s Commission on the Status of Women, the first governmental organization of its kind.
Throughout her life, Eleanor Roosevelt was supported by important relationships with dedicated, intelligent, exceptional women. Marie Souvestre, a lesbian and a feminist educator who sought to develop independent minds in young women, became a surrogate mother during ER’s late adolescence. In 1920, Mrs. Roosevelt met Marion Dickerman and Nancy Cook, a lesbian couple who became her closest friends. With them, in 1925, she created the Val-Kill partnership, sometimes housed in Mrs. Roosevelt’s own home in Hyde Park. This mutually supportive partnership eventually included the Women’s Democratic News, which Mrs. Roosevelt edited, the Todhunter School for Girls, where Marion Dickerman was president, and the Val-Kill furniture factory, over which Nancy Cook presided. In 1928, Malvina “Tommy” Thompson became Mrs. Roosevelt’s private secretary. Entirely loyal to her boss, she maintained her position at Mrs. Roosevelt’s side until her death in 1953. Most importantly of all, in 1932, Mrs. Roosevelt fell in love with Lorena Hickok, a journalist, who had been assigned to cover Mrs. Roosevelt during her husband's first presidential campaign. For several years following, the two corresponded almost every day, traveled together, and consistently professed emotional and physical affection for one another. More than 3,000 letters from the pair's correspondence are preserved at the FDR Library in Hyde Park, NY. Their close friendship and working collaboration, on Mrs. Roosevelt’s writing and other projects, continued after their love affair ended, until Mrs. Roosevelt’s death in 1962.