-The First, First Lady of Her Kind-
Eleanor Roosevelt- wife of President Franklin Roosevelt- wasn’t your typical first lady. She didn’t enjoy decorating the White House; in fact, she didn’t want to be there in the first place. As a child her mother did not conceal the fact she thought her daughter was an ugly duckling; this seed could have been the root of Eleanor’s feelings of inadequacy that would last for quite some time. She had a rough childhood, her mother died when she was eight her father was an alcoholic who would end up in an insane asylum and then dead by the time Eleanor was 9. She lived with her grandmother until age sixteen when her Aunt suggested she be sent to boarding school in London, there, for the first time in her life, she began to find herself. Upon completion she returned to New York City in 1902 and began dating Franklin, her fifth cousin once removed. They would marry in 1905 and her uncle, President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, walked her down the aisle (Ripley, 2009; Scharf, 1987).
Once they were married Eleanor couldn’t help but be in the limelight with her husband not yet president, but the Governor of New York. She spent a good part of twenty years building a life that she could enjoy, teaching traveling and gaining friendships. Her accomplishments are comparable to almost any president, and all first ladies pale in comparison. However, it wasn’t until an earth-shattering personal event till she finally felt free (Black, 1996).
Eleanor’s life would be forever changed when she found out her husband was having an affair with his social Secretary Lucy Mercer. Eleanor told a friend, “The bottom dropped out of my own particular world, and I faced myself, my surroundings, my world, honestly for the first time”. Instead of divorce, which would have probably ended Franklins political career- they agreed to forever maintain separate bedrooms (Black, 1996; Ripley, 2009).
The shock to Eleanor’s personal life could be seen as the spark for her humanitarian and political fire. Instead of crumbling she remained an activist in many causes, segregation, poverty and she began writing a newspaper column, visited troops overseas and delicately helped shape her husbands policies from behind the scenes. She is the only first lady to have a Klu Klux Klan bounty on her head, she denied secret service protection and carried a licensed handgun wherever she went. She held over 300 press conferences, a daunting achievement by any standard. Eleanor helped establish and lead the Women’s City Club, the National Consumers League, the Women’s Division of the Democratic State Committee and the New York chapters of the League of Women Voters and the Women’s Trade Union (Black, 1996; Ripley, 2009; Scharf, 1987).
Eleanor was a champion of liberal, women’s and humanitarian rights, an author, politician and one of the greatest