Eleanor Roosevelt: Redefining The Role Of First Lady Essay Example
Eleanor Roosevelt was the wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt who was known all over the world for the liberal causes she believed in and fought for. Her role in the civil rights movement made a hero out of her and was an all-time campaigner for the United Nations. Entering the halls of the White House from 1933 to 1945, Eleanor redefined the role of First Lady, which was traditionally limited to domesticity and hosting duties. During her time in the White House, the function of the First Lady changed to one that showed the world how much a First Lady is very much part of American politics. Eleanor Roosevelt was an important figure in many of the most significant social reform movements of the twentieth century, including the Women’s Movement, the Progressive movement, struggle for racial justice, and the United Nations, among others.
Prior to becoming America’s First Lady, she focused her energy and time raising her six children with Franklin D. Roosevelt whom she married in 1905. Whatever public responsibilities she had prior to her marriage has taken a back seat as she kept herself busy enjoying her domesticity. However, when World War I erupted, she became involved with the American Red Cross and did volunteer work in Navy hospitals (“Eleanor Roosevelt Biography”). Already building a career in Politics, Franklin began his political career in 1910 upon his election to the New York State Senate. After three years in office, he was selected assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy, the position he held until he run unsuccessfully for America’s Vice Presidency in 1920 (“Eleanor Roosevelt”). When he was stricken with polio, Eleanor, on her own volition, primarily became active in politics to help Franklin advance his political career and at the same time, affirm her own individuality and goals.
In 1933, Eleanor became the nation’s First Lady with Franklin’s election as the country’s president. They moved to the White House and informed the nation that people should not anticipate her, the First Lady, to be an icon or representation of sophistication and stylishness, but rather simply Mrs. Roosevelt (“Biography of Eleanor Roosevelt”). This did not last long. During her husband’s presidency, she broke new ground for a First Lady as she held press conferences, traveled in various parts of the country, wrote for a syndicated newspaper column, and did broadcasting radio addresses. Without her intending to, she became a political leader herself as she took positions about national issues, which were often more liberal than those of her husband’s views.
Eleanor began shaping her role as a new breed of First Lady, one that did not only help in furthering the political ideologies of her husband, but a role that gratified her own thirst for independence. This also ensured that she became more active in the public and political arena. As a start, she offered to be the President’s administrative assistant, her husband’s eyes and ears, and one who would sort out the mail. Despite vehement rejection from the President, she created her own meeting agenda, which included “reducing the White House budget by 25%, simplify[ing] the social calendar, and be the president’s eyes and ears” (HistoryNet). She called for her own press conference where she announced that she will have regular weekly gathering with female reporters.
Among her staunch causes were the New Deal programs, which were government instituted experimental projects and programs. Eleanor initially observed how the program worked and within the first 100 days of Franklin’s office, she persuaded the Democratic National Committee to “appoint women to influential positions in New Deal programs” (HistoryNet). This included making suggestions for improvements on the plight of unemployed women and addressing the concerns of the youth. Eleanor traveled the country expansively as she observed the working and living conditions of the people and visited relief projects. Seeber (1990) asserted that Eleanor provided the administration with her findings and soon, Washington began employing brilliant women “who eventually would rise to positions of power and prominence in government and politics” (707). While she never held any official positions and was never elected to office in any of the programs, Eleanor exerted the greatest influence in advancing the causes of women. In her defense, Eleanor’s argument on the status of women was that they should be able to “hold their jobs even if their husbands were employed, and made sure there were relief programs for women” (“The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project”). She also pushed for the creation of programs geared for the youth that led to the institution of the National Youth Administration, ensuring that the youth had programs that would look after their welfare and there is a group where they can have a voice (“The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project”).
As part of her human and civil rights advocacies, she also focused on housing and worked heavily with the Housing Division of the Public Works Administration and the Washington Housing Authority. She supported the establishment of greenbelt towns or what is also known as planned communities and the clearing of slum areas (“The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project”). When the Roosevelt administration built communities for displaced workers such as the one at Arthurdale, West Virginia, she frequently visited the place to ensure the workers and their families had sources of livelihood and were living comfortably. She also ensured the protection of workers’ rights, which resulted in the creation of the National Labor Relations Act and the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project”).
While immersing herself in all her chosen causes, her first monthly column for Woman’s Home Companion was released in August 1933. Called “I Want You to Write to Me”, Eleanor used this column to communicate with women all over as she encouraged them to tell her not only about problems and issues that bring sadness to women’s lives, but also about their joys and triumphs (HistoryNet) as they, the women and their families, are adjusting to the conditions on which they live in, which was the midst of the Great Depression (“Eleanor Roosevelt”) that began in 1929 and lasted for almost a decade. By January 1934, letters have arrived by the hundred thousands, which opened opportunities for discussions regarding what people considered as pressing matters and as a result, one that helped in boosting the president’s New Deal programs (HistoryNet). Eleanor also wrote a syndicated newspaper column called “My Day” from December 1935 until before her death in 1962. This became her means of expression and a way to be nearer the American people. She described all her experiences, shared information about her opinions on political matters, and her position on various social issues.
Considering her dedication and focus on all her causes and gaining steady independence from the president’s shadow, political experts suggest that this was all because of her knowledge of the president’s illicit relations with his secretary, Lucy Mercer. Despite this knowledge, Eleanor and the president stayed together and formed one of the most distinguished political partnerships in the history of America (“Eleanor Roosevelt”). Even after President Roosevelt’s death in 1945, Eleanor remained active in the political arena as a private citizen and never ran for office. Other presidents relied on her consistent and committed work ethics to further the new administration’s agenda, which included a stint with the United Nations, as head of the first Presidential Commission on the Status of Women, board member of organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Advisory Council for the Peace Corps, among others. She remained involved in the activities of the Democratic Party and continued to host radio programs, television talk shows, wrote her column, and give lectures (“Eleanor Roosevelt”).
For all her involvement in public policy during President Roosevelt’s term as head of state, Eleanor was criticized by some sectors of society. However, she received more praises than criticism and is considered today as one of the key figures of women’s and civil rights causes.
“Biography of Eleanor Roosevelt.” Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. N.d. Web. 29 January 2015. <http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/education/resources/bio_er.html>.
Caroli, B. B. “Eleanor Roosevelt.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2014. Web. 30 January 2015. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/509257/Eleanor-Roosevelt>.
“Eleanor Roosevelt.” History. N.d. Web. 28 January 2015. <http://www.history.com/topics/first-ladies/eleanor-roosevelt>.
“Eleanor Roosevelt Biography.” Bio. N.d. Web. 28 January 2015. <http://www.biography.com/people/eleanor-roosevelt-9463366>.
HistoryNet. “Eleanor Roosevelt”. HistoryNet.com. N.d. Web. 30 January 2015. <http://www.historynet.com/eleanor-roosevelt>.
Seeber, F.M. “Eleanor Roosevelt and the Women in the New Deal: A Network of Friends”. Presidential Studies Quarterly. 20:4 707-717, Modern First Ladies White House Organization. <http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/20700155?uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&sid=2110520562670>.
“The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project”. N.d. Web. 30 January 2015. <http://www.gwu.edu/~erpapers/teachinger/q-and-a/q20.cfm>.