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When Eleanor Roosevelt entered the White House as the First Lady on March 4th, 1933, the world was a very challenging place for women. Women weren’t allowed to participate in political roles. The United States was experiencing the severe after-effects of World War I and the Great Depression. The country was about to enter another major war (World War II) a few years into her tenure.

Overall, the odds of success were stacked against her from the get-go. Yet, by the time she left the White House, twelve years after her entry, she had become the greatest First Lady in the country’s history and recorded some pretty phenomenal achievements in her resume. Even after ending her tenure as the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt continued her political and social work right until she died in 1962.

Scaling New Heights

It wouldn’t be unfair to say that Eleanor Roosevelt achieved more in driving social change than her husband, President Franklin Roosevelt. Before, during, and after her term as the country’s First Lady, she had always been an active individual. Some of her achievements before becoming the First Lady include –

  • She worked as a Red Cross representative during World War I, serving food to soldiers and bookkeeping for the disaster-relief organization.
  • She was a volunteer at the Naval Hospital, making sure families of wounded soldiers had access to sufficient aid. She also participated in the Navy League’s Comfort Committee.
  • Roosevelt was also a member of the Women’s Trade Union League, helping the organization draft well-defined policies and raise funds. Some of the demands of the policies she helped draft include – the abolition of child labour, 48-hour workweeks, and minimum wage for women.
  • She was a supporter of women’s suffrage rights. As a participant of the Legislative Affairs Committee of the League of Women Voters, she campaigned for women’s rights to take more political positions.

An influential leader of the New York State’s Democratic Party, Eleanor Roosevelt ultimately helped her husband secure the support of all Democratic women in the Northern states.

The First Lady’s Fight for Human Rights

After Eleanor Roosevelt became the First Lady of the U.S., much of her focus was on campaigning for human rights. The longest-serving First Lady in history used her position very carefully as a platform to speak about the importance of treating people of all races and sexes equally.

  • She was quick to break the image of the stereotypical First Lady by starting her daily newspaper column titled, ‘My Day.’ Between 1935-1962, Roosevelt wrote six for days of every week, discussing race, women, and social justice.
  • Throughout her tenure, she traveled across the country and the world, gathering information for her disabled husband.
  • In 1933, she held the first ‘women-only’ press conference in the White House, where female reporters weren’t allowed before this move.
  • In 1940, she became the only First Lady to ever speak at a national party convention.
  • She invited hundreds of members of the African-American civil rights movement to the White House.

When more federal positions were being opened up for women and promises of better wages were being made by public officials, the masses quickly realized that the President’s wife was behind all of these changes.

After the advent of World War II in 1941, the First Lady was appointed as the Office of Civilian Defense’s (OCD) vice-chairman. In this role, she visited troops across the world to boost their morale. Some of the most Eleanor Roosevelt famous quotes are taken from her speeches during these morale-building tours.  

Her Role in the United Nations

In 1945, after her husband’s passing, Eleanor Roosevelt was appointed by President Harry Truman as an official envoy to the United Nations General Assembly. In this role, she co-drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the most-translated document in human history. This charter still serves as the moral framework for all UN member states.

For the very first time in all of human history, people from all nations were in agreement about the fundamental freedoms all humans deserved. Eleanor Roosevelt wasn’t just key to drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but she also made sure people from all races, sexes, and social backgrounds were involved in this vital conversation.

Throughout her life, Eleanor Roosevelt had encouraged volunteerism in the fight for social justice. Her advocacy for women and African-Americans, in particular, helped pave the way for a more progressive and humane world!