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Eleanor Roosevelt: The World’s First Lady

Eleanor Roosevelt holds up a copy of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which she helped write.

Internationally known as “The World’s First Lady,” a title bestowed on her by President Harry S. Truman, Eleanor Roosevelt rose to political prominence when her husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was first Governor of New York and then President of the United States for four terms.
Her passion for politics and gift for leadership had begun to manifest itself in young adulthood. Active early on in both the socially prominent Junior League and the Rivington Street Settlement House in New York City as a teacher, Eleanor Roosevelt epitomized the rising political consciousness of women in the early 20th century.

As First Lady of the United States for an unprecedented 12 years, Eleanor Roosevelt brilliantly used her position in the White House to further political, social and humanitarian causes. Her influence was especially keen in the construction of New Deal social programs where she championed the rights of women, civil rights, workers, and youth programs. One historian has suggested that Mrs. Roosevelt “served as the conscience of the New Deal.”
After the death of her husband in 1945, Eleanor Roosevelt continued her political activism on a global scale as U.S. Delegate to the United Nations and head of its Human Rights Committee where she remained for six years and helped draft the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights — she demanded the replacement of the phrase “all men” with “all human beings.” Along with Herbert Lehman, the former Governor of New York and Senator, in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, she led the reform movement against the Tammany Hall political machine in New York City. They were victorious in 1961, when Mayor Robert Wagner was re-elected as a reformer.

By the time of her death in 1962, Eleanor Roosevelt had become a beloved and influential politician whose power still influenced the White House. John F. Kennedy had actively sought her endorsement for his Presidential campaign; he named her chairperson of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women in 1961. She in turn pressed him to appoint women to powerful positions in the administration. Indeed, her legacy remains strong today in national and international politics.



 

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