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Eleanor Roosevelt: An Influential American

By Aman Sirohey

Eleanor Roosevelt contributed a great amount during 1900 to 1940 because she rose above personal obstacles from her childhood and gained courage, acquiring great leadership. She spoke out for women and minority rights, and is known as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s eyes, ears and legs. Although she was wealthy, she faced many hardships and unfortunate events, but she overcame them and is known today as one of the most influential American women in history. She spoke at White House press conferences and helped those in need, and even though both she and others faced criticism and hardships, she overcame them all and stood strong in the face of adversity.

In Eleanor’s early years, she faced struggles despite being raised in a privileged family. Her father was an alcoholic who wasn’t with her or her family a majority of the time, and when she was around 8 or 10, she lost both her parents and soon after her brother. After these unfortunate events, she was forced to live with her grandmother who did not know how to raise children, and was bothered from the noise that came with raising them. Because of this, Eleanor was sometimes taken care of by a governess, who was unkind towards her. Later on, she attended a boarding school in England where she found her voice and her life took a turn for the better. The principal of that school, Marie Souvestre, was an independent Frenchwoman who taught Eleanor to think for herself, and speak out. She believed women could handle things well—if not better—without the help of men. She encouraged Eleanor into voicing her opinion, and to lead others to do their best. This influenced her to become one of the greatest speakers as a First Lady.

Marie Souvestre had sparked interests in Eleanor which were quite like her own. Eleanor wrote in a newspaper column, which was titled “My Day”, that the three years she spent with Souvestre was the happiest time of her life. Later on in 1902, she returned back to New York after fulfilling her academic course in her boarding school. Her family had always been active in community service, which awakened the passion and determination that she had worked on. Before marrying Franklin and becoming the First Lady, she had taught in a settlement house on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Eleanor’s interest and curiosity for politics peaked. It may have been because when her husband was stricken with polio in 1921, she took upon the job of being the eyes and ears of the president. She had a desire to work for important causes, partially due to values her family passed down to her. Because of this, she joined the Women’s Trade Union League, the Legislative Affairs Committee of the League of Women Voters, and many more organizations. Being a member of the Legislative Affairs Committee of the League of Women Voters, she studied the Congressional Record. This was extremely influential to her political career with her husband.

During her years as First Lady, her liberal ideas and causes made her as much of a controversial figure as her husband. She headed regular press conferences at the White House, in which she featured women correspondents. The infirmity of her husband never discouraged her--instead she made sure to update him on public opinion and other presidential concerns. She made surprise visits to government projects, earning the nickname by the Secret Service as “rover.” Many people showed great gratitude and encouragement towards Eleanor whenever she checked on their welfare. The First Lady was especially interested in women and minority rights. In 1939, the Daughters of American Revolution disavowed permission for Marian Anderson, an African American singer, to perform in Constitution Hall. Eleanor resigned her place in DAR after this event, and instead scheduled a concert for Anderson at Lincoln Memorial. Marian’s performance became a monumental event with the help of an enormous crowd of 75,000 people. Another occasion where Eleanor defended racial rights occurred in a public meeting in Alabama, where officials were persistent about segregating the seating by races. Outraged, Mrs. Roosevelt carried a folding chair to every session and placed it into the center of the aisle, where the two races were segregated. Her defense for African Americans, the poor, and the young helped to bring groups formerly alienated by political actions into government again.

Eleanor Roosevelt spoke out for women and minority rights, and was known as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s eyes, ears and legs. She held regular press conferences and made surprise visits while checking on government projects, something women had never done before. Her impact on the United States as a whole was evident in the way she showed compassion, effort and leadership when times for her husband were hard. Along with raising her own children, she visited kids with polio and hospitals, read to the poor, fought for underdogs, and served food to the needy. She contributed a great amount during 1900 to 1940 because she rose above personal obstacles from her childhood, and gained courage, acquiring great leadership. She was an inspirational woman who prioritized both empathy and the welfare of those who were in need, which allowed her to become a prominent figure in U.S. history.

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