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Anna Eleanor Roosevelt ( October 11, 1884–November 7, 1962) was the First Lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945. She supported the New Deal policies of her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and assumed a role as an advocate for civil rights. After her husband's death in 1945, Roosevelt continued to be an internationally prominent author, speaker, politician, and activist for the New Deal coalition. She worked to enhance the status of working women, although she opposed the Equal Rights Amendment because she believed it would adversely affect women.
In the 1940s, Roosevelt was one of the co-founders of Freedom House and supported the formation of the United Nations. Roosevelt founded the UN Association of the United States in 1943 to advance support for the formation of the UN. She was a delegate to the UN General Assembly from 1945 and 1952, a job for which she was appointed by President Harry S. Truman and confirmed by the United States Senate. During her time at the United Nations she chaired the committee that drafted and approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. President Truman called her the "First Lady of the World" in tribute to her human rights achievements.
Active in politics for the rest of her life, Roosevelt chaired the John F. Kennedy administration's ground-breaking committee which helped start second-wave feminism, the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. She was one of the most admired people of the 20th century, according to Gallup's List of Widely Admired People.
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born on October 11, 1884 at 56 West 37th Street in New York City, New York , the daughter of Elliott Roosevelt, and Anna Hall Roosevelt. She was named Anna after her mother and aunt, Anna Cowles (usually called Bye or Bamie), and Eleanor after her father, who was nicknamed "Ellie". From the beginning, Roosevelt preferred to be called by her middle name.
Two brothers, Elliott Roosevelt, Jr. (1889–1893) and Hall Roosevelt (1891–1941) were born later. She also had a half brother, Elliott Roosevelt Mann, the result of an extramarital affair between Elliot and Katy Mann, a young servant girl employed by the family.
Roosevelt was so sober a girl that her mother nicknamed her "Granny". Her mother died from diphtheria when Roosevelt was eight and her father, an alcoholic confined to a sanitarium, died less than two years later. Thus, she was raised from early adolescence by her maternal grandmother, Mary Ludlow Hall (1843–1919) at Tivoli, New York. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, author Joseph Lash describes her during this period of childhood as insecure and starved for affection, considering herself "ugly". Nevertheless, even at 14, Roosevelt understood that one's prospects in life were not totally dependent on physical beauty writing wistfully, "...no matter how plain a woman may be if truth and loyalty are stamped upon her face all will be attracted to her...." 
Roosevelt was tutored privately and at the age of 15, with the encouragement of her father's sister, her aunt "Bamie", the family decided to send her to Allenswood Academy, an English finishing school. The headmistress, Marie Souvestre, was a noted feminist educator who sought to cultivate independent thinking in the young women in her charge. She learned to speak French fluently and gained self-confidence. Her first-cousin Corinne Robinson, whose first term at Allenswood overlapped with Eleanor's last, said that when she arrived at the school, Eleanor was "everything".
Marriage and family life
That same year Roosevelt met her father's fifth cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and was overwhelmed when the 20-year-old dashing Harvard University student demonstrated affection for her. Following a White House reception and dinner with her uncle, President Theodore Roosevelt, on New Year's Day, 1903, Franklin's courtship of Eleanor began. She later brought Franklin along on her rounds of the squalid tenements, a walking tour that profoundly moved the heretofore sheltered young man.
In November, 1903, they became engaged, although the engagement was not announced for more than a year, until December 1, 1904, at the insistence of Franklin's mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt. She opposed the union. "I know what pain I must have caused you," Franklin wrote his mother of his decision. But, he added, "I know my own mind, and known it for a long time, and know that I could never think otherwise." Sara took her son on a cruise in 1904, hoping that a separation would squelch the romance, but Franklin returned to Eleanor with renewed ardor. The wedding date was fixed to accommodate President Roosevelt, who agreed to give the bride away. Her uncle's presence focused national attention on the wedding.
Roosevelt, aged 20, married Franklin Roosevelt, aged 23, her fifth-cousin once removed, on March 17, 1905 (St. Patrick's Day), at the The Church of the Incarnation (Episcopal) on Madison Avenue with the reception held at the townhouse of her aunt Mrs. E. Livingstone Ludlow on East 76th Street in New York City. The Reverend Dr. Endicott Peabody, the groom's headmaster at Groton, performed the services. The couple spent a preliminary honeymoon of one week at Hyde Park, then set up housekeeping in an apartment in New York. That summer they went on their formal honeymoon, a three-month tour of Europe.
Returning to the U.S., the newlyweds settled in New York City, in a house provided by Franklin's mother, as well as at the family's estate overlooking the Hudson River in Hyde Park, New York. Roosevelt deferred to her mother-in-law in virtually all household matters. She did not gain a measure of independence until her husband was elected to the state senate and the couple moved to Albany, New York.
The Roosevelts had six children, five of whom survived infancy:
The family began spending summers at Campobello Island, New Brunswick, on the Maine–Canada border, where Franklin was stricken with high fever in August, 1921, which resulted in permanent paralysis of his legs. Although the disease was widely believed during his lifetime to be poliomyelitis, some retrospective analysts now favor the diagnosis of Guillain-Barré syndrome (see Franklin D. Roosevelt's paralytic illness). Franklin's attending physician, Dr. William Keen, believed it was polio and commended Eleanor's devotion to the stricken Franklin during that time of travail, "You have been a rare wife and have borne your heavy burden most bravely", proclaiming her "one of my heroines". A play and movie depicting that time, Sunrise at Campobello, were produced almost 40 years later.
It was Eleanor who prodded Franklin to return to active life. To compensate for his lack of mobility, she overcame her shyness to make public appearances on his behalf and thereafter served him as a listening post and barometer of popular sentiment.
Relationship with mother-in-law
Roosevelt had a contentious relationship with her domineering mother-in-law, Sara Delano Roosevelt. Long before Eleanor fell in love with her future husband and distant cousin, she already had a relationship with Sara as a distant but highly engaging cousin, with whom she corresponded. Although they had a difficult relationship, Sara sincerely wanted to be a mother to Eleanor and did her best before and during the marriage to fill this role. Sara had her own reasons for attempting to prevent their marriage and historians continue to discuss them. Historians also have had widely diverging opinions on the pluses and minuses of this relationship.
From Sara's perspective, Eleanor was relatively young, inexperienced and lacked maternal support. Sara felt she had much to teach her new daughter-in-law on what a young wife should know. Eleanor, while sometimes resenting Sara's domineering nature, nevertheless highly valued her opinion in the early years of her marriage until she developed the experience and confidence from the school of marital "hard knocks". Historians continue to study the reasons Eleanor allowed Sara to dominate their lives, especially in the first years of the marriage. Eleanor's income was more than half of that of her husband's when they married in 1905 and could have lived still relatively luxuriously without Sara's financial support.
From Sara's perspective, she was bound and determined to ensure her son's success in all areas of life including his marriage. Sara had doted on her son to the point of spoiling him, and now intended to help him make a success of his marriage with a woman that she evidently viewed as being totally unprepared for her new role as chatelaine of a great family. Sara would continue to give huge presents to her new grandchildren, but sometimes Eleanor had problems with the influence that came with "mother's largesse."
Tensions with "Oyster Bay Roosevelts"
Although Roosevelt was always in the good graces of her uncle, Theodore Roosevelt, the pater familias of the Oyster Bay Roosevelts, as the Republican branch of the family was known, she often found herself at odds with his eldest daughter, Alice Roosevelt. Theodore felt Eleanor's conduct to be far more responsible, socially acceptable and cooperative: in short, more "Rooseveltian" than that of the beautiful, highly photogenic but rebellious and self-absorbed Alice, to whom he would ask, "Why can't you be more like 'cousin Eleanor'?" These early experiences laid the foundation for life-long strain between the two high-profile cousins. Though the youthful Alice's comraderly relationship with Franklin during the World War I years in Washington is still the object of curiosity among Rooseveltian scholars, both Eleanor's and his relationship with Alice and other Oyster Bay Roosevelts would be aggravated by the widening political gulf between the Hyde Park and Oyster Bay families as Franklin D. Roosevelt's political career began to take off. Alice made comments such as her description of Franklin as "two-thirds mush and one-third Eleanor". When Franklin was inaugurated president in 1933, Alice was invited to attend along with her brothers, Kermit and Archie.
Franklin's affair and Eleanor's relationships
Despite its happy start and Roosevelt's intense desire to be a loving and loved wife, their marriage almost disintegrated over Franklin's affair with his wife's social secretary Lucy Mercer (later Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd). When Eleanor learned of the affair from Mercer's letters, which she discovered in Franklin's suitcases in September 1918, she was brought to despair and self-reproach. She told Franklin she would insist on a divorce if he did not immediately end the affair.
So implacable was Sara's opposition to divorce that she warned her son she would disinherit him. Corinne Robinson, and Louis Howe, Franklin's political advisor, were also influential in persuading Eleanor and Franklin to save the marriage for the sake of the children and Franklin's political career. The idea has been put forth that because Mercer was a Catholic she would never have married a divorced Protestant. Her relatives maintain that she was perfectly willing to marry Franklin. Her father's family was Episcopal and her mother had been divorced. While Franklin agreed never to see Mercer again, she began visiting him in the 1930s and was with Franklin at Warm Springs, Georgia when he died in 1945.
Although the marriage survived, Roosevelt emerged a different woman, coming to the realization that she could achieve fulfillment only through her own influence. Ironically, her husband's paralysis would soon place his political future partially in her hands, requiring her to play an active role in NY State Democratic politics. It was a move she had been gradually making, having long held considerable, if repressed, interest in politics and social issues. During the 1920s, as Franklin dealt with his illness, with the coaching of his trusted political adviser Louis McHenry Howe, she became a prominent face among Democratic women and a force in NY State politics.
Although she and her husband were often separated by their activities during these years, their relationship, though at times strained, was close, despite Eleanor's insistence on severing their physical relationship after discovering Franklin's affair. He was to often pay tribute to her care for him during the worst days of his illness, her help to him in his work, encouraging his staff and others to view them as a team, and to her ability to connect with various groups of people. He respected her intelligence and honest and sincere desire to improve the world even if he sometimes found her too insistent and lacking in political suppleness. "Your back has no bend." he once told her.
In 1926, Franklin took great pleasure in presenting Eleanor with a cottage on the Hyde Park estate, called "The Stone Cottage", where she and her closest friends at the time, Nancy Cook and Marion Dickerman, could escape from the main house. In 1928, she was urged by New York Governor Al Smith, who was the Democratic candidate for president, to press her husband to run for New York Governor in his place. After repeated urgings, she finally placed a call to Franklin, who gleefully told her he'd been successfully dodging all of Smith's frantic calls. She handed the phone to Smith and the rest is history.
Though pleased for Franklin, Eleanor was increasingly despondent as he resumed his career, fearing she would be forced to take on an increasingly ceremonial role. During the 1932 campaign, Louis Howe was horrified to read a note about her feelings of uselessness she had sent to a friend. Howe tore it up, warning the friend to say nothing. An offer by Eleanor to Franklin after the election to take on some of his mail was rebuffed, because it might have offended his secretary, Marguerite "Missy" LeHand.
However, Franklin and Howe had larger plans for Eleanor. The skills she had developed as a political trooper for the women's branch of the NY State Democratic party as well as during her time as NY State's First Lady were to stand her in good stead. Howe made immediate use of her in dealing with the problem of the Bonus Army, unemployed veterans of World War I who had marched and encamped in Washington, DC, demanding payment of the bonuses promised to them for their wartime service. President Herbert Hoover had viewed them as a dangerous, Communist-inspired group and sent the Army under Commander-in-Chief Douglas MacArthur to drive the group out with tear gas. Roosevelt and Howe took a radically different approach sending food, friendly greetings, and Eleanor. "Hoover sent the Army, Roosevelt sent his wife" became one of the classic lines of the New Deal era.
In 1933, Roosevelt had a very close relationship with Lorena Hickok, a reporter who had covered her during the campaign and early days of the Roosevelt administration and sensed her discontent, which spanned her early years in the White House. On the day of her husband's inauguration, she was wearing a sapphire ring that Hickok had given her.
Later, when their correspondence was made public, it became clear that Roosevelt would write such endearments as, "I want to put my arms around you & kiss you at the corner of your mouth." It is unknown if her husband was aware of the relationship, which scholar Lillian Faderman has asserted to be lesbian. Hickok's relationship with Roosevelt has been the subject of much speculation but it has not been determined whether the two were romantically connected.
Roosevelt also had a close relationship with the New York State Police sergeant, Earl Miller, her husband had assigned as her bodyguard. Prior to that, Miller had been Al Smith's personal bodyguard and was acquainted with Franklin from World War I. Miller was an athlete and had been the Navy's middleweight boxing champion as well as a member of the U.S. Olympic squad at the Antwerp games in 1920.
Roosevelt was forty-four when she met Miller, thirty-two, in 1929. According to several of Franklin's biographers, Miller became her friend as well as official escort. He taught her different sports, such as diving and riding, and coached her tennis game. There is some speculation that the relationship was a romance rather than a friendship. Blanche Wiesen Cook writes that Miller was Eleanor's "first romantic involvement" in her middle years. James Roosevelt wrote, "I personally believe they were more than friends." Miller denied a romantic relationship.
Roosevelt's friendship with Miller happened during the same years as her husband's relationship with his secretary, Missy LeHand. Smith writes, "[r]emarkably, both ER and Franklin recognized, accepted, and encouraged the arrangement... Eleanor and Franklin were strong-willed people who cared greatly for each other's happiness but realized their own inability to provide for it." Their relationship is said to have continued until her death in 1962. They are thought to have corresponded daily, but all letters have been lost. According to rumors (Elliott and Franklin, Jr. are believed to have actually seen the letters) the letters were anonymously purchased and destroyed or locked away when she died. In later years, Roosevelt was said to have developed a romantic attachment to her physician, David Gurewitsch, though it was likely limited to a deep friendship.