VISUAL T I M E L I N E
Eleanor was born at eleven in the morning, at home, 29 East Thirty-Eighth Street, New York City. Her father embraced her as a “miracle from heaven.” Her mother, a famous beauty of her day, never stopped being disappointed that her only daughter wasn’t a better reflection of herself.
Sailing to Europe with her parents aboard Britannic (at right), three-year-old Eleanor survived the ship’s mid-ocean collision with another White Star line, the Celtic, which butchered five passengers, injured scores of others, and came close to sinking both vessels.
Orphaned, Eleanor and Hall grew up among fashionable aunts and tennis-champion uncles at the family townhouse in Manhattan, and, in summer, at Oak Lawn on the Hudson River at Tivoli, New York. “I shall never know any place, or any house,” wrote Eleanor, “as well as I know that one.”
At Allenswood School, in a suburb of London, Eleanor came into her own as a universally admired intermediary between her peers among Allenswood’s international student body and Mademoiselle Marie Souvestre, the school’s charismatic but complicated headmistress.
Twice a week, under the auspices of the Junior League, Eleanor taught Italian immigrant girls at the Rivington Street Settlement House.
Eleanor married her fifth-cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt on March 17. She set the date and time of their wedding to fit into her uncle President Theodore Roosevelt’s tightly scheduled trip to New York City for St. Patrick’s Day dinners and speeches.
When Eleanor later recalled giving birth to her first child, Anna, on May 3, she dwelled on the sense of helplessness and resignation that closed over her: “This was something I could do nothing about—the child would come when it would come, as inevitably as death itself.”
With the United States joining the First World War, knitting became a new form of activism for American women. Under Eleanor’s leadership as wife of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, the official knitting service of the Navy Red Cross sent 8,976 articles of clothing to shore stations and men at sea.
Franklin’s mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt, anchored the family (photographed at Campobello, summer 1919) in the prolonged aftermath of the Lucy Mercer affair.
Eleanor mediated between women reformers and state party men to become a new voice in New York State Democratic politics, bringing a message of citizen engagement to women’s clubs and associations as she organized 114 counties across New York State.
Eleanor was put in charge of women’s activities for the doomed Al-Smith-for- President campaign, becoming one of the two most powerful women leaders in America.
Lorena Hickok, the star AP reporter with whom Eleanor began a secret and sexually intimate relationship as she became first lady of the United States.
On an inspection trip to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, Eleanor visited the Winn family in a new Public Works Administration model house in the poorest section of Christiansted, St. Croix. Upon returning to the White House, she advocated for a changes in taxation and shipping and air travel to benefit the islands, meanwhile urging FDR to send a team of labor leaders and industrialists to develop new industries to support housing, health, and education. Fifteen years later in her autobiography, she conceded, “The islands still remain a difficult problem.”
Attacked for her friendship with the African American educator and New Deal administrator Mary McLeod Bethune, Eleanor calmly pointed out that social equality was “a relationship between friends, between people who mutually respect and admire each other.” She said she would never seek to legislate social equality---but would campaign for citizenship rights. Once all races received full citizenship rights, she believed, the problem of social equality would solve itself.
The year before, in Birmingham, Alabama, Eleanor had defied segregation laws when she sat between whites and blacks at the Southern Conference for Human Welfare. Now, in April 1939, when she resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) in protest against the DAR’s refusal to allow world-renowned contralto Marian Anderson to use its auditorium for a concert, Harold Ickes, FDR’s secretary of the interior, offered the Lincoln Memorial. “Mrs. Roosevelt started a lot of people thinking,” said Ickes.
Eleanor helped FDR win an unprecedented third term by flying to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and persuading defiant delegates to support the President’s choice for vice president.
Three months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Eleanor began work with New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia as codirector of the Office of Civilian Defense, the first official governmental position held by a first lady. Social reformers and liberal internationalists, they were natural born first responders, forthright and ready to take action, but completely at odds about the way to take action.
Eleanor paid her own way to the West Coast, then took a free seat in a Pacific-bound Liberator bomber to visit American GIs under the auspices of the Red Cross. She had no illusions that she was the first person the troops wanted to see. “Over and over again I wished that I could be changed in some magic way into the mother or the sweetheart or the wife or sister that these men longed to see.” But the GIs adored her and she brought their messages home and telephoned them to many a mother, young wife, or girlfriend.
“The story is over,” Eleanor told a reporter after returning to private life in New York. Eight months later, Harry Truman asked her to join the U.S. delegation to the first United Nations assembly in London.
Champion of human rights, world-circling representative of an atomic age superpower, tireless worker for world peace, unstoppable investigator with an unusual range of sympathies, lecturer, columnist, letter writer, author, grandmother, and staunch widow defending and honoring her husband high legacy around the world, Eleanor opened the 1947 session of the United Nations General Assembly at Flushing Meadows, Queens, New York.
With Eisenhower’s election, Eleanor resigned as U.S. delegate to the United Nations and traveled around the world with her personal physician, David Gurewitsch. “The people I love mean more to me than all the public things even if you do think that public affairs should be my chief vocation,” she had told him in 1948. “I only do the public things because I really love all people, and I only love all people because there are a few people whom I love dearly and who matter to me above everything else. These are not so many, and of them, you are now one. And I shall just have to try not to bother you too much.”
Not a year had passed since FDR first declared himself a candidate for President when Eleanor had not been accused of neglecting her children, wasting taxpayer’s dollars, dying of cancer, having a nervous breakdown, serving as a Soviet asset, or looking for another man to marry. She had taken every attack in stride. “A long time ago,” she told a reporter, “I made up my mind that nothing of this kind ever was permanent. I felt very sure that eventually the truth would come out.”
In the national party Eleanor had the stature of a co-kingmaker. Before she gave her support to Senator John F. Kennedy at the 1960 convention in Los Angeles, James Reston, New York Times columnist predicted that the only thing that could stop JFK from getting the nomination was “an unlikely alliance of Harry Truman, Sam Rayburn, and Eleanor Roosevelt.”
Four Presidents and three First Ladies attended Eleanor Roosevelt’s burial in the Rose Garden, Hyde Park.