Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Eleanor Roosevelt

                    Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born on October 11, 1884, in New York City to Elliott and Anna Hall Roosevelt.  She was named Anna after her mother and her aunt Anna Cowles; she was named Eleanor after her father and called "Ellie" or "Little Nell".  Her nicknames may have been used to distinguish her from her mother and aunt, but she apparently preferred the name Eleanor from a young age. 

Eleanor was the niece of President Theodore Roosevelt.  She had two younger brothers - Elliott Roosevelt, Jr. (1889-93) and Hall Roosevelt (1891-1941) and one half brother - Elliott Roosevelt Mann (born to Katy Mann, a family servant; died 1941).  Eleanor and her family were part of New York high society and lived in a world of great wealth and privilege.
Roosevelt behaved in "old fashioned" ways so much that her own mother called her "Granny".  Even though living in a world of privilege and wealth, Eleanor suffered great childhood heartaches.  Her mother and brother - Elliott, Jr. - died of diphtheria when Eleanor was eight years old.  Her father was an alcoholic who was confined to a sanitarium; he died two years after his wife.  Eleanor was raised by her maternal grandmother, Mary Ludlow Hall (1843-1919) at Tivoli, New York.  Is it any wonder that she was described in a biography as being "insecure and starved for affection" and considered herself to be "ugly".  She understood while still a young teenager that physical beauty did not always determine a person's prospects in life.  

Eleanor had private tutors until she was 15 and sent to Allenswood Academy, a private finishing school near London, England.  She was encouraged to "cultivate independent thinking" by the headmistress of the academy.  Eleanor became fluent in French and gained self-confidence at the academy.

Roosevelt ended her formal education and returned to the United States in 1902 at age 17.  She was a debutante at a ball held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on December 14, 1902, and was later given a debutante party.  She was a member of the New York Junior League and volunteered as a social worker in New York City's East Side slums.

Eleanor met her father's fifth cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1902 and was "overwhelmed when the 20-year-old dashing Harvard University student demonstrated affection for her.  Franklin and Eleanor began courting after she attended a White House reception and had dinner with her uncle, President Theodore Roosevelt on New Year's Day, 1903.  Franklin was a "sheltered young man" until Eleanor took him on a "walking tour" through the squalid tenements.

Franklin and Eleanor became engaged in November 1904, but Franklin's mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt, insisted that the engagement not be announced until December 1, 1904.  Sara did not approve of Eleanor and took her son on a cruise in an effort to take Franklin's mind off Eleanor.  Her efforts did not work because Franklin returned from the cruise with "renewed ardor" for Eleanor.  President Roosevelt agreed to give the bride away; therefore, the wedding date was fixed according to his schedule.  The President's participation in the wedding "focused national attention on the wedding."

Eleanor was 20 years old and Franklin was 23 years old when they married on St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 1905, in New York City.  The ceremony was performed by the Reverend Dr. Endicott Peabody, the groom's headmaster at Groton School.  The newlyweds went on a short honeymoon at Hyde Park before they began living in an apartment in New York City.  They took a formal honeymoon, a three-month tour of Europe, the following summer.

Upon their return from Europe, Eleanor and Franklin settled in a house provided by Franklin's mother; they also spent time at the family's Hyde Park estate overlooking the Hudson RiverFranklin's mother apparently had control of all household matters.  I assume that Eleanor felt great relief and freedom when Franklin was elected to the state senate and they moved to Albany, New York.

Franklin and Eleanor became parents of six children, five of whom survived infancy:  Anna Eleanor, Jr. (3 May 1906-1 December 1975; journalist, public relations official), James (23 December 1907-13 August 1991); businessman, congressman, author), Franklin Delano, Jr. (18 March 1909-1 November 1909; died at age seven months), Elliott (23 September 1910-27 October 1990; businessman, mayor, author), Franklin Delano, Jr. (17 August 1914-17 August 1988; businessman, congressman, farmer; John Aspinwall (13 March 1916-27 April 1981; merchant, stockbroker).

The family began to spend summers at Campobello Island, New Brunswick, located on the Maine-Canada border.  While there, Franklin was stricken with a paralytic illness in August 1921; this illness resulted in his legs being permanently paralyzed.  Experts at the time though he had poliomyelitis, but later research indicates it was more likely Guillain-Barre syndrome.  Eleanor gave Franklin devoted attention and later prodded him to return to active life.  In order to compensate for his immobility, Eleanor overcame her shyness and began to make public appearances on his behalf.  She was supportive of him "as a listening post and barometer of popular sentiment."

Eleanor had a relationship with her future mother-in-law long before she fell in love with her distant relative Franklin.  After her marriage to Franklin, her relationship with her mother-in-law was contentious and difficult.  Sara wanted to be a good mother to Eleanor but considered Eleanor to be unprepared for the role of wife to her son; Eleanor valued Sara's opinions but resented her domineering behavior.  Historians continue to study the relationship between Sara and Eleanor.

There were also difficulties in the relationship between the "Hyde Park Roosevelt family" and the "Oyster Bay Roosevelt family."  President Theodore Roosevelt was a Republican while Franklin was a Democrat so there were political differences.  President Roosevelt admired his niece Eleanor, and his eldest daughter Alice - "beautiful, highly photogenic, but rebellious and self-absorbed" - did not appreciate her father asking, "Why can't you be more like `cousin Eleanor'?"  From early in their lives, Eleanor and Alice had a life-long strained relationship.  Alice had a friendly relationship with Franklin and promoted Franklin's affair with Lucy Mercer - probably an underhanded way to undermine Eleanor.  She once said, "He deserved a good time" because "he was married to Eleanor."

Eleanor discovered the affair when she found letters from Lucy in Franklin's luggage in September 1918.  She was extremely hurt and demanded that he end the affair or she would file for divorce.  Franklin's mother threatened to disinherit him if he got a divorce, and his political advisors pleaded with both Eleanor and Franklin to save the marriage for the sake of their children and his political career.

The marriage survived even though Eleanor insisted that their physical relationship end.  Even though Franklin agreed to
end the affair, Lucy began visiting him in the 1930's and was with him at Warm Springs, Georgia, when he died on April 12, 1945.

Eleanor became a different woman and sought to achieve fulfillment through her own achievements.  Eleanor had close relationships with both women and men, but there are questions about how close the relationships were.

Eleanor supported Franklin in his political career, both as governor of New York and as President of the United States.  She supported his New Deal policies and was an advocate for civil rights.  After Franklin's death in 1945, she continued as an international author, speaker, politician, and activist for the New Deal coalition.  She worked to "enhance the status of working women" but she opposed the Equal Rights Amendment on the grounds that she believed it would have adverse effects on women.  She also supported the formation of the United Nations and was appointed by President Harry S. Truman and confirmed by the US Senate to be a delegate to the UN General Assembly from 1945 to 1952.  While at the United Nations, "she chaired the committee that drafted and approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."  She was called the "First Lady of the World" by President Truman because of her human rights achievements.

Mrs. Roosevelt continued to be active in politics for the rest of her life.  She was instrumental in starting a second wave of feminism after President John F. Kennedy appointed her as chair of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women.  Eleanor received many honors.  She was ranked in the top ten of Gallup's 1999 List of Most Widely Admired People of the 20th Century.

Eleanor was struck by a car in New York City in April 1960 and her health rapidly declined.  She was treated with cortisone which activated the dormant tuberculosis from years earlier, and she was diagnosed with bone marrow tuberculosis.  She died at age 78 at her Manhattan home on November 7, 1962.  President Kennedy ordered flags to be lowered to half-staff in her honor.  UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson said, "The United States, the United Nations, the world, has lost one of its great citizens."

President John F. Kennedy and former Presidents Truman and Eisenhower attended Eleanor's funeral at Hyde Park.  She was buried on November 10, 1962, next to Franklin in the family compound in Hyde Park, New York.


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