Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) – A five-cent stamp issued in 1963, soon after her death, and reissued in 1984

Called “mother to a generation,” it is difficult to overstate the importance of Eleanor Roosevelt in the history of twentieth-century women—not only in America, but also the world. 

Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born with that name; when she married her distant cousin Franklin, her name remained Roosevelt.   They wed in 1905, with President Theodore Roosevelt giving away the bride, and settled in New York City.  While Franklin established his career, Eleanor bore their children – an average of one every other year for the first decade of their marriage.

When Democrat Woodrow Wilson was elected in 1912, Franklin Roosevelt became assistant secretary of the Navy.  The family moved to Washington, and the outbreak of World War I began to change Eleanor’s life.  Like other women liberated by this war, she found personal identity in wartime activity outside the home.

Franklin made a huge career leap in 1920, when he moved from an assistant secretaryship to vice-presidential nominee. Democrats were in retreat that year, however, and the ticket lost badly. As the mother of a four-year old, Eleanor was excused from most campaigning and did not enjoy the little that she did.  The following year, however, polio struck her husband, and after he was unable to walk, she became his political “legs and ears.” 

In the 1924 election, she organized New York women for Al Smith’s successful gubernatorial race – against her cousin, Republican Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.  Four years later, Franklin Roosevelt replaced Smith as governor when Smith became the unsuccessful presidential nominee. That Eleanor Roosevelt had become a respected political scientist in her own right can be seen in the 1928 election, as she headed the Democrats’ national campaign among women during the same time that her husband was a candidate for governor.

In 1932, he ran for president and, in the depths of the Great Depression, won by the widest margin ever; 1936 would bring an even greater mandate, when Roosevelt's ticket lost just eight of 531 electoral votes.  Eleanor Roosevelt began the peripatetic patterns she would follow the rest of her life:  even as a widow, she would travel tens of thousands of miles annually, keenly noting the political and economic ramifications of what she observed.  No previous first lady was even remotely analogous; in just a decade, she had moved from politically unaware to one of the nation’s most astute strategy setters. 

While the administration set out to solve the nation’s economic ills, she developed a niche as the protector of those most likely to be left out – especially women, blacks and children.  As her reputation grew, she received unprecedented amounts of mail and responded to literally thousands of letters with small personal checks.  Even hate mail received a polite response in the hope of changing minds. The assistance she rendered to African Americans was one of the greatest causes of hate mail. 
Click here to read Eleanor Roosevelt's full biography.

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