It is a rarity that a First Lady reaches almost the same level of popularity as her husband. Jackie Kennedy managed to do it. But Eleanor Roosevelt did it first. These two are among the most popular women in history. And among the most influential as well. What made Eleanor Roosevelt so popular? For starters, she accomplished a lot before getting into the White House.
What are some of the biggest accomplishments by Eleanor Roosevelt? She was an American political figure, diplomat, and activist. Eleanor served as the First Lady from March 1933 to April 1945. That makes her the longest-serving First Lady of the United States.
She also served as United States Delegate to the United Nations General Assembly from 1945 to 1952. President Harry Truman called her “The First Lady of the World”, honoring her fight for human rights.
As a member of two prominent American families, Roosevelt and Livingston, Eleanor attended Allenwood Academy in London. She got married to her fifth cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. After he got diagnosed with a paralytic illness in 1921, she started giving speeches and appearing at campaign events in his place.
During her tenure as a First Lady, many loved her, but also some opposed her. Her fight for civil rights for African-Americans came at a period of segregation and racism. In 1999, Gallup ranked in the Top 10 Most Widely Admired People of the 20th Century.
Let’s take a look at Eleanor Roosevelt’s accomplishments.
Eleanor enjoyed success even before getting into the White House. In 1927, together with friends Marion Dickerman and Nancy Cook, she established Val-Kill Industries. She and her business partners financed the construction of a small factory to provide supplemental income for local farming families.
She promoted the company through interviews and public appearances. The partnership lasted until 1938. In 1945, following the death of her husband Franklin, she used the place as a permanent residence.
Since 1977, the cottage at Val-Kill and its surrounding property got designated as the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site.
Working with Red Cross during World War I
In 1917, the United States entered World War I. At the time, Roosevelt worked with the American affiliate of the Red Cross, a humanitarian organization.
She staffed the Red Cross canteen, serving food to soldiers departing from Washington’s Union Station. Eleanor also balanced the books of Red Cross and volunteered at the Naval Hospital.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
When you talk about the accomplishments by Eleanor Roosevelt, you have to mention the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She played a pivotal role in it. In 1948, representatives from 50 member states of the United Nations came together under her guidance to devise a list of all the human rights that every person in the world should enjoy.
On December 10, 1948, the General Assembly of the UN announced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, containing 30 rights and freedoms that belong to all of us. Seven decades later, and the rights serve as the basis for all international human rights law.
During her famous “Where do Human Rights Begin” speech on behalf of the UDHR, she spoke about why human rights are for every one of us.
Working with Women’s Trade League Union
In the 1920s, Roosevelt continued her activism, this time with the Women’s Trade Union League. She raised funds to support the goals of the organization. They campaigned for a 48-hour workweek, minimum wage, and the abolition of child labor.
Roosevelt also joined the Legislative Affairs Committee of the League of Women Voters, another organization supporting new women’s suffrage rights.
American Youth Congress
The American Youth Congress started working in 1935 advocating for youth rights in the US. The organization introduced the American Youth Bill of Rights to the US Congress.
Eleanor’s relationship with the AYC led to the formation of the National Youth Administration. It focused on providing work and education for Americans between 16 and 25 years of age.
Lobbying for African-Americans
Some historians consider Eleanor Roosevelt a controversial figure. And that is because she fought for rights for African-Americans. During Franklin’s administration, the First Lady forged an important connection to the African-American population. And this came during the era of segregation.
Roosevelt provided a voice for the African-Americans and brought them in her support of the civil rights movement. She broke the tradition by inviting hundreds of African-American guests to the White House.
Eleanor played the role of “the eyes and the ears” of the African-American population.
Writing a daily newspaper column
Eleanor Roosevelt broke so many barriers and traditions during her lifetime. As a First Lady, she started writing a daily newspaper column, the first one to do it. She often traveled through the country to gauge the living conditions of Americans during the Great Depression.
From 1935 to 1962 she wrote a six a days a week newspaper column. Titled My Day, she discussed issues such as race, women, and key events in American history.
Eleanor also wrote a monthly magazine column, hosted a weekly radio show, and held press conferences.
Active role during World War II
During World War II, Eleanor co-chaired the Office of Civilian Defense until February 1942. This department coordinated measures for the protection of civilians like special fire protection.
Eleanor visited troops on a morale-building tour, encouraged volunteerism on the home front, and advocated for increased roles for women. She also voiced her opinion on increased roles for African-Americans in the war effort.
Use of Media
Eleanor Roosevelt helped popularize mass media. She made more use of the media than any of her predecessors. During her time as a First Lady, she held 348 press conferences over the span of a 12-year presidency.
Inspired by her relationship with Hickok, she placed a ban on male reporters attending the press conference. She effectively forced newspapers to keep male reporters on staff so they can cover events by the White House. Eleanor relaxed the rule only once, on her return from her 1943 Pacific trip.
And because the Gridiron Club banned women from the annual dinner for journalists she hosted a competing event for female reporters at the White House.
Transformed the role of the First Lady
In 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt got elected as the President of the United States. He served until 1945. In 1940, he ran for a third term against the convention of a maximum of two terms. Franklin won the 1944 elections as well and served until his death in 1945.
As a First Lady, Eleanor completely transformed the role. Before her, the limitations restricted it to domesticity and acting as a hostess.
But Eleanor completely changed the role. She was more active than any First Lady before her. Roosevelt used the role as a platform for her social activism.