Honoring the First Lady of the World in Cartoons

Eleanor Roosevelt served longer as First Lady, from 1933 to 1945, than any other presidential spouse or relative.

Eleanor Roosevelt served longer as First Lady, from 1933 to 1945, than any other presidential spouse or relative.

There are some individuals who, no matter how long they are gone, are worth remembering.

President John F. Kennedy is joined by two former Presidents during services at grave of Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt in rose garden of the Roosevelt estate at Hyde Park, New York  Nov. 10, 1962. Left to right are: Mrs.Jacqueline , President John Kennedy, Vice President Lyndon Johnson, former President Harry Truman and Mrs. Truman, and former President Dwight Eisenhower. (AP Photo)

Vice Presidential wife Lady Bird Johnson, First Lady Jackie Kennedy, President John Kennedy, Vice President Lyndon Johnson, former President Harry Truman, former First Lady Bess Truman, and former President Dwight Eisenhower at Eleanor Roosevelt’s November 10, 1962 funeral. (AP)

Over half a century has passed since she died, but the vision and the work of Eleanor Roosevelt still reverberates.

The First Lady was in perpetual motion, seen here emerging from a car with the President.

The First Lady was in perpetual motion, seen here emerging from a car with the President.

Coming to the White House in the depths of the Depression of 1933, she openly discussed both traditional and non-traditional issues confronting the nation, and lobbied both privately and publicly on behalf of legislation she believed would “do the most good for the most people.” While she is often recalled for her advocacy on behalf of women and African-Americans, every individual in need was literally her constituent.

Eleanor Roosevelt spooning out nourishment in a Great Depression soup kitchen.

Eleanor Roosevelt spooning out nourishment in a Great Depression soup kitchen.

Eleanor Roosevelt doing her radio show.

Eleanor Roosevelt doing her radio show.

Writing a daily newspaper column called “My Day,” hosting a weekly radio show, penning a monthly magazine column, inviting the public to write her personally, and holding press conferences for women reporters so their jobs would not be cut by editors with thin budgets.

Mrs. Roosevelt was an all-media public figure whom the public came to know by the sound of her voice, a hand gesture or her toothy smile.

Eleanor Roosevelt simply drove her own car out of the White House driveway to the astonishment of onlooking tourists, seen here in 1933 with her friend Nancy Cook. (Bettman)

Eleanor Roosevelt simply drove her own car out of the White House driveway to the astonishment of onlooking tourists, seen here in 1933 with her friend Nancy Cook. (Bettman)

There was also as good a chance as any that the common citizens in small hamlets, big cities the Deep South, the far West and all points in between might also glimpse, if not meet her. More than any other First Lady before or since, she was out in the country among the citizenry, inspecting projects, looking into malfeasance, lending her support to fledgling efforts. She did this fearlessly, with a security guard of any kind, and often drove her own car to get places. She also took airplanes, helping to prompt that new industry.

Making overseas trips to visit US troops, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt awarded the Purple Heart, solicited suggestions from personnel, reviewed troops and even toured a combat zone just after a plane was downed

Making overseas trips to visit US troops, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt awarded the Purple Heart, solicited suggestions from personnel, reviewed troops and even toured a combat zone just after a plane was downed

When World War II began, she enlarged her domestic travels to go overseas, eventually meeting an estimated 10 percent of the entire American armed forces stationed in the British Isles fighting the Axis in Europe and those based in the South Pacific, fighting the Japanese.

An ink drawing of Eleanor Roosevelt (Smithsonian)

An ink drawing with feathers of Eleanor Roosevelt (Smithsonian)

It was inevitable that she become a staple of the Pop Culture, her voice parodied in films and on the radio and often made the butt of jokes, both kind and cruel. Certainly, she engendered tremendous criticism both from those who felt it was inappropriate for a presidential spouse to be addressing policy issues and those who hated her political views. In no venue was Eleanor Roosevelt more omnipresent, however, than in the nation’s daily newspaper cartoons, as well as several overseas.

With her husband’s death in 1945, the widowed First Lady continued to play a central role in the national and international narrative through the rest of the 40s and all through the 50s.

Mrs. Roosevelt during her United Nations years.

Mrs. Roosevelt during her United Nations years.

If there is any one contribution she might be singled out for, it was in her role as a United Nations representative who helped draft the Declaration of Human Rights.

She died in 1962, just after the Cuban Missile Crisis was resolved, but it is her birthday of October 11, two days ago, which seems the best time to remember this remarkable, unprecedented person.

Still today, her wisdom gained through tremendous personal pain continues to influence thinking.

Even some of her First Lady successors, as different as they were from her in that role, were fond of quoting her.

Lady Bird Johnson speaking at the White House unveiling ceremony of Eleanor Roosevelt's portrait, 1960s.

Lady Bird Johnson speaking at the White House unveiling ceremony of Eleanor Roosevelt’s portrait, 1960s.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis once wrote Defense Secretary Robert McNamara to stop feeling embarrassed about being attacked in the media because, as she quoted Eleanor Roosevelt, “Nobody can make you feel bad about yourself without your permission.”

And Nancy Reagan liked to remind audiences at her speeches not to underestimate her or any of her gender, quoting Eleanor Roosevelt’s quip that, “A woman is like a teabag. You don’t know her strength until she’s in hot water.”

Here now are some cartoons which capture both the humor, disdain and wonder the public felt for the woman who was dubbed at the end of her life as “the First Lady of the World.”

Eleanor Roosevelt wrote a daily newspaper column called My Day often using it as a trial balloon for many of the President's ideas.

Eleanor Roosevelt wrote a daily newspaper column called My Day often using it as a trial balloon for many of the President’s ideas.

Although she hosted press conferences for only women reporters, Eleanor Roosevelt maintained independent professional relationships with male reporters as well.

Although she hosted press conferences for only women reporters, Eleanor Roosevelt maintained independent professional relationships with male reporters as well.

Eleanor Roosevelt ensured that New Deal programs to help the unemployed were equal in aiding women.

Eleanor Roosevelt ensured that New Deal programs to help the unemployed were equal in aiding women.

Eleanor Roosevelt was rarely in one place long, travelling to every state and then overseas.

Eleanor Roosevelt was rarely in one place long, traveling to every state and then overseas.

Another cartoon referencing the fact that Eleanor Roosevelt was rarely in residence at the White House.

Another cartoon referencing the fact that Eleanor Roosevelt was rarely in residence at the White House.

The famous New Yorker cartoon referencing Eleanor Roosevelt's numerous inspections of working conditions in coal mines.

The famous New Yorker cartoon referencing Eleanor Roosevelt’s numerous inspections of working conditions in coal mines.

Many believed Eleanor Roosevelt was a powerful political influence on the President.

Many believed Eleanor Roosevelt was a powerful political influence on the President.

Many critics suggested that the First Lady was behind the President's social programs as a means of promoting an agenda of socialism and communism.

Many critics suggested that the First Lady was behind the President’s social programs as a means of promoting an agenda of socialism and communism.

Das Schwarze, the weekly newspaper of the Nazi SS hatefully depicted Eleanor as asking FDR if they'd lost a lot of money on the war to which he responded, no - just lives.

Das Schwarze, the weekly newspaper of the Nazi SS hatefully depicted Eleanor as asking FDR if they’d lost a lot of money on the war to which he responded, no – just lives.

As she had during the Great Depression, Eleanor Roosevelt encouraged World War II servicemen to write her about their concerns and problems.

As she had during the Great Depression, Eleanor Roosevelt encouraged World War II servicemen to write her about their concerns and problems

Eleanor Roosevelt's visits to US servicemen during World War II were seen as a substantive act.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s visits to US servicemen during World War II were seen as a substantive act.

Among her many endeavors as a former First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt's greatest was in drafting the United Nations' Declaration of Human Rights.

Among her many endeavors as a former First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt’s greatest was in drafting the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights.

Eleanor Roosevelt died in November of 1962.

Eleanor Roosevelt died in November of 1962.


Categories: First Ladies, The Roosevelts

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6 replies »

  1. My favorite story of Eleanor Roosevelt was when she visited the soldiers serving in the Pacific. She told them of a soldier who was quite despondent. His commanding officer asked him what was wrong. The soldier responded: “Well, sir, everyone in my unit has killed a Jap, except for me.” The commanding officer said: ‘Well, that’s easy. Just jump out of your foxhole and yell “To Hell with Hirohito!” The jap will jump out of his foxhole, and you’ll have direct aim.’ The following day, the commanding officer saw the young man, who was still quite despondent. He said, “I did what you told me to do, sir. I jumped out of my foxhole, and yelled ‘To Hell with Hirohito.’ The Jap jumped out of his foxhole and yelled ‘To Hell with Roosevelt!’ And I just could not shoot a fellow Republican!”

  2. There will never be another like her and that’s the sad fact, but the hope is that she can inspire us to be a close kindred spirit. Love the coal mine cartoon as it is a classic and very telling while funny at the same time. Thank you for the reminder of her at this time.

  3. Very well written! I thank you for sharing those cartoons – I hadn’t ever seen them before. It’s interesting to see them. I also wanted to thank you for including me in this. 🙂 I feel privileged.

  4. Wow! Love this post — the photographs and cartoons help me build a more layered understanding of her and the historical context for her life. I wonder if the third cartoon may also be expressing awe at just how much she took advantage of the new technology of flying…she was the first First Lady to fly in a plane and even flew with Amelia Earhart! Anyway, thanks for sharing and thanks so much for linking to my blog.

  5. I have been looking for days for this Mauldin cartoon of the angels awaiting Eleanor Roosevelt and am so happy to FINALLY find it here. I remember when it appeared on the front page or our Chicago Sun Times in Nov. 1962. What a wonderful tribute you are creating in your blog for this incredible First Lady. Thank you.

    • I love especially to hear stories like that Susan – meaning that someone recalled seeing something or reading about it and finding it here. I agree on your assessment of ER – have you read the less known one on my website here about Mrs. Roosevelt and how she helped package the new sell of margarine in the 1950s? Takes a rather winding path but you might enjoy it. Regardless, thanks for taking the effort to write. Cheers.

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