There are some individuals who, no matter how long they are gone, are worth remembering.
Over half a century has passed since she died, but the vision and the work of Eleanor Roosevelt still reverberates.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
- Michelle Obama’s Water & Other First Lady Drinking Tales (carlanthonyonline.com)
- It Is Eleanor Roosevelt’s Birthday And We Have Discovered The Best Website Ever (wonkette.com)
- Eleanor Roosevelt Timeline (wdsu.com)
- Eleanor Roosevelt Timeline (wyff4.com)
- Happy Birthday to “The First Lady of the World” (stormy1218.wordpress.com)
- Review: Eleanor Roosevelt (shtulman.wordpress.com)
- Shutdown forces shift of Roosevelt medal ceremony (cbs6albany.com)
- Bess Truman Rocks The Back Porch & Her Only Recorded Interview (carlanthonyonline.com)
- Five Presidents Who Went to War & Killed Themselves For It (Part 4) (carlanthonyonline.com)
- Happy Birthday to Eleanor Roosevelt, Boss Lady and Badass Teacher! (thosewhoteach.wordpress.com)