Eleanor Roosevelt: A Brief BiographyThe Early YearsChildhood: Eleanor Roosevelt was a shy lonely child. Her beautiful soci...
The White House YearsThe First Year: First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was concerned about how to maintain herindependence and ...
On Her OwnUnited Nations: In 1945 President Truman asked Eleanor Roosevelt to become adelegate to the United Nations. Worr...
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5 brief biography

  1. 1. Eleanor Roosevelt: A Brief BiographyThe Early YearsChildhood: Eleanor Roosevelt was a shy lonely child. Her beautiful socialite motherAnna called her “granny.” She adored her father Elliot, brother of President TheodoreRoosevelt, but he was often lost to his family through alcohol and drugs. Her mother andone brother died when Eleanor was only eight years old and her beloved father died whenshe was just ten, leaving her and her youngest brother with strict Grandmother Hall.Boarding School: Eleanor was sent to Allenswood School in England when she wasfourteen years old. Headmistress Marie Souvestre saw a potential in Eleanor and taughther about social justice, taking individual responsibility, acting collectively, and workinghard. She bought her student new clothes and they travelled together, always speakingFrench. Eleanor said that much of what she became in life “had its seeds in those threeyears of contact with a liberal mind and strong personality.”The Lower East Side: When Eleanor returned to the United States for her debut insociety she coupled the fancy balls and parties with volunteering at the Rivington StreetSettlement House. Helping the Consumers League she learned about gatheringinformation and the need for legislation to stop sweatshops and child labor.Marriage: On St. Patrick’s Day, 1905, she was very much in love and married herdashing fifth cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt. They had six children in ten years and shelearned the managerial skills of moving homes several times a year between New YorkCity, Hyde Park, the summer home on Campabello off the coast of Maine, and eventuallyWashington, DC. When Franklin won a state senate seat, she mastered the art ofbackroom politics; women didn’t yet have the right to vote.Tragedy: During two family tragedies, Eleanor Roosevelt became a political force in herown right with the help of Franklin’s long time political advisor Louis Howe. Franklin’saffair with her social secretary tore them a part, but when he was stricken with polio theyestablished a new and powerful partnership in the 1920s.Albany: In 1922, Eleanor Roosevelt met Rose Schneiderman and joined the Women’sTrade Union League. She helped by fundraising, teaching at the club house, joining theeducation committee and assisting the worker’s compensation program. She learnedabout the “social unionism” of the garment trades, concerned with wages and workingconditions, but also housing, health care, and the cultural lives of their workers. Shewalked her first picket line wwith the box makers in 1926. When Franklin becameGovernor she helped women secure important positions in his administration, includingFrances Perkins, who became the first woman Cabinet Secretary in FDR’s White House.Only where they are organized do women get equal pay for equal work, ER 1933
  2. 2. The White House YearsThe First Year: First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was concerned about how to maintain herindependence and usefulness once she was in the White House. In that first year,however, she wrote an article for Scribner’s magazine, “Protect the Workers: The State’sResponsibility for Fair Working Conditions,” before the inauguration took place. Herfirst book, It’s Up to the Women, was published, she attended a Congressional hearing ondeveloping labor legislation, began traveling across the country on behalf of thePresident, and started a women’s only press conference.New Deal: ER’s labor coalition grew dramatically, along with the labor movement itself.She was soon visiting coal mines, writing articles for the miners’ wives, and joiningforces with electrical workers, railroad porters, auto and steel workers, and migrantlaborers. Her first syndicated My Day column appeared on December 31, 1935. Shewrote six days a week and on the first anniversary she joined the American NewspaperGuild, CIO. Under New Deal legislation organized labor grew from 10% to 23% of theworkforce. By 1940, ER believed unions were a fundamental part of democracy.World War II: As war loomed, ER resigned from the DAR because of their racistpolicies, worked closely with A.Phillip Randolph to end racial discrimination ingovernment contracting, and testified before Congress on behalf of migrant farmworkers. For women workers she fought for equal pay and family support services andadvised the WTUL to adopt new tactics about the Equal Rights Amendment, saying,“Women are more highly organized, they are becoming more active as citizens, andbetter able to protect themselves.” Her life was threatened for her actions.Honoring Women: ER attended events to honor union women such as DorothyBellanca, ACWA, who “has drawn other women into the active work of the union.” Shecalled for engaging women members as active participants in the union even though itadded to their existing list of responsibilities. She encouraged domestic workers toorganize. Maida Springer, ILGWU, and colleagues were among many union womeninvited to the White House.Fourth Term: During the war ER began to work closely with Walter Reuther, thevisionary young leader of the United Automobile Workers. They planned for policies offull employment at home and economic aid abroad, rather than military containment.Both she and the President were hesitant about a fourth term, but there seemed littlechoice. President Roosevelt’s health was deteriorating rapidly, however, and on April 12,1945, he passed away. ER told the press that it was the end of her story. You must doe the thing you think you cannot do. ER, 1960
  3. 3. On Her OwnUnited Nations: In 1945 President Truman asked Eleanor Roosevelt to become adelegate to the United Nations. Worried about her lack of qualifications, she reluctantlyagreed. The UN established a commission to bring nations together to agree on somevery basic principles. As chair, she guided a complex international team of philosophers,lawyers, politicians, diplomats, and trade unionists. Working closely with labor, she alsoinvited women delegates to her hotel suite for tea, so that they could work better together.Universal Declaration of Human Rights: While fighting against the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act at home, under her guidance Article 23 declared that everyone, withoutdiscrimination, has the right to a decent job, fair working conditions, a living wage, equalpay for equal work, protection from unemployment, and the right to join a union. TheUDHR was passed on December 10, 1948. ER spent the rest of her life taking themessage of human rights around the world. There was no union hall or labor educationprogram too small to hear her message of cooperation and respect in the world. Workers’rights are human rights.Union Reform: ER saw unions as leading the way to the peaceful resolution of economicdisputes and eventually world peace. She called on union leaders to end corruption anddiscrimination within the labor movement and live up to their high ideals. She opposedthe Landrum-Griffin Act, and led a committee to defeat right to work laws in six states,accusing the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufactures ofarguments that were “predatory and misleading.” She was a keynote speaker at the AFL-CIO merger convention. Her civil rights efforts moved from “patience to protest.”Public Sector: ER struggled with issues of public sector unions, but in the end she camedown strongly in support of teachers and hospital workers, police and fire fighters havinga voice at work. Managers were little different from those in private industry. Whenteachers went on strike in 1962, she wrote that “under the present set-up teachers have noother recourse but to strike to draw attention to their legitimate complaints.”The Kennedy Years: In 1961, Eleanor Roosevelt’s life came full circle. PresidentKennedy asked her to serve as chair on the first President’s Commission on the Status ofWomen. Led by labor activist Esther Peterson, they began to assess progress andproblems for women. She took the young President a list of women’s names for hisadministration and invited him to her television show, The Prospects for Mankind. Walterand May Reuther were the last friends to visit ER at her home in Val—Kill. OnNovember 7, 1962, at the age of seventy-eight, Eleanor Roosevelt passed away. TheAFL-CIO concluded their tribute to her saying that, “She was one of us.”

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