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Anna Eleanor Roosevelt ; October 11, 1884 - November 7, 1962) was an American political leader who used her influence as an active First Lady from 1933 to 1945 to promote the New Deal policies of her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as well as taking a prominent role as an advocate for civil rights. After her husband's death in 1945, she continued to be an internationally prominent author and speaker for the New Deal coalition. She was a suffragist who worked to enhance the status of working women, although she opposed the Equal Rights Amendment because she believed it would adversely affect women. In the 1940s, she was one of the co-founders of Freedom House and supported the formation of the United Nations. Eleanor Roosevelt founded the UN Association of the United States in 1943 to advance support for the formation of the UN. She was a delegate to the UN General Assembly in 1945 and chaired the committee that drafted and approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
President Harry S. Truman called her the "First Lady of the World" in tribute to her human rights achievements.
She was one of the most admired persons of the 20th century, according to Gallup's List of Widely Admired People.
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born October 11, 1884, at 56 West 37th Street in New York City, New York. Her parents were Elliott Roosevelt and Anna Hall Roosevelt. She was named Anna for her mother and for her aunt, Anna Cowles and Eleanor for her father, who was nicknamed "Ellie". From the beginning, she preferred to be called by her middle name, Eleanor. Two brothers, Elliott, Jr. (1889-1893) and Hall Roosevelt (1891-1941) were born later. She was born into a world of some wealth and privilege, as her family was part of New York high society called the "swells".
When Eleanor was eight, her mother died of diphtheria and she and her brothers were sent to live with her maternal grandmother, Mary Ludlow Hall (1843-1919) at Tivoli, New York and at a brownstone in New York City. Just before Eleanor turned ten, she was orphaned when her father died of complications of alcoholism. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, author Joseph Lash describes her during this period of childhood as insecure and starved for affection, considering herself "ugly". So painfully shy was the unhappy little girl that she could not even spell when called upon in class.In the fall of 1899, with the encouragement of her paternal aunt Bamie Cowles, it was decided to send Eleanor to Allenswood Academy, an English finishing school. The headmistress, Marie Souvestre, was a noted feminist educator who sought to develop independent minds in young women. Eleanor learned to speak French fluently and gained self-confidence. Her first-cousin Corinne Robinson, whose first term at Allenswood overlapped with Eleanor's last, said that when she arrived at the school, Eleanor was "everything."
Following FDR's paralytic illness attack in 1921, Eleanor began serving as a stand-in for her incapacitated husband, making public appearances on his behalf. She also started working with the Women's Trade Union League (WCTU), raising funds in support of the union's goals: a 48-hour work week, minimum wage, and the abolition of child labor. Throughout the 1920s, she was increasingly influential as a leader in the New York State Democratic Party. In 1924, she actively campaigned for Alfred E. Smith in his successful re-election bid as governor of the Empire State. By 1928, she was actively promoting Smith's candidacy for president and Franklin Roosevelt's nomination as the Democratic Party's candidate for governor of New York, succeeding Smith. Although Smith lost, Roosevelt won handily and the Roosevelts moved into the governor's mansion in Albany, New York.
She also taught literature and American history at the Todhunter School for Girls in New York city in the 1920s.
Having seen her aunt Edith Roosevelt's strictly circumscribed role and traditional protocol during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, Eleanor set out on a different course. Despite criticism, she continued with the active business and speaking agenda she had begun before becoming First Lady, in an era when few women had careers outside the home. She was the first First Lady to hold weekly press conferences and started writing a syndicated newspaper column, "My Day". Eleanor Roosevelt maintained a heavy travel schedule over her twelve years in the White House, frequently making personal appearances at labor meetings to assure Depression-era workers that the White House was mindful of their plight. In one widely-circulated cartoon of the time lampooning the peripatetic First Lady, she was pictured appearing inside a coal mine wearing a miner's hat, to the astonishment of a startled miner who exclaims, "My goodness! It's Mrs. Roosevelt".
During Franklin Roosevelt's terms as President, Eleanor was vocal in her support of the African-American civil rights movement. She was outspoken in her support of Marian Anderson in 1939 when the black singer was denied the use of Washington's Constitution Hall and was instrumental in the subsequent concert held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Because FDR needed the support of Southern Democrats to advance other parts of his agenda. Eleanor became an important connection for FDR's administration to the African-American population during the segregation era.
Roosevelt received 35 honorary degrees during her life, compared to 31 awarded to her husband. Her first, a Doctor of Humane Letters or D.H.L. on June 13, 1929, was also the first honorary degree awarded by Russell Sage College in Troy, New York. Her last was a Doctor of Laws, LL.D. degree granted by what is now Clark Atlanta University in June 1962.
In 1968, she was awarded one of the United Nations Human Rights Prizes. There was an unsuccessful campaign to award her a posthumous Nobel Peace Prize; however, it has only once been awarded posthumously.
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