Although she won much respect as the first lady Eleanor Roosevelt gained a lot of her international esteem as a civil rights activist long before that. Eleanors interest in politics did not begin when her husband began his career in politics. Once he was named to the Democratic ticket, as Vice President Eleanor became interested in politics. While Franklin was becoming governor of New York she was campaigning for him unknowing that she was advancing her political career as well. Once Eleanor became first lady it was already done she had made a name for herself politically.
Eleanors background in politics goes back to her Uncle Teddy who was once the President of the U. S. Eleanor married a young amiable Harvard student by the name of Franklin Roosevelt. But soon Franklin became bored with Business Law and Eleanor pushed him to go into politics. Aided by a Democratic landslide and his moms money he won State Senator from the Hyde Park District. But Eleanor hated Albany and was soon very happy to leave. Franklin liked his newfound success in politics and his career prospered swiftly.
He soon became an early backer of Woodrow Wilson as he ran for president, for his efforts he was awarded the job of Assistant Secretary of the Navy, the same job that propelled Eleanors Uncle Teddy to presidency. Eleanor liked Washington about as much as she liked Albany and spent little time there. In the years after that Franklin contacted polio and it was now up to Eleanor to keep his name before the public. Aided by Louis Howe she went on a mission to salvage her husbands career. Louis went to meetings that she spoke at and though it took much criticism he managed to get rid of her nervous giggle.
Soon Eleanor gained confidence and accepted offers to write in magazines and appear on radio talk shows. She had joined many groups including the Womens Trade Union League and was also the chair of the Finance Committee of the Womens Division of the Democratic State Committee. She was fast becoming a prominent public figure, much to her amazement. In 1928 at the Democratic National Convention Governor Al Smith asked Eleanor to run the entire national Womens activities in his national campaign for president.
Smith soon requested more as he asked Franklin to run for Governor of New York. Eleanor now was exerting more force into Smiths campaign than her husbands and even though her husband won she seemed more disappointed that Smith lost. Now back in New York Eleanor had a new job to do and that was to assist her husband in his duties as governor of New York. Eleanor welcomed feminine groups who were formerly unwelcome in the state now in with open arms. Trying to advance their social programs with Franklin and the legislature.
Eleanor helped her husband by taking unannounced inspection trips to state institutions and reporting directly to her husband. It soon became clear that Franklin was ready to take the next step and run for president, as he was the leading candidate for the Democratic Party. When the dust had settled Franklin had won the election and Eleanor was heading for the White House. Just before her husbands inauguration Eleanor published the book Its up to the Women and also accepted an offer to edit a magazine called Babies-Just Babies. Once she became First Lady Eleanor became better known to Americans.
She held press conferences in the White House that were for women only, she said, So few women reporters, many of whom are just as capable of handling the big stories as the men, get a chance to be front page writers. (Weinstein 760) At first male White House correspondents disliked the idea but soon they wanted to go as well. Eleanor never allowed them. Eleanor followed this policy in almost every possible way. The Gridiron often gave an all-male dinner and invited most Washington officials and visiting politicos. So Eleanor held the Gridiron Widows Dinner for all the women reporters, cabinet wives, and women bureaucrats.
Eleanor took special interest into increasing womens role in the U. S. government and in the Democratic Party. She often invited the few females who held an office to the White House. Seeing the first woman alternate chosen for the Resolutions Committee at the 1936 Democratic convention awarded her efforts. Shortly after Franklins inauguration in March 1933 an army of unemployed set up camp in Washington and flooded it. When Eleanor asked Howe what to do he answered, Im going to take a nap, and you are going out there to talk to them.
Eleanor walked into the tent city all alone to talk to them she told the of her volunteer work during World War I and promising to do whatever she could to help them. The unemployed veterans cheered as she left. Said one, in words that would become famous, Hoover sent the Army. Roosevelt sent his wife. (Weinstein 760) The president regularly sent his wife to many strange places as she continued her random inspections as she showed up alone and unexpected. She often visited the poorest parts of the country and tried to do something about the slums of Washington.
One time she took carloads of cabinet wives to the tenements trying to awaken their interest in the city (Weinstein 761). Eleanor was well known as a first lady who cared about people and received nearly 300,000 in the first year; she, her secretary and her staff read each and every one of them. If the problem was in a federal agency she did what needed to be done to fix it, and if it was a personal problem she attempted to counsel the person or seek assistance, using the Womens Trade Union League to check out the situation. Everyone wanted to learn more about Eleanor; she went on two lecture tours a year and often surprised the audience.
She presented to the Conservative Daughters of the American Revolution a new idea of patriotism one that called for living for the interests of everyone in our country, and the world not just preparing to die for our country (Weinstein 761). She spoke on the radio and in 1935 earned a total of 72,000 in which she gave to the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). When a Republican congressman charged her with tax evasion she then received the money, paid taxes on it, and then gave the rest to the AFSC. In 1936 Eleanor took up the task of writing a newspaper column which was basically a diary of her life and times as first lady.
She would change up the topics from; disagreeing with the idea that women could not be great playwrights, to her opposition to war toys, or to sympathy of children in the Spanish Civil War. Any topics that were possibly too controversial she took up with her husband and he used them to test public reaction. This new job gave Eleanor, a long time supporter of unions, the chance to join one as she became a member of the Newspaper Guild- she declined the offer to become their president. Eleanor had always backed unions in fact her interest in the Womens Trade Union League is what had swayed her to the side of the workers against management.
She tried to stay neutral but her bias in favor of such unions as the New York based International Ladies Garment Workers Union could easily be seen. Eleanor would not cross a picket line no matter what the circumstances. She once cancelled a meeting with a very esteemed dressmaker because his workers were on strike. I will have to wait before coming to see you again, she explained to the owner of the store, until you have made some agreement with your people which is satisfactory to both sides (Weinstein 762). She did not forget the farm laborers either.
In Arkansas many sharecroppers were run off their land and pushed to relocate. Eleanor tried to use the acquaintance of Senator Joseph Robinson as an ally in the situation, telling him the story just as she heard it, but was denied the help she wanted. So she dropped the correspondence and began working behind the scenes to get immediate relief payments for the evicted farmers. Eleanor had become a major political asset to her husband. Eleanors personality would not allow her to take a second off and now she had a new calling as she moved towards a problem that was everywhere, racism.
It was clear to everyone that the blacks were getting the short end of the New Deal Aid, North and South. From the very beginning of the Roosevelt programs, Eleanor said that the wage and benefit scale should not be set lower for Negroes. She was denied that policy. All she could hope for was that New Deal programs would spill over and that blacks would get some appreciable share of the benefits. Mrs. Roosevelt battled on, asking the Secretary of the U. S. Navy why the U. S. Navy would enlist Negroes only as kitchen help?
The answer she received was that the blacks may work their way up from infantry and become petty officers and be placed in authority over whites. Eleanor never touched that issue after that answer but did help to console the Negroes. Eleanor not only tried to get government assistance for the blacks but she also identified herself with their problem. She helped the Negroes get to the head of many New Deal agencies and for the first time since the days of Woodrow Wilson a small but noticeable number of blacks maintained mid-level government jobs. Eleanor worked hard on the issue and refused to give up.
She often had discussions with Walter White, head of the NAACP, and even arranged a meeting between FDR and White over the anti-lynching bill. In November of 1938 Mrs. Roosevelt attended the first Southern Conferrence of Human Welfare in Birmingham. Birmingham being a strongly segregated town had it set so that whites would sit on one side of the hall while blacks would sit on the other. As Mrs. Roosevelt came in talking to Mrs. Mary McLeod Bethune, a prominent civil rights advocate, Eleanor sat down right next to her in the black section. Promptly a police officer came up to her and loudly cleared his voice.
She moved her chair to the center of the aisle, the police officer turned red but left. Elenor says in her biography, at a later meeting we were informed that the audience would be arrested and taken to jail, however nothing happened (Roosevelt 174). In early 1939 Mrs. Roosevelt was allowed to show how serious she was when the DAR barred the use of Washingtons Constitutional Hall to Marian Anderson, a prominent black singer at the time. Elaeanor decided to break tradition she liked the idea of resignation so protest but this was an exception, the DAR would not budge.
In April of that year Miss Ander son gave a triumphant open-air concert on federal property near the Lincoln Memorial. A few months later Eleanor presented her with Springarn Medal, the NAACPs medal for achievement. … Iam in complete disagreement with the attitude taken in refusing the use of Constitution Hall to a great artist. You have set an example which seems to me unfortunate, and I feel obligated to send into you my resignation. You had the oppurtunity to lead in an enlightened way and it seems to me that your organization has failed (taken from Eleanors resignation letter to the DAR, NARA).
Eleanor also took interest into another powerless group whisch was the National Youth Administration. She would sit in the front row and knit placidly. One friend said at a meeting to her that she voted for the Socialist candidate, Eleanor sadi she would have to had her husband not been Democrat. I nher column she warned that if such witch hunting continued, It is going to be hard to take quite a strong-minded person with a great indifferenceto what mya be said about him to join an organization even one with whose principles he is in agreement (Weinstein 766).
After Franklins death Eleanor did not quit her roll in politics nor did she not abandon her conviction that she had to be useful. After the war Mrs. Roosevelt went on to become the U. S. delegate to the United Nations. Once she became a member of the U. N. , Eleanor began to work on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The delegates to this committee quickly elected her the Chairperson for they knew of her work in the White House as well as before her husband was president. Her common sense approach to things proved to be a big asset to the committee.
Her humor and colloquial were not only geared to win but also shifted towards a certain U. S. position. As one N. Y. Times reporter wrote: The Russians seem to have met their match in Mrs. Roosevelt. The proceedings turn into a long vitriolic attack on the U. S. when she is not present. These attacks, however, generally denigrate into flurries in the face of her calm and undisturbed but often pointed replies (UDHR50). Eleanors personal sense of accomplishment with the finished Declaration was unparalleled in her life.
Her speech to the General Assembly demonstrates this: We stand today at the threshold of a great event both in the life of the United Nations and in the life of the mankind. This declaration may well become the international Magna Carta for all men everywhere. We hope its proclamation by the General Assembly will be an event comparable to the proclamation in 1789 [of the French Declaration of the Rights of Man], the adoption of the Bill of Rights by the people of the U. S. nd the adoption of comparable declarations at different times in other countries… (UDHR50) Clearly Eleanor Roosevelt had a well-known political career without the fame her husband gained. When her husband started out in politics she disliked it but the more she was exposed she soon realized her role was to be useful and politics was the key to this. Her husband Franklin saw her as a great asset to his career and she also made a name for herself that lived on after he died.