Sunday, October 17, 2021

Eleanor Roosevelt: Redefined First Lady


I recently saw several Facebook posts asking what outstanding people you know born in October. That’s a fun way to acknowledge family and friends’ birthdays. But that trigger a question: what famous people were born in October? I reviewed the list, and Eleanor Roosevelt reminded me of my heroine, Angelina, in my new Historical Romance, Angelina’s Resolve. She is carrying on the fight for women’s rights in the mid-1800s while Eleanor Roosevelt did that and so much more in the early 20th century.


Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born October 11, 1884, in Manhattan, New York City, to socialite Anna Rebecca Hall and Elliott Bulloch Roosevelt (Theodore Roosevelt’s brother.) From childhood, she preferred to be called Eleanor. Her mother gave her the nickname “Granny” because she was such a serious child.

She lost both her parents and a brother at an early age and went to live with her Maternal Grandmother Mary Livingston Ludlow. She had a private tutor until she was 15. In 1899, Eleanor was sent to a boarding school in Wimbledon, England,  where she gained confidence from the headmistress who encouraged the girls to be independent thinkers.

Her education ended in 1902 when her grandmother called her home to be present at a debutante ball. Her “coming out party” although beautiful, was horrible for the lonely teen. She’d been away from New York so long that she didn’t know any of the girls her age.

In the summer of 1902, she met her father’s sixth cousin, Franklin Roosevelt. They secretly corresponded, and a romance began. They became engaged on November 22, 1903. Franklin’s mother, Sarah Roosevelt, disliked Eleanor and insisted they keep their engagement secret for a year. She even took Franklin to the Caribbean, hoping he would forget her. That was not to be. On March 17, 1905, they married. Her uncle Theodore Roosevelt gave her away.  

Franklin’s mother set them up in a townhouse in Hyde Park, next to hers. It had a door connecting the two homes. Sarah insisted on running both households and even told the grandchildren, “Your mother bore you, but I am more of a mother to you than her.”

Eleanor and Franklin had six children, but their marriage wasn’t a happy one. Franklin’s first affair would have ended their marriage if not for his mother threatening to disinherit him if he did. The two decided to work things out. Eleanor found her fulfillment in public service and lending her support to organizations that shared her focus on equality for all.

Eleanor's official portrait

If not for Eleanor, Franklin Roosevelt would probably not have been president. He contracted a polio like disease in 1921, leaving him without the use of his legs. His mother advised him to retire from politics, while Eleanor encouraged him to stay the course. She hit the campaign trail on his behalf, propelling Franklin’s career.

Mrs. Roosevelt, always acted on what she felt was right. In 1924, she helped Alfred E. Smith’s reelection campaign for Governor of New York against her cousin Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. He never forgave her.

When her husband became president in 1933, she was depressed at taking on the role of First Lady, which traditionally focused on domesticity and playing hostess. Instead, Eleanor redefined the job of First Lady, making it proactive. She continued her business interests and her speaking engagements in an era when few married women had careers. Eleanor maintained a heavy travel schedule while in the White House. She often made appearances at labor meetings to assure the depression-era workers that the White House was aware of their plight.

She endeared herself to the public when a protest group of World War I veterans marched on Washington for the second time in two years, asking that veterans bonus certificates be awarded early. President Hoover had sent the police with tear gas to disperse the crowd. But the next year, Eleanor met with the protesters at their makeshift camp and listened to their concerns and even sang army songs with them. The meeting defused the tension and a marcher later said, “Hoover sent the Army, but Roosevelt sent his wife.”

During her husband’s time in office, she became an important connection to the African American community. Although Franklin wanted to placate the south, she was very vocal in her support of civil rights. She complained the New Deal programs discriminated against African-Americas who receive a smaller share of relief money. Eleanor spoke against Japanese-American prejudice, and the internment camps during World War II.

Mrs. Roosevelt used the media more than her predecessors, even having her own radio show. She held 348 press conferences and wrote over sixty articles during her tenure as First Lady. In addition, she began a syndicated newspaper column entitled “My Day” that ran six days a week from 1936 until her death in 1962 as well as an advice column, “If You Ask Methat first appeared in The Ladies Home Journal and then McCalls.

 President Truman appointed her as a delegate to the United National General Assembly. In April 1946, she became the first chairperson of the United Nations Committee for Human Rights.

A car struck the former first lady in 1960 and complications from her medical treatment led to her death on November 7, 1962, at 78. President Kennedy ordered all flags at half-mast in her honor. Eleanor Roosevelt did her part to propel the cause of equality for all.

I am giving away one e-book copy of Angelina's Resolve to one lucky commenter.Who is your favorite Historical figure and why?

Cindy Ervin Huff is an Award-winning author of Historical and Contemporary Romance. She loves infusing hope into her stories of broken people. She’s addicted to reading and chocolate. Her idea of a vacation is visiting historical sites and an ideal date with her hubby of almost fifty years would be an evening at the theater.

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Angelina’s Resolve

Architect Angelina DuBois is determined to prove her worth in a male-dominated profession by building a town run by women, where everyone is equal, and temperance is in the by-laws. Contractor Edward Pritchard must guard his heart as he works with the beautiful, strong-willed yet naïve Angelina. He appreciates her ability as an architect, but she frustrates him at every turn with her leadership style. When the project is completed, will it open doors for more work or make him a laughingstock? Can two strong-will people appreciate their differences and embrace their attraction as they work to build the town?




  1. A wonderful post! I love all that Eleanor accomplished. She's one of my favorite historical figures, and I own several biographies of her. Did you know that she also held a press conference that she only invited female reporters to? She was a pistol and did great things.

  2. I love reading about our First Ladies. Every year at Christmas, my husband gives me another biography of one. Eleanor is a favorite.

  3. Linda, I knew about the female reporters. She was so bold. I've come to admire her doing this reearch.

  4. Thanks for the post! I love reading about Eleanor. I didn't know about that affair Franklin had. It makes you appreciate Eleanor all the more for withstanding that. She is a favorite historical figure, and I like knowing more about Abraham Lincoln, but I feel that every person we come to hear about from history is important to who and what we are today.