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Eleanor Roosevelt could be considered one of the greatest women of the twentieth century. Being married with an American president she managed to find her own path and not staying in the shadows of a famous marriage. She represented a new type of first lady for next generations through her implication and activism. I addition, her impact in society broke barriers and addressed new standards for women. She was a passionate humanitarian who advocated for women, fought restless for justice and believed in her country. Eleanor Roosevelt was a woman with lots of empathy who always tried to do what she considered right not matter how much it would cost her to achieve it and that is why she is considered an exceptional and remarkable figure.
Eleanor Roosevelt was born under an important family being daughter of the younger brother of the 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt; and Anna Rebecca Hall, a popular woman of the social elite. With a father suffering from alcoholism and narcotic addiction and a shocking and unexpected death of diphtheria at only 29 years from her mother, Eleanor Roosevelt’s entire sense of family was changed when she was eight years old. Just a year later of the shocking death of her mother, Eleanor had to deal again with pain when her four-year old brother died. Unfortunately, this was not the last death Eleanor had to suffer as a child since her father died the year after that so, she and her remaining sibling, a second brother called Gracie Hall, known as “Hall” (his mother’s maiden name) moved with their maternal grandmother who took care of both. Eleanor then married Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who would become the 32nd president of the United States. He was a very important figure during the first half of the twentieth century. He was under presidency during the Great depression, being responsible, with the help of Eleanor, of the New Deal Coalition, which helped American politics as well as it defined American liberalism.
Eleanor’s education was based in home schooling until the age of fifteen. Then, she was sent to England where she continued her studies in a private school in Wimbledon in a private school called Allenswood Academy. It was in this place where she was able to build emotional bonds with other people. This was something new to her since her childhood was really lonely and sad. This academy opened her to a new world, giving her access to a sophisticated, liberal political world and a rich intellectual life. After finishing her studies in England, she returned to the United States and married her distant cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt.She was in a dark place emotionally speaking when she got married. However, she managed to restart and redefine herself as a woman and finally find her place in this world. It was the educators Marion Dickerman and Nancy Cook who gave Eleanor new perspectives in relation to women and thanks them she was introduced to networks of women activists. These events marked the beginning of Eleonor’s activist career.
World War I
“... This whole war seems to me too terrible. Of course, it brings out in every nation wonderful, fine qualities for it calls for self-sacrifice and unselfishness, two qualities which are not apt to shine in uneventful and prosperous times but every people believe that it is right! War also brings out in all nations certain qualities which are not beautiful, and I wish it could be wiped from the face of the earth though I recognize that in our present state of civilization there comes a time when every people must fight or lose its self-respect. I feel that it is almost too much to expect that we shall be spared when there is so much sorrow and suffering in so many countries abroad.As to the opinions we have formed of the Germans in the war, I can only speak for myself... but I think that among the people here there is great respect for the people of Germany and also for the wonderful efficiency and preparedness of her army.”
As we can appreciate from Eleanor’s words, she has a huge respect for those who entered the war and fight for their nation. She clearly says that she does not like the war, but she also defends it since she emphasizes some qualities the war brings the nation such as self-respect or self-sacrifice. Eleanor Roosevelt, among many other women, served the nation when America entered the First World War. She joined many organizations such as the Red Cross and also helped to organize the Navy Red Cross as well as the Naval Hospital, where she offered aid not only for the wounded but also to their families. Eleanor was also the head of the Navy League´s Comfort Committee where her major duty was the help with the distribution of wool and other goods to knitters. Even though she hated the suffering she believed the war was 'waking people to a sense of responsibility and of obligation who perhaps never had it before.' Therefore, she cannot be considered a pacifist since she tolerated the war due to it raised a sense of responsibility for the nation. She defended democracy above anything and that is why she believed it was not possible staying out of the war. However, the suffering of the World War I also raised awareness to Eleanor, who decided to work to prevent such violence from happening again not only in her country but also in the rest of the world
World War II
World War II marked the beginning of a new world. Not only was the start of the nuclear era but also the arrival of the Cold War. World War II also ended the Great Depression, specially for women since they started to work in defense industries. Eleanor played a very important role in this period since she helped in the planning and implantation of the New Deal. As a woman she could not take an active role in the planning, but she definitely found her way to make an influence on the plans. Firstly, she worked as the assistant director of the Civilian Defense offence. Unfortunately, this event created so much controversy that she had to resigned.
At the time his husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was under presidency, Eleanor took two major tours. The first one was to Europe and the second one to South Pacific. In those trips she met with Allied servicemen and leaders in order to boost morale. She was deeply concerned with refugees, civil rights and social programs. She did an incredible job with refugees, in special with Jews. She worked in many organizations such as the Emergency Rescue Committee and the Children’s Crusade for children. In addition, she pressured his husband and his government to help in this kind of social aid and even though her work was often frustrated she never gave up on her beliefs. Even after the war was ended, she continued to support refugees in order to help them leave Europe.
Eleanor also used her 'My Day' column and speeches to encourage the war effort. She continued with her fight for civil rights and civil liberties arguing that America could not fight racism abroad and tolerate it at home. She even said that there was no point on suffering the pain of the war if the country was not able to achieve equality and justice for their own citizens. Thanks to her limitless efforts, opportunities for African Americans in the military sphere, were given. Eleanor was also responsible for ending segregation in military areas as well as in transportation services. She encouraged Roosevelt to issue an executive order in 1941 prohibiting racial discrimination in defense industries and establishing the Fair Employment Practices Commission. Being always an advocate for women, she conquered her right to work in war-related industries and encouraged women to do so. She was indispensable for starting social programs such as day-care centers and community laundries to lighten the domestic duty of the women workers. When the war was ended, Eleanor supported the right of women to keep their jobs and also continued to support labor rights despite the opposition from Congress. In addition, she was also important in FDR's call for a G.I. Bill of Rights.
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