Life And Legacy Of Eleanor Roosevelt: Heroine Of The Ages

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Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway.” Eleanor Roosevelt was a progressive woman stuck in a period that resisted change. As illustrated by her quote, she knew how difficult it was to succeed as a woman in a society so set against women empowerment. Eleanor Roosevelt managed to break numerous glass ceilings throughout her life, yet in recent years her legacy continues to face opposition.

Suspicions that she cheated on her husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in their forty-year marriage with journalist Lorena Hickok have plagued her reputation. Meanwhile, debates about her dependence upon her husband’s presidential platform to push her initiatives continue to roar on in the years since her passing. Despite the criticisms her actions have received over the years, Eleanor Roosevelt has shown the world that she is a heroine. She has broken many barriers throughout her life, which is shown by the various titles she has held over the years as a diplomat, women’s and civil rights activist, and social welfare champion. She completely transformed the role of the First Lady all the while displaying her many heroic traits.

What is a role model? A role model is a person with strong morals and has a positive influence on others. Eleanor Roosevelt’s life exemplifies this term. Her strong morals are shown through her actions, while her positive influence is shown in the numerous lives she touched over her life. Volunteering is one of the noblest actions a person can do. Dedicating oneself with no expectation of a reward is what helps a person become not only a role model but a true hero. Eleanor Roosevelt did not hesitate to help out people in need.

She volunteered consistently throughout her life, trying to improve the world, one person at a time. Eleanor Roosevelt graduated from the Allenswood Academy at age 18. Unlike most girls her age in the era, Roosevelt did not go looking for a romantic partner, or chase after wealth. No, instead she chose to focus on promoting social welfare. Eleanor found volunteer work in settlement houses, teaching immigrant children literature and dancing (“Eleanor Roosevelt”). Roosevelt defied the societal restrictions placed on women to follow her beliefs, which is the very definition of sticking to one’s morals. Immigrants in the early 1900s were viewed with contempt by the American people. Roosevelt resisted this bigoted view and made the choice to promote fair and equal treatment of immigrants.

Despite marrying her husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a few short years later, Eleanor did not give up her volunteer work. During World War I, she joined the Red Cross, filling numerous roles. She helped in the filling of Red Cross canteens, served food to soldiers leaving the U.S. and balanced its books. While volunteering with the Red Cross, Roosevelt also became involved with the Naval Hospital (Anirudh). In fact, she was asked by the Navy to not only provide emotional support to returning sailors but help investigate and bear witness to their mental health problems. Eleanor did this because she was asked to, but she then proceeded to take her work further. When she discovered the care in these hospitals was inadequate and lacked proper supplies to help these sailors recover, she fought.

She fought on behalf of these heroes, who had risked their lives to protect those of American citizens. She went above and beyond to maintain her integrity instead of lying around and letting the mistreatment of these sailors continue. Using her Red Cross “connections”, Roosevelt was able to convince the Red Cross to sponsor the creation of a recreation center for the Naval Hospital. Eleanor didn’t stop there as she badgered President Wilson’s Interior Secretary to conduct an investigation of the Naval Hospital. The results of the investigation led to an increase in the hospital’s budget and better care for the sailors. Eleanor did this at no one’s suggestion, she did it because it was the right thing to do. Her dedication to social welfare causes is unmatched and is what ultimately solidifies her as a role model, and even further, a heroine.

Responsible is a serious word to use when describing someone. To be responsible is to put others’ needs before your own. It also means caring for others as if it were your duty to. Eleanor Roosevelt managed to surpass both of these definitions in her life. Eleanor’s parents died when she was very young, which exacts quite a toll upon a person. However, she did not wallow in pity. She managed to continue on and keep fighting, not only for herself but for her younger brothers. She assumed a parent-like responsibility to make sure her brothers could live a happier life. “She [grandmother] never again went to see him at school and I began to go up every term for a weekend, which was what all good parents were expected to do,” (Roosevelt, Eleanor) Eleanor felt that her grandmother couldn’t handle all the responsibility of her little brothers, so she took initiative and made them feel loved and appreciated.

She was not asked to assume this responsibility, she just took it upon herself. Roosevelt also managed to balance her work in Democratic party politics, her involvement with the Women’s Trade Union League (as well as the League of Women Voters), and teaching. Amidst this busy schedule, she still found time to raise her children and support her husband (Roosevelt, Eleanor). When FDR was stricken with polio in 1921, Eleanor’s authoritative side was shown to the world. She not only helped him mend, but she encouraged him to return to politics. She began to upkeep his political connections and started to go out in public and speak on his behalf. She was the person who pushed him to run for governor of New York. Eleanor, without a thought, put her husband’s needs before her own. Yet her insistence for his success did not stop there, once he won the governorship in 1928, she managed to go numerous steps further to help him achieve his goals; she became his “eyes and ears”, (“Eleanor Roosevelt”).

Eleanor traveled throughout the state, reporting back to FDR what she saw and giving suggestions as how to solve arising issues. This sense of responsibility Eleanor held in her heart did not abandon her once she arrived in the White House in 1932. In 1935, Roosevelt began to write a newspaper column titled My Day. In this column, she initially informed the nation of the issues faced by women before later extending the topic to the political climate (“Eleanor Roosevelt”). Eleanor began the column to help women express their opinions without being silenced and help keep the nation up to date with what goes on in the federal government. Eleanor Roosevelt had a sense of responsibility throughout her life. She focused on the needs of others and helped them succeed, much like a heroine would do.

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Leadership is what distinguishes a normal person from a hero. It allows one to receive the respect of others and help lead them in a positive direction. Leadership is the one heroic trait that Eleanor Roosevelt was not born with; it’s one she developed over the span of her life. Roosevelt was not one to speak up and challenge authority in her young adulthood. She was pushed around by her mother-in-law and remained subservient to those she deemed more important than her. Eleanor was forced into misery and lost control of her life, which accelerated once she moved into the house her mother-in-law had purchased for her family, forcing her to be completely dependent upon others (Roosevelt, Eleanor).

Slowly, although inevitably, she began to develop more and more leadership qualities, not only within her family but within the social and political affairs of the nation. Her ascension into her fateful role as a leader really skyrocketed when she began working in Democratic party politics. Roosevelt started out working in the women’s division of the Democratic State Committee (Roosevelt, Eleanor). She began with printing flyers and headlines. Over the years she developed a sense of leadership that left an impact on those around her. This leadership is what launched Eleanor into the role of financial adviser for the division. The leadership traits Roosevelt managed to develop in this period stuck with her throughout her life. Her ability to take control over a situation and be fair while doing so made her an easy pick to be a UN delegate in President Truman’s mind in 1946.

She was picked due to the accomplishments she was able to achieve in a society against women succeeding. In this position, she was able to make a huge impact on not just the U.S., but the world. Although she was initially nervous in this new role, she was able to rebound and become the leader Truman believed her to be (Roosevelt, Elliot). Eleanor was able to make huge contributions, most in due part to her diligence and leadership. The passage of the Universal Declaration of Rights owes its creation to her. She stepped up and created the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Drafting Committee (Anirudh). A hero doesn’t wait around for someone else to take charge; heroes step up and intervene on the behalf of others. Eleanor Roosevelt has stepped up numerous times throughout her life, effectively establishing her legacy as a heroine.

The opposition to African American advancement is something Eleanor Roosevelt was exposed to over the course of this life. She resisted this narrow-minded culture and stood up in their defense. One of the events Roosevelt is most noted for is the Marian Anderson conflict. When Marian Anderson, a prominent African American opera singer, was denied the opportunity by the Daughters of the American Revolution to play at Constitution Hall on account of her race, Roosevelt stepped in. Eleanor not only offered Anderson a chance to play at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, she also invited Anderson to perform in front of the King and Queen of England a few months later. She also agreed to present the Spingarn Medal to Anderson at a national convention of the NAACP. Eleanor didn’t stop there as she tendered her resignation to the Daughters of the American Revolution, saying, “However, I am in complete disagreement with the attitude taken in refusing Constitution Hall to a great artist. You have set an example which seems to me unfortunate, and I feel obliged to send in to you my resignation.” (Roosevelt, Eleanor).

Eleanor Roosevelt could have left the issue alone and continued on. Instead she resisted the flawed views of her society and made a stand. She wouldn’t let Marian Anderson get pushed around due to not being white. The Marian Anderson conflict was not an isolated incident. Eleanor Roosevelt has advocated on behalf of the civil rights movement numerous times throughout her life. She supported the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II and even begged to fly with one of them. Roosevelt encouraged the Freedom Riders to continue on with their protest and condemned the violence wrought upon them. Eleanor Roosevelt paid no attention to the criticism her actions supporting the civil rights movement received. She continued on, following her morals and what was right. She did what any true hero does and resisted the hatred shown towards minorities, and instead helped build them up through celebrating their accomplishments.

Perhaps what Eleanor Roosevelt is most known for is her activism in women’s rights. Many of the freedoms enjoyed by today’s females can be contributed to Eleanor in some way or another. Eleanor’s establishment of Val-Kill Industries is just one example of this impact. Roosevelt established Val-Kill Industries in 1927 with her friends Nancy Cook, Marion Dickerman and Caroline O’Day (Anirudh). It helped provide income for farm families who would create the furniture being sold. Although it was not a huge success, it helped provide a model for New Deal programs and showed that women are capable of running a successful business. While in the White House, Eleanor Roosevelt promoted women’s rights by holding female press conferences. These conferences were only for women and were to help keep the nation informed on the state of women’s affairs (“Eleanor Roosevelt”).

Eleanor constantly had to remind the general population that women existed and that they had a huge role in making the nation stable. She even had to remind her own husband of women’s existence. This reminder is what helped him in the push of choosing Frances Perkins, the first female cabinet member, as the Secretary of Labor (Roosevelt, Eleanor). Roosevelt refused to stop fighting for women, so she joined the Women’s Union Trade League (WTUL) and the League of Women Voters (LWV). The LWV was designed in order to help women have a larger influence over public affairs after the passage of the 19th Amendment. Roosevelt did not go looking to join the LWV, they came to her and asked her to join. This just shows how much respect Eleanor had concerning the fights for women’s rights. The WTUL was an organization that fought for a 48 hour workday, minimum wage and prohibition of child labor (Anirudh).

She believed so much in this cause that when the Great Depression hit, she donated money in order to keep two of its headquarters open (Roosevelt, Eleanor). The influence Eleanor had is what made her a perfect champion of women’s rights, and made her an easy pick for President John F. Kennedy when he was looking for someone to be the chair of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women. Here she was able to make a huge impact on the lives of women by investigating discriminatory employment practices used against women, legal representation for women, women’s incomes, and labor laws that affect women. Eleanor Roosevelt is virtually synonymous with the term “feminist”. She fought long and hard for equal treatment of women’s rights, from young adulthood right up to the day she died. A true heroine doesn’t give up on their beliefs, proving that Eleanor Roosevelt is a heroine for all time.

Despite the all the impact her actions have had on our nation, Eleanor Roosevelt faced constant opposition and her legacy still faces it to this day. One of the more “prominent” criticisms she has received concerns her faithfulness to her husband. In recent years, it has been revealed that Eleanor was in romantic contact with newspaper journalist Lorena Hickok. However, this “conspiracy” is heavily debated among historians. What is known is that Hickok pushed Eleanor to host the female press conferences and write her newspaper column My Day.

Hickok did play a major role in establishing Eleanor Roosevelt’s identity, but to smear Roosevelt’s character by implying their relationship was anything more than amicable is unjust. Another major issue Roosevelt’s critics have brought up against her is her “dependency” upon FDR, her husband. Many argue that without her husband’s “platform”, Eleanor wouldn’t have as many, or even any, accomplishments of her own. This opinion is simply false. She made numerous accomplishments concerning social welfare prior to even meeting FDR. She also made numerous accomplishments after his death, which disproves any arguments saying she was encouraged to get more involved with welfare projects. Overall, Eleanor Roosevelt is a heroine and her actions speak for themselves, no matter what the opposition may say about her.

Heroism is a difficult subject to define. Everyone has their downfalls in some areas, but that shouldn’t disqualify them from being a hero. A hero should be someone a role model, leader, responsible and be able to fight for those who don’t have a voice. Eleanor Roosevelt is all of these traits, and then some. She volunteered to teach immigrant children and help with the Red Cross in World War I. She assumed a maternal responsibility in helping raise her younger brothers and balanced her schedule between volunteering, working and raising a family.

Roosevelt became a leader in Democratic party politics which later helped her to be recognized as a key UN delegate. She spoke up for disenfranchised African Americans and helped women speak their minds. Many people fail to consider women when being told to imagine a hero. Eleanor Roosevelt’s legacy is one among many that is helping to change this flawed way of thinking. Eleanor Roosevelt’s actions and beliefs helped to establish her not only a heroine of her time, but one for the ages.

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