As we continue to explore the Roosevelts through National Archives records this week in conjunction with Ken Burns's The Roosevelts documentary series on pbstv, today we turn our attention to Anna Eleanor Roosevelt.
Eleanor Roosevelt was an active and focused First Lady, transforming the role during her 12 years in the White House. She pushed for a number of domestic and social reforms, and remained professionally active in journalism, penning a monthly column for Woman’s Home Companion magazine and Ladies Home Journal as well as a syndicated daily newspaper column called “My Day.”
On March 6, 1933, Eleanor Roosevelt held the first of her 348 women’s-only press conferences. These press conferences were attended by the major female reporters of the day - including Lorena Hickok, Ruby Black, Bess Furman, May Craig, Emma Bugbee and Martha Stayer.
Eleanor used these press conferences as a way to not only announce her schedule of activities but also as a platform to publicize the work of women leaders, answer her critics, and entertain questions on a variety of subjects. Topics covered everything from domestic issues like social programs, race, youth activism, etc. to international politics and the role of women in war and peace.
Image of “Eleanor Roosevelt’s First Press Conference" and information via fdrlibrary.
Franklin and Eleanor’s Marriage Certificate, March 17, 1905
Franklin asked his former Groton School headmaster, Rev. Endicott Peabody, to officiate at the wedding, saying “it would not be the same without you.” At the conclusion of the Episcopal ceremony, the official marriage certificate was signed. President Theodore Roosevelt and First Lady Edith Kermit Roosevelt signed as the witnesses.
Day 74: Eleanor Roosevelt and the United Nations
“We stand today at the threshold of a great event both in the life of the United Nations and in the life of mankind… . This declaration may well become the international Magna Carta of all men everywhere.”
-Eleanor Roosevelt, Speech to U.N. General Assembly on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, December 9, 1948
In December 1945, seeking to signal America’s commitment to the new United Nations organization— and cement his ties to a powerful Democratic party figure— President Harry Truman appointed Eleanor Roosevelt to America’s first delegation to the General Assembly.
Eleanor quickly became a major force on refugee and human rights issues. From 1946 to 1951 she chaired the U.N. Human Rights Commission leading the effort to draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. An able and determined negotiator, she clashed frequently with Soviet delegates over the definition of human liberties. In the process, she pushed the State Department to recognize that human rights are not only civil and political rights, but social and economic rights too. The Declaration was Eleanor’s proudest achievement at the U.N. It created the modern definition of human rights. Today it is the standard for establishing norms governing international behavior regarding the rights of individuals.
Eleanor’s duties as a delegate to the United Nations included many trips abroad to London, Paris and Geneva. Eleanor received several gifts during these trips including:
- A tortoise shell box presented to ER by an English woman as a token of appreciation in the winter of 1946.
- A color print of the painting by Frank Beresford of Eleanor Roosevelt addressing the United Nations in London, England, on February 12, 1946. Inscribed and presented to ER by the artist.
- A University of Lyon Academic Stole and Cap presented to ER in November 1948 when she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by the University of Lyon, France.
- A silver United Nations medallion presented to ER by the government of France.
- A watercolor of the Rue des Corps-Saints in Geneva’s Old Town by Harry Urban. Presented to ER by the artist in April 1951. The painting hung in the living room of ER’s NYC apartment until her death.
- A group of French commemorative medallions, including one for FDR, from the government of France given to ER during her 1951-52 trip.
- A lithograph of The American Church of Paris by Frank Milton Armington. Presented to ER by the church’s minister, Clayton E. Williams, in December 1951. The print hung in the living room of ER’s NYC apartment until her death.
Day 67 - Eleanor’s Childhood Trips to Switzerland
Between 1899 and 1902, Eleanor spent three years at Allenswood, an elite boarding school for girls near London. During holidays she frequently travelled throughout England and continental Europe visiting friends and relatives, including a trip in 1900 to St. Moritz, Switzerland.
From Eleanor’s autobiography:
As the summer holidays came nearer my excitement grew for I was to travel to Saint-Moritz in Switzerland to spend my holiday with the Mortimers.
My first view of these beautiful mountains was breath-taking, for I had never seen any high mountains. I lived opposite the Catskill Mountains in summer and loved them, but how much more majestic were these great snow-capped peaks all around us as we drove into the Engadine. The little Swiss chalets, built into the sides of the hills and with places under them for all the livestock that did not actually wander into the kitchen, were picturesque, but strange to my eyes with their fretwork decoration…
The hotels [in Saint-Moritz] all bordered the lake, and the thing that I remember best about my time there was the fact that Tissie and I got up every morning early enough to walk to a little café that perched out above the lake on a promontory at one end. There we drank coffee or cocoa and ate rolls with fresh butter and honey, the sun just peeping out over the mountains and touching us with its warm rays. I can still remember how utterly contented I was!
July 17, 1940: Eleanor Roosevelt Addresses the Democratic National Convention on Behalf of FDR
On this day in 1940, Eleanor Roosevelt addressed delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago on behalf of her husband, making her the first candidate’s spouse ever to do so. After her husband gained the nomination for an unprecedented third term, he asked Eleanor to ease the delegates’ concerns over his choice of controversial vice presidential candidate, Henry Wallace. In her speech, she called for unified action during a time of war.
Eleanor remained a Democratic Party figure after her husband’s death and was the first former First Lady to address national political conventions (1948, 1956 and 1960).
Photo: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
Day 54: Quebec Conferences
FDR and Winston Churchill held two wartime conferences in Quebec. The first conference took place on August 17-24, 1943. The two discussed topics concerning the future operations in the Mediterranean and Operation Overlord. Conversations on atomic energy were also on the agenda, with FDR and Churchill agreeing that neither would communicate any information about atomic development to third parties, namely the Soviet Union, without each others consent.
The second Quebec Conference was held on September 11-16, 1944. The central topics of this conference were postwar policy towards Germany and postwar economic assistance to Britain.
Two silver models of a Whale and a Phoenix were presented to President Roosevelt by Prime Minister Winston Churchill at the Second Quebec Conference in September 1944. These are small scale models representing installations devised and built as part of the artificial harbor constructed off the beaches of Normandy in June 1944.
A Whale was an 80 foot long pontoon bridge causeway, which connected the Lobnitz pier to the shore.
A Phoenix was a hollow concrete caisson 200 feet long by 60 feet wide by 60 feet high. Laid end to end they formed a breakwater near the beach for landing craft to unload their cargo.
Day 49 - Eleanor in Great Britain
In October 1942, Eleanor traveled to Great Britain on a goodwill trip to help foster Anglo-American relations. While there she toured the country - meeting with American servicemen, British women defense workers, Prime Minister Churchill, members of Parliament and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.
Eleanor talked about the trip in her autobiography saying:
The next event of real importance to me was my husband’s decision that I should accept Queen Elizabeth’s invitation to go to Great Britain to see the work the women were doing in the war and to visit our servicemen stationed there. I did not know that one of the reasons my husband was eager to have me go over there was that those men would shortly be leaving for North Africa for the invasion…
The trip to Great Britain seemed to offer me a chance to do something that might be useful…I visited universities and innumerable factories, stayed on estates where the grounds were now being used for agricultural purposes and in country houses whose owners, now living in one small part of them, had turned them into nurseries for evacuated or wounded children. I saw the way the Women’s Voluntary Services had organized to perform innumerable duties, from moving into a town which had just been bombed and needed everything from food to laundry service, to looking after the billeting of workers who had been moved from one factory to another.
Day 26: Eleanor Roosevelt in India
In 1952 Eleanor made a significant trip to Asia – a month of which was spent in India. Having been invited by Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Eleanor chronicled her trip through her “My Day” columns and later in her book India and the Awakening East. Through her writings she worked on educating Americans on what was a little-known country at the time.
Her “My Day” column from March 3, 1952 talks about her excitement at finally visiting India:
It is very exciting to be in India after reading my father’s letters of many years ago, which told of his trip under very different circumstances 89 years ago. Meeting people from here and reading books about it are not quite the same as seeing with one’s own eyes. It is really a joy to feel that I have accomplished something I have talked about and hoped for, but really did not ever expect to see. My impressions are becoming very well crystallized in my mind as I go forward on this trip, and it is certainly most interesting to see the difference that a landscape takes on when it is peopled by so many more inhabitants than one would see at home in the same area of space.
Day 18: Eleanor in Chile & Peru
These two flags were presented to Eleanor Roosevelt on November 2, 1952, in Santiago, Chile, by the daughter of the incoming President, Carlos Ibáñez del Campo. As head of the official United States delegation, Eleanor was in Santiago for the inauguration of General Ibáñez’s second presidency.
On her way home from Chile, Eleanor made a stop in Peru. This sterling silver tray was given to her by Ernesto Romero of Lima, Peru, to commemorate her visit.