Today is the birthday of one of my all time favorite people Eleanor Roosevelt who by far set the standard for first ladies. She was a class act and arguably was the most important member of Franklin Roosevelt’s inner circle. Despite the fact that he had broke her heart she stood by him and loved him and was his eyes and ears to the people of America throughout his 12 years in office. Though they were not intimate for the last 25 years of his life they were attuned on so many levels, more than any other President and First Lady.
She of course was raised as a Republican as she was Teddy Roosevelt’s niece and he had a hand in her raising because of her father Elliott had a lot of issues. Teddy acted as her father when she married Franklin and gave away the bride and their wedding ceremony was held in the White House as Teddy was president at the time.
She was always her own woman even before Franklin’s bout with polio left him paralyzed below the waist. Afterwards she stood in for him and kept his political career alive and between her and Louie Howe they almost singlehandedly kept him going at the lowest point in his life and kept his name before the public and the Democratic Party. Had she acted any differently he might well have never become president. Despite their differences they made a great team.
Franklin discussed almost everything with Eleanor and always used her as a sounding board to test his ideas. She traveled the country as his surrogate and she was his best critic, one which he placed high value on. Most of his ideas had to pass muster with Eleanor before he laid them out for others and if they didn’t they would often not fly. He trusted her more than anyone else except Louie Howe and he lost Louie early on to cancer, so Eleanor became his eyes and ears and his sounding board of ideas.
Franklin wanted to reform the old League of Nations into what he called the United Nations and he had discussed this with several heads of state including Churchill who was somewhat relaxant to start up another unification of nations in the wake of the failures of the League of Nations. But Franklin persisted and it was his plan for after the war that he and Eleanor would work to make that happen as he was planning on retiring after he term ended in 1948. Of course he died shortly after being elected to his 4th term in office.
After his death Truman who knew and approved of his ideas and plans for a new United Nations to replace the old League of Nations asked Eleanor to head the U.S. Delegation at the formative convention. At first she refused but Truman persisted and because of her pledge to Franklin she accepted.
Arguably it could be said, that were it not for her leadership and persistence the United Nations might never have came into being. The delegates were deadlocked over several key issues. She was presiding over the proceedings at the time and she ordered that the door to the conference where they were meeting be locked and no one be allowed to leave until they came to an agreement. It could be they came to an agreement because of bladder problems but without her persistence and nerve they might never have agreed. They reached an agreement and the doors were unlocked and the rest is history.
One of my favorite all time quotes by her is from when she was honored with the naming of a new type of rose after her. She said she was quite thrilled until she read the brochure, “I was thrilled until I read the prospectus, which said, fine up against a wall, but no good in a bed!”
Happy Birthday Eleanor a great lady!