The wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt changed the role of the first lady through her active participation in American politics.
After her husband suffered a polio attack in 1921, Eleanor stepped forward to help Franklin with his political career. When her husband became president in 1933, Eleanor dramatically changed the role of the first lady. Not content to stay in the background and handle domestic matters, she showed the world that the first lady was an important part of American politics. She gave press conferences and spoke out for human rights, children’s causes and women’s issues, working on behalf of the League of Women Voters. She even had her own newspaper column, “My Day.” She also focused on helping the country’s poor, stood against racial discrimination and, during World War II, traveled abroad to visit U.S. troops.
Following her husband’s death, on April 12, 1945, Eleanor told interviewers that she didn’t have plans for continuing her public service: “The story is over,” she reportedly stated. However, the opposite would actually prove to be true. President Harry Truman appointed Eleanor as a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly, a position in which she served from 1945 to 1953. She became chair of the U.N.’s Human Rights Commission and helped to write the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—an effort that she considered to be her greatest achievement.
President J.F. Kennedy reappointed her to the United States delegation to the U.N. in 1961, and later appointed her to the National Advisory Committee of the Peace Corps and to chair the President’s Commission on the Status of Women.
Outside of her political work, Eleanor wrote several books about her life and experiences, including This Is My Story (1937), This I Remember (1949), On My Own (1958) and Autobiography (1961).