Midpoint Series: Samantha DeMart on Eleanor Roosevelt

This guest post from Samantha DeMart is part of the 2012 Midpoint Series. See all of the posts in the series here.

Born on October 11, 1884, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was destined, most thought, for a life suited to wealthy women of that time: schooling by the best private tutors and fancy schools abroad in Europe; marriage to a suitable man; a social calendar filled with parties; a home filled with children. Eleanor, however, had other plans. Through some atypical travel opportunities in her high school years, she was exposed to poverty and the experiences of the working class, which would greatly shape the activism in her later life.

After making her societal debut (only at her grandmother’s insistence), Eleanor became active in the social reform movement of the Progressive Era.  She spent time working in a settlement house (a place where immigrant workers could learn useful life skills), and for The Consumer’s League, a reform organization that investigated, and worked to change, living and working conditions in sweatshops. After meeting her husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Eleanor continued her advocacy while Franklin climbed the political ranks, first in New York state and then nationally. Eventually he was elected President of the United States in 1932, and the stage was set for Eleanor to really make a difference.

No other First Lady’s tenure was a long as Eleanor Roosevelt’s. As FDR’s wife, she spent 12 years, one month, one week and one day in the White House (1933 – 1945), and what a 12 years they were. Spanning both the Great Depression and World War II, Franklin and Eleanor were the figure heads for our nation during some of its most trying times. As such, Eleanor insisted that she continue with both her active business and speaking agenda during her time in the White House. FDR strongly supported her, and she became the first First Lady to hold a weekly press conference – where male reporters were openly banned in a move to help female reporters keep their jobs during the Depression. As a result, women were able to report on issues previously off-limits to them such as economics, commerce, defense and foreign affairs, and women reporters were established as an important, and permanent, part of the modern White House Press Corps.

Because of FDR’s then-hidden polio complications, Eleanor was called in to action as an unofficial representative of the Roosevelt administration, and worked closely with the President and his staff on policy-related issues. This was unheard of, and came under criticism from the public who felt that the First Lady was taking on roles suitable only to an elected official. Unfazed by the criticism, Eleanor pressed on and helped to shape some of the most notable New Deal policies that helped the United States to rise out of the Great Depression.

Eleanor Roosevelt speaking at the United Nations, 1947.

Eleanor Roosevelt speaking at the United Nations in July 1947. Image courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum.

Eleanor remained a staunch advocate for workers’ and womens’ rights, and was also a vocal supporter of the Civil Rights movement, and the first chairperson of the preliminary United Nations Commission on Human Rights. She was also a noted radio host, lecturer and public speaker, and author. Without a doubt, Eleanor Roosevelt was the most influential First Lady that the United States has ever had, and we are a better country because of her influence.

— Samantha DeMart


Samantha DeMart works in the development department for Heritage Christian Services, a non-profit that provides support for more than 1,600 children and adults with developmental disabilities. In her spare time she enjoys reading, playing outside, volunteering at her church, and cooking tasty (and healthy!) food for the people she loves. She loves living a wonderful life in Buffalo, NY, the City of Good Neighbors, with her husband Michael and their crazy cat, Pixel. You can find her on Twitter @BuffaloGalSKD.

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