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Setting the Stage


Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born in New York on October 11, 1884 to a wealthy family. After attending school in England as a teenager, Roosevelt returned home to New York where she began working with the city's poor immigrants. In 1905 she married her distant cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt, a well-connected Columbia University Law School student. In 1921 FDR, who had already served as a New York state senator and assistant secretary of the navy under President Woodrow Wilson, contracted polio. Eleanor Roosevelt began to engage in a more public life, making speeches and official appearances for the Democratic party so that her husband's name would not be forgotten. She became her husband's "eyes, ears and legs" as she campaigned for him. Discovering that she had a liking for politics herself, Roosevelt began working enthusiastically for women's rights and other progressive causes.

After FDR became president in 1933, he announced a "New Deal" for America. Eleanor Roosevelt toured the country extensively and gathered information used to formulate plans to combat the Great Depression. She conveyed her accounts of the conditions she witnessed and urged immediate action for relief. Before that work was completed, however, World War II began. The First Lady supported the war effort vigorously, spending much of her time visiting the wounded in hospitals at home and overseas.

After her husband's death in 1945, Roosevelt was appointed as United States delegate to the United Nations, where she became an outspoken advocate for its Declaration of Human Rights. She continued her widely-syndicated newspaper column "My Day" that she had begun writing in 1936, and which served as a diary open to the American public. She campaigned for Democratic presidential candidates Adlai Stevenson and John F. Kennedy and continued her travels abroad. She visited many world leaders and entertained many at Val-Kill, her home in Hyde Park, New York. In her lifelong pursuit of humanitarian ideals, Eleanor Roosevelt would earn the title "First Lady of the World," a label bestowed on her by President Harry S. Truman.

 

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