Today I am going to speak to you about the longest running First Lady in the history of the United States. Today we live in an age where public figures are micro managed and public appearances are stage managed. On politicians and politicians partners we see the frozen and forced smiles created by the knowledge of 24 hour camera attention and how easily the modern media can and will destroy a reputation within seconds with the right (or wrong) snapshot. Recent images of Senator Hillary Clinton preparing her “game face” for Donald Trump’s inauguration show how stage managed these appearances are.
Eleanor Roosevelt was the First Lady through 4 terms of her husband’s Presidency. From 1933 to 1945 and beyond she became one of the most important voices for women and for human beings. Her tireless work made “human rights” something everyone knew about. She pressed the United States to join the United Nations. She was the First Chair of the United Nations Commision on Human Rights between 1946 and 1952, the United States Representative to the Commision of Human Rights between 1947 and 1953 and the First Chair of the Presidential Commision on the Status of Women between 1961 and 1962. By the time of her death he was regarded as “one of the most esteemed women in the world” and “the object of almost universal respect” and named no 9 in Gallup’s Most Influential People of the 20th Century.
She had a very unhappy childhood involving the death of both her parents and her brother. When she came to be educated in London she found a mentor in her headteacher, the feminist Mary Souvestre. Once she returned back to the US and married her cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, she found that marriage itself had its own problems.
On discovering that her husband was having an affair, she resolved to make a life of prominence for herself. Though respected in later years, after her husband’s death, she was controversial and outspoken in her opinions and her causes. She went against her husband’s policies publicly. She redefined the role of First Lady for all the generations to come. She advocated the expanded rights of women, black and Asian Americans.
She was brilliant and forward thinking in her use of media as a platform. Her weekly radio show and newspaper column and she was known as a powerful speaker from convention stages.
The women of the 21st Century owe a debt of gratitude to the women of this wave of feminist thought and action. They stood forth without having female role models and became the role models of a generation.
Remember these words from this extraordinary heroine.