Eleanor Roosevelt was born in New York City on 11th October, 1884. Her father, Elliott Roosevelt, was the brother of Theodore Roosevelt, president of the United States (1901-1909). Elliott entered a sanitarium for alcoholics when she was a child and by the age of ten both her parents had died.
After attending a finishing school in England, Eleanor became involved in social work. In 1905 she married her cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Like her husband, Eleanor was a Democrat and took a strong interest in politics. Between 1906 and 1916 the Roosevelts had six children, one of whom died in infancy.
In 1913 President Woodrow Wilson appointed Franklin D. Roosevelt him as assistant secretary of the navy, a post he held throughout the First World War. Eleanor worked for the Red Cross during the war and after the Armistice toured the Western Front.
In the summer of 1921, Franklin D. Roosevelt became seriously ill. He was eventually diagnosed as suffering from poliomyelitis. He was almost totally paralyzed and he was never again to recover full use of his legs. Eleanor nursed him through this illness and helped him regain the strength needed to return to his political career.
Eleanor remained politically active and worked for the League of Women's Voters, the National Consumer's League and the Women's Trade Union League. She also became friendly with the African American educator, Mary McLeod Bethune and Walter Francis White, the national secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP). These friendships resulted in Eleanor taking a close interest in African American civil rights.
Eleanor played a significant role in her husband's successful political campaigns when he was elected as governor of New York (1929) and president of the United States (1932). Eleanor became the most politically active First Lady in American history. She travelled extensively on fact-finding trips for her husband. Eleanor also campaigned for sexual and racial inequality during this period.
In 1935 Eleanor attempted to persuade Franklin D. Roosevelt to support and Anti-Lynching bill that had been introduced into Congress. However, Roosevelt refused to speak out in favour of the bill that would punish sheriffs who failed to protect their prisoners from lynch mobs. He argued that the white voters in the South would never forgive him if he supported the bill and he would therefore lose the next election.
When Franklin D. Roosevelt died in April 1945, Eleanor continued to be involved in politics. She was chairperson of United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Eleanor wrote several volumes of autobiography including This Is My Story (1937), This I Remember (1949) and On My Own (1958).
Raymond Gram Swing met Eleanor several times and in his autobiography, Good Evening (1964) argued: "Her service on the Commission of Human Rights of the United Nations is of enduring value, even if that code is long in coming into effect. She led world thinking into channels into which it never had flowed before. This was pioneering of a most valuable kind. Eleanor Roosevelt's influence on her era also calls for special recognition. She was one of the three persons closest to Franklin Roosevelt, all of whom had been active in social service. The other two were Harry Hopkins and Frances Perkins. Many of the reforms that marked the Roosevelt administration could be called social-service reforms, and the thinking of those in his circle was predominantly social-service thinking. This was peculiarly American, and may to a great extent have saved America from didactic radicalisms of European type, such as extreme socialism and Communism."
Eleanor Roosevelt died on 6th November, 1962.