“Do what you feel in your heart to be right — for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be ‘damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.'” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Biography of Eleanor Roosevelt
Early years and marriage
Born in Manhattan in 1884, Eleanor Roosevelt suffered much trauma in her early years. At two, she was with her parents aboard a ship that crashed. Everyone survived but the event left Eleanor fearful of ships and seawater. A few years later, when Eleanor was eight, her mother and a younger brother died from diphtheria. Less than two years after that, her father also passed away after a seizure shortly after a fall. Eleanor was just shy of her tenth birthday at the time.
After her parents passed away, Eleanor went to live with her grandmother. She continued suffering from the traumas and also dealt with worries about her looks. But in these years, Eleanor began to find space for joy. She fell in love with field hockey. So much so that as she reflected on life, she remarked that her happiest day was when she made her high school field hockey team. And Eleanor’s self-confidence began growing with support from the school headmistress, who was known for being a great educator and teaching women to be independent. As a result, Eleanor thrived and was beloved in school.
It was also during these years that love came into Eleanor’s life. In 1902, she met Franklin D. Roosevelt while on a train ride. A romance blossomed, and they became engaged the following year. Eleanor’s uncle, President Theodore Roosevelt, walked her down the aisle when she and Franklin married.
Political Life & Later Years
Eleanor’s husband became a politician. And while his career grew in stature, eventually becoming President, Eleanor’s role as a public figure grew as well. “I think I have a good deal of my Uncle Theodore in me, because I could not, at any age, be content to take my place by the fireside and simply look on,” she would say.
Balancing work with raising six children, as First Lady, Eleanor played an active role in her husband’s presidency, serving as his eyes and ears around the country. Working tirelessly, a day in her life could consist of travel to give multiple speeches while writing an article for a paper and letters to friends and associates. She used her platform for social progress, becoming known for adamantly standing up for equality, including disobeying segregation laws in the South. The rules needed to change is how Eleanor lived and opportunities for disadvantaged people needed to be created.
After her husband’s death in 1945, Eleanor stayed active in public life, serving as a delegate to the United Nations and chairing the UN Commission on Human Rights. Instrumental in drafting a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, she worked hard to promote its adoption.
Eleanor believed in a better world, or in her words, a world in which “the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” She passed away in 1962.
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- Story updated on March 16th, 2023.
“A mini biography of Eleanor Roosevelt” sources:
“Do what you feel in your heart to be right — for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be ‘damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.'” – “As quoted in How to Stop Worrying and Start Living (1944; 1948) by Dale Carnegie; though Roosevelt has sometimes been credited with the originating the expression, ‘Damned if you do and damned if you don’t’ is set in quote marks, indicating she herself was quoting a common expression in saying this. Actually, this saying was coined back even earlier, 1836, by evangelist Lorenzo Dow in his sermons”- Eleanor Roosevelt Wikiquote / U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, NAID: 195393 / Wikimedia Commons / Photograph taken circa 1932 – Eleanor Roosevelt, -1962. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2004670795/> / Wikimedia Commons