A mini biography of Eleanor Roosevelt

“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

Black and white portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt sitting with her hands clasped in her lap. She wears a sleeveless dress with a long necklace, and her expression is composed and thoughtful. The background is plain and unadorned, focusing attention on her.

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.

Historic black and white photograph of Eleanor Roosevelt in her wedding dress. The gown features puffed sleeves, a fitted bodice, and an elaborate skirt with a long train. She holds a large bouquet of flowers, and her hair is styled up with a headpiece. The backdrop has a patterned curtain, adding to the formal and elegant ambiance of the portrait.
Eleanor Roosevelt in her wedding dress, 1905

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.

Notes:

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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, Wikimedia Foundation, https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Eleanor_Roosevelt
  • U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, NAID: 195393
  • Photograph taken circa 1932 – Eleanor Roosevelt, -1962. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2004670795/>