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Eleanor Roosevelt Center at Val-Kill

National Park Service site on Eleanor's house, Val-Kill



Sit Still, Eleanor! -- The First Lady of the World



Before I joined the Trek, I lived in Mozambique

The story of Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, is one of the most moving stories I've found in all my work as a trekker.

To learn about Eleanor Roosevelt, I visited her home, watched a video on her life, interviewed people, read articles, and took photos. After all that, I still wanted to learn more! So here goes. Take a deep breath and prepare to be awed.

Hanging out in Eleanor's living room at Val-Kill
Let's begin with a wish, one repeated by the maids, secretaries, chauffeurs and Secret Service men who followed Mrs. Roosevelt around: "Dear God, please make Eleanor tired." Some people just hoped Eleanor would sit still! It seemed like she never stopped traveling and working. She traveled more than 50,000 miles by plane, rail and car during her first fifteen months in the White House.

Diana shows off a bronze sculpture of Eleanor
People were amazed by a first lady who ignored the rules, doing what she wanted when she wanted. These are some of Eleanor's "firsts," listed in an article published in 1937: She was the first president's wife to hold press conferences; she was the first to fly in a plane; she was the first to drive her own car; she was the first to write her own newspaper column. Some people criticized her for being different, but most loved her. She changed the way people thought about what a president's wife should do.

Eleanor and FDR during one of his inaugurations
Eleanor believed that everyone deserved to have a decent life. So she spent her own life working for the poor and the unfairly treated. She promoted civil rights for African Americans and equal rights for women. She worked with leaders in the black community, shocking everyone by inviting them to the white house. At a conference where the seating was divided into black and white sections, she put her own seat right in the middle, in between the segregated sections. In 1939, Eleanor gave up her membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) after it denied an African American singer, Marian Anderson, the right to perform in its hall.

Although Eleanor loved to entertain, she didn't care about fancy table settings.  In fact, she dispensed with formalities and preferred to serve the guests herself!
In 1945, after Franklin Delano Roosevelt had died and after the end of World War II, Eleanor led the United Nations in writing something called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If people followed all the principles in this declaration, there would be no more wars or poverty. It has served as a model for how people can treat one another with justice and kindness.

Article 5 of the Declaration of Human Rights makes torture illegal
As Eleanor said, "The future is literally in our hands to mold as we like. But we cannot wait until tomorrow. Tomorrow is now."

The Eleanor Roosevelt Center at Val-Kill (ERVK) was founded in 1977 and is devoted to carrying out Eleanor's legacy. ERVK deals with issues such as human rights, racial and gender equality and the responsibilities of citizenship. I had the pleasure of meeting Diana Rose and finding out about some of interesting projects sponsored by ERVK. The coolest one is the "Girls' Leadership Workshop," a program for girls entering their sophomore or junior years in high school. Check out their website for more details and find out how you can participate!

Sources: "Championing a Champion: ER and the Marian Anderson 'Freedom Concert'" by Allida
M. Black, Presidential Studies Quarterly, Fall 1990. "The Future of E.R." by Dorothy Dunbar Bromley, Harpers, Jan, 1940. "Eleanor Roosevelt: A Centennial of Remembrance and Reappraisal" by various
authors, Social Education, Nov/Dec 1984. "Tireless Lady: Eleanor Roosevelt Charms as Public Precedent Breaker," The Literary
Digest, Jan 23, 1937. "The Real Eleanor" by Blanche Wiesen Cook, Ms., Sep 1984.


Please email me at: daphne@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Rebecca - Together we can make a difference!
Nick - It was a hard knock life during the Depression
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