Last night I taught a class about Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deals. As I was going on and on about the AAA and the NRA and all of the other acts that he put into play both during and after his first 100 days, I couldn’t help but draw a parallel to Barack Obama. He’s following Franklin’s footsteps carefully; even emulating FDR’s brilliant fireside chats, which helped restore hope and confidence to the American people during the Depression. Except that Barack is using You Tube instead of the radio.
Beyond that however, I was struck anew at the woman behind FDR. The woman who in my opinion, probably pulled a lot more of those puppet strings than we’ll ever know. Eleanor and Franklin D. were distant cousins (fifth, once removed) who fell in love after she brought him into the shanty slums of New York post 1929. Eleanor’s life is marked by her awareness and sensitivity for those in need and FDR was smart enough to realize how special this made her. Despite his mother’s protests, the two were wed on St. Patrick’s Day in 1905.
Eleanor’s empathy stemmed from a terrible childhood – her mother died when she was only eight and her father, who lived in a sanitarium, followed two years later. Now debutantes don’t usually spend their time fighting injustice, but that’s exactly what Eleanor did. She was a champion of women’s rights, equal rights for African Americans, the protection of children in the workforce, and the welfare of veterans, to name a few. Eleanor Roosevelt was the mouthpiece for those who needed one.
Eleanor went on after FDR’s affair, after his second term ended, and after his eventual death, to become a key spokesperson for the United Nations. Now I don’t know if Michelle Obama will be the influence that Eleanor was, but as her husband attempts to create the change in our country that Franklin once did, I hope she too will aspire to fill a Roosevelt’s shoes.
Eleanor Roosevelt changed the role of the first lady and inspired women to be more, to be everything, to be equals. She was clever and erudite and brave. Here are a few of my most favorite of her little pearls of wisdom:
“Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people.”
“Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one.”
“What is to give light must endure the burning.”
“When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?”
“A mature person is one who is does not think only in absolutes, who is able to be objective even when deeply stirred emotionally, who has learned that there is both good and bad in all people and all things, and who walks humbly and deals charitably with the circumstances of life, knowing that in this world no one is all-knowing and therefore all of us need both love and charity.”
If you’re interested in reading more about this amazing woman, Time Magazine published an article back in 1998, which names her as one of the most influential people of the 21st century. Time Magazine 1998