How Eleanor Roosevelt Championed Civil Rights

Posted by Ernie K. on 3/12/21 6:02 PM

In honor of Women’s History Month, learn more about Eleanor Roosevelt, first lady and champion of humanitarian causes. Ernie Kyger, Van Metre’s resident Lifestyle Blogger and Diversity and Inclusion Council Member, explores Eleanor Roosevelt’s history. 



Key takeaways:

  • First lady Eleanor Roosevelt—wife of Franklin D. Roosevelt the 32nd President of the United States—was a leader in her own right of numerous humanitarian causes throughout her life. 

  • Her father, Elliott Roosevelt was the younger brother of Theodore Roosevelt, and her mother, Anna Hall was from a wealthy New York family. Roosevelt’s father was an alcoholic and her parents’ marriage was troubled. 


  • On March 17, 1905, 20-year-old Eleanor married Franklin Roosevelt, a 22-year-old Harvard University student and her fifth cousin once removed. 

  • In 1921, Franklin Roosevelt was diagnosed with polio, which left him paralyzed from the waist down. Eleanor encouraged her husband to continue in politics, and in 1928 he was elected governor of New York. Six years later, Roosevelt was elected to the White House. 

  • The Roosevelts entered the White House in the midst of the Great Depression; the president and Congress soon implemented a series of economic recovery initiatives known as the New Deal. Eleanor traveled across the United States, acting as her husband’s eyes and ears and reporting back to him after she visited government institutions, programs and numerous other facilities. 

  • She was an early champion of civil rights for African Americans as well as an advocate for American workers, the poor, young people and women during the Great Depression. 

  • Eleanor encouraged her husband to appoint more women to federal positions, and she held hundreds of press conferences for female reporters only during a time when women were typically barred from White House press conferences. 

  • Eleanor discovered her husband was having an affair with her social secretary, Lucy Mercer. Eleanor offered Franklin a divorce; however, he chose to stay in the marriage. Although Franklin Roosevelt agreed never to see Mercer again, the two resumed contact, and she was with the president in Warm Springs, Georgia, when he died from a cerebral hemorrhage on April 12, 1945, at age 63. 


  • Her continued support of the civil rights movement and an anti-lynching bill earned her the ire of the Ku Klux Klan, who put a $25,000 bounty on her head in the 1960s.  Eleanor Roosevelt famously resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution when it barred African American singer Marian Anderson from performing at its Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C.  Eleanor was instrumental in arranging for Anderson to perform on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
  • From 1961 until her death the following year, Roosevelt headed the first Presidential Commission on the Status of Women, at the request of President John Kennedy. She also served on the board of numerous organizations, including the NAACP and the Advisory Council for the Peace Corps. 

  • Her funeral was attended by President Kennedy and former presidents Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower.  

Topics: Around the Community

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