Eleanor Roosevelt: a Biography

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Eleanor Roosevelt:
A Biography
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was a true role model and leader; not only for women, but for all of America. It is not difficult to research the life of Eleanor Roosevelt. Her story reads like a page-turning novel, after all. From the days of her early childhood through her death, Mrs. Roosevelt’s life was a series of powerful experiences that shaped her into the fascinating woman that she became. At her core, Eleanor was a realist who held an unwavering belief in a better future. She was steadfast in her commitment to help make that future a reality.

Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born on October 11, 1884, the first child of Elliott Roosevelt--an attractive young businessman and brother to America’s twenty-sixth President, Theodore Roosevelt--and Anna Rebecca Hall--a lovely New York debutante. Although Eleanor was born into a wealthy and prominent New York family, her childhood was dismal. Eleanor’s father, whom she later referred to as “the one great love of my life as a child” (Toor 22), turned to alcohol for solace from his constant ill health. During Eleanor’s youth, he was absent from home for long periods of time on trips for business, pleasure, and medical treatment for his mood swings and alcoholism. Meanwhile, Eleanor’s mother struggled with her responsibilities toward Eleanor, and later Eleanor’s two younger brothers, Elliott, Jr. and Hall. Anna Hall Roosevelt became more and more melancholy, and her health began to deteriorate. She endured headaches and backaches that left her bedridden for days at a time. Little Eleanor was determined to take care of her sickly mother and has been quoted as saying “I would often sit at the head of her bed and stroke her head…for hours on end” (Black). Young Eleanor Roosevelt also had self-esteem issues, which her mother made worse by dubbing her with the unflattering nickname “Granny.” Eleanor has said of herself “I was a solemn child, without beauty and painfully shy and I seemed like a little old woman entirely lacking in the spontaneous joy and mirth of youth” (Toor 21). In contrast, Eleanor’s mother was recognized as being a great beauty. This caused Eleanor to experience feelings of shame, sensing that she was a disappointment to her mother. Eleanor’s sorrowful upbringing became even worse in 1892, when her mother came down with diphtheria and died on December 7. Even though this devastated Eleanor, she took some comfort in imagining that her father would finally straighten his life out in order to care for her and her two young brothers. This was not to be the case, however. Anna Roosevelt, fearing her husband’s volatility, had taken steps to ensure that her mother would take custody of her three children if anything should happen to her. Eleanor only saw her father sporadically from that point on. Tragically, scarlet fever struck in May of 1893, taking the life of Eleanor’s brother, Elliott, Jr. Then, on August 14, 1894, Elliott Roosevelt suffered a fall during a drinking bout and died, making Eleanor Roosevelt a true orphan. The time that Eleanor spent living in her grandmother, Mary Hall’s, home was lonely and confining. Her grandmother was strict with her and dressed her in clothing which the other girls her age deemed to be “old-fashioned.” Then, when Eleanor was fifteen years old, her life changed for the better when her grandmother sent her to an elite girls’ finishing school outside of London, England called Allenswood.

It was at Allenswood that Eleanor began to blossom, both intellectually and socially. This was in large part due to the “liberal mind and strong personality” (Freedman 29) of her headmistress, Mademoiselle Marie Souvestre. Souvestre was a bold and articulate woman whose dedication to liberal causes and comprehensive study of history played a key role in shaping young Eleanor’s social and political development. Eleanor formed close friendships with fellow students at Allenswood, some of which...
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