On October 11, 1884, Eleanor Roosevelt was born in New York City. Her lifetime achievements are almost too numerous to list, but these amazing facts should remind you why she’s still celebrated as one of America’s most influential first ladies and diplomats.
1. Eleanor was Eleanor Roosevelt’s middle name.
As a child, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt much preferred her middle name and would usually introduce herself by it as she grew older. Roosevelt wasn’t wild about her childhood nickname, either: Her mother, Anna Hall Roosevelt, found the girl comically old-fashioned and often referred to her as “Granny.”
2. Eleanor Roosevelt was orphaned at a young age.
When Anna Hall Roosevelt passed away in 1892, her husband Elliott, who struggled with alcoholism, was exiled from the family. Following these tragic events, 8-year-old Eleanor was left in the care of her maternal grandmother, Valentine Hall. Elliott, the younger brother of Theodore Roosevelt, attempted suicide by jumping out of a window in 1894. Despite surviving this fall, he suffered a seizure shortly thereafter and died on August 14, 1894.
3. Eleanor Roosevelt loved field hockey.
What did Eleanor Roosevelt consider the happiest day of her life? The day she made her private school’s field hockey team.
4. President Theodore Roosevelt walked Eleanor down the aisle on her wedding day.
“I am as fond of Eleanor as if she were my daughter,” TR once wrote. On March 17, 1905, just a few months into his second term, the president gave Eleanor away on her wedding day. “Well, Franklin,” TR later joked to her new husband (and his cousin), “there’s nothing like keeping the name in the family.”
5. Eleanor Roosevelt organized press conferences exclusively for female reporters.
Before FDR was first elected president in 1933, female journalists had usually been excluded from media events at the White House. Eleanor helped to level the playing field by hosting a series of women-only press conferences, which pressured newspapers into hiring more female reporters and helped Eleanor win over female voters on behalf of her husband.
6. Eleanor Roosevelt once flew with Amelia Earhart.
The groundbreaking aviator inspired Eleanor to apply for her own pilot’s license and even took her on a flight from D.C. to Baltimore in 1933. After Earhart vanished on her round-the-world attempt, Roosevelt told reporters, “I am sure Amelia’s last words were ‘I have no regrets.’”
7. Eleanor Roosevelt wrote a syndicated newspaper column for 27 years.
From 1935 to 1962, Roosevelt composed six articles a week about her political views and personal life. Simply titled “My Day,” the column featured her musings on such hot topics as Prohibition, Pearl Harbor, and Joseph McCarthy’s Communist witch hunt. In all that time, Eleanor missed only a single week’s worth of deadlines, following her husband’s death in 1945.
8. Eleanor Roosevelt protested segregation laws in Birmingham, Alabama.
In 1938, the Southern Conference for Human Welfare held its inaugural meeting in Birmingham. Upon arriving, Roosevelt sat directly beside an African American associate, ignoring the designated whites-only section. After being told that Birmingham’s segregationist policies prohibited white and Black persons from sitting together at public functions, Roosevelt asked for a ruler.
“Now measure the distance between this chair and that one,” she said. After examining the gap separating the sections for white and Black attendees, Roosevelt placed her chair an equal distance between them. “They were afraid to arrest her,” one witness claimed.
9. Eleanor Roosevelt starred in a margarine commercial.
Roosevelt advertised a range of products, from mattresses to hot dogs. Her appearance in a 1959 TV spot above helped establish margarine as one of America’s favorite spreads. This appearance netted the former first lady $35,000, which she used to purchase 6000 care packages for impoverished families.
10. Eleanor Roosevelt helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
President Harry S. Truman appointed Roosevelt as the U.S. representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council in 1946. In this role, she became a driving force behind the U.N.’s Declaration of Human Rights, which more than 50 member-states eventually worked together to compose.
11. Eleanor Roosevelt earned 35 honorary degrees.
Among the institutions that gave honorary degrees to Roosevelt were Russell Sage College, the John Marshall College of Law, and Oxford University. FDR only received 31 in his lifetime.
This article originally ran in 2014. It has been updated for 2021.