11 Inspiring Facts About Eleanor Roosevelt

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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 finest first ladies and diplomats.

1. ELEANOR WAS HER MIDDLE NAME.

From a very young age, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt much preferred her middle name and would usually introduce herself by it as she grew older. For the record, 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. SHE WAS ORPHANED AT A VERY YOUNG AGE.

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When Anna 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. Unable to shake his demons, Elliott (Teddy Roosevelt’s younger brother) 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—leaving his children parentless.

3. SHE LOVED FIELD HOCKEY.

What did Roosevelt consider the happiest day of her life? The day she made her private school’s field hockey team.

4. ON HER WEDDING DAY, THEN-PRESIDENT TEDDY ROOSEVELT WALKED HER DOWN THE AISLE.

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“I am as fond of Eleanor as if she were my daughter,” Teddy Roosevelt once wrote of his niece. On March 17, 1905—just a few months into his second term—the Bull Moose had the honor of giving Eleanor away on her wedding day. “Well, Franklin,” the commander-in-chief later joked to her new spouse, and his cousin, “there’s nothing like keeping the name in the family.”  

5. SHE ORGANIZED SEVERAL WOMEN-ONLY WHITE HOUSE PRESS CONFERENCES.

At the time FDR was first elected president, female journalists had traditionally been excluded from serious media events at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Eleanor helped to somewhat level the playing field by hosting a series of ladies-only press conferences, which pressured papers into hiring more women reporters and helped Eleanor win over female voters on behalf of her husband. 

6. SHE ONCE WENT FLYING WITH AMELIA EARHART.

The courageous aviator inspired Eleanor to apply for her very own piloting license and even took the First Lady out for an airborne spin from D.C. to Baltimore in 1933. Years later, after Earhart unexpectedly vanished, a grief-stricken Roosevelt told the press “I am sure Amelia’s last words were ‘I have no regrets.’”

7. SHE WROTE A SYNDICATED NEWSPAPER COLUMN FOR 27 YEARS.

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From 1935 to 1962, Eleanor composed six weekly articles about her political views and personal life. Simply entitled “My Day,” the column featured Roosevelt’s musings on such topics as Prohibition, Pearl Harbor, and Joseph McCarthy’s Communist witch hunt. A disciplined professional, Eleanor missed only a single week’s worth of material, following her husband’s untimely death in 1945.   

8. SHE DEFIED BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA'S SEGREGATION LAWS IN A POWERFUL PROTEST.

In 1938, the Southern Conference for Human Welfare held its inaugural meeting in Alabama’s “Magic City.” Upon her arrival, Roosevelt sat directly beside an African American associate, ignoring the designated whites-only section en route. After being told that Birmingham’s segregationist policies prohibited whites and blacks from sitting together at public functions, the First Lady asked for a ruler.

“Now measure the distance between this chair and that one,” she said after somebody produced one. Upon examining this gap separating the white and black seating areas, the first lady placed her chair directly in its center. There she defiantly sat, in a racial no-man’s land, until the meeting concluded. “They were afraid to arrest her,” one witness claimed.

9. SHE STARRED IN A MARGARINE COMMERCIAL.

In fact, Roosevelt advertised a range of products—from mattresses to hot dogs. Her appearance in the 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. SHE HELPED DRAFT THE UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS.

Harry S. Truman appointed Roosevelt as a United Nations delegate in 1946. In this role, she became a driving force behind the U.N.’s Declaration of Human Rights, which over 50 member-states eventually worked together to compose.

11. SHE EARNED 35 HONORARY DEGREES.

FDR, meanwhile, only received 31 Among the institutions which bestowed degrees upon the First Lady-turned diplomat were Russell Sage College, the John Marshall College of Law, and Oxford University.

This article originally ran in 2014.

Mental Floss's Three-Day Sale Includes Deals on Apple AirPods, Sony Wireless Headphones, and More

Apple
Apple

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Apple

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Sony

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Sony

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Martha Stewart

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Jashen

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Evachill

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Gourmia

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Townew

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FenSens

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Noerden

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Prices subject to change.

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15 Memorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg Quotes

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has passed away at the age of 87.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has passed away at the age of 87.
Tom Brenner/Getty Images

Supreme Court justice, feminist, and all-around badass Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away on September 18, 2020 from "complications of metastatic pancreas cancer," the Supreme Court said in a statement. Over the course of her 87 years, she smashed glass ceilings and delivered plenty of wisdom—inside the courtroom and out. Here are some of our favorite quotes from the Notorious RBG.

1. On her mother

"My mother told me two things constantly. One was to be a lady, and the other was to be independent. The study of law was unusual for women of my generation. For most girls growing up in the '40s, the most important degree was not your B.A., but your M.R.S."

— via ACLU

2. On turning rejection into opportunity

“You think about what would have happened ... Suppose I had gotten a job as a permanent associate. Probably I would have climbed up the ladder and today I would be a retired partner. So often in life, things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great good fortune.”

— In conversation with Makers

3. On female Supreme Court Justices

"[W]hen I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the supreme court]? And I say ‘When there are nine.’ People are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that."

— In an interview with 10th Circuit Bench & Bar Conference at the University of Colorado in Boulder, via CBS News

4. On dissenting opinions

"Dissents speak to a future age. It's not simply to say, ‘my colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way,’ but the greatest dissents do become court opinions."

— From an interview on Live with Bill Maher

5. On criticism and not getting a majority vote

"I’m dejected, but only momentarily, when I can’t get the fifth vote for something I think is very important. But then you go on to the next challenge and you give it your all. You know that these important issues are not going to go away. They are going to come back again and again. There’ll be another time, another day."

— via The Record [PDF]

6. On having it all

"You can't have it all, all at once. Who—man or woman—has it all, all at once? Over my lifespan I think I have had it all. But in different periods of time things were rough. And if you have a caring life partner, you help the other person when that person needs it."

— From an interview with Katie Couric

7. On discrimination

"I ... try to teach through my opinions, through my speeches, how wrong it is to judge people on the basis of what they look like, color of their skin, whether they’re men or women."

— From an interview with MSNBC

8. On gender equality

"Women will have achieved true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation."

— via The Record [PDF]

9. On feminism

"Feminism … I think the simplest explanation, and one that captures the idea, is a song that Marlo Thomas sang, 'Free to be You and Me.' Free to be, if you were a girl—doctor, lawyer, Indian chief. Anything you want to be. And if you’re a boy, and you like teaching, you like nursing, you would like to have a doll, that’s OK too. That notion that we should each be free to develop our own talents, whatever they may be, and not be held back by artificial barriers—manmade barriers, certainly not heaven sent."

— In an interview with Makers

10. ON her fellow Supreme Court Justices

"We care about this institution more than our individual egos and we are all devoted to keeping the Supreme Court in the place that it is, as a co-equal third branch of government and I think a model for the world in the collegiality and independence of judges."

— In an interview with C-Span

11. On the 5-4 Hobby Lobby ruling

"[J]ustices continue to think and can change. I am ever hopeful that if the court has a blind spot today, its eyes will be open tomorrow."

— From an interview with Katie Couric

12. On those Notorious RBG T-shirts

"I think a law clerk told me about this Tumblr and also explained to me what Notorious RBG was a parody on. And now my grandchildren love it and I try to keep abreast of the latest that’s on the tumblr. … [I]n fact I think I gave you a Notorious RBG [T-shirts]. I have quite a large supply."

— In an interview with NPR’s Nina Totenberg

13. On being an internet sensation

"My grandchildren love it. At my advanced age—I’m now an octogenarian—I’m constantly amazed by the number of people who want to take my picture."

— From an interview with the New Republic

14. On retirement

"Now I happen to be the oldest. But John Paul Stevens didn’t step down until he was 90."

— From an interview with The New York Times

15. On how she'd like to be remembered

"Someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability. And to help repair tears in her society, to make things a little better through the use of whatever ability she has. To do something, as my colleague David Souter would say, outside myself. ‘Cause I’ve gotten much more satisfaction for the things that I’ve done for which I was not paid."

— From an interview with MSNBC