National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Born New York City
When Franklin Roosevelt began his first term as president in 1933, his wife Eleanor declared that she was “just going to be plain, ordinary Mrs. Roosevelt. And that’s all.” The reality proved to be quite different, however, for Eleanor Roosevelt soon took public stands on issues ranging from exploitive labor practices to civil rights. When the Daughters of the American Revolution refused permission in 1939 for acclaimed African American contralto Marian Anderson to sing at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., Roosevelt resigned from the DAR and helped arrange for Anderson to perform at the Lincoln Memorial instead. The activism that characterized Eleanor Roosevelt’s years as first lady did not end with her departure from the White House. As a United States delegate to the United Nations (1945–53), she was instrumental in formulating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and securing its ratification by the General Assembly in 1948.