Seldom does a first lady in the United States rise above the honor of being someone else’s wife, given the power and prestige that comes with the Oval Office. Eleanor Roosevelt is an exception to that rule, and therefore she will be the first in our series on inspirational women. Provoked by a book given to me recently, (thank you Marcia) with the saying “Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History,” this article discusses Eleanor Roosevelt as a complex woman, doing the best she could with the gifts and support structure she had at hand.
She definitely made history. Born in 1884, over the course of her life she was awarded a Doctorate of Human Letters, Doctor of Laws, the Nobel Peace Prize and the United Nations Human Rights distinction. She also was not considered for her times to be well-behaved. Looking at her life from the lens of the 21st century woman she would be seen as the first blogger writing a regular column entitled My Day, six out of seven days a week for almost 30 years. Active in the way that many modern women are active she balanced a life that included the politics (speaking out on political issues where policy impacted people living in poverty), the war effort (working for the Red Cross and traveling to support and bolster the troops), writing (several autobiographies), and the duties of motherhood (six children including the first son who died in infancy).
While many women today may take on this variety of tasks, her example was rare in her time. This does not mean she led an easy life, although a privileged one. Her mother died when she was eight with her father (reportedly an alcoholic) following two years later. She also overcame personal shyness, going on to be such a great public speaker that Pres. Kennedy made her a delegate to the United Nations just a year before she died in 1962.
Like all women who are not well-behaved, she was the brunt of many scandalous tales (some with foundation, some not). She was disliked as much as she was revered. She was seen as “unnatural” by small-minded people who considered the norm as equating to what is natural in the world, not being prepared for or embracing the evolutionary potential of human beings unless it suits them. Eleanor not only lectured, but encouraged women through all female press conferences, and hosting her own radio show.
Eleanor Roosevelt deserves whatever distinctions are offered her. She remains an inspirational woman long after her death, with her example continuing to demonstrate the potential of overcoming both a difficult beginning and the small-minded norms of the times. We’ll close with a quote from her newspaper column, “It takes courage to love, but pain through love is the purifying fire which those who love generously know. We all know people who are so much afraid of pain that they shut themselves up like clams in a shell and, giving out nothing, receive nothing and therefore shrink until life is a mere living death.”
Alana writes on life in Kinsale, as she and her partner Tracesea support other women who want to reinvent their personal or business life in some way on their site at: http://www.reinventinglife.org/about-us/alanasblog/. Whenever you find yourself in need of inspiration or good ideas to support you in your process of creating the life you want this is a good place to head: http://www.reinventinglife.org.