Fascinating Things Most People Don't Know About Eleanor Roosevelt

One of the most loved first ladies of all time, Eleanor Roosevelt changed the expectations around the role that the president's wife played in the White House at a time when married women were expected to give up their careers and stand by their husbands. She was a political and social activist who had very strong opinions about racial issues and gender equality. In fact, President Harry S. Truman once referred to her as the "First Lady of the World" for the dedication with which she championed for human rights. 

Eleanor overcame a difficult childhood, stood up to her adversarial mother-in-law, and redefined what it meant to be a first lady. When her husband died, instead of fading into the background, she continued her work in politics. She went on to become the United States Delegate to the United Nations General Assembly from 1945 to 1952, and she was also the first chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights and the chair of the John F. Kennedy administration's Presidential Commission on the Status of Women.

Eleanor left a powerful legacy and a blueprint for those who would follow in her footsteps as first lady. And, while many people are aware of her political accomplishments, there are several fascinating facts about Eleanor's life that you may not know (and incase that's not enough, here are a plethora of great quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt).

  • Her Parents Died Tragically And She Became An Orphan

    Her Parents Died Tragically And She Became An Orphan
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Eleanor’s 29-year-old mother died in 1892 of diphtheria when Eleanor was just eight years old and her father, Elliott Bulloch Roosevelt (the brother of future President Theodore Roosevelt), had been exiled from the family due to his severe alcoholism. Then, in 1894, her father attempted suicide by jumping out of a window and died just a few weeks later from a seizure and the effects of alcoholism. Following her parents's deaths, Eleanor and her brothers, Elliott and Gracie, were raised by her maternal grandmother, Valentine Hall. However, shortly after moving in with their grandmother, Elliott died of diphtheria.

  • She Held Press Conferences At The White House Exclusively For Female Reporters

    She Held Press Conferences At The White House Exclusively For Female Reporters
    Photo: US Government / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    During Eleanor’s time as first lady, women were typically banned from White House press conferences. However, Eleanor decided to change that by holding hundreds of press conferences exclusively for female reporters. As a result, national news was regularly presented from a woman’s perspective. Eleanor also advocated for women to be granted high government jobs and to benefit from federal programs. In addition to petitioning for women’s rights, she also pushed for civil rights for African Americans and championed causes on behalf of the poor and American workers.

  • She Was Friends With Amelia Earhart, Who Planned To Teach The First Lady How To Fly

    Eleanor was rather adventurous and known for pursuing things that interested her. She reportedly met pilot Amelia Earhart during a State Dinner party, and the two became instant friends. They even snuck out of the event and went flying while still wearing their party dresses. Eleanor enjoyed the experience so much she decided then and there to take flying lessons from Earhart. But it wasn’t meant to be - Earhart disappeared not long after the pair struck up a friendship. The first lady and the president even contributed money to help in search and rescue efforts for Earhart, who to this day still hasn’t been found.

  • She Was A Prolific Writer

    She Was A Prolific Writer
    Photo: Unknown author / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Eleanor enjoyed writing so much that she authored 27 books and more than 8,000 newspaper columns. From 1935 until shortly before her death in 1962 she penned a syndicated newspaper column called “My Day,” which focused on the social and political issues that were most important to her. She also wrote a question-and-answer column for Ladies Home Journal from 1941-1949, and for McCalls magazine from 1949 until her death.

  • Franklin Roosevelt Cheated On Eleanor With Her Secretary

    Franklin Roosevelt Cheated On Eleanor With Her Secretary
    Photo: Unknown author / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Not long into their marriage, Eleanor discovered that her husband Franklin Roosevelt was having an affair with her attractive personal secretary, Lucy Mercer. Eleanor offered to give Franklin a divorce, but it was 1918 and the social stigma would have been too great. In addition, a divorce would have damaged Franklin’s political ambitions. Franklin promised he would never see Lucy again, and the pair patched things up. However, many believe that Eleanor’s dedication to social reform and political activism began after she learned of her husband’s infidelity.

  • She Was Very Tall And Athletic

    She Was Very Tall And Athletic
    Photo: Unknown author / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Eleanor was 5’10” and the captain of her field hockey team at Allenwood in England. At that time, she was considered to be exceptionally tall and later admitted to using her height as an advantage when playing sports. Toward the end of her life when she was 76 years old, she wrote, “The happiest day, the happiest single day of [her] life was the day that [she] made the first team at field hockey.” Perhaps athleticism ran in the family - her cousin was the tennis champion Ellen Crosby Roosevelt.