In their 13th year as a couple, Eleanor Roosevelt (1983-1962) discovered, from letters her husband Franklin D. Roosevelt had left lying around, that he was having an affair with another woman. She experienced an overwhelming sense of loneliness. A devoted wife for so many years, Roosevelt had built her life around her husband, paying little attention to her own identity. The Roosevelts decided to patch up their relationship, but Eleanor had found that she needed to seek a life outside of her marriage and her own sense of purpose.
Equality became her life’s work: Child Labor, Worker’s Rights and the creation of a Minimum Wage became her passions. Her work made her more politically astute. This proved to be extremely advantageous when, at 39-years-old, her husband was struck down by polio and she traveled the country as his ”eyes and ears”. She reported the country’s needs back to her husband, so he could build his positions and election campaigns around them. He had the presidential persona, she had the political brains.
In 1933 when FDR became President, he inherited a broken USA. The Wall Street Crash of 1919 had spun into a full-blown Depression. The center of the country was a giant dustbowl. Banks were shutting, unable to pay out to their customers, unemployment was at record levels and many families were living way below the poverty level. Sounds like 2008, right? The task facing FDR must have seemed overwhelming.
The Roosevelt marriage was now a purely professional partnership. While on the campaign trail, the new First Lady met with a top female reporter, Lorena Hickock. The pair fell passionately in love. Hickock decided to leave her promising newspaper career and take the job at the White House which was offered to her by the sympathetic and womanizing President.
The President and First Lady began a radical overhaul of the entire country. The First Lady’s style could clearly be seen in the New Deal, the name the Roosevelts gave to their sweeping changes made to the system of government. The banks were forced to open again, and changes were made to the way they were run.
In a move that would make today’s Republicans heads explode, government agencies were set up to deal with every aspect of the Great Depression. The acronyms were flying. There was an agency created to cover nearly every social problem: the CCC: Civilian Conservation Corps found jobs to the unemployed; the AAA: Agricultural Adjustment Administration set to sorting out the devastated farming land; a little agency titled the SSA: Social Security Administration was put in charge of relief payments. Over 20 new agencies were set up within the first year of the President’s term.
All of the reforms of the New Deal had Eleanor Roosevelt’s political fingerprints all over them. She was the strongest figure in FDR’s Presidency. During the economic recovery, she traveled the country ensuring that everything was going as planned. It was during this time that she began the radical step of sounding her objections to America’s blatant racism. Eleanor Roosevelt took the bold step of insisting black workers be given the same rights as whites. She refused to attend a conference when told that she could not sit in the ”black section” with a pair of her friends. Her actions were very unpopular in this country.
With her social and humanitarian conscience, and concern for black people, Roosevelt was branded a Communist.