Anna wore frumpy clothes. Her teeth needed straightening, they would say. People would continue to attack her looks and her self-esteem to the point that she was very insecure, she believed what everyone said about her, admitting she was an “ugly duckling.”
When she first met him, she could not believe that a man was interested in her. She wanted him to see her world, so instead of going to a fancy, social event, she instead took him to the slums of the Lower East Side, where she did volunteer work, helping young immigrants.
The young man, who had held a rich, sheltered life, saw things he would never forget — sweat shops where women labored long hours for low wages and squalid tenements where children worked for hours until they dropped with exhaustion.
This walking tour profoundly changed the young man, moving him to say, that he “could not believe human beings lived that way.”
The young man’s name was Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the young woman, who changed his life forever, who would change the world forever, her name was Anna Eleanor Roosevelt.
They would eventually marry. On March 4, 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt would be inaugurated as the 32nd President of the United States and Anna Eleanor Roosevelt would become the First Lady. At first, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt remained shy. She would also continue to be ridiculed by the press, making fun of her stout figure, toothy smile, and way of dress. Even her own mother-in-law, still over-protective of her son, would tell Eleanor’s own children that their mother was boring.
But, being First Lady allowed Eleanor Roosevelt to see more of the world, to see how the rest of the nation lived, outside of her priviliged surroundings. She started speaking up for women, African-Americans, and children. And, she started influencing her husband, telling him what she saw.
She would continue to receive hate mail for her views, but it just made her stronger, more determined.
When the Daughters of the American Revolution boycotted the 1936 concert of African-American singer Marian Anderson, she would resign her membership and helped organize a new concert in front of the Lincoln Memorial that made history.
She flew with black (male) pilots and helped the Tuskegee Airmen in their successful effort to become the first black combat pilots.
She would be nominated three times, during her lifetime, for a Nobel Peace Prize. She became a renowned social and political activist, journalist, educator, and diplomat. Throughout her time as First Lady, and for the remainder of her life, she was a high profile supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, of equal rights for women, and of social reforms to uplift the poor.
Even after her husband’s passing, she remained active in politics for the rest of her life. President Truman would appoint her as a U.S. Delegate to the United Nations, where she would receive a standing ovation when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted on December 10, 1948.
She would chair President Kennedy’s ground-breaking committee which helped start second-wave feminism, the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. And, she continued supporting women, even personally assisting in the careers of many women, providing them with guidance, giving them hope.
She would still remember when they called her an ugly duckling when she was growing up, but to the world, she was and continues to be a beautiful swan whose beauty inside helped her speak the truth, making the world a little better for all.