Did You Know?
US President Harry Truman famously called Eleanor Roosevelt the 'First Lady of the World'.
Most of us know Eleanor Roosevelt as the First Lady of the US, wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, humanitarian, author, diplomat, and activist. A remarkable woman, she was known to be blunt and frank with her opinions on social issues, something that was rare during her time.
She was also the longest-serving First Lady in the US, and is widely acclaimed for transforming the role of the same through her active public life.
Despite her renowned adult life and the recognition she received for her contribution to a variety of humanitarian and political issues, Eleanor Roosevelt had a very unhappy childhood, and was in dire need of parental love and attention.
The absence of the same has been attributed to her being prone to depression and shy nature through her adult years as well. The trailing sections of this write-up shall look at the childhood and early life of the former First Lady in greater detail.
The Childhood of Eleanor Roosevelt
Birth and Family
Eleanor Roosevelt was born on October 11, 1884, in New York City to Elliott Bulloch Roosevelt and Anna Rebecca Hall. The Roosevelt family was extremely well-known and socially and financially eminent, Elliott being the younger brother of President Theodore Roosevelt Jr.
Born as Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, she was the eldest child and only daughter of the socialite couple who had two sons after her: her brothers Elliott Jr. and Hall. Unlike her mother Anna, Eleanor was often remarked to be plain, something that made her feel ashamed and inadequate throughout her childhood.
Eleanor's mother Anna was said to be a woman of great beauty, and was a member of the very distinguished and influential Livingston family of New York. Roosevelt's father, Elliott Roosevelt, was the younger brother of Theodore Roosevelt Jr., and was acclaimed to be a very charming and an easygoing man.
From a very young age, little Anna Eleanor preferred being called by her middle name, and it stuck as her identity throughout her life and even after that.
Relationship with Parents
Eleanor shared a somewhat restrained relationship with her mother, with Anna being in disdain of her daughter's plain looks and lack of grace. Anna was observed to remark on her daughter's unattractive looks to the girl herself, and called her 'Granny' owing to her serious demeanor and old-fashioned ways.
With her father, it was very different, for she was his 'little Nell', and he doted on her. Her father didn't care what she looked like, and she loved him passionately and missed him terribly whenever he left the family for long periods on end, for a variety of reasons.
The strained relationship between her parents was noticed by Eleanor from a very young age. Her father had become an alcoholic, and struggled with issues that put great strain on his marriage with Anna. Elliott separated from his family when Eleanor was about six years old, and went to Europe for treatment for his growing addiction.
Death of Parents
Tragedy first knocked on the doors of the Roosevelt family when Anna came down with diphtheria in 1892, when Eleanor was just eight years old. She unsuccessfully battled the illness, and eventually died soon afterwards.
Barely six months after her mother's death, her brothers both caught scarlet fever. Baby Hall survived the illness, but Elliott Jr. developed diphtheria and died in 1893.
If Eleanor had hoped that the deaths of her mother and brother would have her father return home and take care of her and Baby Hall, it was not to be. Depressed and dependent on alcohol and drugs, Elliott was confined to a mental sanitarium where he died in 1894 after an alleged suicide attempt, which didn't kill him, but led to a seizure that did.
Living with Mary Hall and Schooling
At the age of 10, Eleanor was orphaned with the responsibility of a little brother, who she had promised her father to look after. The siblings then went to live at the home of their maternal grandmother, Mary Hall, who became their guardian.
Mrs. Hall was a very strict woman, and Eleanor spent a confined and lonely life there, craving affection and attention, which was normal for a child her age. Her loneliness continued until she was sent abroad by her grandmother for her education.
In 1899, Eleanor was sent to London to attend Allenswood, which was a finishing school for girls. At Allenswood, she found the environment she was craving for, and quickly became very popular among her peers and teachers alike due to her quick mind.
She was especially very influenced by her headmistress, Marie Souvestre, whose ideologies and thinking had a great impact on the 15-year-old girl. She studied a great variety of subjects and thoroughly enjoyed her time at the school, where she spent three happy years.
Souvestre's ideas were very bold and liberal for the time, and this shaped Eleanor's social and political development to a great deal.
Roosevelt credits her headmistress at Allenswood for helping her gain confidence, becoming independent, and with helping her mold her thinking, which influenced much of her actions in her later life.
Return to America
Unfortunately for Eleanor, she was summoned back home by her grandmother in 1902 for her society debut. Eleanor did not see the point of leaving school for some parties, but had to go back to New York anyway.
Despite faithfully following the social norms that were expected of her, Eleanor did not abandon the ideologies she had picked up at Allenswood and became a dedicated social worker in New York itself.
She joined the National Consumers League, and volunteered as a teacher for the Promotion of Settlement Movements. Though her family was not delighted, this paved the way for her work as a dedicated humanitarian later in life.
It was during this time that she chanced upon meeting her cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, on a train. He was then a student at Harvard, and the two quickly developed an interest in one another. Despite strong opposition from Franklin's mother Sara, the two eventually got married.
Eleanor had an unhappy childhood filled with grief and tragedy, and she had to face disappointment and depressing circumstances at a very young age. However, her adult life says a lot about her nature and generosity, and her name has gone down in the pages of history as one of the most dedicated women of all time.