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Americans Who Tell the Truth :: Eleanor Roosevelt

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Robert Shetterly's portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt
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“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
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Eleanor Roosevelt
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  72 of 100
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Humanitarian, Social Reformer (1884-1962)

Eleanor Roosevelt was born in New York City, the daughter of a society beauty and an adored, but detached, father, and the niece of the former president, Theodore Roosevelt. As a young woman she seemed to prefer service as a volunteer in a Settlement House to the usual diversions of the socially prominent.

Her marriage to a distant cousin, Franklin Roosevelt, in 1905 brought her a large family to raise and, in 1921, a disabled husband to care for. With her encouragement, her husband returned to politics, becoming, first, Governor of New York and, in 1933 when the country was paralyzed by economic depression, President.

Although her husband's position provided her with a platform not available to most reformers, Eleanor Roosevelt's use of her opportunities to promote better housing, more humane working conditions and racial justice was distinctly her own. She wrote a daily newspaper column, spoke on the radio and traveled the country to observe and report about the plight of the forgotten poor. During World War II she made many trips overseas on behalf of her country and, at war's end and after the death of her husband, she was a delegate to the United Nations and, in 1946, became chairman of the Commission on Human Rights.

Eleanor Roosevelt's efforts to help the powerless often invited scorn and cruel mockery from those who did not share her vision of social justice. She wrote in her newspaper column, “My Day,” in 1937: “Without equality there can be no democracy.” When equality's enemies ridiculed her activism, she said, ”Do what you feel in your heart to be right—for you'll be criticized anyway.”

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See the full set of Robert Shetterly's portraits at www.americanswhotellthetruth.org.

Tools for Teaching: see the acompanying curriculum materials with suggestions on how to use the portraits and biographies of these American truth-tellers in your classroom.
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