Eleanor Roosevelt blazed a trail for women

Posted by John Kanelis on

Modern feminism is thought to have had its roots in the 1960s and 1970s. The Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution sought to guarantee equality for women. Female activists got caught up in protests, rallies and made themselves heard and seen in corporate board rooms and on city streets.

They had a godmother, of sorts.

Arguably, she was Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of the 33rd president of the United States and a member of one of the country's most politically powerful families.

Eleanor Clift profiles Eleanor Roosevelt in an essay published in The Daily Beast and sets the table nicely for a Ken Burns documentary special set to air later this month on Panhandle PBS.

Eleanor Roosevelt: Feminist Icon

She wasn't universally loved. Eleanor had her critics during the time preceding her husband's election as president in 1932 and certainly during their record-setting time in the White House. FDR was elected four times as president, but died shortly after his fourth inauguration in early 1945.

Eleanor's critics accused her of “'gallivanting' around the country at taxpayer’s expense, but like her husband, she wore the attacks like a badge of honor, " Clift writes.

What made her a feminist icon? Clift said it is contained in a letter.

"The core of what made Eleanor a feminist icon is best expressed in a letter she wrote in the late 1950’s to a young African-American boy who had been beaten up in school. She shared with him what she herself had learned at an early age, 'Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down.'”

Eleanor Roosevelt understood that struggles often take time to complete and one cannot expect to declare victory without first taking a few hits.

"The Roosevelts" will air on Panhandle PBS Sept. 14-20. It is a 14-hour special on the lives of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt, but also on their distant cousin, Theodore Roosevelt. The broadcast airs at 7 p.m. each night.


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