If you’ve ever visited our Hall of Presidents and First Ladies you’ve seen the Gettysburg area’s only complete wax collection of American Presidents and First Ladies. You’re likely more familiar with the great Presidents in these halls, but the strong women in the Hall of First Ladies were just as vital to the heritage and prosperity of this nation. We thought we would pay homage to these women in a new series here at Gettysburg Tour Center that highlights the First Ladies featured in our amazing display.
Our next feature in this series covers a woman who will forever hold the “First Lady” post the longest. Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was First Lady throughout her husband Franklin D. Roosevelt’s four terms in office from 1933-1945.
Born in Manhattan, New York City, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was the niece of President Theodore Roosevelt. Much like Mamie Eisenhower and Jackie Kennedy, Roosevelt was born into a wealthy family, but it did not come without hardships. Eleanor’s (as she preferred to be called) parents both died before she reached 11 years old.
Following her mother’s death, Eleanor moved in with her grandmother. When Eleanor reached the age of 15 she was sent to Allenswood Girls Academy in London, England. Her time spent at Allenswood allowed her to come out of her shell and instilled a sense of confidence in her. The headmistress, Marie Souvestre, was a large influencer of Eleanor, and many of her views that challenged the status quo were shared by Eleanor.
Upon return to New York at the age of 18 she became actively involved in social service work. She joined a circle of other elite class women known as the “Junior League,” who were interested in reform efforts to improve the lives of the impoverished masses.
Eventually Eleanor met her father’s fifth cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt on a return train trip to her grandmother’s home in New York City. Three years later at the age of 20 she married the future President.
When Franklin took office, Eleanor was determined to redefine the role of First Lady. Some of the outstanding achievements she accomplished during her time as First Lady include:
- Was the first presidential spouse to hold press conferences. These press conferences spoke out for human rights, including women’s issues, racial issues, and children’s causes
- She was the first First Lady to speak at a national party convention
- Had her own daily newspaper column – “My Day”
- Served as Assistant Director of Civilian Defense from 1941 to 1942
- Frequently visited US servicemen overseas and at home
- Following Franklin’s death, she served as a delegate to the UN’s Human Rights Commission
Eleanor carved out her own unique role in history and the list of her accomplishments is quite extensive in her own regard. Some memorials have been established in remembrance of the Roosevelts, including the Roosevelt Campobello International Park, the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, and the Eleanor Roosevelt Monument in New York’s Riverside Park.
Be sure to check out the Hall of Presidents and First Ladies on your next visit to Gettysburg to learn more about these fascinating First Ladies, as well as their presidential counterparts.