The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project is a university-chartered research center associated with the Department of History of The George Washington University

The George Washington University

The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project
Questions and Answers about Eleanor Roosevelt

Question: What New Deal Policies did Eleanor Roosevelt influence?

Answer:

[image of illustrated letter from Gisella Loeffler to Eleanor Roosevelt, July 27, 1939Although she worried at first that her life as first lady would end her freedom to speak out and act for the causes she cared so deeply about, ER soon found ways of exerting her influence in her new role. She began holding press conferences open only to women reporters. She worked successfully with Molly Dewson to increase the number of women appointments in the Roosevelt administration. She argued that women should be able to hold their jobs even if their husbands were employed, and made sure there were relief programs for women ("She-She-She Camps"), as well as for men. She pressed for the creation of youth programs, encouraging the establishment of the National Youth Administration. She befriended black leaders Mary McLeod Bethune and Walter White, became a champion of civil rights, lobbied against the poll tax, supported the Southern Tenant Farmer's Union, and pushed for the inclusion of blacks in government programs. Housing became one of her special concerns and she worked with the Housing Division of the Public Works Administration and the Washington Housing Authority to support planned communities ("greenbelt towns") and slum clearance projects. She enthusiastically supported federal aid to the arts, played a key role in establishing the Federal Arts Projects, and defended the projects against congressional attacks. She took a special interest in the communities built by the Roosevelt administration for displaced workers, particularly the one at Arthurdale, West Virginia, which she visited frequently. A strong supporter of workers' rights, she lobbied for the National Labor Relations Act, championed the concept of a living wage, and urged the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

She visited coal mines, migrant camps, and the homes of sharecroppers and slum-dwellers. She inspected government programs and projects. Through her tireless travels throughout the country and the heavy volume of mail she received from people desperately seeking help, she placed herself more personally and directly in touch with the conditions under which people lived during the Depression than any member of FDR's administration. She employed this knowledge in her articles, speeches, radio talks, and the "My Day" column she began writing six days a week in 1936, urging the adoption of measures to address the needs of the American people. She sent some of the letters she received from people seeking help to government officials with a note asking if something could be done. She reported to FDR on conditions during the Depression, on the success or failure of New Deal programs, passed on letters asking for help, lobbied for specific policy initiatives, and urged him to act.

As Rexford Tugwell, one of the original members of FDR's Brains Trust, described ER's attempts to lobby FDR, "No one who ever saw Eleanor Roosevelt sit down facing her husband, and, holding his eye firmly, say to him, 'Franklin, I think you should . . .' or, 'Franklin, surely you will not . . .' will ever forget the experience. . . . It would be impossible to say how often and to what extent American governmental processes have been turned in new directions because of her determination."(1)
 


Notes:

  1. Rexford Tugwell, "Remarks," Roosevelt Day Dinner Journal, Americans for Democratic Action, January 31, 1963.

Sources:

Black, Allida M. Casting Her Own Shadow: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Shaping of Postwar Liberalism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996, 23-49.

Cook, Blanche Wiesen. Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume Two, The Defining Years, 1933-1938. New York: Penguin Books, 1999, 70-91, 130-189, 233-334, 389-434, 508-537.

Lash, Joseph P. Eleanor and Franklin. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1971, 366-433, 452-472, 511-554.