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home : opinion : opinion/editorial May 24, 2016

3/28/2013 10:34:00 AM
Room for a View: Lady Firsts
By Peggy Tarr

It’s Women’s History Month, a time to acknowledge and appreciate the contributions women have made throughout history and contemporaneously.

Women have been and still are too often defined and limited by stereotypes that expect and demand women to be brainless sex objects. Too often, women are criticized or ostracized for displaying intelligence, individualism, courage or ambition. Eleanor Roosevelt (Oct. 11, 1884 – Nov. 7, 1962) was a woman who displayed all the latter traits. She stood out as a woman and a First Lady.

Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born into a wealthy New York family. She had an unhappy childhood, marked by the death of her mother when Eleanor was 8 and the death of her father two years later. She never considered herself to be an attractive woman, which may have contributed to her focus on social causes.

At age 20, she married her distant cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. She became First Lady in 1933 but did not assume the traditional role of “domesticity and hostessing” that most presidential wives had assumed. She was the first First Lady to hold press conferences. She assumed a leading role in women’s organizations, youth movements, consumer welfare, combatting unemployment and unfair housing and guaranteeing the rights of minorities.

She flew with Tuskegee Airman Charles Anderson in 1941, supported the African American civil rights movement and invited African American guests to the White House. She spoke against anti-Japanese prejudice after the attack on Pearl Harbor, was a U.S. delegate to the United Nations and chairman of the Commission on Human Rights.

In 1939, Mrs. Roosevelt helped arrange a concert for African American contralto Marian Anderson (Feb. 27, 1897 – April 8, 1993) on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial when the Daughters of the American Revolution would not allow Ms. Anderson to sing in Washington’s Constitution Hall.

When a hotel would not house Ms. Anderson before a Princeton University concert, Albert Einstein hosted her. Ms. Anderson toured Europe in the 1930s without encountering the racial prejudices she encountered in the U.S.
In 1955, Ms. Anderson was the first African American to perform with the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Accomplishments during her lifetime included singing at the inaugurations of Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, acting as a delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, supporting the 1960s civil rights movement, and receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963.

Ms. Anderson retired from singing in 1965, her farewell tour beginning at Constitution Hall on Oct. 24, 1964 and ending at Carnegie Hall on April 18, 1965.

A children’s book, “Amazing Grace” by Mary Hoffman encourages girls to pursue their goals no matter what others say. It is worth reading by and to boys and girls and men and women.

I would like to thank Ms. Thompson’s second-grade class at Washington School for introducing me to this book.

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