Official White House Portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt
- She was very shy. Though she did a lot of public speaking as First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt was a shy child. Even as a teenager, she worried that she would not attract a husband. Despite her worries, Eleanor became the first wife of a U.S. president to hold press conferences, speak at a national party convention, and write her own newspaper column. As she looked back on her life, Eleanor hoped others would see that “in spite of timidity and fear, in spite of a lack of special talents, one can find a way to live widely and fully.”
- First wife of a president to drive a car by herself. As First Lady, Eleanor insisted on driving her own car, and wanted to go for drives without the Secret Service. President Franklin Roosevelt’s concern for her safety caused Eleanor to make some compromises. She sometimes traveled with a private bodyguard, and she also learned how to shoot a small gun. She admitted to the readers of her newspaper column that she was not an expert, but “if the necessity arose, I do know how to use a pistol.”
- Loved to fly in airplanes and wanted flying lessons. Eleanor was the first president’s wife to ride in an airplane, and she told her friend Amelia Earhart that she hoped FDR would let her take flying lessons. FDR said no to the lessons, but that didn’t stop Eleanor from traveling by plane. Most Americans thought flying was dangerous in the 1930s, so Eleanor’s frequent plane rides helped airlines change some people’s minds.
- Helped African Americans serve as pilots in World War II. In 1941, Eleanor traveled to the Tuskegee Institute, which provided education and job skills for African Americans. The Institute had an aviation program so students could learn to fly. Many hoped to be included in the air force in World War II, but the public doubted if blacks could really be good pilots. When Eleanor visited the program, she asked to fly with one of the Tuskegee pilots. He flew her over Alabama for an hour. After the flight, the pilot and Eleanor had their picture taken in the plane. The photo of the smiling First Lady sitting next to a black pilot made people think that African Americans might be competent airmen. With a little help from Eleanor, President Roosevelt decided to use Tuskegee pilots in combat.