Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born in 1884 to Elliott and Anna Roosevelt, a wealthy New York City high-society couple. Both of her parents died by the time Eleanor was ten years old, leaving her to be raised by her maternal grandmother. Eleanor was educated by private tutors until she was fifteen, when she was sent to a private finishing school in London. She remained in the school until 1902, when she returned to New York for her debutante ball at the age of seventeen. Eleanor became active in the Junior League as a dance teacher in the New York slums. She was often criticized for leading young women into participating in public activities.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Eleanor met briefly as children, but didn't become romantically interested in each other until they met again at a New Year's Eve gala at the White House hosted by Eleanor's uncle, President Theodore Roosevelt. President Roosevelt was also Franklin's fifth cousin and his political idol even though they belonged to different political parties. Their relationship was kept secret from Franklin's possessive and domineering mother.
Franklin and Eleanor seemed to have little in common; he was friendly and outgoing, while she was introverted and shy. But, they shared the common bonds of losing parents at a young age and of caring for those less fortunate. Franklin and Eleanor became engaged within a year of that New Year's Eve; she was nineteen and Franklin was twenty-two. They were married in 1905, and by 1920, the couple had five surviving children, four boys and one girl. Eleanor always had a prickly relationship with her mother-in-law, Sara, who controlled the family finances and took over the raising of the Roosevelt's children until her death in 1941. Although FDR was aware of Eleanor's feelings about his mother, he never interfered in support of Eleanor.
Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt's marriage is perhaps one of the most scrutinized of all the presidential couples, and the public has never ceased being interested in them. Some people felt that Eleanor sacrificed her personal happiness for the sake of Franklin's public career; others feel that the marriage was only a convenience while both of them pursued separate interests. Franklin realized that marriage and a family were necessary to a political career; Eleanor used his influence to promote her own causes, such as women's rights and equality for African Americans.
Despite what others thought about the marriage, it became a partnership based on conscious efforts by Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. When Eleanor discovered Franklin's affair with her social secretary, Lucy Mercer, she offered Franklin the choice of ending the affair or divorce; Franklin agreed to end the affair, but he never did. Lucy Mercer was with him the day he died, while Eleanor was delivering a speech in Washington, D.C. Eleanor, too, was rumored to have had an affair with a female reporter with the Associated Press, as well as with a male bodyguard Roosevelt had assigned to her. Regardless of the affairs and a tumultuous marriage, one biographer writes "Eleanor and Franklin were strong-willed people who cared greatly for each other's happiness but realized their own inability to provide for it."
Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt were formidable campaigners and politicians. Eleanor worked behind the scenes during each of Franklin's four bids for the White House. She coordinated publicity efforts for the campaigns, mediated disputes between campaign staffers, organized women voters, spoke on her husband's behalf at conventions and often delivered speeches for the president when he wasn't feeling well. While Franklin fulfilled his duties as president, Eleanor wrote newspaper columns, gave lectures and took to the radio waves in support of Franklin's message and platform; she was often his link to the people.
After Franklin Roosevelt's death in 1945, Eleanor continued her participation in politics and public life, remaining a staunch supporter of equal and universal rights for all people. The legacy of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, as a couple, has served as a basis for most of the first couples that followed them - teamwork breeds success.