The Ugly Duckling

Today is the birthday of a woman I will never meet, but yet she is a woman who forever changed my life.

Growing up they called her names. Her teeth weren’t straight. She never thought a man would fancy her. She was very insecure, believing what most people said about her to be true, and often admit she was an “ugly duckling.” But she firmly believed that a person’s prospects in life were not totally dependent on their physical beauty.

When a particular young man showed interest in her, she decided not to take him to a fancy social event, but took him into the inner slums of the Lower East Side, where she often worked tirelessly aiding young immigrant families.

The rich, sheltered young man saw things he would never forget — sweat shops where women labored and squalid tenements where children worked until they dropped with exhaustion. Pain, suffering, and poverty.

His walking tour with her profoundly changed his life and he “could not believe human beings lived that way.”

The young man’s name was Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the young woman, who changed his life forever? Better yet, a woman who would change the world forever? Eleanor Roosevelt.

Eleanor is one of my heroes. She was my inspiration in high school. I longed to be like Eleanor. (PS..I am 90% sure if I ever have a daughter her name will be Eleanor something.)

I’ll never forget the moment I fell in love with Eleanor. I was feeling downtrodden, distraught, having a pity party on my grandmother’s back steps because I didn’t fit in where I lived and that day I hadn’t been invited to go on a group outing. I always seemed to be enduring some joke about Africa, being an MK, or being “Miss Goody-Two Shoes”. My grandmother sat down beside me and told me something that has forever shaped me into who I am. She lovingly stroked my hair, rubbed my shoulder and said: “Honey, no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. Do you know who said that?” As I shook my head no, she said: “Eleanor.” She told me of being a young farm wife during the time of Eleanor’s reign as First Lady.  But more about how she was so much more than just another First Lady. During her life, Eleanor would be nominated three times for a Nobel Peace Prize. She was a renowned social and political activist, journalist, educator, and diplomat. As the First Lady, she was a high profile supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, equal rights for women, and social reforms to uplift the poor. She was instrumental in helping the Tuskegee Airmen in their successful effort to become the first black combat pilots.

Eleanor wasn’t afraid. She was who she was, and made no excuses for her passion. She lived in the world of politics, but seemingly used it to help benefit her many causes.

Even after Franklin’s passing, she would remain active in politics for the rest of her life. She chaired President Kennedy’s ground-breaking committee (which helped start second-wave feminism!), and the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women.

While she may have endured being called “ugly duckling” growing up, to the world, she was a beautiful swan whose beauty inside helped her speak the truth, making the world a little better for all.

Happy Birthday Eleanor!

~ Eleanor Roosevelt, born on this day, October 11, 1884

XoXo,

One Eleanor Loving Lemon

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