Sunday Snippet: Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962)

“A woman is like a tea bag; you never know how strong it is until it’s in hot water.”

When resources are plentiful and circumstances are pleasant, it’s not difficult to be a nice person. It’s not challenging to look like you have your act together, because you can look perfectly happy by your neatly-kept home with the white picket fence. However, when the circumstance are not so accommodating, your true character really starts to shine through. People can see who you really are and not just who you claim to be.

The line above was used in Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom last week, but the quote was originally uttered by Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, the longest serving First Lady in the history of the United States. She was the wife to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who served four terms in office and was actually her father’s fifth cousin. Unlike some other First Ladies who preceded her, Eleanor had no problem standing on her own two feet and making an impact on the world in her own right.

There is certainly some irony in her statement. Eleanor Roosevelt was born into one of the wealthiest families in New York, granting her all sorts of privileges and opportunities that would not have been been available to the average citizen. Theodore Roosevelt was her uncle, so it’s not like she was a stranger to the White House when her husband took office several years later. She didn’t face any financial hardship, but she did lose her parents at a young age and life for women in the early part of the 20th century was certainly different than what it is today.

But she didn’t let those gender roles get in the way of progress. The outspoken First Lady worked fervently on issues related to racial equality and gender equality. She worked to provide a landscape where women could have bigger roles in the workplace and where people of color, particularly African Americans and Asian Americans, could be afforded the same civil rights as their Caucasian counterparts. She had her own newspaper column, she held press conferences and she spoke at national conventions. These weren’t roles normally taken on by women at the time.

And it is with this sense of being a strong, independent woman that Eleanor Roosevelt came to be known as the “First Lady of the World.” And it is through her efforts that women like Hillary Clinton could do what they do today. Clinton was certainly thrown into plenty of hot water when she ran for President in 2008.

Yes, the quote talks about the strength of women, but it could just as easily be applied to men as well. When faced with hardship and adversity, how do you respond? What is your true character? Do you rise to the occasion or do you fade into the background?