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11 Facts for Eleanor Roosevelt’s 130th Birthday

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On October 11, 1884, Eleanor Roosevelt was born in New York City. Her lifetime achievements are almost too numerous to list, but these amazing facts should remind you why she’s still celebrated as one of America’s finest first ladies and diplomats.

1. Eleanor was Her Middle Name.

Young Anna Eleanor Roosevelt greatly preferred her middle name and would usually introduce herself by it as she grew older. For the record, ER wasn’t wild about her childhood nickname either: Her mother, Anna Hall Roosevelt, found the girl comically old fashioned and started calling her “Granny."

2. She Was Orphaned at a Very Young Age.

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When Anna Roosevelt passed away in 1892, her alcoholic husband, Elliot (TR’s younger brother) was exiled from the family. Following these tragic events, 8-year-old Eleanor was left in the care of her maternal grandmother, Valentine Hall. Unable to shake his demons, Elliot attempted suicide by jumping out of a window in 1894. Despite surviving this fall, he died a few weeks later, leaving his children parentless.

3. She Loved Field Hockey.

What did Roosevelt consider the happiest day of her life? The day she made her private school’s field hockey team.

4. On Her Wedding Day, Then-President Teddy Roosevelt Walked Eleanor Down the Aisle.

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“I am as fond of Eleanor as if she were my daughter,” TR once wrote. On March 17, 1905—just a few months into his second term—the Bull Moose had the honor of giving away his beloved niece. “Well, Franklin,” the commander-in-chief later joked to Eleanor’s new spouse, his cousin, “there’s nothing like keeping the name in the family.”  

5. Roosevelt Organized Several Women-Only White House Press Conferences.

Female journalists had traditionally been excluded from serious media events at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Roosevelt somewhat leveled the playing field by hosting a series of ladies-only press conferences, which pressured papers into hiring more news-women and helped ER win over female voters. 

6. She Once Went Flying with Amelia Earhart.

The courageous aviator inspired Eleanor to apply for her very own piloting license and even took the first lady out for an airborne spin from D.C. to Baltimore in 1933. Years later, after Earhart unexpectedly vanished, a grief-stricken Roosevelt told the press “I am sure Amelia’s last words were ‘I have no regrets.’”

7. She Wrote a Syndicated Newspaper Column for 27 Years.

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From 1935 to 1962, ER composed six weekly articles about her political views and personal life. Simply entitled “My Day,” the column featured Roosevelt’s musings on such topics as Prohibition, Pearl Harbor, and McCarthy’s communist witch hunt. A disciplined professional, ER missed only a single week’s worth of material, which followed her husband’s untimely death.   

8. Roosevelt Defied Birmingham’s Segregation Laws in a Powerful Protest.

In 1938, the Southern Conference for Human Welfare held its inaugural meeting in Alabama’s “Magic City.” Upon her arrival, Roosevelt sat directly beside an African American associate, ignoring the designated whites-only section en route. After being told that Birmingham’s segregationist policies prohibited whites and blacks from sitting together at public functions, the first lady asked for a ruler.

“Now measure the distance between this chair and that one,” she said after somebody produced one. Upon examining this gap separating the white and black seating areas, the first lady placed her chair directly in its center. There she defiantly sat, in a racial no-man’s land, until the meeting concluded. “They were afraid to arrest her,” one witness claimed.

9. She Starred in a Margarine Commercial.

In fact, Roosevelt advertised seemingly every product from mattresses to hot dogs. Her appearance in the following 1959 TV spot helped establish margarine as one of America’s favorite spreads:

This appearance netted the former first lady $35,000, which she used to purchase 6000 care packages for impoverished families.

10. She Helped Draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Harry S. Truman appointed Roosevelt as a United Nations delegate in 1946. In this role, she became a driving force behind the U.N.’s Declaration of Human Rights, which over 50 member-states eventually worked together to compose.

11. Eleanor Roosevelt Earned 35 Honorary Degrees

FDR, meanwhile, only received 31. Among the institutions which bestowed degrees upon the first lady-turned diplomat were Russell Sage College, the John Marshall College of Law, and Oxford University.

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Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism
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The POW Olympics of World War II
Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism
Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism

With the outbreak of World War II prompting a somber and divisive mood across the globe, it seemed impossible civility could be introduced in time for the 1940 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan to be held.

So they weren’t. Neither were the 1944 Games, which were scheduled for London. But one Polish Prisoner of War camp was determined to keep the tradition alive. The Woldenberg Olympics were made up entirely of war captives who wanted—and needed—to feel a sense of camaraderie and normalcy in their most desperate hours.

In a 2004 NBC mini-documentary that aired during their broadcast of the Games, it was reported that Polish officers under German control in the Oflag II-C camp wanted to maintain their physical conditioning as a tribute to Polish athlete Janusz Kusocinski. Unlike another Polish POW camp that held unofficial Games under a veil of secrecy in 1940, the guards of Woldenberg allowed the ’44 event to proceed with the provision that no fencing, archery, javelin, or pole-vaulting competitions took place. (Perhaps the temptation to impale their captors would have proven too much for the men.)

Music, art, and sculptures were put on display. Detainees were also granted permission to make their own program and even commemorative postage stamps of the event courtesy of the camp’s homegrown “post office.” An Olympic flag was crafted out of spare bed sheets, which the German officers, in a show of contagious sportsman’s spirit, actually saluted.

The hand-made Olympic flag from Woldenberg.

Roughly 369 of the 7000 prisoners participated. Most of the men competed in multiple contests, which ranged from handball and basketball to chess. Boxing was included—but owing to the fragile state of prisoners, broken bones resulted in a premature end to the combat.

Almost simultaneously, another Polish POW camp in Gross Born (pop: 3000) was holding their own ceremony. Winners received medals made of cardboard. Both were Oflag sites, which were primarily for officers; it’s been speculated the Games were allowed because German forces had respect for prisoners who held military titles.

A gymnastics demonstration in the camp.

The grass-roots Olympics in both camps took place in July and August 1944. By January 1945, prisoners from each were evacuated. An unknown number perished during these “death marches,” but one of the flags remained in the possession of survivor Antoni Grzesik. The Lieutenant donated it to the Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism in 1974, where it joined a flag recovered from the 1940 Games. Both remain there today—symbols of a sporting life that kept hope alive for thousands of men who, for a brief time, could celebrate life instead of lamenting its loss.

Additional Sources: “The Olympic Idea Transcending War [PDF],” Olympic Review, 1996; “The Olympic Movement Remembered in the Polish Prisoner of War Camps in 1944 [PDF],” Journal of Olympic History, Spring 1995; "Olympics Behind Barbed Wire," Journal of Olympic History, March 2014.

 All images courtesy of Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism. 

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President John Tyler's Grandsons Are Still Alive
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Here's the most amazing thing you'll ever read about our 10th president:

John Tyler was born in 1790. He took office in 1841, after William Henry Harrison died. And he has two living grandchildren.

Not great-great-great-grandchildren. Their dad was Tyler’s son.

How is this possible?

The Tyler men have a habit of having kids very late in life. Lyon Gardiner Tyler, one of President Tyler’s 15 kids, was born in 1853. He fathered Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. in 1924, and Harrison Ruffin Tyler in 1928.

We placed a somewhat awkward call to the Charles City County History Center in Virginia to check in on the Tylers.

After we shared this fact on Twitter in 2012, Dan Amira interviewed Harrison Tyler for New York Magazine. Lyon Tyler spoke to the Daughters of the American Revolution a while back. They were profiled by The Times of London. And Snopes is also in on the fact.

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