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War!:  ER and Wartime Social Changes

ER and Wartime Social Changes

During the war, Eleanor Roosevelt continued the ceaseless activism that distinguished her as America's most public First Lady. Mrs. Roosevelt grew more outspoken in her support for racial and gender equality. She championed women's entrance into defense industries and the armed services and challenged racial discrimination in the military and defense industries. "Why curse Hitler and support Jim Crow," she asked. With her strong support, thousands of African American women became military nurses and nearly 1,000 black pilots were trained at Alabama's Tuskegee Institute.

Sometimes ER's advocacy led to controversy and many blamed her for racial unrest that erupted during the war. Despite harsh criticism, ER continued to advocate progressive goals, arguing that America could not fight for democracy and equality abroad without also ensuring it at home.

ER's Wartime Travels

Eleanor Roosevelt was often on the move during World War II. At FDR's request, she made inspection tours at home and overseas trips to demonstrate American support for other Allied nations. She provided him with first-hand information on matters ranging from diplomacy to troop morale.

In 1942, the First Lady toured Britain and, in 1944, she made a 10,000 mile goodwill journey through Latin America. But her most ambitious and dangerous foreign trip was a 25,000 mile tour of the South Pacific in 1943 as a representative of the American Red Cross. ER traveled in military transports, putting herself at risk to visit hospitals and military camps. She saw an estimated 400,000 servicemen and women. ER made a special effort to meet with black sailors and soldiers. When photographs of these meetings appeared in newspapers, many Southerners reacted with outrage and threats against her increased.

To learn more about Eleanor Roosevelt's Red Cross Uniforms, visit our Digital Artifact Collection.
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