A Personality Assessment of Eleanor Roosevelt
University of the Cumberlands
A Personality Assessment of Eleanor Roosevelt
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘ I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you cannot do” (Williams, 2005). Eleanor Roosevelt outlined her life best when she spoke those words. Her life was full of obstacles and heartaches yet she always found a way to do the unthinkable. Her childhood was marked by memories of loss and betrayal that would later be mimicked within her marriage. She was born to an alcoholic father and a hardnosed mother both of whom died at an early age (Nabli, 2006). She later fell in love and married only to be caught in an adulterous, loveless relationship. Eleanor endured the loss of a son, juggled the political spotlight, and often had the world at her back. Eleanor was ridiculed by those around her and was known as an “ugly duckling (Nabli, 2006).” However, Eleanor Roosevelt overcome her adversities and has come to be known as a hero. This paper will follow the story of Eleanor Roosevelt in an attempt to examine her personality and how her personality has molded her into the person she is regarded as today. This paper will examine Eleanor Roosevelt’s personality through a careful investigation of her motivations, emotions, intelligences, self-concept, and relationship models as well as her personality traits, dynamics, and development.
Based on Eleanor Roosevelt’s achievements, it is apparent that she was a highly motivated individual. What I believe most motivated Eleanor was her passion for social justice. Eleanor’s passion for social justice began one Thanksgiving when Eleanor’s father took her to serve dinner to a group of homeless boys (Nabli, 2006). From this experience, Eleanor learned an important lesson about helping others that would later become the hallmark of her existence. However, Eleanor’s passion for social justice dissipated following her father’s death but would reignite during her stay at a boarding school in England at the age of sixteen. At boarding school, Eleanor was taught of the inequalities within the world and was further exposed to the pursuit of social justice through her participation in social service activities (Williams, 2005). Eleanor’s growth of knowledge and participation within the pursuit of social justice greatly fostered her confidence. As a result, Eleanor left her boarding school with newfound poise and a zeal for social justice pursuits (Williams, 2005). This passion is what helped motivate Eleanor towards a life as an activist. Eleanor Roosevelt would go on to write newspaper columns, present speeches, conduct rallies, and serve on committees for the sake of social justice (Williams, 2005). More specifically, Eleanor authored many newspaper columns advocating for the reform of mental health clinics and avidly spoke out against segregation laws (Nabli, 2006). She would also become the first lady to stand before a congressional committee and would be the driving force behind the Universal Declaration of Independence (Nabli, 2006). All the while, Eleanor continued to serve in soup kitchens as she did that one Thanksgiving evening with her father where her undying passion for social justice was formed.
“With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts” (Williams, 2005). Perhaps this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt gives the most profound insight into her emotions. Although Eleanor had her share of devastating circumstances, she always managed to turn the most negative of events into opportunity. Following the death of her husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, she accepted a position as an ambassador to the United Nations (Nabli, 2006). As opposed to sulking in her own despair, Eleanor uses Franklin’s death as motivation to further promote the change Franklin and her were working towards. It has also been noted that even through the toughest of times, Eleanor rarely broke down emotionally. For instance, there was a point in the Roosevelt’s life where everything seemed to be spiraling downward. Franklin was suffering from polio and Mrs. Roosevelt was struggling to care for him and her children all while dealing with the recent news that Franklin had been unfaithful to her (Williams, 2005). This stressful time was the only recollection ever mentioned of Eleanor breaking down emotionally (Williams, 2005). Aside from this instance, she could be noted as showing positive affect and always working to make opportunities from disasters.
Eleanor Roosevelt was quoted as saying, “Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people” (Williams, 2005). I believe this statement perfectly displays Eleanor’s intelligence in that she so commonly revealed ideas and solutions through her creative thinking. Eleanor was known as having a tremendous ability to think critically about everyday issues and to use these thoughts to form solutions to the problems that plague this world. During the women’s suffrage movement, Eleanor saw that women reporters were not being equally treated and as a result she decided that she would hold briefings for women reporters in hopes that the added publicity would allow them to be more readily hired (Nabli, 2006). She noticed a problem that was not being addressed and preceded to create solutions to alleviate the problem. This is commonly known as practical knowledge and is perhaps Eleanor Roosevelt’s key intelligence. Practical knowledge is defined as the ability to understand problems in daily life that are left undefined or poorly defined (Mayer, 2007). This was perhaps one of Eleanor’s greatest strengths as seen by her work in politics. She became “a voice for the people” because she was able to perceive and understand the problems of society and had the will and the knowledge to work to fix these problems (Williams, 2005). As previously mentioned, Eleanor was taught about the inequalities of life at boarding school and this knowledge was fostered through her experiences in social services (Williams, 2005). As a result, Eleanor Roosevelt’s practical intelligence for understanding society played a large role in her success both as an advocate and a politician.
Models of self, world, and relationships
Eleanor Roosevelt appeared to be a highly confident woman. She stood up for what she believed in, took risks, and always seemed to approach challenges head on. She had a loud voice for society and she used this voice to facilitate great change. For instance, she avidly took a stand against racial segregation as she resigned from the Daughters of the Revolution after they prohibited an African American to sing at their meeting (Williams, 2005). Prior to Mrs. Roosevelt, the previous first ladies of the United States assumed the role of quiete and submissive supporters of their husbands (Williams, 2005). Eleanor, however, took initiative and used her circumstances to bring about social change. It took great confidence for to attempt to change the role of the first lady and therefore it can be assumed that Eleanor Roosevelt was a woman of great confidence.
However, as a child, Eleanor had not always felt the same sense of self-confidence that carried her throughout her adult years. As previously mentioned, she had been ridiculed and maltreated as a young girl (Nabli, 2006). She was referred to as an “ugly duckling” and often tried to escape her life by daydreaming and imagining a world where she fit in (Nabli, 2006). She was betrayed and abandoned by those she grew close to and was often left searching for love within her relationships. The only way Eleanor knew how to receive love was to take care of others. When Eleanor was a young girl her mother would get headaches and Eleanor would rub her head to lessen the pain (Williams, 2005). From this, Eleanor learned that she could gain appreciation from her mother if she cared for her. This was also prevalent in Eleanor’s relationship with her husband. When Franklin contracted polio, Eleanor did everything she could do to take care of him (Williams, 2005). Franklin had previously been unfaithful and Eleanor was searching for his approval and his affection during this time. The only way she thought she could find this was to do just as she did with her mother and care for his needs. This was how Eleanor learned about relationships and also how she learned to view the world. Eleanor’s view of the world appears to be similar to her view of relationships. It seems as if Eleanor attempted to take care of and nurture the world just as she did with her mother and her husband. She devoted her life to service and continuously worked for the betterment of society. As a result, the world loved Eleanor and therefore she continued to work towards social justice in hope of gaining the affection and love she longed for.
The Neuroticism-Extraversion-Openness Five Factory Inventory (NEO- FFI) is a personality assessment that examines where an individual falls within the Big Five Personality Factors (Mayer, 2007). These factors include openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (Mayer, 2007). If Eleanor Roosevelt had taken the NEO- FFI, she would most likely have scored high in agreeableness due to her overwhelming altruism and desire to serve others. Eleanor’s altruism had an early beginning as she served the Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless and this altruism continued to grow as she aged. Even in her seventies, Eleanor spoke out as a champion for women’s rights and continued a campaign for the United Nations (Nabli, 2006). Eleanor did so in such a straightforward and honest manner that she began to win the affection of the world and is today referred to as “one of the world’s most admired women” (Williams, 2005). Eleanor would also most likely have a high score in conscientiousness due to her high levels of practical intelligence as mentioned previously. Eleanor displayed a great deal of self-discipline and appeared to be very goal minded. For instance, Eleanor stopped at nothing to pass the Universal Declaration of Independence. Many of the United Nations ambassadors were reluctant to agree with Roosevelt’s declaration and the vote failed many of times (Nabli, 2006). However, Eleanor persisted and continued to advocate for what she believed in- universal rights for all mankind. Eventually, the Universal Declaration of Independence was accepted by the United Nations and Eleanor Roosevelt saw her dream come to fruition (Nabli, 2006).
Mrs. Roosevelt’s life was overflowing with situations of conflict and struggle. Aside from the struggles mentioned previously, there was a particularly strong discourse between Eleanor and her mother-in-law. Franklin Roosevelt’s mother was extremely protective of Franklin and never genuinely thought Eleanor was suitable enough for him (Williams, 2005). Franklin’s mother went to extremes to purchase the Roosevelt’s a townhouse next to hers (Williams, 2005). She later cut out doorways between the two houses to rid any privacy that the Roosevelt’s may have wanted (Williams, 2005). Not to mention, she provided Eleanor with a multitude of cold shoulders and snide remarks declaring her unworthiness and her shortcomings as a wife and a mother. However, Eleanor handled this conflict with great stride just as she did her whole life. She attempted to please her mother-in-law to her best ability even when she felt broken down (Williams, 2005). She tried to earn the affection of her mother-in-law by caring for her undyingly. However, this was never enough for Franklin’s mother and therefore continued Eleanor’s streak of unloving, conflict-ridden relationships.
“People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how character is built” (Williams, 2005). These words authored by Eleanor Roosevelt speak volumes to the development and progression of her personality. Eleanor’s experiences, both for the good and for the bad, have greatly influenced the growth of her personality. The most influential experience of Eleanor’s life can be traced back to her time at boarding school. As previously mentioned, Eleanor learned a great deal about the world at boarding school. Her teacher, Marie Sulvete, took great interest in her and often asked Eleanor to accompany her on trips across Europe to examine the spread of inequality (Williams, 2005). Through these experiences, Marie Sulvete helped foster Eleanor’s passion for social justice. She also helped Eleanor feel loved and accepted- something that she had never felt before (Williams, 2005). As a result, Eleanor left boarding school with confidence, grace, and multitudes of experiences that would lead to the formation of her role as an activist (Williams, 2005). Although many people and circumstances affected the life of Eleanor Roosevelt, it was Marie Sulvete and Eleanor’s time at boarding school that I believe made the most significant impact on her personality.
Through this examination of Eleanor Roosevelt’s life, the development of her personality has become readily apparent. Her personality can be seen through her motives, emotions, intelligence, self-concept and relationship models, as well as her specific personality traits and dynamics. When exploring Eleanor’s experiences, it becomes obvious how all of these components become intertwined and are molded to form the basis of her personality. The same experiences that shaped her motives led to the formation of her self-concept and the same circumstances that molded her emotions revealed her views of the world. Her experiences are what made Eleanor the person she is regarded as today and what will forever uphold her legacy.
Mayer, J.D. (2007). Personality: A Systems Approach. Boston, MA: Pearson- Allyn & Bacon.
Nabli, D.E. (2006). Eleanor Roosevelt: First lady of the world. New York: HarperCollins.
Williams, S. (Writer/Director). (2005). Eleanor Roosevelt [Motion picture]. United States: Paramount Pictures.