Eleanor Roosevelt: Think Outside “The Oval” (Office)

By McKenna Hathaway

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There is a short list of things we know about the future. The future is inevitable. The future is malleable. The future is dictated by decisions made today. Then there is the list of things we hope about the future. The future is peaceful. The future is tolerant. The future is female. It’s a slogan that has recently picked up traction in the feminist movement and has been plastered on t-shirts, laptop stickers, and even poster boards. But how do we know this to be true? In short: we don’t. However, in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt “the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams,” and if there is someone who proved that to be true, it is she.

Eleanor Roosevelt transformed the Office of the First Lady from a passive to active and influential position. One of her dreams for the future was for it to be female, and she took action to ensure just that. Her ingenuity and courage is best illustrated in her all female press corps. On only the second day of her husband’s presidency, March 6, 1933, she held a press conference in the Red Room of the White House. However, she founded it upon an important caveat: the reporters sent by news agencies must be women.  She did this to force the hand of press agencies to hire women reporters, which they would have not have done without it being a requirement. This in turn provided the women reporters with job security, income, and access to news and professional status, all luxuries hard to come by for a woman in the early thirties.

As the weekly press conferences went on, the scope of topics widened to include political developments and inside information on the headlines of the time period from the New Deal to Prohibition. Moreover, Eleanor used this platform to champion other progressive movements such as low-cost housing, minimum wage, and equal pay for equal work. This gave women access to crucial new stories that often led to professional success. One example of this is Emma Bugbee, who was hired as a temporary reporter for the first lady. As the all-women press conferences continued, the company was in essence forced to hire her full-time and her stories often made the front page!

We have all heard the cliche, “Think outside the box,” about a million times from parents, teachers, and inspirational leaders. However, what does that mean for our lives, as we are not First Ladies, just mere Cal gals? The problem lies in this type of thinking. Just as Eleanor transformed her role as First Lady into an unrecognizable figure that citizens did not expect to see, we must do so with our lives. She thought, dreamed, and acted beyond the constraints of the traditions of “the Oval” Office to make an impact on the future. If we want to make the future female, we must stop asking ourselves to think outside of “the box,’ and rather ask ourselves how we can overcome the circumstances that are limiting us in life. The shape in our lives may not appear to be the traditional “box,” or even the “oval” Eleanor faced in her lifetime. However, just as Eleanor thought outside of “the oval” that characterized her life, we too must think about what aspect of our lives that confines us, think outside of it, and ultimately use it to our benefit.

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Edited by Erinn Wong