In these times when human nature seems darker and weaker than we know it to be, we should remind ourselves of qualities we admire and those people who exemplify them. It seems timely that my profiles now focus on individuals who hold us to a higher standard of decency, who may inspire us.
In a time of consistent assaults on bedrock American values, I begin with a woman who public life exemplifies some of the best sides of the American character, Eleanor Roosevelt. This essay will be more elaborate than usual, for I have found studying her life not only inspiring but therapeutic and I hope you will as well. May you feel equally rewarded.
Who Was Eleanor Roosevelt?
Eleanor Roosevelt was from a family with wealth and privilege and was wife to one of the most successful American Presidents, yet her life was pocked with personal difficulties and the consequences of her defying assumed roles of privileged public women. She responded by becoming a master of creative re-invention. This woman’s life will make you feel you haven’t done enough with yours.
Before we look at her chart let’s look at her early life. Her father, a well-established brother of Theodore Roosevelt, was also alcoholic and philandering, left the home when Eleanor was young and died a few years after. Her mother, who died earlier than her father, had been an elegant and beautiful woman who was disappointed by her shy daughter of modest appearance. After her parents’ deaths, she was raised by her maternal grandmother. In a stroke of good fortune, Eleanor the teenager was shipped off to a private school in England where she befriended the headmistress, an ardent feminist (for the time) and political advocate.
Returning to the United States, she was formally introduced “to society” and soon encountered her distant cousin Franklin Roosevelt who admired Eleanor’s wit and intelligence and three years later they were married. Eleanor was “given away” by her uncle President Theodore Roosevelt who thoroughly upstaged the marrying couple at the ceremony. Eleanor and Franklin were to have five children.
Eleanor’s life in following years were characterized by her conventional roles as wife and mother with the man being the public figure and soon got a taste of public life. As Franklin first campaigned and won a seat in the New York state senate, then moving to Washington to be Secretary of the Navy, Eleanor Roosevelt became involved in a surprising Presidential campaign where Franklin was candidate for Vice President (they lost). Eleanor transformed from being a socialite political wife to savvy political insider. During this time, she was involved in different charities and was also one of the founding members of the League of Women Voters. (Women only received the right to vote in 1920.)
Two events strongly impacted her personal life during this time. In the autumn of 1918 while Franklin was Secretary of the Navy, Eleanor discovered that Franklin had been having an affair with her social secretary Lucy Mercer. This turned her marriage into more a collaboration than an intimate connection and moved Eleanor’s attention increasingly into public life.
The second event occurred in the summer of 1921 when Franklin was suddenly crippled by polio. Her attention now turned toward the physical and emotional care of her husband. This led to an important confrontation and decision. Anna Roosevelt, Franklin’s mother and Eleanor’s mother-in-law from hell, wanted Franklin to retire from public life and live as a country gentleman. Eleanor asserted that Franklin needed to resume his public political life even if handicapped. Eleanor won the battle and we could say the rest is history.
In 1928 Franklin campaigned and won election as New York State governor; four years later, with the US mired in a depression, he was elected President. Franklin and Eleanor went to Washington and, at the age of forty-eight, Eleanor would establish herself in her own right on the national and international stage. In the years before her husband became President, Eleanor turned to business ventures and developed herself into a public speaker. She was developing an identity and set of skills independent of her husband. Before discussing her life after Franklin became President, a look at her astrological chart is in order.
Not Your Average “Libran”
Here’s her chart in whole sign mode without the outer planets – it’s always better to get a sense of how the visible planets are situated before discussing the impact of Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto upon them.
I begin in an unusual manner and note her sun-sign Libra stereotypes. By her own testimony, earlier in life she indeed cared too much about how others thought of her. As time went on, however, she developed a caring and intelligent presence among a wide range of ordinary people. (I suspect her Moon in Cancer had a hand in this.)
Sun is in fall in Libra, is an uncomfortable place for the radiating Sun to shine, as Libra relates,not radiates. Yet Sun is in the fortunate Eleventh House that gives it a measure of visibility and an ability to attract others to her. Importantly, Sun is in close sextile with the Ascendant degree in fiery Sagittarius that would bring much more of her to the surface.
Eleanor’s Mercury is also in Libra in the Eleventh House and is oriental to the Sun and thus in sect in her diurnal chart. This is a positive Mercury, fully coordinated with the Sun. Mercury is moving swiftly and is closing in on the Sun, within the Sun’s beams. This slightly negative factor would make her more circumspect, more careful with language and communication, would add her precise semi-aristocratic diction. And unlike her husband she would not have left around letters to or from an extracurricular lover!
We also need to look at the condition of Saturn in the angular Seventh House. The trine between Saturn and Sun is a positive aspect, and these two planets are brought together more closely by dignity – Sun is in Saturn’s exaltation and triplicity and Saturn is in his own triplicity. Since Eleanor Roosevelt was born during the daytime, Saturn is in sect, with the additional factors of being on the same side of the horizon as the Sun and being in the “masculine” sign Gemini. This is a very comfortable Saturn and even more closely harmonizes with the Sun. Although the luminary is in fall, Saturn comes to the rescue, acting like a big brother watching out for a more vulnerable sibling.
Positive manifestations of Saturn– yes there can be many! – present themselves abundantly in Roosevelt’s life. From being a shy and introverted young person she worked hard to improve in her ability to handle public situations, particularly giving speeches. We also see an ability to handle setbacks with dignity and resolve, to try her best and yet not feel she’s doing enough. As we will see in her post-1932 life, she was equipped was strong sense of obligation to do all the good she could, even when this resulted a frequently hostile press and resentment among her five children who wanted more from her than she could give to them. On the minus side, Saturn gave Eleanor Roosevelt a debilitating self-consciousness and a tendency toward bouts of depression.
Moon and her Companions
If Sun is in fall in Libra but in the fortunate Eleventh house, Moon is in her own sign Cancer but in the difficult Eighth House. Unlike the Sun whose nature is to radiate its own wonderfulness, Moon takes care of the business of daily life and life’s many changing situations, including one’s physical and emotional responses to them. Moon allows us to identify with or protect oneself from others.
Located in the Eighth House, Eleanor Roosevelt’s Moon does not always work on her behalf, since the Eighth House is not connected with the Ascendant. This Cancer Moon’s sensitivity would not always manifest and she would show more emotional restraint than she would feel. Moon in Cancer gives a wide emotional range that she would help her connect with people who were, at least on the surface, completely unlike her. Moon, out of sect in her diurnal chart, would not be comfortable with a Cancer Moon’s reputed sentimentality and moodiness. She needed to channel this through other features in her natal chart. As First Lady and afterwards she took on a variety of causes and worked on behalf of people who tended to be outside the mainstream – Moon in Cancer made it personal.
Moon is in square aspect to the Sun, a contest between the informality and emotional connection of Moon in Cancer and the more formal style and decorum of Sun in Libra. Although it wasn’t easy for her, over time she learned how to reconcile the two, to become somebody with a personal emphatic style and a formality of style befitting her station in life, a quality of decorum sorely lacking in our age of antagonistic personalizing politics.
Note the partile (same degree) trine between Moon and Mars, dignified in Scorpio but in the less-than-dignified Twelfth House. Do not confuse this with Mars’ rashness and aggressiveness when placed in its other “house” Aries, for Mars in Scorpio is usually quiet and determined and patient: a kind of “Count of Monte Cristo” mentality. However Mars in the Twelfth has a downside of Mars — it can become self-destructive, can cause “self-undoing”. This seems not to have been the case with her, yet one must wonder how much toxic anger she would have been capable of, had she not has a finishing-school education in a “lady’s” comportment, or been too busy trying to do good for others.
As the “sect-mate” of Moon and Mars, we next consider Roosevelt’s Venus placement. If we are tempted to say that Venus is in fall in Virgo and she must have been unattractive, we must look more closely. In a diurnal chart and in the sign Virgo of the earth element, Venus is in her own triplicity. Although out of sect in a diurnal chart, Venus has its own strength in the same sign as her Lot of Fortune and in the Tenth, the place of career, one of the strongest houses and the place of career. Additionally, there’s a mutual reception of Mercury in Virgo with Mercury in Libra – the two planets are placed in each other’s signs. What can we make of all this?
I am reminded of a story of her mother saying to little Eleanor, “you don’t have looks so you can be well-mannered.” Roosevelt would have missed out on the magazine covers that grace today’s supermarket aisles but her face found its way onto the covers of much better magazines. She was not without her charm and amiability that manifested in her public as well as intimate relationships. After her discovery of her husband’s affair she enriched her life with close friendships and maybe romance with both men and women, most prominently Alena Hickok, a journalist for the Associated Press.
Singing the Praises of Eleanor’s Jupiter
Usually the Ascendant and Ascendant ruler is the first thing I discuss but here I save the best for last. This is where her visionary nature comes in and where we begin to account for her unflagging energy and public presence. Sagittarius rising is our first hint of fire in her chart and this is doubled by the sign ruler Jupiter being in very late Leo conjunct Regulus. This fixed star is of the nature of Mars and Jupiter and is often associated with leadership. Jupiter, like Saturn, is in sect in Eleanor’s diurnal chart and is also in sextile with Saturn. Jupiter is also the dispositor of Lot of Spirit that is in Pisces. Although Jupiter is not in its own sign, as the ruler of both the Ascendant and Lot of Spirit and conjunct Regulus, Jupiter is the strongest planet in Eleanor Roosevelt’s natal chart.
If Saturn is the planet of density and seriousness and isolation, Jupiter is that of positive possibility and of relating with a larger field than the personal. If Saturn is the pragmatist and goes within, Jupiter is the idealist and reaches out. Located in the Ninth House, Jupiter also has a spiritual side, a religious side. We will see below the many ways in which Jupiter manifested in the chart during the last decades of her life.
What Do the Outer Planets Tell Us?
Now that we have closely examined the visible planets we see how Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto add to what we know. Pluto tells us more about Roosevelt’s Venus placement, as Pluto in the Seventh House is in square to Venus; this helps accounts for her husband’s infidelity and further indicate her responses to that. Any extracurricular relationships would occur with the greatest discretion. On the mental side, Pluto is in close trine with Mercury, adding an intensity and depth to her speaking and writing and to how her mind operates.
Uranus is in the Tenth House of career and one sees an inventiveness in the role of society woman, politician wife, and First Lady, a refusal to conform to conventional role expectations. While her thinking was visionary in many ways, her style was never weird or eccentric.
Neptune in the Sixth House has a close opposition to Mars in the Twelfth: this can deflate the enthusiasm and energy of Mars, or make the planet subject to distortion or delusion, or bring out its spiritual side, its “spiritual warrior” side. Especially with both planets in cadent houses, this is a potentially difficult opposition: it can bring out hidden aggression or self-aggrandizement and bring out martyrdom or victimhood or both. It appears that the fortunate placement of Roosevelt’s Jupiter helped eliminate some of the traps of this opposition and it manifested as visionary and energetic and also self-sacrificing in a positive way.
Predictive indicators during this part of her life
We can look at the years when she found out about her husband’s affair in 1917, she worked on his campaign for Vice President in 1920, and then his collapse with polio in 1921. Using secondary progressions (progressed-to-progressed only), Sun opposed Neptune at the end of 1917, about two months after discovering the affair – a recipe for personal deflation or disillusion.
In 1919 Mercury went into Sagittarius and in the following year Mercury completed an opposition to Pluto. This allows for greater mental range and depth. In the months after her discovery, transiting Uranus in Aquarius was stationing in square to her Mars in Scorpio – not a transit to bring out one’s equanimity or patience. Otherwise her transits were not particularly strong.
Then, in the autumn of 1921, shortly after Franklin’s polio collapse, she had a Progressed New Moon that would launch a new and long-lasting phase of her life. This was followed by two progressed aspects becoming exact: Venus sextile Mars at the end of 1921 and Mercury square Jupiter in mid-1922, signifying for her increased public presence outside the home, despite her attention turned toward caring for her ill but still ambitious husband.
Her decennials further add to her story. Roosevelt began a Moon-Moon period in July of 1916 and this was in effect the following two years, and was not an easy time emotionally for her. Things changed, then: beginning in August 1918 Jupiter took over for a year, followed by her planets in the tenth and eleventh houses for the following several years.
Circumambulations are a Hellenistic predictive system related to primary directions and show increased Sun activity during these years: in late 1919 directed Ascendant contacted natal Sun and in August 1921, at the time Franklin came down with polio, directed Moon contacted Sun. Her transits in August1921 feature Saturn in Virgo then Jupiter, also in Virgo, contacting her natal Saturn in the Seventh House.
This time in her life began in a weakened position but increasingly her mind became more resolute and she became more articulate and determined. This would begin a period of greater independence and prominence following personal crises. She was learning how to turn lemons into lemonade, or your lemon of a car into a National Public Radio donation.
Eleanor Roosevelt After 1932
As most of us now know well, a Uranus-Pluto square can last several years and impact one’s natal planets for a long time. In the early 1932’s Uranus was in Aries and Pluto was in Cancer and were in square during much of that time.
With Sun in Libra in square to Moon in Cancer, Eleanor Roosevelt was strongly affected by transits of Uranus and Pluto. This
period propelled her onto the national stage as fellow campaigner with her husband and she began to attract considerable attention, not all of it positive. This time put into place the factors she would need to reinvent herself into a national figure once Franklin became President.
Eleanor’s progressions continued to increase her national presence: following at Progressed First Quarter Moon early in 1930 was progressed Moon square progressed Jupiter. This was occurring when Jupiter was the major planetary lord for her decennials and Jupiter-Mars occurred at the time of the Presidential campaign. Transiting Jupiter was in her Tenth House. This must have been an energetic and fulfilling time for her. However shortly after moving into the White House with her husband her decennials changed to Jupiter-Saturn.
She began her role of First Lady feeling defeated – if a typical First Lady her role was to set up elaborate social occasions, break an occasional bottle of champagne over a new ship, and be a private support to her Presidential husband. Her two closest friends encouraged her to think outside the box; Franklin needed her to travel around the country being his “eyes and ears”, observing and reporting on the real living conditions of people during the Great Depression. Eleanor Roosevelt, by now in her late 40’s, thus proceeded to make history.
She became the first First Lady to hold press conferences but also barred men journalists to promote the careers of women journalists. (She also advocated for greater wage equality in general between men and women in the work force.) She contributed a daily column, weekly columns for several years, and numerous magazine articles afterwards. She used these opportunities not to grandstand but to promote her causes and there were many.
In the early 1930’s veterans’ groups had encamped in Washington to advocate for better treatment of veterans, not unlike the Occupy movement recently. Although dispersed with tear gas by the previous President, Eleanor visited them and took up their cause.
As a social experiment, she promoted an intentional community in West Virginia for unemployed and homeless coal mine workers. It eventually failed but gave her opportunities to be with and understand their problems and needs. When the residents restricted themselves to Christian whites Roosevelt became involved in promoting racial equality.
As civil rights advocate decades before there was a civil rights movement, Eleanor Roosevelt became a promoter of racial integration in the military, advocated federal laws designating lynching as a hate crime, and promoted equal access for African-Americans to federal opportunities and benefits coming out of the New Deal. In 1939 came her most famous gesture. When the Daughter of the
American Revolution barred opera singer Marian Anderson from performing at Constitution Hall, she resigned from the organization and set her up to give a concert at the Lincoln Memorial. Seventy-five thousand attended, possibly more than attended the inauguration of our current president.
Eleanor Roosevelt’s tireless advocacy often put her at odds with her husband’s political agenda, particularly in the area of racial equality – he needed the loyalty of Democrats from the southern states. She often fought the good fight, lost the battle, and moved on. For there was so much else to do!
As World War Two approached, the movement of refugees from Europe, particularly Jews fleeing Hitler, emerged as an issue of contention. It’s easy to forget the anti-Semitism present in the United States at that time, including in the State Department. Although she had some success she lost this battle as well – to this country’s subsequent embarrassment and shame. The same pattern emerged when World War Two erupted and people of Japanese origin were sent to internment camps for the duration of the war. Eleanor Roosevelt strenuously objected to this and made it a point to visit people confined to these camps.
When US troops were sent to Europe Eleanor Roosevelt followed them there, acting as goodwill ambassador to allied countries and encourager-in-chief to the troops, frequently visiting military hospitals.
During these years, what must it have been like to follow and report on Eleanor Roosevelt and her many travels and activities? It has come down that it was an exhausting beat, that reporters prayed that she would be tired for at least one day so they could rest. Eleanor Roosevelt, not young or in top-top physical shape, was motivated by her sense of calling and a desire to help enhance the lives of others.
Spring 1945 and Beyond
Toward the end of the Second World War, when transiting Neptune was moving toward her Midheaven, transiting Uranus was opposing her Ascendant, and shortly after secondary progressed Pluto went retrograde, Franklin Roosevelt died and Eleanor moved back to New York. By this time, she was a widely-known public figure internationally. President Harry Truman soon asked her to be the US delegate to the newly formed United Nations. She responded in part by heading the UN Commission on Human Rights and was a guiding hand in the writing of the Declaration of Human Rights published in 1948.
With a new Republican President Roosevelt stepped down from her UN role although she served in other capacities later. She continued in American political life, supporting the Presidential candidacy of Adlai Stevenson although later she came to support John Kennedy. Up to her death she continued to write, lecture, appear on television, and accept lifetime achievement awards. She died in 1962 at the age of 79.
Eleanor Roosevelt had an important role to play in the evolving political life of the United States and was well ahead of her time in many areas. By advocating equal rights for women and African-Americans to the economic liberalism of the progressive politics of the twentieth century, she presaged the role of the Kennedys in the following generation. It is no surprise that history has been more than kind to her and far less kind to her critics, those who accused her of taking advantage of her position to continuously stick her nose where it didn’t belong. Sadly, many of her causes still await a final victory.
Before the conservative movement and its accompanying fundamentalism took over political expression of the Christian religion, there were trends bringing together mainstream (i.e. Christian) religious doctrine and political liberalism that would eventuall
y blossom in Martin Luther King’s role in the Civil Rights Movement. Eleanor Roosevelt’s religious inclinations also leaned strongly toward social change.
In a recent article in the New York Review of Books (12-8-2016), Susan Dunn quotes a short book that Eleanor Roosevelt wrote in 1941, The Moral Basis of Democracy. Roosevelt urged her fellow Americans to follow the example of Jesus Christ. This was not about divinity but his moral example, bringing a “…spirit of social cooperation…more closely to the hearts and to the daily lives of everyone…. [and] change our whole attitude toward life and civilization”. She further states, “That means an obligation to the coal miners and sharecroppers, the migratory workers, to the tenement-house dwellers and the farmers who cannot make a living.”
Eleanor Roosevelt not only “walked the talk” but ran it at a steady clip, year in and year out.