Church Communication Hero: Eleanor Roosevelt

Church Communication Hero: Eleanor Roosevelt

May 29, 2018 by

“Do not be afraid of mistakes, provided you do not make the same one twice.” -Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962)

Eleanor Roosevelt has been described as the most controversial first lady in U.S. history. She redefined the position with her political and social activism, also becoming one of the most beloved first ladies in U.S. history.

  • She spoke out against racial discrimination in New Deal projects.
  • She opposed the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
  • She challenged her husband (and president) to accept more refugees fleeing Nazi oppression.

Eleanor also wrote a daily column, had a radio show, and became the first president’s wife to address a political convention. She was also a strong advocate for women’s rights.

When disgruntled veterans protested the White House, Eleanor went out and talked with them, prompting the famous quote, “Hoover sent the army, but Roosevelt sent his wife.”

She connected with people in a genuine way. Eleanor traveled to the Pacific theater to rally the troops, and Admiral William Halsey Jr. remarked that “she alone accomplished more good than any other person, or any groups of civilians, who had passed through my area.”

Eleanor’s Mistakes

But Eleanor Roosevelt also made mistakes (like everybody).

Some can be attributed to trying difficult things. Eleanor supported Arthurdale, a planned community to resettle coal miners blacklisted for union activities. The government-supported community was widely considered a failure, though Roosevelt herself thought it was worth the effort.

Sometimes mistakes can be like President Roosevelt’s initial approach to the Great Depression—just keep throwing things at it and see what sticks. Try something, and when it fails, try something else. Arthurdale and some of Eleanor’s other efforts can be seen in this light. She wanted to help people, to use her position to do good. But it didn’t always work out that way. So she tried something else.

That One Big Mistake

Other mistakes can be more embarrassing and harder to understand.

In 1924, Theodore Roosevelt Jr.—Eleanor’s cousin and the son of President Theodore Roosevelt—ran for governor of New York. Eleanor supported his opponent and staunchly campaigned against her own cousin.

To the point of pulling together a crass political stunt: When Theodore went out on the campaign trail, Eleanor followed him in a car decked out with a papier-mache teapot that actually steamed—an attempt to tie him to the Teapot Dome scandal.

She would make speeches countering Theodore’s speeches, calling him “immature.” You got that image, right? She follows her cousin around in a papier-mache teapot, with actual steam coming out, and he’s the immature one.

Of course Eleanor was later embarrassed by her own antics. She could never adequately explain why she’d done it, even to herself.

We all make mistakes.

The real challenge is to dust yourself off, move forward, and not allow a mistake to define you.

Eleanor Roosevelt managed that, and today she’s remembered for her accomplishments and not a crass political stunt.

Church Communication Mistakes

You’re going to make mistakes as a church communicator. Maybe it’ll be a typo, an email that shouldn’t have gone out, or something worse. As hard as we try, they seem to be inevitable.

So yes, try to avoid those mistakes.

But when they happen, learn from Eleanor Roosevelt, and move forward.


Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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