1921 - 2007
Eleanor McGovern's individual accomplishments were less celebrated
than those of her husband, they were no less remarkable.
November 25, 1921, in Woonsocket, South Dakota, Eleanor Stegeberg
grew up on a farm during the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s. Her
strong work ethic and her lifelong concern and compassion for others
rooted in her childhood. When her mother died, 12-year-old Eleanor
and her twin sister, Ila, took over all household responsibilities,
helping their father raise their younger sister.
Eleanor and Ila
were varsity debaters at Woonsocket High School, and Eleanor was
the class salutatorian for their 1940 high school
graduation. The twins enrolled at Dakota Wesleyan University
in the fall of 1940. While a student, Eleanor served as a secretary
office of the academic dean. However, because of her family's
resources, she left college after one year to work as a legal
secretary for two Mitchell lawyers, former U.S. Sen. Herbert Hitchcock
Fred Nichol who was later nominated for a federal judgeship.
On October 31, 1943, Eleanor married George McGovern, whom she had
both were students at Dakota Wesleyan. The couple subsequently
raised five children - Ann, Susan, Teresa (now deceased), Steven,
Throughout the hectic years of her husband's lengthy career in
politics, Eleanor provided a stable home environment that facilitated
to the nation.
came to the forefront of national awareness during Senator McGovern's
1972 Presidential campaign. George described her as his most helpful
critic and most trusted adviser. And as one of his key strategists,
she shared in both the victories and the defeats associated with
the fight for causes in which she believed deeply. As the wife of
a presidential nominee, Eleanor broke new ground by campaigning on
her own across the country. An accomplished speaker, she stirred
crowds from coast to coast and appeared frequently as a guest on
network television and radio discussions dealing with national and
international issues. Her high profile permanently transformed public
perception of the role and value of political spouses.
time on, Eleanor continued to work tirelessly to improve the lives
of children and their families. She traveled the nation
to address civic, academic, and women's groups about her concern
for the nation's children and on issues of child development, family
life and the roles of women. Eleanor wrote articles on child development
and appeared in media interviews on domestic, national and international
topics. Following her daughter Terry's death in 1994, she spoke
publicly about the tragedy of alcoholism.
her life, Eleanor epitomized Dakota Wesleyan University's tradition
of service. As a longtime volunteer for the Child Development Center,
she provided in-home education for parents of underprivileged infants
and young children in Washington, D.C. She was a member of the Women's
Democratic Club and served on the boards of directors for Dakota
Wesleyan University, the Psychiatric Institute Foundation, the Child
Study Association, the Erickson Institute of Chicago and Odyssey
House of New York. She founded the Martha Movement and was a development
officer for the Child Development Associates Consortium. Eleanor
and her family also established the McGovern Family Foundation in
Washington, D.C., to receive and disburse funds for research on alcoholism.
Eleanor's highly regarded memoir, "Uphill: A Personal Story," was
published in 1973. In recognition of her enduring spirit and commitment
to service, Dakota Wesleyan University named her an Outstanding Citizen
in 1975 and awarded her an honorary doctorate in humane letters in
Eleanor McGovern passed away on Jan. 25, 2007 at the McGoverns’
home in Mitchell. She was 85.