1921 - 2007
Although Eleanor McGovern's individual accomplishments were less celebrated than
those of her husband, they were no less remarkable.
Born on 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 are 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 in the office of the academic dean. However, because of her family's limited resources, she left college after one year to work as a legal secretary for two Mitchell lawyers, former U.S. Sen. Herbert Hitchcock and Fred Nichol who was later nominated for a federal judgeship. On October 31, 1943, Eleanor married George McGovern, whom she had met while both were students at Dakota Wesleyan. The couple subsequently raised five children - Ann, Susan, Teresa (now deceased), Steven, and Mary. Throughout the hectic years of her husband's lengthy career in politics, Eleanor provided a stable home environment that facilitated his service to the nation.
Eleanor 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.
From that 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.
Throughout 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 1997.
Eleanor McGovern passed away on Jan. 25, 2007 at the McGoverns’ home in Mitchell. She was 85.