III. Eleanor Roosevelt: Human Rights

President Roosevelt was a founder of the United Nations. After his death on April 12, 1945, Eleanor also embraced the goals of this important new organization for maintaining peace in the world. In 1946, President Harry S. Truman appointed her to the United States delegation to the UN. There she directed the writing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was adopted by the UN in December 1948 when Eleanor characterized it as “the international Magna Carta of all men everywhere.” It was only with her leadership and determination that this seminal document became the platform for all future discussions of human rights.

Watch Video of Eleanor addressing the United Nations on the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

As Eleanor became “First Lady of the World” she traveled even more, advocated for the work of the United Nations, protested apartheid in South Africa, and supported the expansion of opportunities for women. Her friendship with the students of Hunter College from 1940 onward inspired many of them like Pauli Murray and Bella Abzug–and numerous other young women–to enter public life, to fight for change in numerous arenas, and to seek equal status for women in every profession and aspect of governance. During the decade following Eleanor’s death in 1962 came the summons for change by the Women’s Movement. Hearkening back to their suffragist predecessors,  women organized to fight through direct action, legislation, and the courts for civil rights, LGBT rights, environmental justice, better health care, equal pay, equal access to civilian and military jobs,  and their own sports teams, just to name a few of the many areas  where women sought equality. Now we can count several generations of women who have grown up to challenge and dismantle barriers to women’s advancement, achievement, and leadership to better the world for all people.