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October 1, 1994: First Lady brought White House position into 20th-century; Advocated for peace + justice

Robert J. Day, The New Yorker Magazine, June 3, 1933

Robert J. Day, The New Yorker Magazine, June 3, 1933

Eleanor Roosevelt was the first 20th-century first lady. Contrary to previous first lady’s, who stayed in the background and served as a representation of domesticity, Mrs. Roosevelt openly campaigned for causes during her time in office, including public disagreements with the President.

“For it isn’t enough to talk of peace. One must believe it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.”

She openly advocated for the rights of labor, African-Americans, Native Americans, Japanese-Americans (during a time when many were forced into internment camps) and human rights throughout the world. Both as the first lady and later as the U.S. delegate to the United Nations General Assembly, Roosevelt used her platform and influence as a force for good, culminating in her role drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

One of her platforms was her daily newsletter “My Day,” which ran 6 days a week for 17 years (1935-1962). Enjoy the selections from her birthday below!

  1. October 11, 1948: “We spent the whole morning Friday having amendments presented to Article Number One of the Proposed Declaration of Human Rights. Article Number Two has been under discussion in our commission for two years, and the wording finally reached is as follows: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed by nature with reason and conscience and should act toward one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” This of course is not a statement of rights but a framework to express the spirit of the Declaration which is to follow.”
  2. October 11, 1951: “Discussion of a subject does not mean approval, and any public servant who does not discuss every subject from every possible angle should not be entrusted with important work for the government. The better your ability to cover every side of a question, the better your chance to serve your country well. We might as well have robots in positions of trust if we do not expect our public servants to discuss every possible subject from every angle.”
  3. October 11, 1955: “In the current issue of Life Magazine there is an editorial on the Till case which is an appeal to the conscience of all our people. The editorial says, quite rightly, that human justice often falls far short of being justice, but that divine justice sooner or later is meted out to all of us according to our just dues. […] I hope the effort will be made to get at the truth. I hope we are beginning to discard the old habit, as practiced in a part of our country, of making it very difficult to convict a white man of a crime against a colored man or woman. […] I know everywhere in this country we must prove that what we say about equality before the law for every American citizen is a reality and not a myth. The colored peoples of the world, who far outnumber us, will watch the Till case with interest, and if justice in the United States is only for the white man and not for the colored, we will have again played into the hands of the Communists and strengthened their propaganda in Africa and Asia.”
  4. October 11, 1958: “I myself have a theory that when changes need to come in political practices, the youth of our country must bring them about. Older people are unlikely to do this, because it takes organization and patience to win out in politics over accepted habits and attitudes. The position of the elders might actually be described as acceptance without question.”