Perhaps the most influential First Lady in United States history, Eleanor Roosevelt was a major advocate for human rights and was a main contributor of drafting the . She did this while serving as a delegate of the UN General Assembly.
Revered for her remarkable services in public policy and her 12 years as First Lady, under her husband’s administration, Roosevelt made great strides as a humanitarian and woman of the 20th century. When her polio stricken husband suffered an attack in 1921, Roosevelt rose to the occasion, helping Franklin Roosevelt with his political career. Her devotion to her husband’s political aspirations and social reform made her a household name.
Becoming knowledgeable in Washington’s political arena, Roosevelt served as an active member in the women’s division of the State Democratic Committee. She continued to support and provide important surveillance for her husband, ultimately keeping his interest in politics and his career alive and thriving, from his rise to governor in 1928 until the end of his four terms in the White House and untimely death in 1945.
Upon her husband’s ascent to President of the United States in 1933, Roosevelt was one of the most involved First Ladies, surpassing predecessors and successors alike. A huge proponent of human rights, especially in regards to women and children, Roosevelt held many press conferences as a member of the League of Women Voters.
A longtime reporter and writer, Roosevelt contributed to the daily newspaper in her column, “My Day,” in which she candidly and firmly stated her opinions on women’s issues, poverty, children’s causes, and campaigned against racial discrimination. During the Second World War, Mrs. Roosevelt went abroad to visit US soldiers.
In January, 1947, the United Nations Commission of Human Rights was established with Roosevelt as a United Nations delegate by President Harry S. Truman. She subsequently rose to the position of elected chairman.
From there, Roosevelt played a major role in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in December, 1948. The document still stands today, as it is the first and only legitimized declaration that outlines the standard of achievements and fundamental human rights protected universally. Translated in over 500 languages, the document’s articles dictate, “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
Apart from the declaration’s adoption, Roosevelt’s human rights activism earned many accolades, including the 1939 Humanitarians Award and the first annual Nation Award in 1940. While her efforts and activism did receive criticism, especially in the early stages of her political and humanitarian career, arguably one defining aspect of Roosevelt’s legacy was her realist attitude.
Although Roosevelt understood that even with the legitimization of the Universal Declaration and similar policies, enforcing them was another animal entirely, with the very real possibility of failure. However, despite being aware that such policies were not self-enforcing, she fought regardless, and it is her tenacity and iron will that inspires humanitarians today.
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