Humanist Profile: Eleanor Roosevelt: First Lady, United States of America (1933-1945)

Article excerpt

"I would not judge a character by his belief or unbelief. I would judge his character by his deeds; and no matter what he said about his beliefs, his behavior would soon show whether he was a man of good character or bad."

--Eleanor Roosevelt, from The Wisdom of Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt was born in New York City on October 11, 1884, to parents Anna Hall and Elliot Roosevelt, younger brother of President Theodore Roosevelt. After her parents died when she was young, she was raised by her maternal grandmother. She attended Allensworth Academy in London where she met Marie Souvestre who, with her commitment to Humanism and social justice, was a significant influence on the young Eleanor.

Later, after her 1905 marriage to distant cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt, she actively supported her husband during his senate years and, ultimately, his presidency. Breaking from the traditional role as First Lady, however, she became an active leader who lent her support to the rights of blacks, women, and workers.

After her husband's death in 1945 she continued her work as a political activist and social humanitarian. President Harry S. Truman appointed her to the first American delegation of the United Nations in 1946. She later served as chair of the UN Human Rights Commission, overseeing the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document she regarded as her greatest accomplishment.

Roosevelt also emerged as a leader of the Democratic Party, lending her support to various candidates, including Adlai Stevenson in 1956 and John F. Kennedy in 1960, who later appointed her as head of the President's Commission on the Status of Women.

As a long-time friend of the New York Society for Ethical Culture and speaker at many of its meetings, she fully supported its summer youth program, the Encampment for Citizenship. This program, because of its unique humanistic empowerment of young people, came under attack by conservatives during the McCarthy era of the 1950s who claimed it was un-American and socialistic. …