Did you know December is International Human Rights Month? That’s why today’s #WomenWednesday shines a spotlight on a trailblazer in the international human rights arena: Eleanor Roosevelt.
It’s true she was the wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt – but she redefined the role of the first lady. Previously, the main function of the first lady role was to play hostess at social events and tend to domestic matters at the White House. But Eleanor wasn’t content to sit on the sidelines.
In fact, when Franklin was diagnosed with polio in 1921, it was she who persuaded him to stay in politics. She began giving speeches and making campaign appearances, something she continued throughout his time in office. She was also the first woman to hold regular press conferences, establish and write her own daily newspaper and magazine column, host a weekly radio show, and speak at a national party convention. At times she would even disagree with her husband’s policies, showing true character and independence of mind.
As one of the first public figures to advocate for social causes through mass communication, Eleanor spoke out for the disenfranchised. She defended women’s rights, the civil rights of African Americans and Asian Americans, and those of World War II refugees. Eleanor’s commitment to civil rights deepened across her lifetime, and she joined the NAACP Board of Directors as well as the Congress on Racial Equality in 1945.
In addition, this year saw her appointment as the first U.S. delegate to the United Nationals General Assembly – a position she held until 1953. Throughout her tenure, she served as the first Chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights. She considered one of her greatest accomplishments to be her part in formulating and passing the UN Declaration of Human Rights – a landmark document that serves as the springboard for many other legally binding international human rights conventions and laws.
She served a second term as the UN Delegate in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy reappointed her. Once again, she showed leadership on the National Advisory Committee of the Peace Corps, and chaired the President’s Commission on the Status of Women.
Eleanor Roosevelt died the following year, but her legacy lives on in the U.S. and around the world. She has been recognized by the National Women’s Hall of Fame, the Eleanor Roosevelt Monument, and the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights – among many others.
This International Human Rights month, CiTTA is happy to honor a woman who turned a previous domestic role into mission-driven public service. We’re always excited to learn more about those who work for social justice at home and human rights here and abroad.