Humanitarian Efforts

"Where, after all, do human rights begin? In small places, close to home; in the everyday world of human beings--the neighborhoods they live in, the schools or colleges they attend, the factories, farms or offices where they work, where every man, woman, and child seeks to have equal justice and opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world." -Adapted from a speech by Mrs. Roosevelt in 1958 at the United Nations


From the very beginning of her life, Eleanor Roosevelt was a humanitarian. At eighteen, she joined the Junior League, a group of women involved in social work, and taught at Rivington Street Settlement House8. She approached everything with exuberance and chose to give not only her money but also her time. She taught dancing and literature at community centers. Unsatisfied living in her sheltered surroundings, she was willing to venture into the slums, attempting to aid those who were not born into the kind of wealth she was. As a young woman, she worked with the Red Cross visiting wounded troops in the Navel Hospital, running a canteen station during World War I and traveling through Europe at a vigorous pace during World War II (Goodwin 380). One of her goals during World War II was to help refugees (Goodwin 99). She tried to improve conditions at a hospital for the mentally ill, having been inspired by the works of Dorthea Dix. She was also involved in many other social organizations, such as the American Youth Congress and National Youth Administration, which gave thousands of high school and college students part-time work (Goodwin 380).

Roosevelt's success with humanitarian effort can be attributed to her uncanny ability to place herself in other people's shoes. As she said of bombed London houses during World War II, “no matter how bad they had been, they were the homes of people” and “each empty building speaks of personal tragedy (Goodwin 380). Eleanor Roosevelt was admired by those she aided not because she sympathized with them but because she empathized. She was so successful at making people feel that she was on their level that people greeted her with “matter-of-fact” pleasure whenever she came to aide them (

A tribute to Eleanor's personal strength, she remained highly influential even after the death of Franklin. President Harry Truman appointed her the United States delegate to the first meeting of the United Nations in London in recognition of her past works. She was chairperson and an influential member of the Commission on Human Rights. She was the driving force behind the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was approved by the United Nations' General Assembly on December 10, 1948. When the Declaration of Human Rights was approved, the delegates gave her a standing ovation ( This Declaration of Human Rights now only set a standard for human behavior but many countries have used it for their own constitutions, it is used as a source by courts of law and war crimes tribunals (

Also, while working at the United Nations, she helped to found, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF). She retired from her position in the UN when Eisenhower came to power. After that, she spent her time traveling around the world, advocating nuclear disarmament and urging world leaders to protect the human rights of their people. Even in her late seventies, Roosevelt remained a powerful voice in the Democratic party. Even President John F. Kennedy recognized Eleanor's remarkable tenacity by appointing her to additional government positions during the last years of her life. She was a humanitarian who can inspire us all.


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