Quotations by Roosevelt, Eleanor


Religion to me is simply the conviction that all human beings must hold some belief in a power greater than themselves, and that whatever their religious belief may be, it must move them to live better in this world and to approach whatever the future holds with serenity.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
“If You Ask Me,” Ladies Home Journal (Oct 1941)
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Person after person has said to me in these last few days that this new world we face terrifies them. I can understand how that feeling would arise unless one believes that men are capable of greatness beyond their past achievements. … The time now calls for mankind as a whole to rise to great heights. We must have faith or we die.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
“My Day” (10 Aug 1945)

After the dropping of the atomic bomb.
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I know that we will be the sufferers if we let great wrongs occur without exerting ourselves to correct them.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
“My Day” (13 Aug 1943)
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Justice cannot be for one side alone, but must be for both.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
“My Day” (15 Oct 1947)
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When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
“My Day” (16 Feb 1946)
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The important thing is neither your nationality nor the religion you professed, but how your faith translated itself in your life.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
“My Day” (23 Sep 1943)
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Peace will not be built, however, by people with bitterness in their hearts.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
“My Day” (7 Jan 1944)
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I doubt that anyone does not really believe in God. People may think they don’t have any belief, but you will usually find that there is a belief in something beyond himself. In any case, I would not judge a man’s 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 (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
“The Wisdom of Eleanor Roosevelt” (1963)
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To me, the democratic system represents man’s best and brightest hope of self-fulfillment, of a life rich in promise and free from fear; the one hope, perhaps, for the complete development of the whole man. But I know, and learn more clearly every day, that we cannot keep our system strong and free by neglect, by taking it for granted, by giving it our second-best attention. We must be prepared, like the suitor in The Merchant of Venice — and, I might point out, the successful suitor — to give and hazard all we have.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
“What Has Happened to the American Dream?” Atlantic Monthly (Apr 1961)
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Man cannot live without hope. If it is not engendered by his own convictions and desires, it can easily be fired from without, and by the most meretricious and empty of promises.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
“What Has Happened to the American Dream?” Atlantic Monthly (Apr 1961)
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The future will be determined by the young, and there is no more essential task today, it seems to me, than to bring before them once more, in all its brightness, in all its splendor and beauty, the American dream, lest we let it fade, too concerned with the ways of earning a living or impressing our neighbors or getting ahead or finding bigger and more potent ways of destroying the world and all that is in it.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
“What Has Happened to the American Dream?” Atlantic Monthly (Apr 1961)
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The Marines I have seen around the world have the cleanest bodies, the filthiest minds, the highest morale, and the lowest morals of any group of animals I have ever seen. Thank God for the United States Marine Corps!

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
(Attributed, 1945)
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It is not fair to ask of others what you are not willing to do yourself.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
(Attributed)
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What one has to do usually can be done.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
(Attributed)
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Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you also have an obligation to be one.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
(Attributed)
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No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
(Attributed)

Sometimes cited to her autobiography This is My Story (1937), but not found in that book. It seems to have been inspired by a comment she made in 1935: "A snub is the effort of a person who feels superior to make someone else feel inferior. To do so, he has to find someone who can be made to feel inferior." The quotation was in its present form (and attributed to her) by 1940. More information here.
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I want to be able to sit down with anyone who may have a new idea and not be afraid of contamination by association. In a democracy you must be able to meet with people and argue your point of view–people whom you have not screened beforehand. That must be part of the freedom of people in the United States.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
(Attributed)

Quoted in J. Lash, <i>Eleanor: The Years Alone</i> (1972)

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To have a friend who knows you by name gives you a sense that you are not alone in the world.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
(Attributed)

Quoted in J. Lash, <i>Eleanor: The Years Alone</i> (1972)

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You have to accept whatever comes and the only important thing is that you meet it with courage and with the best you have to give.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
(Attributed)
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The reason that fiction is more interesting than any other form of literature, to those who really like to study people, is that in fiction the author can really tell the truth without humiliating himself.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
(Attributed)
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My greatest fear has always been that I would be afraid — afraid physically or mentally or morally and allow myself to be influenced by fear instead of by my honest convictions.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
If You Ask Me (1946)
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No, I have never wanted to be a man. I have often wanted to be more effective as a woman, but I have never felt that trousers would do the trick!

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
If You Ask Me (1946)
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We must show by our behavior that we believe in equality and justice and that our religion teaches faith and love and charity to our fellow men. Here is where each of us has a job to do that must be done at home, because we can lose the battle on the soil of the United States just as surely as we can lose it in any one of the countries of the world.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
India and the Awakening East (1953)
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It takes courage to love, but pain through love is the purifying fire which those who love generously know. We all know people who are so much afraid of pain that they shut themselves up like clams in a shell and, giving out nothing, receive nothing and therefore shrink until life is a mere living death.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
My Day (1 Apr 1939)
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One should always sleep in all of one’s guest beds, to make sure that they are comfortable.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
My Day (11 Sep 1941)
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Little by little it dawned upon me that this law was not making people drink any less, but it was making hypocrites and law breakers of a great number of people. It seemed to me best to go back to the old situation in which, if a man or woman drank to excess, they were injuring themselves and their immediate family and friends and the act was a violation against their own sense of morality and no violation against the law of the land.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
My Day (14 Jul 1939)

On Prohibition.
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I was one of those who was very happy when the original prohibition amendment passed. I thought innocently that a law in this country would automatically be complied with, and my own observation led me to feel rather ardently that the less strong liquor anyone consumed the better it was. During prohibition I observed the law meticulously, but I came gradually to see that laws are only observed with the consent of the individuals concerned and a moral change still depends on the individual and not on the passage of any law.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
My Day (14 Jul 1939)
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At all times, day by day, we have to continue fighting for freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom from want — for these are things that must be gained in peace as well as in war.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
My Day (15 Apr 1943)
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Will people ever be wise enough to refuse to follow bad leaders or to take away the freedom of other people?

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
My Day (16 Oct 1939)
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And while accepting the fact that some of our press, our radio commentators, our prominent citizens and our movies may at times be blamed legitimately for things they have said and done, still I feel that the fundamental right of freedom of thought and expression is essential. If you curtail what the other fellow says and does, you curtail what you yourself may say and do. In our country we must trust the people to hear and see both the good and the bad and to choose the good.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
My Day (29 Oct 1947)

On the House Un-American Activities Committee

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I have never felt that anything really mattered but the satisfaction of knowing that you stood for the things in which you believed and had done the very best you could.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
My Day (8 Nov 1944)
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We have to face the fact that either all of us are going to die together or we are going to learn to live together and if we are to live together we have to talk.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
New York Times (1960)
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It seems to me that America’s objective today should be to try to make herself the best possible mirror of democracy that she can. The people of the world can see what happens here. They watch us to see what we are going to do and how well we can do it. We are giving them the only possible picture of democracy that we can: the picture as it works in actual practice. This is the only way other peoples can see for themselves how it works; and can determine for themselves whether this thing is good in itself, whether it is better than they have, better than what other political and economic systems offer them.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt, ch. 43 “Milestones” (1961)
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To me who dreamed so much as a child, who made a dreamworld in which I was the heroine of an unending story, the lives of people around me continued to have a certain storybook quality. I learned something which has stood me in good stead many times — The most important thing in any relationship is not what you get but what you give.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt, Preface (1961)

The last line was originally in her autobiography This Is My Story (1937).

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We do not move forward by curtailing people’s liberty because we are afraid of what they may do or say.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
The Nation Magazine (1940)
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Up to a certain point it is good for us to know that there are people in the world who will give us love and unquestioned loyalty to the limit of their ability. I doubt, however, if it is good for us to feel assured of this without the accompanying obligation of having to justify this devotion by our behavior.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
This Is My Story (1937)
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We will have to want peace, want it enough to pay for it, pay for it in our own behavior and in material ways. We will have to want it enough to overcome our lethargy and go out and find all those in other countries who want it as much as we do.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
This Troubled World (1938)
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We must know what we think and speak out, even at the risk of unpopularity. In the final analysis, a democratic government represents the sum total of the courage and the integrity of its individuals. It cannot be better than they are.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
Tomorrow Is Now (1963)
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There never has been security. No man has ever known what he would meet around the next corner; if life were predictable it would cease to be life, and be without flavor.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
Tomorrow Is Now (1963)
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A respect for the rights of other people to determine their forms of government and their economy will not weaken our democracy. It will inevitably strengthen it. One of the first things we must get rid of is the idea that democracy is tantamount to capitalism.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
Tomorrow Is Now (1963)
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Democracy requires both discipline and hard work. It is not easy for individuals to govern themselves. … It is one thing to gain freedom, but no one can give you the right to self-government. This you must earn for yourself by long discipline.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
Tomorrow Is Now (1963)
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Our trouble is that we do not demand enough of the people who represent us. We are responsible for their activities. … We must spur them to more imagination and enterprise in making a push into the unknown; we must make clear that we intend to have responsible and courageous leadership.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
Tomorrow Is Now (1963)
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One thing I believe profoundly: We make our own history. The course of history is directed by the choices we make and our choices grow out of the ideas, the beliefs, the values, the dreams of the people. It is not so much the powerful leaders that determine our destiny as the much more powerful influence of the combined voices of the people themselves.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
Tomorrow Is Now (1963)
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I am stressing that it is the force of ideas rather than the impact of material things that made us a great nation. It is my conviction, too, that only the power of ideas, of enduring values, can keep us a great nation. For, where there is no vision the people perish.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
Tomorrow Is Now (1963)
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Ability is not something to be saved, like money, in the hope that you can draw interest on it. The interest comes from the spending. Unused ability, like unused muscles, will atrophy.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
Tomorrow Is Now (1963)
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A mature person is one who does not think only in absolutes, who is able to be objective even when deeply stirred emotionally, who has learned that there is both good and bad in all people and all things, and who walks humbly and deals charitably with the circumstances of life, knowing that in this world no one is all-knowing and therefore all of us need both love and charity.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
You Learn by Living (1960)
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Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
You Learn By Living (1960)

An earlier version of this (the first sentence, at least) was included in a letter to Joseph Lash (13 Feb 1946).
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Surely, in the light of history, it is more intelligent to hope rather than to fear, to try rather than not to try. For one thing we know beyond all doubt: Nothing has ever been achieved by the person who says, “It can’t be done.”

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
You Learn By Living (1960)
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The encouraging thing is that every time you meet a situation, though you may think at the time it is an impossibility and you go through the tortures of the damned, once you have met it and lived through it you find that forever after you are freer than you ever were before. If you can live through that you can live through anything. You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, “I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.” The danger lies in refusing to face the fear, in not daring to come to grips with it. If you fail anywhere along the line it will take away your confidence. You must make yourself succeed every time. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
You Learn by Living, “Fear — the Great Enemy” (1960)

This is the likely source for the misattribution of this Mary Schmich quotation to Roosevelt.
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No man is defeated without until he has first been defeated within.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
You Learn by Living, ch. 10 (1960)
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One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes. In stopping to think through the meaning of what I have learned, there is much that I believe intensely, much I am unsure of. In the long run, we shape our lives and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And, the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
You Learn by Living, Foreword (1960)
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You have to accept whatever comes and the only important thing is that you meet it with courage and with the best you have to give.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
In Edward P. Morgan (ed.) This I Believe … (1952)
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Anyone who knows history, particularly the history of Europe, will, I think, recognize that the domination of education or of government by any one particular religious faith is never a happy arrangement for the people. 

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
Letter to Cardinal Spellman (23 Jul 1949)

Full text.

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Spiritual leadership should remain spiritual leadership and the temporal power should not become too important in any church.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
Letter to Cardinal Spellman (23 Jul 1949)

Full text.

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Criticism … makes very little dent upon me, unless I think there is some real justification and something should be done.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
Letter to Carrie Chapman (18 Apr 1936)
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I think that if the atomic bomb did nothing more, it scared the people to the point where they realized that either they must do something about preventing war or there is a chance that there may be a morning when we would not wake up.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
News Conference (3 Jan 1946)
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The test of democracy and civilization is to treat with fairness the individual’s right to self-expression, even when you can neither understand nor approve of it.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
Radio address (14 Oct 1941)
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It isn’t enough to talk about peace; one must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it; one must work at it.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
Radio broadcast, Voice of America (11 Nov 1951)
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Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home—so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
Remarks on “In Your Hands” booklet, United Nations Commission on Human Rights, New York (27 Mar 1958)
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We cannot exist as a little island of well-being in a world where two-thirds of the people go to bed hungry every night.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
Speech (8 Dec 1959)
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I believe that you must apply to all groups the right to all forms of thought, to all forms of expression.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
Speech, Chicago Civil Liberties Committee (1940)
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Where after all do universal human rights begin? In small places, closes to home — so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: The neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
Speech, United Nations (27 Mar 1958)
Added on 29-Apr-15 | Last updated 29-Apr-15
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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.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
Voice of America (11 Nov 1951)
Added on 27-May-15 | Last updated 27-May-15
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More quotes by Roosevelt, Eleanor

It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
Voice of America broadcast (11 Nov 1951)
Added on 6-Aug-08 | Last updated 6-Aug-08
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Happiness is not a goal, it is a by-product. Paradoxically, the one sure way not to be happy is deliberately to map out a way of life in which one would please oneself completely and exclusively.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
You Learn by Living (1960)
Added on 7-May-08 | Last updated 7-May-08
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