Born this day in 1884: Eleanor Roosevelt (1884–1962), humanitarian, diplomat, author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
We all know ER as a humanitarian, supporter of civil rights and rights for women, friend to the average worker and the poor, UN delegate, and the eyes and ears of her husband, President Franklin Roosevelt. Today, on the anniversary of her birth, let ER tell us in her own words the legacy she hoped to leave the next generation.
What I Hope to Leave Behind
by Eleanor Roosevelt (Pictorial Review, April 1933)
I personally have never formulated exactly what I would like to leave behind me. I am afraid I have been too busy living, accepting such opportunities as come my way and using them to the best of my ability, and the thought of what would come after has lain rather lightly in the back of my mind.
However, I suppose we all would like to feel that when we leave we have left the world a little better and brighter as a place to live in.
A man said to me recently, “I would like before I die to live in a community where no individual has an income that could not provide his family with the ordinary comforts and pleasures of life, and where no individual has an income so large that he did not have to think about his expenditures, and where the spread between is not so great but that the essentials of life may lie within the possession of all concerned. There could be no give and take in many ways for pleasure, but there need be no acceptance of charity.”
Men have dreamed of Utopia since the world began, and perfect communities and even states have been founded over and over again. One could hardly call the community that this man likes to visualize Utopia, but it would have the germs of a really new deal for the race.
As I see it we can have no new deal until great groups of people, particularly the women, are willing to have a revolution in thought.…
For a number of years it took so much vitality to keep the home going, and that home represented so many different kinds of activities, that none of us had any urge to go outside of this sphere.
Gradually in every civilization there comes a time when work of the household is done by servants, either human or mechanical.
When the care of the children ceases to be entirely in one person’s hands, then in the past, as in the present, women have turned to other things. Some have changed the map of the world, some of them have influenced literature, some have inspired music. Today we are dreaming dreams of individual careers.
I find I have a sense of satisfaction whenever I learn that there is a new field being opened up where women may enter. A woman will rejoice in her freedom to enter on a new career. She will know that she has to make some sacrifice as far as her own life is concerned, and for that reason you will find more and more women analyzing what are the really valuable things in human life, deciding whether a job of some kind will be worthwhile for them from several points of view, whether it will give them sufficient financial return to provide for the doing of certain household things better than they could do themselves, and whether the job they do will give them more satisfaction and make them better-rounded people and, therefore, more companionable and worthwhile in their associations with the human beings that make up their home life.
What is the real value of a home? To me the answer is that the value lies in human contacts and associations--the help which I can be to my children, which my husband and I can be to each other, and what the children can be to us. These are the real values of home life.…
I feel that if holding a job will make a woman more of a person, so that her charm, her intelligence, and her experience will be of greater value to the other lives around her, then holding a job is obviously the thing for her to do. Sometimes a woman works not only to make money and to develop her personality, and be more of a person in herself, but also because she is conscious that she wishes to make some kind of contribution in a larger field than that of her home surroundings.
In all the ages there have been people whose hearts have been somehow so touched by the misery of human beings that they wanted to give their lives in some way to alleviate it. We have some examples of women like this today: Lillian Wald and Mary Simkhovitch in New York, Jane Addams in Chicago. They were none of them actuated, when they started out on their careers, by any small personal ambitions. They have achieved great personal success, but that is simply as a by-product; for what they set out to do and have done was to alleviate some of the trials of humanity in the places where they were able to work.The conditions which are governing the world today are obliging many women to set up a new set of values, and in this country they will, on the whole, be rather a good thing.
We have come to a place where success cannot be measured by the old standard. Just to make money is no gauge anymore of success. A man may not be able to make as much as his wife, may not be able to make enough to support his family, and yet he may be a success. He may have learned to be happy and to give happiness, too, in striving for things which are not material.…
There is no doubt that we women must lead the way in setting new standards of what is really valuable in life.…
With advancing years I feel I must give this question of what I want to leave behind me greater thought, for before long I shall be moving on to fields unknown, and perhaps it may make a difference if I actually know what I would like to bequeath to a new generation. Perhaps the best I can do is to pray that the youth of today will have the ability to live simply and to get joy out of living, the desire to give of themselves and to make themselves worthy of giving, and the strength to do without anything which does not serve the interests of the brotherhood of man. If I can bequeath these desires to my own children, it seems to me I will not have lived in vain.