How to Use
Eleanor Roosevelt had a passion for learning about people and places. She once wrote:
It was not until I reached middle years that I had the courage to develop interests of my own, outside of my duties to my family. In the beginning, it seems to me now, I had no goal beyond the interests themselves, in learning about people and conditions and the world outside our own United States. Almost at once I began to discover that interest leads to interest, knowledge leads to more knowledge, the capacity for understanding grows with the effort to understand (Roosevelt, 412).
Roosevelt not only entertained guests from the United States but from all over the world. In 1965, Dr. Franz Jonas president of Austria, described his 1952 visit with her while serving as Mayor of Vienna:
After the sightseeing tour, we were invited for lunch at Mrs. Roosevelt's home at Val-Kill and I was looking forward a great deal to meeting the venerable former First Lady. I immediately felt at home in Mrs. Roosevelt's country house. It was furnished in a style which we Viennese would call gemutlich [an Austrian word meaning warm, home-like feeling]. As I recall, also present at that lunch was a Lebanon representative to the United Nations. Mrs. Roosevelt was so animated and natural a hostess that I soon forgot to be conscious of my limited knowledge of the English language. She made me feel that a topic in which she was not interested simply did not exist. She spoke of various world matters with such assurance and such matter-of-factness that it was evident she had studied the problems thoroughly. Her main interest seemed to be the question of peace and international understanding. But equally important to her seemed to be the question of schools and education in the United States (Hershan, 80).
Roosevelt's passionate interest in the world's people was fulfilled by her appointment in 1946 to the United Nations General Assembly by President Harry S. Truman. This work required her to travel extensively for several years. She frequently commuted to New York City by train. From there she boarded a plane or a ship and traveled to many countries over the years. She became chairperson of the UN Human Rights Commission, and in two short years she became the principal author and foremost proponent of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was her work in drafting this document and in gaining its acceptance that she considered the most important work of her life. It took a bitter struggle to get it passed by the United Nation's General Assembly. Much of the opposition to the document came from the Soviet Union and other communist countries. In the end, however, there were no votes against the adoption of the Declaration in 1948, but several countries did abstain from voting.
1. How did Eleanor Roosevelt explain how her interest in people led to other interests?
2. What kind of atmosphere did visitors to Val-Kill find?
3. What did Roosevelt consider her greatest accomplishment? Why do you think it was so important to her?
4. From your knowledge of history, would you have expected the Soviet Union to be opposed to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?
5. What qualities do you think Roosevelt possessed that made her a particularly valuable delegate to the newly organized United Nations?
Reading 1 was compiled from The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt by Eleanor Roosevelt. Copyright 1937, 1949, 1958, 1961 by Anna Eleanor Roosevelt. Copyright 1958 by Curtis Publishing Company. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.