March is National Women’s History Month. All month long we will be celebrating by looking at some of the remarkable women throughout history who have made a huge difference in fundraising and humanitarian work.
Our first featured woman is Eleanor Roosevelt. You may remember her as the wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, but she was far more than simply the wife of a U.S. politician.
Civil Rights Activism
While the most commonly known aspects of the Civil Rights movement occurred in the 1950s-1960s, Eleanor Roosevelt took a stand for the cause decades prior. One example happened in 1939, when opera singer Marian Anderson, who was African American, toured the United States. Howard University requested to hold one of Anderson’s concerts at Constitution Hall in racially segregated Washington, D.C. The Daughters of the American Revolution, who built the venue to house their annual conventions, had an unwritten rule not to allow performances by non-white entertainers and refused the request.
Eleanor Roosevelt had met Anderson three years earlier during a performance at the White House, and was not pleased to learn of the DAR’s refusal to let Anderson perform. Roosevelt, who had been given membership in the organization when her husband was elected as President of the United States, wrote a resignation letter to the president of the organization. In the letter, Roosevelt wrote that the DAR “had an opportunity to lead in an enlightened way and it seems to me that your organization has failed.”
The following day, Roosevelt discussed the incident in her My Day column, though she did not mention the DAR or Anderson by name. In the column, she explained, “To remain as a member [of an organization who takes an action you disagree with] implies approval of that action, therefore I am resigning.”
Her resignation created a nationwide discussion of racism, and she immediately went to work behind-the-scenes to organize an outdoor concert at the Lincoln Memorial. The concert, which was held on Easter Sunday in 1939, was attended by 75,000 people. Roosevelt’s resignation and the massive concert event created a nationwide discussion of racism, bringing attention to an issue that had previously been largely ignored.
Work at the United Nations
Eleanor Roosevelt served as a U.S. delegate to the United Nations from 1946 to 1953. During her time at the UN, she took steps to fight for human rights, particularly women’s rights. She aided the women’s caucus in writing gender-neutral language, after deciding that the phrase “all men are created equal” would likely be taken literally and exclude women from having equal rights.
According to Roosevelt, one of her most significant achievements was her work in the creation and passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She received a standing ovation when the declaration was adopted by the UN on December 10, 1948.
Eleanor Roosevelt’s Impact on the World
Eleanor Roosevelt made a difference throughout every stage of her life, and she worked for the betterment of society until her last moment. At the request of President John F. Kennedy, Roosevelt led the first Presidential Commission on the Status of Women from 1961 until her death in 1962. She also served on the Advisory Council for the Peace Corps and the board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
At her funeral, a friend had this to say about Roosevelt’s work and lasting impact: “She would rather light a candle than curse the darkness, and her glow has warmed the world.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum
National Women’s History Museum
The United Nations