Book Review: The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, Volume 2 The Human Rights Years, 1949–1952

"Do what you feel in your heart to be right- for you'll be criticized anyway. You'll be damned if you do, and damned if you don't." - Eleanor Roosevelt

The 311 documents in this second volume of Eleanor Roosevelt’s papers trace her transformation into one of her era’s most prominent spokespersons for democracy, reveal her ongoing maturation as a political force in her own right, and detail the broader impact she had on American politics, the United Nations, and global affairs. Readers will find a fascinating view on the inner workings of President Truman’s second administration, the UN at the height of the early Cold War, and the many social and political movements that competed for influence over both. Ranging widely in substance and content, Roosevelt’s writings demonstrate a grasp of the intimate connection between domestic and international affairs that led the former first lady to support the Korean War, champion the newly founded state of Israel, demand respect for the civil rights of African Americans, and bolster the political ambitions of people like Adlai Stevenson, Helen Gahagan Douglas, and John F. Kennedy.

According to the Journal of American History, "this publication of the first volume of the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project, edited by Allida Black and her associates at George Washington University, is an event of the utmost significance to documentary editors and historians alike."

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Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was the First Lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945. She supported the New Deal policies of her husband, distant cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and became an advocate for civil rights. After her husband's death in 1945, Roosevelt continued to be an international author, speaker, politician, and activist for the New Deal coalition. She worked to enhance the status of working women, although she opposed the Equal Rights Amendment because she believed it would adversely affect women.

In the 1940s, Roosevelt was one of the co-founders of Freedom House and supported the formation of the United Nations. Roosevelt founded the UN Association of the United States in 1943 to advance support for the formation of the UN. She was a delegate to the UN General Assembly from 1945 and 1952, a job for which she was appointed by President Harry S. Truman and confirmed by the United States Senate. During her time at the United Nations she chaired the committee that drafted and approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. President Truman called her the "First Lady of the World" in tribute to her human rights achievements.

Active in politics for the rest of her life, Roosevelt chaired the John F. Kennedy administration's ground-breaking committee which helped start second-wave feminism, the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. In 1999, she was ranked in the top ten of Gallup's List of Most Widely Admired People of the 20th Century.

"After 1945, with over 50 million dead, and the world riven by terror and suffering, Eleanor Roosevelt was in the leadership of those who wanted World War II to be ‘the last civil war to tear humanity apart.’ That required human rights—dignity, security, respect for all people; and diplomatic justice between nations, including economic stability to protect the earth's resources and the needs of humanity. Allida Black and her diligent, generous staff's remarkable collection of ER's papers—her letters and columns, memos of meetings and conversations, brilliantly edited and profoundly learned—gift us with the history we need most urgently now as we again confront a dangerous future. ER's life was dedicated to the eradication of poverty and racism, war and despair. This splendid and important volume—generously illustrated, filled with dazzling insights and stunning surprises—is a gift of hope and courage."—Blanche Weisen Cook, CUNY, author of Eleanor Roosevelt: A Biography

"Autobiographies are only useful as the lives you read about and analyze may suggest to you something that you may find useful in your own journey through life." -Eleanor Roosevelt

"In allowing us to study her own words, in letters, speeches, columns, and diary entries, a different portrait of the much-lionized woman emerges—one of a pragmatic, savvy politician. While she is remembered as a saintly, long-suffering figure, we can forget she was an indefatigable, disciplined activist—as historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote, a ‘tough and salty old lady’—who resisted stereotyping when she was alive, and constantly protested she was not interested in power while vigorously pursuing it."— Newsweek "Nothing like this pathbreaking volume exists in ER literature, and this resource will forever change the research landscape. This volume stands for documentary editing at its best."— Documentary Editing

According to the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project, more than any woman of the twentieth century, Eleanor Roosevelt inspired citizens and nations “to hazard all they have” to build a world governed by diplomacy, citizen engagement, and democratic policy. Her example of peace building and human rights advocacy throughout her life is a model to be studied and applied not only here in the United States but around the world.

As she moved from first lady to diplomat to citizen activist, she not only became the most ardent champion of human rights, but also one of the century’s most prolific journalists --publishing more than 8,000 columns, 580 articles, 27 books, 100,000 letters, delivering over 1000 speeches, and appearing on more than 300 radio and television shows.

Yet, her voice has been silenced, her vision and influence shrouded in stereotype or confined to obscure footnotes.

Since 2000, The Eleanor Roosevelt Project has worked to return ER’s voice back into the written record and uses this rich history’s contributions to train approximately 6,000 teachers, 500 civil society leaders, 100 policymakers, and countless citizens around the world to study and apply her writings, knowledge and strategy in their various arenas.

The publication of this volume has been supported by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.