Eleanor Roosevelt's Universal Rights

04 June 2015

Area Studies | Gender and Sexuality | History

In the year that we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the United Nations, and the UK government questions Britain’s part in the European Convention on Human Rights, it is a poignant time to reflect on the formation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Central to this was Eleanor Roosevelt who was already heavily involved in social justice and human rights by the time she became First Lady in the White House in 1933. She fought for equality for women, African Americans and workers, bringing public attention to these causes. Appointed as a delegate to the United Nations and heading up the Human Rights Commission she was the driving force behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948.

Eleanor Roosevelt © The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

 

In our forthcoming second module of American History, 1493-1945: From the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History Eleanor Roosevelt's vision is captured in the following letter outlining four basic rights:

Image © The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

 

While she notes social equality is a personal matter, responsibility for which must be undertaken on an individual level, she clearly defines what she believes are the basic human rights to be shared by all people: ‘the right for equal education, the right to work for equal pay according to ability, the right to justice under the law, the right to participate in the making of the laws by the use of the ballot’. These were key to forming the basic principles defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, described as having the potential to be ‘the international Magna Carta for all men everywhere' by Eleanor Roosevelt.

Today this is as relevant as ever and human rights have been in the spotlight since the 2015 General Election. Just this week David Cameron asserted in Prime Minister's Questions that we need to maintain British decision making over human rights and can’t rule out leaving the European Convention on Human Rights. This calls into question the shared principles of those common rights agreed upon almost 70 years ago and highlights just how central they are in our society.

 

Module 2 Civil War, Reconstruction and the Modern Age: 1860-1945 of American History, 1493-1945: From the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is released in June 2015. Module 1 Settlement, Commerce, Revolution and Reform: 1493-1859 is available now. Full access restricted to authenticated academic institutions who have purchased a licence.

About the Author

Clare Souza

Clare Souza

I am a Development Editor at Adam Matthew. Since joining the team I have been lucky enough to research a variety of different subject areas for new digital collections. My special interests lie in gender history and Victorian culture.

Leave a comment

You are commenting as guest.