The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project is a university-chartered research center associated with the Department of History of The George Washington University

The George Washington University

The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project


When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?

"My Day," February 16, 1946

I know that we will be the sufferers if we let great wrongs occur without exerting ourselves to correct them.

"My Day," August 13, 1943


Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down.

You Learn By Living (1960), 41

Once more we are in a period of uncertainty, of danger, in which not only our own safety but that of all mankind is threatened. Once more we need the qualities that inspired the development of the democratic way of life. We need imagination and integrity, courage and a high heart. We need to fan the spark of conviction, which may again inspire the world as we did with our new idea of the dignity and worth of free men. But first we must learn to cast out fear. People who `view with alarm' never build anything.

Tomorrow Is Now (1963), xvii


If we are honest with ourselves today, we will acknowledge that the ideal of Democracy has never failed, but that we haven't carried it out, and in our lack of faith we have debased the human being who must have a chance to live if Democracy is to be successful.

The Moral Basis of Democracy (1940)

Somehow we must be able to show people that democracy is not about words, but action.

India and the Awakening East (1953), 227

To me, the democratic system represents man's best and brightest hope of self-fulfillment, of a life rich in promise and free from fear; the one hope, perhaps, for the complete development of the whole man. But I know, and learn more clearly every day, that we cannot keep our system strong and free by neglect, by taking it for granted, by giving it our second-best attention. We must be prepared, like the suitor in The Merchant of Venice - and, I might point out, the successful suitor - to give and hazard all we have.

The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt (1961), 401

It seems to me that America's objective today should be to try to make herself the best possible mirror of democracy that she can. The people of the world can see what happens here. They watch us to see what we are going to do and how well we can do it. We are giving them the only possible picture of democracy that we can: the picture as it works in actual practice. This is the only way other peoples can see for themselves how it works; and can determine for themselves whether this thing is good in itself, whether it is better than they have, better than what other political and economic systems offer them.

The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt (1961), 401

A respect for the rights of other people to determine their forms of government and their economy will not weaken our democracy. It will inevitably strengthen it. One of the first things we must get rid of is the idea that democracy is tantamount to capitalism.

Tomorrow Is Now (1963), 45

The function of democratic living is not to lower standards but to raise those that have been too low.

Tomorrow Is Now (1963), 59

In the final analysis, a democratic government represents the sum total of the courage and the integrity of its individuals. It cannot be better than they are.

Tomorrow Is Now (1963), 119-120

Democracy requires both discipline and hard work. It is not easy for individuals to govern themselves. . . . It is one thing to gain freedom, but no one can give you the right to self-government. This you must earn for yourself by long discipline.

Tomorrow Is Now (1963), 125


The important thing is neither your nationality nor the religion you professed, but how your faith translated itself in your life.

"My Day," 23 September 1943

Person after person has said to me in these last few days that this new world we face terrifies them. I can understand how that feeling would arise unless one believes that men are capable of greatness beyond their past achievements. . . . The time now calls for mankind as a whole to rise to great heights. We must have faith or we die.

"My Day," August 10, 1945

We must show by our behavior that we believe in equality and justice and that our religion teaches faith and love and charity to our fellow men. Here is where each of us has a job to do that must be done at home, because we can lose the battle on the soil of the United States just as surely as we can lose it in any one of the countries of the world.

India and the Awakening East (1953), 228


My greatest fear has always been that I would be afraid - afraid physically or mentally or morally and allow myself to be influenced by fear instead of by my honest convictions.

If You Ask Me (1946), 112.

The encouraging thing is that every time you meet a situation, though you may think at the time it is an impossibility and you go through the tortures of the damned, once you have met it and lived through it you find that forever after you are freer than you ever were before. If you can live through that you can live through anything. You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you stop to look fear in the face.

You are able to say to yourself, `I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.'

The danger lies in refusing to face the fear, in not daring to come to grips with it. If you fail anywhere along the line, it will take away your confidence. You must make yourself succeed every time. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.

You Learn By Living (1960), 29-30


Our trouble is that we do not demand enough of the people who represent us. We are responsible for their activities. . . . we must spur them to more imagination and enterprise in making a push into the unknown; we must make clear that we intend to have responsible and courageous leadership.

Tomorrow Is Now (1963), 124-125


One thing I believe profoundly: We make our own history. The course of history is directed by the choices we make and our choices grow out of the ideas, the beliefs, the values, the dreams of the people. It is not so much the powerful leaders that determine our destiny as the much more powerful influence of the combined voices of the people themselves.

Tomorrow Is Now (1963), 4


Surely, in the light of history, it is more intelligent to hope rather than to fear, to try rather than not to try. For one thing we know beyond all doubt: Nothing has ever been achieved by the person who says, `It can't be done.'

You Learn By Living (1960)


Where after all do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: The neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.

Remarks at the United Nations, March 27, 1958


Justice cannot be for one side alone, but must be for both.


I wish there were forces available for use in the United Nations today so that aggression might be impossible for any nation and peace could be enforced in lands which sorely need it, but I hope that negotiations will soon reach a point where between the Arab people and the Jews peace may be brought about. There is plenty of work for all to do and land to be developed which needs the work of many hands.

A Speech before the Junior Division of the United Jewish Appeal,
December 28, 1948


We will have to want peace, want it enough to pay for it, pay for it in our own behavior and in material ways. We will have to want it enough to overcome our lethargy and go out and find all those in other countries who want it as much as we do.

This Troubled World (1938), 46.

Peace will not be built, however, by people with bitterness in their hearts.

"My Day," January 7, 1944

For it isn't enough to talk of peace. One must believe it. And it isn=t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.

Broadcast. Voice of America, 11 November 1951.


Religion to me is simply the conviction that all human beings must hold some belief in a power greater than themselves, and that whatever their religious belief may be, it must move them to live better in this world and to approach whatever the future holds with serenity.

"If You Ask Me," Ladies Home Journal 58 (October 1941), 133.

I doubt that anyone does not really believe in God. People may think they don't have any belief, but you will usually find that there is a belief in something beyond himself. In any case, I would not judge a man's character by his belief or unbelief. I would judge his character by his deeds; and no matter what he said about his beliefs, his behavior would soon show whether he was a man of good character or bad.

"The Wisdom of Eleanor Roosevelt," McCall Publication, (1963), 112.


. . . My firm conviction [is] that it is the force of ideas rather than the impact of material things that made us a great nation. It is my conviction, too, that only the power of ideas, of enduring values, can keep us a great nation. For where there is not vision the people perish.

Tomorrow Is Now (1963), 6


Women must become more conscious of themselves as women and of their ability to function as a group. At the same time they must try to wipe from men=s consciousness the need to consider them as a group or as women in their everyday activities, especially as workers in industry or the professions.

Women In Politics

No, I have never wanted to be a man. I have often wanted to be more effective as a woman, but I have never felt that trousers would do the trick!

If You Ask Me (1940)

Every now and then I am reminded that even though the need for being a feminist is gradually disappearing in this country, we haven't quite reached the millennium.

"My Day," February 22, 1945

. . . [Y]ou will be amused that when Mr. Dulles said goodbye to me this morning he said 'I feel I must tell you that when you were appointed I thought it terrible & now I think your work here has been fine!' So - against the odds the women inch forward, but I'm rather old to be carrying on the fight . . . .

Eleanor Roosevelt to Joseph Lash, February 13, 1946,
Joseph P. Lash Papers, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library

In numbers there is strength, and we in America must help the women of the world.

"My Day," October 22, 1946