The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, Digital Edition > My Day
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt


NEW YORK, Thursday—When William Cowper, in his "Light Shining Out of Darkness," wrote the lines:

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

he was hardly thinking about our new world—the atomic world in which we are living today! One must, however, feel the hand of God as one ponders the story of Dr. Leise Meitner, working with her two German colleagues.

When Hitler came to power, the first steps of our new discovery had been made. Hitler tried to force Dr. Meitner to divulge her knowledge; but being a Jewess and seeing the rising tide of hate, she left for Copenhagen. Her knowledge finally reached the famous scientist, Dr. Bohr, who was then working in the United States. Dr. Meitner, I understand, says that she does not know how much she contributed to the ultimate making of the atomic bomb. This much we know—that at the foot of the pyramid there was a woman who had the courage to face new knowledge. How ironic that it is the Germans' hate and persecution of a minority which may have prevented them from making this discovery first.

* * *

I wonder if we can learn from this story a lesson which I think God in His heaven must be trying very hard to teach us. He does not discriminate on lines of race or religion in the tools which he uses. Clearly he is asking us whether we have learned the lesson that in His world there is no place for discrimination or for hate. He has given into our hands the knowledge of a force so great that men can bring about their own destruction. God must believe that man has reached the point where he can also bring about his own salvation.

* * *

As I read that dramatic story of Dr. Meitner's, I could not help thinking that her courage was a challenge to every other woman in the world, and that perhaps we were meant to see that women have a grave responsibility which we cannot shirk. Many of us recognize and admire the greatness of Madame Curie, who gave something beneficent to mankind. But Dr. Meitner contributed the first steps in an invention which gives mankind power over its own fate. It is a great step forward, but like all steps forward it is somewhat awe-inspiring.

Not to be afraid of it, one must have great faith in human beings. 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 times have usually brought us a leader when we needed him. The times now call for mankind as a whole to rise to great heights. We must have faith or else we die.

E. R.


Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • Hitler, Adolf, 1889-1945 [ index ]
         German dictator
         [ LC | ISNI | VIAF | Wikidata | SNAC | FAST ]
  • Meitner, Lise, 1878-1968. [ index ]
         Austrian-Swedish physicist (radioactivity and nuclear physics); discovered the nuclear fission of uranium
         [ LC | VIAF | Wikidata ]
  • New York (N.Y., United States) [ index ]
Other Terms and Topics

About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, August 10, 1945

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
[ ERPP bio | LC | VIAF | WorldCat | DPLA | Wikidata | SNAC ]

Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

  • Brick, Christopher (Editor)
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  • Regenhardt, Christy (Associate Editor)
    [ ISNI ]
  • Black, Allida M. (Editor)
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  • Binker, Mary Jo (Associate Editor)
    [ VIAF | ORCID ]
  • Alhambra, Christopher C. (Electronic Text Editor)
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Digital edition published 2008, 2017 by
The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project

Available under licence from the Estate of Anna Eleanor Roosevelt.

Published with permission from the Estate of Anna Eleanor Roosevelt.

MEP edition publlished on June 30, 2008.

TEI-P5 edition published on April 28, 2017.

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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.