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

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Questions and Answers about Eleanor Roosevelt

Question: What did ER do at the United Nations?


[picture: Eleanor Roosevelt with John Foster Dulles and George Marshall at the UN, 1947] Harry Truman appointed ER to the first American delegation to the United Nations. She represented the U.S. at the UN from December 31, 1945, until December 31, 1952, when the newly elected President Dwight Eisenhower requested her resignation. She was the only woman in a six-person, bipartisan delegation. Click here for ER's response to the appointment.

The American delegation, headed by Secretary of State James Byrnes and former Secretary of State Edward Stettinius, assigned her to the Committee on Humanitarian, Social and Cultural Concerns (Committee Three). Committee Three became one of the UN's most important units when it became the agency charged with refugee and repatriation issues.

The UN established a permanent Commission on Human Rights and unanimously elected ER chair, a position she held from 1947 until 1951 when she relinquished it saying that she did not believe in permanent chairs. She also chaired the subcommittee charged with drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and also insisted that a new chair be appointed at the end of her two-year term. She presented the UDHR to the General Assembly for adoption December 10, 1948. 

As a member of the American delegation, ER represented the official State Department position and often chafed at the restrictions her position placed on her. With increasing skill she balanced the state department requirements placed upon her as an instructed delegate and the dictates of her own conscience, especially on the issues of civil rights for African Americans and other peoples of color.

Lastly, ER was the UN's most noted ambassador. She traveled throughout Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and the Pacific investigating conditions and urging both support for the UN and UN humanitarian and diplomatic aid. Within the United States, she championed the UN tirelessly in "My Day," the articles and books she wrote for adults and young people, and on her lecture tour.


Glendon, Mary Ann. A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. New York: Random House, 2001, passim.

Lash, Joseph. Eleanor, The Years Alone. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1972, passim.