Eleanor Roosevelt and Syracuse

Eleanor Roosevelt was born on this day in 1884. She served the United States in a number of capacities, including as the Representative and Chairwoman to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the United States Delegate to the United Nations General Assembly, and the Chairwoman of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women.

On September 29th, 1936, she visited Syracuse and was photographed with Amelia Earhart and Edith Altschul Lehman at the Onondaga Hotel for the Democratic State Convention. Mrs. Roosevelt was a frequent visitor to Central New York, specifically Syracuse and Oswego, throughout the 1930s and 1940s. She visited Oswego in June of 1944 to visit America’s only Jewish refugee camp at Fort Ontario, a cause her and the President worked tirelessly on.

More about Eleanor Roosevelt: At the end of World War II the victorious Allies came to one resounding conclusion – the atrocities of that war could not be allowed to occur again. The formation of the United Nations (UN) was a direct outgrowth of this effort and its primary mission was to keep international peace. President Harry Truman appointed the former First Lady, and now widow, to the first American delegation in 1945, a position she held until 1951. She was the only female member of the six person body. While her husband Franklin Roosevelt had primarily been responsible for the UN’s architecture, Truman’s appointment was no mere gesture of goodwill. Mrs. Roosevelt had already established herself as a dedicated advocate for equal rights for women, minorities and workers. She took her role very seriously as illustrated by her “My Day” entry of December 22, 1945. “My Day” was a syndicated column Mrs. Roosevelt penned six days a week from 1935 to 1962 that she used to discuss many topics and express her opinions.

In her column, Mrs. Roosevelt thanked the President and specifically acknowledged the importance of her task for women and to the youth who had fought in the war. She further noted that many former soldiers returned home with permanent injuries and lasting disabilities. In addressing the unique task of the United Nations, she noted that:

 “The time has come however when we must recognize that our mutual devotion to our own land must never blind us to the good of all lands and of all peoples. . . we are ‘One World’ and that which injures any one of us, injures all of us. Only by remembering this will we finally have a chance to build a lasting peace.”

The U.S. delegation assigned Roosevelt to the Committee on Humanitarian, Social and Cultural Concerns. The Committee established the Human Rights Commission and Mrs. Roosevelt was quickly elected Chair. Members of the Committee included delegates from Australia, Canada, Chile, China, France, Lebanon, the United Kingdom, the United States and the USSR. Again, she would be the only woman. This body would be responsible for drafting one of the UN’s most important documents – The Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was officially adopted by the UN on December 10, 1948.

Mrs. Roosevelt would spend much of her time at the UN as a most visible ambassador, traveling all over the world as an advocate for the UN and its principles. In advance of the passing of the Universal Declaration, Mrs. Roosevelt visited Syracuse in March of 1947 and gave a lecture at Syracuse University to 2,500 students and faculty. The article indicates that she spent a great deal of her presentation explaining how the UN worked; showing how momentous its task was by stating that for the first time “55 nations were sitting down together” which was both unprecedented and encouraging for the success of world peace. After stepping down from the UN and until her death in 1962, she continued to lecture and write books, particularly for children and young adults, championing the ideals laid out in the Declaration. In 1968, she would be posthumously honored with the United Nations Human Rights Prize.