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Legacy of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in the Advancement of Global Human Rights

From advancing global human rights to elevating women reporters, Eleanor Roosevelt's legacy lives on in today's social and political movements.

Many remember Eleanor Roosevelt as a writer and activist—but her legacy also includes helping to advance global human rights.

The longest-serving first lady in U.S. history spearheaded “a foundation document of international human rights law.” As chairwoman of the UN’s Human Rights Commission, she led a group of global diplomats in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The document, which was adopted by the UN on December 10, 1948, consists of a preamble and 20 articles, articulating the rights of every human being.

“I think we all need to learn and refresh our memory that this first lady of the United States was also a first lady of the world, and she left a very big legacy,” UN Foundation President/CEO Kathy Calvin explained.

Beyond her work on the UDHR, Roosevelt also championed gender equality and women’s rights. In 1933, she started inviting women journalists to her own weekly press conferences because they weren’t permitted at presidential press conferences. The White House Historical Association also says Roosevelt “paved the way” for first ladies to be seen as public figures.

Roosevelt’s great-granddaughter Perrin Roosevelt Ireland says that her legacy lives on in today politics.

“I also see a lot of her legacy is, you know, some of the social justice fights in the U.S. right now, she explained. “I think it’s a different time but I think—I find a lot of tendrils of her roots in the #MeToo movement, also.”

Calvin says Roosevelt would be “counting on every one of us” to speak out about threats to human rights.

“I think we only partially recognize what a driving force human rights broadly defined is—whether it’s about your gender rights, whether it’s about your identity rights, whether it’s about your right to own land—there are so many ways that rights are still being abridged and we still need to fight hard for them,” she explained.

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