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

ER with Bessie Hillman and Jacob Potofsky, ACWA, and Walter Reuther, UAW, 1957. (9)

 

Eleanor Roosevelt continued her work in support of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights until her death. She considered American labor unions a critical base of support not only to insure that workers' rights were included as human rights, but also to educate the American people about all human rights and the role of the United Nations in protecting those rights. She worked with unions in several ways. For example:

  • She convened meetings of labor leaders to seek their advice as shown in the following letter to Philip Murray, President of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). (10)

 

 

  • She regularly spoke before union conventions. For an example of ER's commitment to workers' and human rights, and the UN, see her 1956 address to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA), excerpted below. (11)

EXCERPT, ACWA CONVENTION SPEECH, March 21-25, 1956

I want you to realize that what you invest in the United Nations and in foreign aid is not a loss. It is an investment, which will bring you returns in a prosperous country in which we hope our children will grow up to have better standards of living, even, than we have today, and we have better standards of living than almost any other country in the world…

I think the United Nations is important, because it will remind us constantly, through our delegates there and their contacts, that our leadership must be leadership that speaks for actual accomplishment in our own country. That is why it is important that we move with knowledge and understanding, but with determination and calmness, towards achieving equality for every American citizen…

An curiously enough, that is why, to me, the union movement is tremendously important. Of course, you in the unions, do not yet represent all of labor. But I hope some day you will, because I believe that it is through strength, through the fact that people who know what people need are working to make this country a better place for all people, that we will help the world to accept our leadership and understand that, under our form of government and through our way of life, we have something to offer them which cannot be offered by the communists…

I humbly hope that you will have courage, that you will develop vision, and that you will think first of what you can do in this country and then of what you can do in the world. The two are tied together, and I wish you blessing in all you do.


  • When Eisenhower refused to reappoint ER to the 1953 American delegation to the United Nations, ER devoted her considerable energy to the American Association for the United Nations, where she made sure that union leaders were involved in carrying the human rights message to American workers. For example, see the following letter to Walter Reuther, President of the United Automobile Workers (UAW). (12)

 

  • And she took her message directly to the rank-and-file union members and their families. For example, the AFL-CIO reported on her work with the sons and daughters of union members of Local 1199 Retail Drug Employees in 1957.

"Soon after, a group met at Queens College to hear Mrs. Alma John and Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt speak on the United Nations. Next they went to the radio station to have their own discussion. This round table was so [successful] that the station has since decided to put on the 'Teen-agers Look at the UN' show." (13)

  • In 1961, John F. Kennedy asked ER to chair the first President's Commission on the Status of Women. She ended her public life as she began it, working with union women on issues of justice and equality. During her last appearance at an AFL-CIO convention that year, Eleanor Roosevelt admonished the labor movement to live up to its high ideals:

"I think that it is part of our job to keep alive the ideals that you started with, the ideals of really helping the people to better conditions to a better way of life, which is part of the basis of democracy…I hope that we are going to continue to make of our movement the star in our country that leads the way." (14)

To view all footnotes, click here.