126 Eleanor Roosevelt quotes to awaken you to the possibilities of humankind!
(If you’re in a hurry, just skip the Eleanor Roosevelt biography and scroll down to Eleanor Roosevelt Quotes.)
Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) hero of human rights
"She would rather light a candle than curse the darkness." That’s what U.S. politician, Adlai Stevenson, said of Eleanor Roosevelt.
Words people used to describe Eleanor include: modest, tireless, charming, optimistic, good-humoured, astute, accomplished, intelligent, enthusiastic, compassionate, determined, honest, sincere, insistent, warm and humanitarian.
Eleanor was born into a world of immense privilege and wealth in New York City. But her beautiful and aloof mother, who never hid her disappointment that Eleanor didn’t have a pretty face, died when Eleanor was eight. Her alcoholic father died less than two years later. Then one of her two younger brothers died.
Understandably, Eleanor felt insecure and starved for affection, and thought of herself as ugly.
After her coming-out debutante party, the teenage Eleanor became a social worker in the wretched slums of New York. Her commitment to social justice had begun.
Franklin D. Roosevelt married Eleanor when he was 23 and she was 20—despite his mother’s strong disapproval. They had six children, but one died as a baby.
In 1918 Eleanor found out her husband was having an affair. She insisted on divorcing unless he ended it immediately. (He did.)
When Franklin fell ill in 1921 and suffered permanent paralysis of his legs, Eleanor nursed him attentively, and prodded him to return to active life. Because of his lack of mobility, she overcame her shyness and made public appearances on his behalf.
Franklin became the president of the United States in 1933. In her role as First Lady, Eleanor served both her husband and her country. She travelled throughout the U.S. from 1933 to 1945, acting as Franklin’s legs, eyes and ears. Of course this time included America's involvement in the Second World War. Her attitude won her wide respect as a person who empathized with the problems of ordinary people.
Her own woman
Eleanor's uncompromising positions on civil rights were way ahead of her time. She was adamantly—and publicly—opposed to racial discrimination. She also worked to abolish child labour and to support women's rights.
She was the first woman to speak in front of a national convention, to write a syndicated column, to earn money as a lecturer, to be a radio commentator and to hold regular press conferences. (She cleverly restricted the more than 300 press conferences she held as First Lady to women journalists, so that news organizations across the country had to hire a female reporter in order to gain access to her!)
Eleanor served nine years as the U.S. delegate to the United Nations General Assembly. Elected chairperson of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights because of her strong humanitarian convictions, she played the most influential role in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—her greatest legacy.
In short, despite her personal struggles—or perhaps because of them—Eleanor Roosevelt endures as one of the 20th century's most powerful and effective champions of social change.
Now you know more about her, let these quotes by Eleanor Roosevelt inspire you!
ELEANOR ROOSEVELT QUOTES
Eleanor Roosevelt quotes on attitude
- Understanding is a two-way street.
- Anger is only one letter short of danger.
- What other people think of me is none of my business.
- No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
- When you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die.
- Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is mystery. Today is a gift.
- It is not fair to ask of others what you are unwilling to do yourself.
- To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart.
- If someone betrays you once, it is his fault; if he betrays you twice, it is your fault.
- Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.
- Learn from the mistakes of others. You can't live long enough to make them all yourself.
- Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art.
- No writing has any real value which is not the expression of genuine thought and feeling.
- One should always sleep in all of one's guest beds, to make sure that they are comfortable.
Eleanor Roosevelt quote on bridge-building
- We can work to gain greater understanding of other peoples and to try to present to the peoples of the world the values of our own beliefs. We can do this by demonstrating our conviction that human life is worth preserving and that we are willing to help others to enjoy benefits of our civilization just as we have enjoyed it.
Eleanor Roosevelt quote on change
- Laws are only observed with the consent of the individuals concerned and a moral change still depends on the individual and not on the passage of any law.
Eleanor Roosevelt quotes on character
- Only a man's character is the real criterion of worth.
- People may think they don't have any belief, but you will usually find that there is a belief in something beyond himself. In any case, I would not judge a man's character by his belief or unbelief. I would judge his character by his deeds; and no matter what he said about his beliefs, his behavior would soon show whether he was a man of good character or bad.
Eleanor Roosevelt quotes on choices
- One's philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes.
- Do what you feel in your heart to be right—for you'll be criticized anyway. You'll be "damned if you do, and damned if you don't."
- In the long run, we shape our lives and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And, the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.
- One thing I believe profoundly: We make our own history. The course of history is directed by the choices we make and our choices grow out of the ideas, the beliefs, the values, the dreams of the people.
Eleanor Roosevelt quotes on conscience
- I know that we will be the sufferers if we let great wrongs occur without exerting ourselves to correct them.
- When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?
Eleanor Roosevelt quotes on courage
- Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier.
- We must know what we think and speak out, even at the risk of unpopularity.
- In the long run there is no more exhilarating experience than to determine one's position, state it bravely and then act boldly.
- We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down.
- Once more we are in a period of uncertainty, of danger, in which not only our own safety but that of all mankind is threatened. Once more we need the qualities that inspired the development of the democratic way of life. We need imagination and integrity, courage and a high heart. We need to fan the spark of conviction, which may again inspire the world as we did with our new idea of the dignity and worth of free men. But first we must learn to cast out fear. People who “view with alarm” never build anything.
Eleanor Roosevelt quotes on curiosity
- If you are interested, you never have to look for new interests. They come to you.
- I think, at a child's birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.
- All you need to do is to be curious, receptive, eager for experience. And there's one strange thing: when you are genuinely interested in one thing, it will always lead to something else.
Eleanor Roosevelt quotes on democracy
- Democracy is not about words, but action.
- One of the first things we must get rid of is the idea that democracy is tantamount to capitalism.
- The function of democratic living is not to lower standards but to raise those that have been too low.
- Democracy requires both discipline and hard work. It is not easy for individuals to govern themselves.
- There is one thing in my country: we can know about our failures and those of us who care can work to improve our democracy!
- It seems to me that America's objective today should be to try to make herself the best possible mirror of democracy that she can.
- In the final analysis, a democratic government represents the sum total of the courage and the integrity of its individuals. It cannot be better than they are.
- If we are honest with ourselves today, we will acknowledge that the ideal of Democracy has never failed, but that we haven't carried it out, and in our lack of faith we have debased the human being who must have a chance to live if Democracy is to be successful.
- For people to have more time to read, to take part in their civic obligations, to know more about how their government functions and who their officials are might mean in a democracy a great improvement in the democratic processes. Let's begin, then, to think how we can prepare old and young for these new opportunities. Let's not wait until they come upon us suddenly and we have a crisis that we will be ill prepared to meet.
- To me, the democratic system represents man's best and brightest hope of self-fulfillment, of a life rich in promise and free from fear; the one hope, perhaps, for the complete development of the whole man. But I know, and learn more clearly every day, that we cannot keep our system strong and free by neglect, by taking it for granted, by giving it our second-best attention. We must be prepared, like the suitor in The Merchant of Venice—and, I might point out, the successful suitor—to give and hazard all we have.
Eleanor Roosevelt quote on discipline
- It is one thing to gain freedom, but no one can give you the right to self-government. This you must earn for yourself by long discipline.
Eleanor Roosevelt quotes on faith
- We must have faith or we die.
- He who loses money, loses much; he who loses a friend, loses much more; he who loses faith, loses all.
- The important thing is neither your nationality nor the religion you professed, but how your faith translated itself in your life.
- I have a great belief in spiritual force, but I think we have to realize that spiritual force alone has to have material force with it so long as we live in a material world. The two together make a strong combination.
Eleanor Roosevelt quotes on fear
- Much of our difficulty today lies in our fears.
- You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
- The danger lies in refusing to face the fear, in not daring to come to grips with it.
- The encouraging thing is that every time you meet a situation, though you may think at the time it is an impossibility and you go through the tortures of the damned, once you have met it and lived through it you find that forever after you are freer than you ever were before. If you can live through that you can live through anything. You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, “I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.”
Eleanor Roosevelt quotes on freedom
- At all times, day by day, we have to continue fighting for freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom from want.
- There is for human beings something very precious, which we know as freedom, the freedom to help govern ourselves, the freedom to help develop the future.
- The fundamental right of freedom of thought and expression is essential. If you curtail what the other fellow says and does, you curtail what you yourself may say and do.
Eleanor Roosevelt quotes on friendship
- Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.
- Friendship with oneself is all-important because without it one cannot be friends with anyone else in the world.
Eleanor Roosevelt quotes on the future
- It is today that we must create the world of the future.
- The time now calls for mankind as a whole to rise to great heights.
- The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.
- We cannot procrastinate. The world of the future is in our making. Tomorrow is now.
- All we can do is pray that we will grow more tomorrow and that others will grow with us, and together we will be able to win a peaceful world.
- I hope we are going to be strong enough, and imaginative enough, and take the future with enough spirit of adventure so that we will live it with joy and never grow hopeless. Never get a feeling that we cannot succeed.
- All of you who are going to teach the next generation—the generation that is going to live with this when we are dead—can perhaps teach them the willingness to be patient, to experiment, to believe in human beings even when they seem so contrary and so difficult.
Eleanor Roosevelt quotes on government
- It is not so much the powerful leaders that determine our destiny as the much more powerful influence of the combined voices of the people themselves.
- I believe we will have better government in all of our countries when men and women discuss public issues together and make their decisions on the basis of their differing areas of experience and their common concern for the welfare of their families and their world.
- Our trouble is that we do not demand enough of the people who represent us. We are responsible for their activities… we must spur them to more imagination and enterprise in making a push into the unknown; we must make clear that we intend to have responsible and courageous leadership.
Eleanor Roosevelt quotes on happiness
- You get more joy out of the giving to others, and should put a good deal of thought into the happiness you are able to give.
- Happiness is not a goal, it is a by-product. Paradoxically, the one sure way not to be happy is deliberately to map out a way of life in which one would please oneself completely and exclusively.
Eleanor Roosevelt quotes on herself
- I'm willing to slow down but I just don't know how.
- If I... worried about mudslinging, I would have been dead long ago.
- I could not, at any age, be content to take my place by the fireside and simply look on.
- I have never wanted to be a man. I have often wanted to be more effective as a woman, but I have never felt that trousers would do the trick!
- From the personal standpoint, I did not want my husband to be president. It was pure selfishness on my part, and I never mentioned my feelings on the subject to him.
- I have never felt that anything really mattered but the satisfaction of knowing that you stood for the things in which you believed and had done the very best you could.
- Long ago, I made up my mind that when things were said involving only me, I would pay no attention to them, except when valid criticism was carried by which I could profit.
- My greatest fear has always been that I would be afraid—afraid physically or mentally or morally and allow myself to be influenced by fear instead of by my honest convictions.
Eleanor Roosevelt quotes on humankind
- Human things are rarely perfect.
- Where there is no vision the people perish.
- Human resources are the most valuable assets the world has.
- Men are capable of greatness beyond their past achievements.
- What we must learn to do is to create unbreakable bonds between the sciences and the humanities.
- Will people ever be wise enough to refuse to follow bad leaders or to take away the freedom of other people?
- Man has learned to use nature very well, to control it very well. He has learned a number of secrets which are nature's secrets. But he hasn't learned a great deal about himself.
Eleanor Roosevelt quotes on human rights
- The destiny of human rights is in the hands of all our citizens in all our communities.
- I believe in active citizenship, for men and women equally, as a simple matter of right and justice.
- Individual freedom of thought and conscience, to hold and change beliefs, is an absolute and sacred right.
- A respect for the rights of other people to determine their forms of government and their economy will not weaken our democracy. It will inevitably strengthen it.
- Are we as individual nations so weak that we are going to forbid human beings to say what they think and fear whatever their friends and their particular type of mind happens to believe in?
- The study of human rights, the acceptance of human rights and freedoms, may be one of the foundation stones in giving us an atmosphere in which we can all grow together towards a more peaceful world.
- We wanted as many nations as possible to accept the fact that men, for one reason or another, were born free and equal in dignity and rights, that they were endowed with reason and conscience, and should act toward one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
- Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home—so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.
Eleanor Roosevelt quote on individuality
- Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one.
Eleanor Roosevelt quotes on justice
- Justice cannot be for one side alone.
- We must show by our behaviour that we believe in equality and justice.
Eleanor Roosevelt quotes on leisure
- The responsibility, I think, for what we do with our leisure time is a very great responsibility for all of us.
- If man is to be liberated to enjoy more leisure, he must also be prepared to enjoy this leisure fully and creatively.
- If the use of leisure time is confined to looking at TV for a few extra hours every day, we will deteriorate as a people.
Eleanor Roosevelt quotes on life
- Example is the best lesson there is.
- If life were predictable it would cease to be life, and be without flavour.
- We have got to make our libraries the centre of a new life in the mind, because people are hungry to use their minds.
- Life was meant to be lived, and curiosity must be kept alive. One must never, for whatever reason, turn his back on life.
- When life is too easy for us, we must beware or we may not be ready to meet the blows which sooner or later come to everyone, rich or poor.
Eleanor Roosevelt quotes on love
- Learn not to part on a note of sharpness, to treasure the moments spent with those we love, and to make them whenever possible good to remember, for time is short.
- Up to a certain point it is good for us to know that there are people in the world who will give us love and unquestioned loyalty to the limit of their ability. I doubt, however, if it is good for us to feel assured of this without the accompanying obligation of having to justify this devotion by our behavior.
- It takes courage to love, but pain through love is the purifying fire which those who love generously know. We all know people who are so much afraid of pain that they shut themselves up like clams in a shell and, giving out nothing, receive nothing and therefore shrink until life is a mere living death.
Eleanor Roosevelt quote on maturity
- A mature person is one who does not think only in absolutes, who is able to be objective even when deeply stirred emotionally, who has learned that there is both good and bad in all people and all things, and who walks humbly and deals charitably with the circumstances of life, knowing that in this world no one is all-knowing and therefore all of us need both love and charity.
Eleanor Roosevelt quotes on oppression
- None of the arts flourishes on censorship and repression.
- One of the best ways of enslaving a people is to keep them from education... The second way of enslaving a people is to suppress the sources of information, not only by burning books but by controlling all the other ways in which ideas are transmitted.
Eleanor Roosevelt quotes on peace
- Peace will not be built, however, by people with bitterness in their hearts.
- It isn't enough to talk of peace. One must believe it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.
- We have to face the fact that either all of us are going to die together or we are going to learn to live together, and if we are to live together we have to talk.
- We should begin in our own environment and in our own community as far as possible to build a peace-loving attitude and learn to discipline ourselves to accept, in the small things of our lives, mediation and arbitration.
- We will have to want peace, want it enough to pay for it, pay for it in our own behaviour and in material ways. We will have to want it enough to overcome our lethargy and go out and find all those in other countries who want it as much as we do.
Eleanor Roosevelt quote on politics
- Sometimes I wonder if we shall ever grow up in our politics and say definite things which mean something, or whether we shall always go on using generalities to which everyone can subscribe, and which mean very little.
Eleanor Roosevelt quotes on relationships
- I learned something which has stood me in good stead many times. The most important thing in any relationship is not what you get but what you give.
- All human beings have failings, all human beings have needs and temptations and stresses. Men and women who live together through long years get to know one another's failings; but they also come to know what is worthy of respect and admiration.
Eleanor Roosevelt quote on religion
- Religion to me is simply the conviction that all human beings must hold some belief in a power greater than themselves, and that whatever their religious belief may be, it must move them to live better in this world and to approach whatever the future holds with serenity.
Eleanor Roosevelt quotes on war
- There is a widespread understanding among the people of this nation, and probably among the people of the world, that there is no safety except through the prevention of war.
- This is a time for action—not for war, but for mobilization of every bit of peace machinery. It is also a time for facing the fact that you cannot use a weapon, even though it is the weapon that gives you greater strength than other nations, if it is so destructive that it practically wipes out large areas of land and great numbers of innocent people.
- A consciousness of the fact that war means practically total destruction is the reason, I think, for the rising tide to prevent what seems such a senseless procedure. I understand that it is perhaps difficult for some people, whose lives have been lived with a sense of the need for military development, to envisage the possibility of being no longer needed. But the average citizen is beginning to think more and more of the need to develop machinery to settle difficulties in the world without destruction or the use of atomic bombs.
Eleanor Roosevelt quotes on women
- A woman is like a teabag. You never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water.
- Women must become more conscious of themselves as women and of their ability to function as a group.
- Even in countries where for many years women have voted and been eligible for public office, there are still too few women serving in positions of real leadership.
- Every now and then I am reminded that even though the need for being a feminist is gradually disappearing in this country, we haven't quite reached the millennium.
- If ten million women really want security, real representation, honesty, wise and just legislation, happier and more comfortable conditions of living, and a future with the horrors of war removed from the horizon, then these ten million women must bestir themselves.