Quotations by Eleanor Roosevelt


Eleanor Roosevelt

“I believe that democracy is based on the ability to make democracy serve the good of the majority of the people. If it can’t do that, then it should not survive.”  

-New York Times, June 17, 1937


“The very weaknesses of human nature are what make it so important that we keep a constantly watchful eye on our government, and that in turn our government watches us with equal care.”  

-“My Day,” October 23, 1942


“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.” 

-Tomorrow is Now, 1963


“True patriotism springs from a belief in the dignity of the individual, freedom and equality not only for Americans but for all people on earth, universal brotherhood and good will, and a constant striving toward the principles and ideals on which this country was founded.”

- Eleanor Roosevelt’s Book of Common Sense Etiquette, 1962


“If silence seems to give approval, then remaining silent is cowardly.” 

-"If You Ask Me," September, 1944


Democracy requires both discipline and hard work. It is not easy for individuals to govern themselves. . . . 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.

-Tomorrow Is Now, 1963



Eleanor Roosevelt speaks with three local women in Jakarta
Eleanor Roosevelt on a visit to Jakarta

“It is the person and not the sex which counts.” 

-"If You Ask Me," January 1942


“When a woman fails, it is much more serious than when a man fails, because the average person attributes that failure not to the individual, but to the fact that she is a woman.” 

-Good Housekeeping, March 1940


“There was a time when a woman married and her property became her husband’s, her earnings were her husband’s and the control of the children was never in her hands. The battle for the individual rights of women is one of long standing and none of us should countenance anything that undermines it.” 

-“My Day,” August 7, 1941


“I hope the women of the United States will awaken to the full sense of the influence which they can wield if they accept the responsibility which all power implies.” 

-“My Day,” December 10, 1942


Human Rights

Eleanor Roosevelt holding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

“Person after person has said to me in these last few days that this new world we face terrifies them. I can understand how that feeling would arise unless one believes that men are capable of greatness beyond their past achievements… The time now calls for mankind as a whole to rise to great heights. We must have faith or we die.” 

-“My Day,” August 10, 1945


“Where after do human rights begin? In small places, close to home-- so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: The neighborhood 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.” 

-"Remarks at the United Nations," March 27, 1958 


“Tolerance ought only to be a preliminary step which allows us to get to know other people, and which prevents us from setting up bars, just because they may be of a different race or religion. The real value of any relationship is the fact that we learn to like people in spite of our differences.”

-“My Day,” November 24, 1943


“As you go back into history you realize that persecution under which the Jews have suffered in country after country has made them the strong, resourceful, resilient people that they are today. They have almost always had to be more intelligent and work harder in order to cope with restrictions placed on them.” 

-“My Day,” May 13, 1960



Eleanor Roosevelt and two other women in front of a Demand the Union Label sign

“I have no respect for the kind of character that takes advantage and does something they know is not true… I have always felt that anyone who wanted an election so much they would use those means did not have the character that I really admired in public life.” 

-Meet the Press, September 16, 1956


“In political life 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 best you could.” 

-“My Day,” November 8, 1944


“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.” 

-Tomorrow is Now, 1963 


Foreign Policy

Eleanor Roosevelt in the desert with Sheikh Suleiman of the Shuval Bedouin and Sgan Aluf Michael Hanegbi, Shuval
Eleanor Roosevelt with Sheikh Suleiman of the Shuval Bedouin and Sgan Aluf Michael Hanegbi, Shuval

“A respect for the rights of other people to determine their forms of government will not weaken our democracy. It will inevitably strengthen it. One of the first things we must get rid of is the idea that democracy is tantamount to capitalism.” 

-Tomorrow is Now, 1963


“We owe it to ourselves and to the world, to our own dignity and self-respect, to set our own standards of behavior, regardless of what other nations do.”

-Atlantic Monthly, April 1961


“Our obligation to the world is, primarily, an obligation to our own future.” 

-The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt, 1961


“We must show by our behavior that we believe in equality and justice and that our religion teaches faith and love and charity to our fellow men. Here is where each of us has a job to do that must be done at home, because we can lose the battle on the soil of the United States just as surely as we can lose it in any one of the countries of the world.”

 -India and the Awakening of the East, 1953 


“We, in this country, are opposing totalitarian governments. …  But we are not opposing the refugees who want to help us make this country safe, nor citizens who have come to us from other lands and who are loyal and good Americans. This demands from us a refusal to be hysterical and an ability to use our powers of observation, but to use them wisely.” 

-“My Day,” May 21, 1941



Eleanor Roosevelt leaning over a table to chat with a small boy
Eleanor Roosevelt visited Jewish children at a refugee camp in France in 1955.

“I feel that unless we learn to live together as individuals and as groups, and to find ways of settling our difficulties without showing fear of each other and resorting to force, we cannot hope to see our democracy successful.”

-Virginia Quarterly Review, January 1939

“Now the Indians in our midst were the original owners of our country, and it seems ironical to me to practice discrimination against them.” 

-“My Day,” October 3, 1960


“The more whites and Negroes become friends and lose whatever self-consciousness they started out with, we shall have a much happier world.” 

-Ebony, November 1975


“It seems trite to say to the Negro, you must have patience, when he has had patience so long; you must not expect miracles overnight, when he can look back to the years of slavery and say-- how many nights! He has waited for justice.” 

-New Republic, May 11, 1942



Eleanor Roosevelt standing outside in a skirt suit and hat

“Each man may have his own religion; the church is merely the outward and visible symbol of the longing of the human soul for something to which he can aspire and which he desires beyond his own strength to achievement.”

-“The Moral Basis of Democracy,” 1940


“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.” 

-Ladies’ Home Journal, October 1941


“Like all our other freedoms, this freedom from religious group pressure must be constantly defended.” 

-The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt, 1961 


“The same god created all human beings and He certainly never intended that we should have less respect for any one of His creatures than for another.” 

-"If You Ask Me," July 1941



Eleanor Roosevelt in a crowded room leaning over to talk to a man

“Even in our blackest moment, we have to acknowledge that there is something very fine in human beings.” 

 -“My Day,” November 3, 1943


“Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at 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.” 

-You Learn by Living, 1960


“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” 

-Cairns Post, September 4, 1943


"When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?"

-"My Day," February 16, 1946