Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) - first lady | diplomat | human rights activist

Photo credit: Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons



Eleanor Roosevelt was the longest-serving first lady of the United States of America from 1933-1945. She was the first presidential spouse to speak at a national party convention, hold regular press conferences, write a daily newspaper column and a monthly magazine column, and host a weekly radio show. President Harry S. Truman called her "First Lady of the World". Roosevelt was an ardent activist for civil rights and expanding women's roles in the workplace. After pressing the United States to join the United Nations, she became its first delegate from 1945 to 1952. Roosevelt served as the first chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights and oversaw the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 


"You must do the thing you think you cannot do." 

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." 

"We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it as not as dreadful as it appears, discovering that we have the strength to stare it down."  


Roosevelt, E. (2014). The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt. 

Roosevelt, E. (2011). You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life. 

Cook, B.W. (1992). Eleanor Roosevelt, Volume 1: 1884-1933. 

Cook, B.W. (2000). Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume 2, The Defining Years, 1933-1938. 

Cook, B.W. (2017). Eleanor Roosevelt, Volume 3: The Ways Years and After, 1939-1962. 

Pam Johnson - Artist Statement

Eleanor Roosevelt lived a life that invites us to expose ourselves to the world, determine what our hopes are, and live fully into our dreams. As a young white woman of significant privilege and painful early family experiences, Eleanor absorbed and was moved by the pain and injustice she witnessed in the world around her.  

Married to President Franklin Roosevelt, Eleanor radically changed the role of first lady as a very active and effective advocate for human rights in the United States. She believed civil rights to be the real litmus test for American democracy, insisting that education, housing, and employment were basic human rights that society had both a moral and political obligation to provide its citizens.  

Eleanor fought with her pen, voice, and body to stand against racial discrimination, work for women’s rights, protect children, and fight to end poverty. In the wake of World War II she chaired a United Nations Commission that crafted and ratified a Magna Carta for a new age: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

The image I selected to celebrate this powerful woman is taken from a photo of Eleanor speaking with a girl named Geraldine Walker during ceremonies to usher in new affordable housing in Detroit. Can you imagine the exchange between the two—young Geraldine poised to step foot in the world with all of her gifts and talents yet to blossom, and Eleanor urging that “the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams…that’s you Geraldine.” Eleanor’s life and work inspired me at an early age, as did mentors who invited me to step into the chaos and offer what I could to make the world a more just, decent, and beautiful place for everyone. 

 As a social worker and public policy advocate focused on addressing the root causes of poverty these past three decades, I look to women like Eleanor to keep me on the path when it feels impassable. Making art feeds my soul and lifts my spirit. I chose a bright palette to convey the joy and hope that Eleanor has stirred in me and countless others. In the spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt, may YOU believe in the beauty of YOUR dreams.

"The Beauty of Her Dreams"

Women Who Walked on Water

Joy Zimmerman

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Women Who Walked on Water (3:21) – mid-tempo with soulful vocals, rhythmic guitars, and lilting fiddle. A song of tribute to seventeen courageous women who changed the world.

Music & Lyrics by Joy Zimmerman

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