The daughter of one of New York's most influential families, niece of Theodore Roosevelt, and wife of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt witnessed some of the most remarkable decades in modern history, as America transitioned from the Gilded Age, the Progressive Era, and the Depression to World War II and the Cold War. A champion of the downtrodden, Eleanor drew on her experience and used her role as First Lady to help those in need.
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"Women, whether subtly or vociferously, have always been a tremendous power in the destiny of the world," Eleanor Roosevelt wrote in It's up to the Women, her book of advice to women of all ages on every aspect of life. Written at the height of the Great Depression, the book calls on women particularly to do their part - cutting costs where needed, spending reasonably, and taking personal responsibility for keeping the economy going.
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With the threat of the Third Reich looming, Eleanor Roosevelt employs the history of human rights to establish the idea that at the core of democracy is a spiritual responsibility to other citizens. Roosevelt then calls on all Americans, especially the youth, to prioritize the well-being of others and have faith that their fellow citizens will protect them in return. She defines this trust between people as a trait of true democracy. Roosevelt advances an optimistic model for the democracy of the future, and although we've taken some steps in the direction of her vision, it's still a long way from reality.
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This essay comes from the NPR series This I Believe, which features brief personal reflections from both famous and unknown Americans. The pieces that make up the series compel listeners to rethink not only what and how they have arrived at their beliefs, but also the extent to which they share them with others.
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