Eleanor Roosevelt: Six quotes to live by

By Breeanna Hare

Published October 23, 2020

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Eleanor Roosevelt was known for boldly speaking out at a time when women were expected to be seen more than heard.

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She wrote a newspaper column, held press conferences, conducted radio broadcasts and used her political clout to fight for equality and human rights.

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As a result, the 32nd first lady’s legacy is filled with words of wisdom and poignant life lessons. Here are six of them.

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

Roosevelt had a difficult childhood. She was ridiculed for her looks; orphaned by age 10; and grew up lonely. She developed more confidence while at boarding school, and in adulthood didn't let the early rejections deter her.

2. “Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one.”

Roosevelt called herself a “rebellious” first lady because she wanted to do more than the typical hostess duties. By applying her own approach to the role, Roosevelt became a trailblazing FLOTUS.

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3. “Today is the oldest you’ve ever been, and the youngest you’ll ever be again.”

Roosevelt accomplished what she called her “most important task” at age 64, when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights she worked on was adopted by the UN in 1948. The former first lady didn’t stop there; she continued to work well into her 70s, proving age really is just a number.

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4. “Happiness is not a goal, it is a by-product. ... For what keeps our interest in life and makes us look forward to tomorrow is giving pleasure to other people.”

Roosevelt was committed to serving others, working throughout her life to ease poverty and fight for racial justice. She was so devoted to the cause of human rights that President Harry Truman called her “First Lady of the World.”

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

Roosevelt was a notoriously shy child, but she grew up to be renowned for her outspoken advocacy and relentless work ethic. While her incredible capacity for productivity can be intimidating, it’s also a reminder that all legacies are built just one day -- and one task -- at a time.

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6. “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really 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.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

Roosevelt watched America face the Great Depression and then enter World War II, a devastating conflict in which her own sons fought. Those experiences seemed not to discourage her but rather increase her determination.

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For more FLOTUS history, watch CNN Original Series "First Ladies" when it returns Sunday, November 15 at 10 p.m. ET.

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