Where can I find this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt at the UN?
Last Updated: Oct 10, 2023     Views: 201

Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, Chairman, sitting next to Professor J.P. Humphrey, Director of the Human Rights Division. UN Photo UN7757614

“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 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.”

--Eleanor Roosevelt, “Where do universal human rights begin?”, statement on 27 March 1958 at the presentation of the book “In your hands: a guide for community action” to the UN Commission on Human Rights; sometimes called “The Great Question” speech. Quote from the OHCHR publication Human Rights Indicators, pg.9

This statement by Eleanor Roosevelt is widely quoted without citation, both in UN materials and in other sources, and the UN Library and the UN Archives have been asked about it many times over the years.  We have not found the original source text of the speech. Part of the speech is quoted in a New York Times article of 28 March 1958 covering the event. We have checked the following sources:

On 10 December 1958, the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Eleanor Roosevelt made a statement in an open formal meeting of the General Assembly plenary, which does not contain the above quote: A/PV.783 Part I

Eleanor Roosevelt and the UN

Eleanor Roosevelt was a prominent political figure in the United States. As the wife of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, US President from 1933 - 1945, she was the longest serving first lady of the US. After his death in 1945, Eleanor Roosevelt maintained an active public life as a delegate to the newly formed UN and was a prolific writer and speaker. 

  • 1946-1952: delegate of the US to the UN General Assembly, appointed by US President Harry S. Truman

    • Served on the Third Committee on social, humanitarian, and cultural matters, including human rights and the concerns of refugees

  • 1947-1952: UN Commission on Human Rights

    • 1947-1950: Chair

  • 1961: reappointed as a delegate for the US in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy.

More information about the drafting process of the declaration can be found in the Drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights research guide.

Researching Eleanor Roosevelt in UN documents

To find information about Eleanor Roosevelt's activities in the UN, search for variations of her name in the UN Digital Library, or browse documents of the bodies she participated in. In UN documents, we have observed the names: Mrs. Roosevelt, Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mrs. F.D. Roosevelt, or Chairman.

The sample searches in the UN Digital Library below are one possible starting point to conduct research on her work in these bodies. 

Documents can also be found by consulting the Index to Proceedings of the General Assembly  or Economic and Social Council for the years she participated in the work of the UN and checking the references under her name or of the bodies in which she participated.

This FAQ will be updated if or when we locate more information.


Disclaimer: answers are prepared by library staff using resources available at the time of writing. This site may include links and references to third-party databases, websites, books and articles, this does not imply endorsement by the United Nations.


Ask Dag Logo

Explore more than 800 FAQs in: