American Portraits

A Peaceful World: Eleanor Roosevelt, the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Diligence

In this lesson, students will learn about Eleanor Roosevelt’s diligence in helping to craft the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. Students will learn how their diligence can help them advance freedom for themselves and others.

Founding Principles

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

Private Virtue image

Private Virtue

The idea that only a knowledgeable and virtuous citizenry can sustain liberty.


When President Harry Truman asked sixty-two-year-old former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to serve as a delegate to the United Nations’ General Assembly to aid in its organization, she was humbled and did not feel up to the task. “How could I be a delegate to help organize the United Nations when I have no background or experience in international meetings?” she asked the president. Truman was convinced she had plenty of political experience and persuaded her to accept. She was also driven by a desire to contribute to making the world a better place after two destructive world wars and horrific genocides….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How can your diligence help you promote freedom for yourself and others?

Virtue Defined

Diligence is intrinsic energy for completing good work.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will learn about Eleanor Roosevelt’s diligence in helping to craft the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. Students will learn how their diligence can help them advance freedom for themselves and others.


  • Students will examine Eleanor Roosevelt’s role in developing the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights.
  • Students will apply their understanding of diligence to their own lives.
  • Students will determine ways that they can use diligence to advance freedom.


The Versailles Conference at the end of World War I had led to the creation of the League of Nations, an international body that was supposed to keep the peace, based upon the ideas of President Woodrow Wilson’s “Fourteen Points.” The United States did not join the League of Nations because the Senate refused to ratify as it would violate American national sovereignty over the power to declare war. The weakness of the League of Nations became apparent as it was unable to stop the totalitarian aggression of the Axis Powers (Italy, Germany, and Japan) in the 1930s.

During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was an early supporter of a “United Nations” (U.N.) dedicated like its predecessor to the preservation of peace. When Roosevelt died in 1945, President Harry Truman helped bring Roosevelt’s vision to life in the postwar world. In April 1945, representatives from fifty nations that had declared war against the Axis Powers attended a conference in San Francisco to work out the founding details of the U.N. On June 26, 1946, the U.N. charter and its preamble were ratified by its members.

After the U.S. Senate ratified the U.N. treaty, Truman asked Roosevelt’s politically active wife, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, to be a delegate to the first General Assembly meeting in London. Roosevelt accepted, saying, “I want to try for a peaceful world.” She spent the next two years diligently serving on the Human Rights Commission that drafted the U.N. Declaration of Universal Rights.


  • Versailles Conference
  • League of Nations
  • Sovereignty
  • Totalitarian
  • Predecessor
  • Humbled
  • Genocides
  • Delegates
  • Merely
  • Amenities
  • Dingy
  • Secluded
  • Exclusive
  • Conceded
  • Preliminary
  • Alterations
  • Speculations
  • Unanimously
  • Puppet State
  • Abstaining
  • Dissenting

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

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Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • Who was Eleanor Roosevelt? Why was she chosen to be the United States’ delegate to the U.N. Human Rights Commission? What was her role at the U.N.?
  • What was Eleanor’s purpose as the chair and member of the Commission?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

Glendon, Mary Ann. A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  New York: Random House, 2001.

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