As discussed in the previous two blog posts (see post five and six), WWII gave rise to the issue of the gender wage gap. A published statement from the National Labor War Board essentially had no effect upon the wage gap, but it did bring the issue to light. Picking up on the discussion of WWII and the gender wage gap, Eleanor Roosevelt comes into play.
Eleanor Roosevelt is heralded as one of the greatest female leaders of America because of her ability to reach out to the public. In 1922, Eleanor joined the Women’s Trade Union League, fighting for women’s equality in Unions. After her husbands election, she took a greater place within the White House than any previous First Lady. Eleanor used her position gave her considerable influence. She is known for her public work and for her interest in the common people. Eleanor found herself in a position of actual power during her husbands presidency. She would use this position to promote women’s rights and would promote women in the work place. Interestingly, she retained that power after her husbands death in 1945, joining numerous committees and speaking all over the country on popular issues.
In 1948, Eleanor Roosevelt was named Chairman of the United Nations’ Human Rights Commission. This commission produced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that has since been translated into more than 500 languages. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights claimed, “Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…” This document claimed natural rights and freedoms for all people. However, Eleanor took this publication one step further and redefined the document as also applying to women and the gender wage gap.
In a bold statement, Article 23 section 2 states, “Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.” As one of the main authors of this publication, Eleanor Roosevelt proudly claimed this article applied to women’s wages. She argued that if women produced the same quality of work as men, they deserved to be paid the same wages (for more on this argument, see blog post three). However, like in 1942, this publication had no legal power. Like the statement from the National Labor War Board, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights had no ability to enforce suggestions. Similarly, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights also brought light to the issue, but on an international level. Though the document was important, it once again could have no effect upon the actual wages women were receiving.
After the historic publication in 1942, Eleanor Roosevelt continued to fight for the equal pay rights of women. She stayed with the United Nations for ten years, continuing to campaign for international human rights. Just a year before her death in 1963, Eleanor was appointed the head of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. Under the request of President John F. Kennedy, Eleanor directed the commission for just over a year. The Commission produced over 400 pieces of legislation addressing women’s issues.
During her time serving with both the United Nations and Commission, Eleanor continuously lectured and petitioned for women’s rights. She once stated in her ‘My Day’ Column, “We cannot change the fact that women are different from men. It’s true that some women can do more than men, and some can do men’s jobs better than men can do them. But the fact that they are different cannot be changed, and it is fortunate for us that this is the case. The best results are always obtained when men and women work together, with the recognition that their abilities and contributions may differ but that, in every field, they supplement each other.” And until her death, Eleanor fought for the rights of every woman to receive equal wages. Men and women, designed to “supplement” each other, could only be equals if they were treated as such.
To learn more about Women’s Trade Union League, click here.
Human Rights: To learn more about the United Nations efforts in Rights, click here.
U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights: To read the declaration, click here.
To view a presentation from NPR on Eleanor Roosevelt and the UDHR, click here.
For a biography on Eleanor Roosevelt, click here.
To learn more about the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women, click here.
For a history of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women, click here.
For other quotes from Eleanor’s My Day Column, click here.