Did Eleanor Roosevelt Say This About the Word ‘Liberal’?

"A strange thing happened to that word," read a quotation attributed to the former first lady that was shared widely on social media in January 2020.

  • Published 7 January 2020

Claim

A quotation attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, in a widely shared meme in January 2020, was authentic and accurate.

Rating

Correct Attribution
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Origin

In early January 2020, Snopes readers inquired about the provenance and authenticity of a quotation attributed to former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt that contained her reflections on the word “liberal” and the importance of the concept of freedom in American society. 

On Dec. 31, 2019, for instance, a Facebook account posted a widely shared meme containing a portrait of Roosevelt and the following quote:

“Long ago, there was a noble word, liberal, which derives from the word free. Now a strange thing happened to that word. A man named Hitler made it a term of abuse, a matter of suspicion, because those who were not with him were against him, and liberals had no use for Hitler. And then another man named McCarthy cast the same opprobrium on the word … We must cherish and honor the word free or it will cease to apply to us.” — Eleanor Roosevelt.

The same meme was promulgated even further two days later, when the left-leaning Occupy Democrats Facebook page posted it, along with the message “Who else is a PROUD liberal?”

The quote is authentic and did indeed originate in something Roosevelt wrote: her 1963 book “Tomorrow is Now,” which was published shortly after her death in November 1962. The relevant section, towards the end of the book, reads in full as follows:

Long ago, there was a noble word, “liberal,” which derives from the word “free.” Now a strange thing happened to that word. A man named Hitler made it a term of abuse, a matter of suspicion, because those who were not with him were against him, and liberals had no use for Hitler. And then another man named McCarthy cast the same opprobrium on the word. Indeed, there was a time — a short but dismaying time — when many Americans began to distrust the word which derived from “free.” One thing we must all do. We must cherish and honor the word “free” or it will cease to apply to us. And that would be an inconceivable situation. This I know. This I believe with all my heart. If we want a free and a peaceful world, if we want to make the deserts bloom and man grow to greater dignity as a human being — WE CAN DO IT!

The meme shared widely in early 2020 left out certain words taken from this section, but it properly acknowledged that omission with the use of an ellipsis, and the omission did not misrepresent or change the meaning of what Roosevelt wrote. As such, the meme was accurate and authentic and properly attributed the quotation to its true author.