Today, October 11th is the birthday of the trailblazing Eleanor Roosevelt. The Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park is unmissable, rising from the southern tip of Roosevelt Island. But did you know there is a memorial to Eleanor Roosevelt, lying forgotten inside the United Nations Sculpture Garden? The bust of FDR at Four Freedoms Park was positioned to be aligned with Eleanor’s memorial across the East River. Not only is there very little easily accessible information about the memorial in general, the memorial is located under a grove of trees in a distant corner of the nearly nine-acre United Nations Sculpture Garden which contains gifts from member countries. Public access to the garden, which was originally private, has been scaled back from when it was open daily in the 1950s.
Inside the United Nations Sculpture Garden
A few years ago, while there was some effort underway to potentially restore the memorial, we were given access to photograph the monument before limited public access was reinstated. Located in the northeast corner of the United Nations Sculpture Garden, the memorial was dedicated on April 23rd, 1966. The memorial features a curved granite bench engraved with “1884 — Anna Eleanor Roosevelt — 1962” and a slab across from the bench that contains a bas-relief of a flame. An inscription reads, “She would rather light a candle than curse the darkness and her glow has warmed the worlds.”
The memorial was a gift of the Eleanor Roosevelt Memorial Foundation, an organization created through an Act of Congress on April 23, 1963, three years before the memorial was dedicated. The act was signed into law by President John F. Kennedy who said at the time, “Mrs. Roosevelt, I believe, would be pleased to know that her friends and associates have chosen this way to continue her work, especially because it enables all citizens to take part in deeds rather than just words.”
According to the text of the act, the charter decrees that the “Foundation will work in the areas of Mrs. Roosevelt’s principal interests: relief of the poor and underprivileged; promotion of public health; promotion of economic welfare; and furtherance of international good will.” The initial Board of Trustees included Ambassador Adlai E. Stevenson, who served as chairman. Mrs. Roosevelt’s five children served as ex officio trustees. No federal funds were allocated to the Foundation, with all funds were to be through private fundraising.
The Eleanor Roosevelt Memorial is in need of a restoration, but we have been informed by someone close to the effort that the main road block here is that the Eleanor Roosevelt Memorial Foundation is basically defunct. The gifting country/organization for the United Nations Sculpture Garden is required to maintain it for perpetuity, but in this case the line of succession has been lost. Efforts to re-establish a link did not materialize, as no group would accept responsibility for the sculpture. Hopefully, this is the first effort to raise awareness for this memorial so that it does not become too dilapidated over time. However, one positive outcome of the effort was to open up access to the garden to the public. Though you cannot simply walk in to the garden, you can now take a guided tour, only in the summer, during one time slot, on one day a week.