Eleanor Roosevelt’s American Dream
What was the American dream for Eleanor Roosevelt? On the 75th anniversary of the founding of Roosevelt University—and the centennial of the 19th Amendment—this is an opportune moment for us to consider this question at the virtual 2020 American Dream Reconsidered Conference.
Rather than focus on individual economic opportunity, the American dream as embodied in the life and ideals of our namesake Eleanor Roosevelt emphasized an individual’s right to participate fully in civic life.
The virtual conference will offer a number of events that explore the history, purpose, and practices associated with a vibrant civic life as a core aspect of the American dream. These conversations can inspire a new generation of civic leaders to carry the torch for a revitalized American democracy.
Virtual panels will include:
– The emergence of a new generation of local leaders working to expand on the legacy of the New Deal in the 21st century
– The history of Black women and women’s suffrage
– The history of Roosevelt University’s 75 years of inclusion
– The LGBTQ+ movement’s efforts to build support for its community and to broaden our understanding of the rights that need to be protected in our democracy
– The Mansfield Institute’s One Book, One University lecture by acclaimed author Luis Alberto Urrea
Margaret Rung, Professor of History & Director, Center for New Deal Studies
Andy Trees, Visiting Professor of Political Science
The American Dream Reconsidered Conference is a free conference that invites scholars, activists and leaders to explore the modern American dream. Sessions delve into immigration, health care, politics and more in America today. With optimism and hope, our panelists share visions for the future of our democracy.
Roosevelt University president Ali Malekzadeh founded the annual conference in 2016.
Past speakers include:
- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
- Musician, actor and activist Common
- Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr.
- Political analyst David Axelrod
- Best-selling author Imbolo Mbue
Learn more about Roosevelt University at roosevelt.edu.
Selected Quotes on the American Dream
“The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. (It is not) “… a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”
–James Truslow Adams, defining the American Dream in Epic of America, 1931.
“Our workforce and our entire economy are strongest when we embrace diversity to its fullest, and that means opening doors of opportunity to everyone and recognizing that the American Dream excludes no one.”
—Thomas Perez, U.S. Secretary of Labor
“When we make college more affordable, we make the American Dream more achievable.”
—William J. Clinton, 42nd President of the U.S.
“A basic element of the American dream is equal access to education as a lubricant of social and economic mobility.”
—Nicholas Kristof, journalist
“I am the epitome of what the American Dream . . . It said you could come from anywhere and be anything you want in this country.”
— Whoopi Goldberg, actress and comedian
“The promise of the American Dream requires that we are all provided an equal opportunity to participate in and contribute to our nation.”
—Charles B. Rangel, U.S. Congress
“To me, the American Dream is being able to follow your own personal calling. To be able to do what you want to do is incredible freedom.”
—Maya Lin, architect
“For many, the American dream has become a nightmare.”
— Bernie Sanders, U.S. Senator
“I have spent my life judging the distance between American reality and the American dream.”
— Bruce Springsteen, musician
“My father worked in the Post Office. A lot of double shifts. All his friends were in the same situation – truck drivers, taxi cab drivers, grocery clerks. Blue collar guys punching the clock and working long, hard hours. The thought that sustained them was the one at the center of the American Dream.”
—Gary David Goldberg, writer
“The American Dream is a crock. Stop wanting everything. Everyone should wear jeans and have three T-shirts, eat rice and beans.”
–Bill Hicks, comedian
“In the end, the American dream is not a sprint, or even a marathon, but a relay. Our families don’t always cross the finish line in the span of one generation. But each generation passes on to the next the fruits of their labor.”
—Julian Castro, U.S. Secretary of Housing & Urban Development
“I think the American Dream used to be achieving one’s goals in your field of choice – and from that, all other things would follow. Now, I think the Dream has morphed into the pursuit of money: Accumulate enough of it, and the rest will follow.”
—Buzz Aldrin, astronaut
“To realize the American Dream, the most important thing to understand is that it belongs to everybody. It’s a human dream. If you understand this and work very hard, it is possible.”
–Cristina Saralegui, journalist
“Sadly, the American Dream is dead.”
–Donald J. Trump, real estate developer and presidential candidate
“There are those who will say that the liberation of humanity, the freedom of man and mind is nothing but a dream. They are right. It is the American Dream.”
–Archibald Macleish, poet.
“I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
“I feel that I am a citizen of the American Dream and that the revolutionary struggle of which I am a part is a struggle against the American nightmare.”
–Eldridge Cleaver, writer and activist
“The American Dream may be slipping away. We have overcome such challenges before. To recover the Dream requires knowing where it came from, how it lasted so long and why it matters so much.”
–Jon Meacham, editor
“The American Dream belongs to all of us.”
–Kamala Harris, California Attorney General
“The faith that anyone could move from rags to riches – with enough guts and gumption, hard work and nose to the grindstone – was once at the core of the American Dream.”
–Robert Reich, economist and former U.S. Secretary of Labor
“The American Dream is a phrase we’ll have to wrestle with all our lives. It means a lot of things to different people. I think we’re redefining it now.”
–Rita Dove, poet
Selected Bibliography on the American Dream
The American Dream: A Short History of an Idea that Shaped a Nation (2004)
By Jim Cullen
“The American Dream” is one of the most familiar and resonant phrases in our national lexicon, so familiar that we seldom pause to ask its origin, its history, or what it actually means. In this fascinating short history, Jim Cullen explores the meaning of the American Dream, or rather the several American Dreams that have both reflected and shaped American identity from the Pilgrims to the present.
The American Dream: A Cultural History (2002)
By Lawrence Samuel
There is no better way to understand America than by understanding the cultural history of the American Dream. Rather than just a powerful philosophy or ideology, the Dream is thoroughly woven into the fabric of everyday life, playing a vital role in who we are, what we do, and why we do it. No other idea or mythology has as much influence on our individual and collective lives. Tracing the history of the phrase in popular culture, Samuel gives readers a field guide to the evolution of our national identity over the last eighty years.
The American Dream in the 21st Century
By Sandra Hanson (Editor) and John White (Editor)
The American Dream has long been a dominant theme in U.S. culture, one with enduring significance, but these are difficult times for dreamers. The editors of and contributors to The American Dream in the 21st Century examine the American Dream historically, socially, and economically and consider its intersection with politics, religion, race, gender, and generation. The conclusions presented in this short, readable volume provide both optimism for the faith that most Americans have in the possibility of achieving the American Dream and a realistic assessment of the cracks in the dream.
The American Dream — Or What’s a Heaven For?
By Michael F. Ford
The Founding Director of the Center for the Study of the American Dream analyzes the state of the American Dream and the threats to its continuance.
Chasing the American Dream: Understanding What Shapes Our Fortunes (2014)
By Mark Robert Rank and Thomas A. Hirschl
The United States has been epitomized as a land of opportunity, where hard work and skill can bring personal success and economic well-being. The American Dream has captured the imagination of people from all walks of life, and to many, it represents the heart and soul of the country. In Chasing the American Dream, leading social scientists Mark Robert Rank, Thomas A. Hirschl, and Kirk A. Foster provide a new and innovative look into a curious dynamic — the tension between the promise of economic opportunities and rewards and the amount of turmoil that Americans encounter in their quest for those rewards. The authors explore questions such as:
Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis (2016)
By Robert D. Putnam
It’s the American dream: get a good education, work hard, buy a house, and achieve prosperity and success. This is the America we believe in—a nation of opportunity, constrained only by ability and effort. But during the last twenty-five years we have seen a disturbing “opportunity gap” emerge. Americans have always believed in equality of opportunity, the idea that all kids, regardless of their family background, should have a decent chance to improve their lot in life. Now, this central tenet of the American dream seems no longer true or at the least, much less true than it was. Robert Putnam offers a personal but also authoritative look at this new American crisis.
Who Stole the American Dream? (2013)
By Hedrick Smith
A reporter looks at how landmark political and economic decisions have transformed America.