FACT CHECK: Did Eleanor Roosevelt Say, ‘Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make History’?

Aislinn Murphy | Assistant Managing Editor

An image shared on Facebook claims that first lady Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Well behaved women rarely make history.”

Verdict: False

This quote was actually penned by Harvard professor Laurel Thatcher Ulrich in a 1976 academic paper.

Fact Check: 

Roosevelt served as first lady from 1933 to 1945, during her husband President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s four terms in office. She is widely credited with transforming the role of first lady from one in which the president’s spouse mainly acts as a “gracious hostess” to one in which she champions social causes more actively.

Throughout her life, Roosevelt delivered speeches and published articles on numerous topics, including female empowerment. However, the quote attributed to her in the image does not appear in any of her writings.

It actually originated with a scholarly article written by Ulrich in 1976, appearing in the opening paragraph. She penned the saying “well-behaved women seldom make history” in writing about the Puritan women celebrated in funeral sermons.

Though figures like Roosevelt or Marilyn Monroe often have the saying misattributed to them, Ulrich confirmed that she is the source of the quote.

“I actually wrote a book explaining the origin of the quotation and then exploring some of the many ways women make history,” she told The Daily Caller in an email.

According to Ulrich’s book “Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History,” journalist Kay Mills introduced the quote to popular culture in 1995 when she used a slightly altered version as the epigraph for her own women’s history book. Mills changed the word “seldom” to “rarely.”

The altered version of the quote has since appeared on t-shirts and bumper sticks, as well as other retail products. Feminist groups utilize the phrase, too.

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Aislinn Murphy

Assistant Managing Editor