War Does Not Determine Who Is Right — Only Who Is Left

Bertrand Russell? Frank P. Hobgood? Jessie Woodrow Wilson Sayre? Reader’s Digest? Montreal Star? Andrew Carnegie? Winston Churchill? Anonymous?

war08Dear Quote Investigator: A piquant slogan has been used by pacifists and peace activists for decades. Here are two variants:

War does not determine who is right — only who is left.
The atom bomb will never determine who is right — only who is left.

The first saying is often attributed to the philosopher and social thinker Bertrand Russell, but I have never seen a precise reference to support this connection. Would you please examine this expression?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Bertrand Russell wrote or spoke this adage.

The earliest citation located by QI was printed in “The Reader’s Digest” issue of February 1932. However, magazines such as “The Reader’s Digest” were released one or two weeks before their cover date. Hence, the February issue was actually released in January 1932. The saying was accompanied with an acknowledgement to a Canadian newspaper: 1

War does not determine who is right — only who is left. — Montreal Star.

QI has been unable to access the archives of “The Montreal Star” which shut down in 1979. It is possible that the old newspaper pages have not yet been digitized. Some future researcher may find the phrase in the paper and determine who employed it.

On February 24, 1932 a military man named Col. Frank P. Hobgood delivered a speech at a meeting of a popular service organization, and he employed an instance of the saying. This occurred about a month after the appearance in “The Reader’s Digest”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

“The next war will not decide who is right but who is left,” Col. Frank P. Hobgood declared in a stirring appeal for disarmament before approximately 250 Rotarians and Rotary Anns assembled in a combined Rotary inter-city meeting and birthday party at the ballroom of the King Cotton hotel last night.

Currently, Hobgood is the first named individual who has been linked to the adage. But the expression was already in circulation before he delivered his talk. Thanks to top researcher Barry Popik who identified the citation immediately above and other valuable citations.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading War Does Not Determine Who Is Right — Only Who Is Left


  1. 1932 February, Reader’s Digest, Volume 20, Patter, Start Page 107, Quote Page 108, Column 2, The Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1932 February 24, Greensboro Daily News, Horrors of Next War Pictured By Hobgood In Talks to Rotarians, Quote Page 16, Column 1, Greensboro, North Carolina. (GenealogyBank)

No One Can Make You Feel Inferior Without Your Consent

Eleanor Roosevelt? Reader’s Digest? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a remarkably insightful statement about self-esteem that is usually credited to Eleanor Roosevelt, the diplomat and former First Lady:

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

This is one of my favorite quotations, but I have not been able to determine when it was first said. One quotation dictionary claimed that the saying was in the autobiography “This is My Story” by Roosevelt, but I was unable to find it.

Did Eleanor Roosevelt really say this? Could you tell me where I can locate this quotation?

Quote Investigator: This popular aphorism is the most well-known guidance ascribed to Roosevelt. Quotation experts such as Rosalie Maggio and Ralph Keyes have explored the origin of this saying. Surprisingly, a thorough examination of the books the First Lady authored and her other archived writings has failed to discover any instances of the quote [QVFI].

Yet, the saying has been attributed to Roosevelt for more than seventy years. The earliest example located by QI appeared in the pages of the widely-distributed periodical Reader’s Digest in September of 1940 [RDFI]:

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
Eleanor Roosevelt

Thus, from the beginning the phrase was credited to Roosevelt. However, no supporting reference was given in the magazine, and the quote stood alone at the bottom of a page with unrelated article text above it.

Recently, QI located some intriguing evidence, and he now believes that the creation of this maxim can be traced back to comments made by Eleanor Roosevelt about an awkward event in 1935. The Secretary of Labor in the Roosevelt administration was invited to give a speech at the University of California, Berkeley on the Charter Day of the school. The customary host of the event was unhappy because she felt that the chosen speaker should not have been a political figure. She refused to serve as the host and several newspaper commentators viewed her action as a rebuff and an insult.

Eleanor Roosevelt was asked at a White House press conference whether the Secretary had been snubbed, and her response was widely disseminated in newspapers. Here is an excerpt from an Associated Press article [ERNC]:

“A snub” defined the first lady, “is the effort of a person who feels superior to make someone else feel inferior. To do so, he has to find someone who can be made to feel inferior.”

She made clear she didn’t think the labor secretary fell within the category of the “snubable.”

Note that this statement by Roosevelt in 1935 contained the key elements of the quotation that was assigned to her by 1940. One person may try to make a second person feel inferior, but this second person can resist and simply refuse to feel inferior. In this example, the labor secretary refused to consent to feel inferior.

The precise wording given for Roosevelt’s statement varied. Here is another example that was printed in a syndicated newspaper column called “So They Say!” the following week. The columnist stated that the following was the definition of a “snub” given by Roosevelt [OWFI]:

I think it is the effort of a person who feels superior to make someone else feel inferior. First, though, you have to find someone who can be made to feel inferior.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Sometime between 1935 and 1940 Eleanor Roosevelt’s commentary was reformulated into the elegant aphorism that was published in the Reader’s Digest. Roosevelt may have done this herself. Alternatively, someone else decided to render her remarks compactly and stylishly [RDFI]:

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
Eleanor Roosevelt

The next month, in October of 1940 the saying appeared as the first line of an editorial in a newspaper from Iowa. The words were placed between quotation marks, but no attribution was given [LPFI]:

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”

That is a good thing to remember. If you feel uncertain of yourself, it is a good pointer to remember. If you feel uncertain of yourself, it is easy to make you feel inferior by making a slighting remark. But if you feel confident you can laugh it off.

At the end of October the maxim appeared freestanding in an Alaskan newspaper where it was credited to Roosevelt [FDFI]:

Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

In June of 1941 the aphorism appeared on a newspaper page dedicated to the topics of “Home, Church, Religion, Character” within a column titled “Sermonograms”. The words were credited to Eleanor Roosevelt [HNFI].

In February of 1944 the saying appeared in the widely-read syndicated column of Walter Winchell where it was again credited to Roosevelt [WWF1]. In February 1945 the maxim was repeated in Winchell’s influential column. On this second occasion Winchell employed a word from his specialized vocabulary, “Frixample”, in the introduction [WWF2]:

Mrs. F.D.R. can turn out punchlines with the best of ’em. Frixample: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”

The Yale Book of Quotations, an essential reference, contains a compelling precursor to the quote under investigation listed as a cross-index term. More than one-hundred years before the cites above, in 1838, the American clergyman William Ellery Channing said the following [YWEC] [SWEC]:

No power in society, no hardship in your condition can depress you, keep you down, in knowledge, power, virtue, influence, but by your own consent.

In conclusion, QI believes that Eleanor Roosevelt can be credited with expressing the core idea of this saying by 1935. Within five years the graceful modern version of the maxim was constructed. QI does not know if Roosevelt or someone else was responsible for this. But QI does believe Roosevelt’s words were the most likely inspiration.

Update History: This post was rewritten on April 30, 2012 and the updated version was placed here on May 7, 2012.

[QVFI] 2006, The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, Page 97-98, St Martin’s Griffin, New York. (Verified on paper)

[RDFI] 1940 September, The Reader’s Digest, [Free standing quotation], Page 84, Volume 37, The Reader’s Digest Association. (Verified on paper)

[ERNC] 1935 March 26, News And Courier, Heart Balm Suit Ban Given Support By Mrs. Roosevelt, Page 7, Charleston, South Carolina. (Google News Archive)

[OWFI] 1935 April 2, Owosso Argus-Press, So They Say!, Page 4, Column 4, Owosso, Michigan. (Google News Archive)

[LPFI] 1940 October 10, Lake Park News, The Little Newsance: Editorial by Ardell Proctor, Page 7, Column 1, Lake Park, Iowa. (NewspaperArchive)

[FDFI] 1940 October 30, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, [Free standing quotation], Page 2, Column 1, Fairbanks, Alaska. (NewspaperArchive)

[HNFI] 1941 June 6, Huntingdon Daily News, Sermonograms, Page 11, Column 2, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. (NewspaperArchive)

[WWF1] 1944 February 29, Augusta Chronicle, Walter Winchell: In New York: Notes of an Innocent Bystander, Page 4, Column 7, Augusta, Georgia. (GenealogyBank)

[WWF2] 1945 February 25, St. Petersburg Times, Walter Winchell, Page 24, Column 7, St. Petersburg, Florida. (Google News archive)

[YWEC] 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section: William Ellery Channing, Page 143, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)

[SWEC] 1838 [Address delivered in Boston in September 1838], Self-Culture: An Address Introductory to the Franklin Lectures, Page 80, Dutton and Wentworth, Printers, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books full view) link