Our History
Freedom House is the oldest American organization devoted to the support and defense of democracy around the world. It was formally established in New York in 1941 to promote American involvement in World War II and the fight against fascism. 
From the beginning, Freedom House was notable for its bipartisan support. Freedom House's founders were prominent and influential leaders from the fields of business and labor, journalism, academia, and government.  A central figure among its early leaders was First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Wendell Willkie, the Republican presidential nominee who ran against President Roosevelt in 1940, was also an ardent supporter and served as honorary co-chair along with Mrs. Roosevelt.
Initially, the mission of Freedom House was to counter isolationism, a powerful force promoted by the America First Committee.  At the time, ninety percent of American citizens were opposed to involvement in the European war, even as Nazi tanks rolled across the continent and concentration camps began to fill with people.  The leaders of Freedom House argued that Hitler posed a grave threat to American security and values. 
Freedom House believed that American leadership was crucial if the post-war world were to evolve into a place where democracy was the normal state of affairs, and not an exception.  After the war, Freedom House supported the creation of the institutions that were critical to the promotion of peace, human rights, and cooperation between nations.  Freedom House supported the Marshall Plan, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Atlantic Alliance.    
Alarmed at the imposition of Soviet satellite regimes in Eastern Europe and beyond, Freedom House supported an American policy that was meant to counter Moscow’s expansionism and encourage an American foreign policy that placed the promotion of freedom at its core.    
Freedom House also devoted its attention to two domestic problems during the 1950s. The first was the struggle for racial equality.  Freedom House worked closely with Thurgood Marshall, Roy Wilkins, and other prominent civil rights leaders. Bayard Rustin, a leading adviser to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was an active member and leader of the Freedom House Board of Trustees.
A second cause was the struggle against McCarthyism, which at the time was shattering the lives of entertainers, government officials, and educators who were accused of Communist involvement.  Freedom House recognized that McCarthyism was both a threat to domestic civil liberties and to America’s credibility as world leader.  It urged President Eisenhower and Congress to safeguard the rights of citizens "on the home front from probes which slander the innocent."
In 1973, Freedom House launched an entirely new initiative, a report that employed the methods of social science analysis to assess the level of freedom in each country in the world, with a numerical score and ranking as Free, Partly Free, or Not Free.  The report is known as Freedom in the World.  Through the years, Freedom in the World has gained attention and influence in the media, the policy world, among foreign governments, and among educators and scholars.  Freedom in the World has been called the “Michelin Guide to democracy’s development” and “essential reading for policymakers and political leaders.”
The Freedom in the World template has been used as a model for other democracy analysis reports published by Freedom House.  Currently, Freedom House publishes an annual report on new media freedom, Freedom on the Net, which reaches critical audiences in the tech world and in policy circles.  Freedom House also issues a highly respected report on political reforms in the post-Communist sphere, Nations in Transit, and an annual media freedom assessment, Freedom and the Media.  Freedom House analysts regularly issue interpretive assessments on repressive techniques employed by leading autocracies, including China, Turkey, and Russia.
Throughout the 1970s and 80s, Freedom House was involved in the defense of Andrei Sakharov and other Soviet dissidents. After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Freedom House established the Afghanistan Information Center, a clearinghouse for information on the conflict. It was among the earliest supporters of Poland's Solidarity trade union. Responding to growing strife in Africa, Freedom House sent study missions to Zimbabwe and South Africa led by Bayard Rustin.. It also sent missions to assess conditions in Central America during the 1980s, as part of an ongoing project to support centrist democratic forces under siege from the Marxist left and the death squad right.
In 1997, Freedom House expanded its involvement in democracy support work in a wide series of regions, including Latin America, Eurasia, East Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.  Freedom House has earned a reputation for taking on freedom causes in some of the most difficult environments, such as Venezuela, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Egypt, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. In addition, Freedom House provides assistance to embattled human rights defenders, including many who face arrest, beatings, and death threats for their work.
Freedom House has taken a leading role in the development of new initiatives to counter the growing global trend towards authoritarianism.  Freedom House played a central role in the adoption of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, which called for sanctions on individual Russian officials implicated in the death of an anti-corruption lawyer and a subsequent broader law, the Global Magnitsky Act, which took the principles of the original law and gave them global reach. 
Much has changed in the world since Freedom House was founded in 1941, but much has remained the same, including the lure of isolationism in times of change.  Thus the need to protect democracy and to act as a clear voice for freedom remains as strong as ever. Freedom House began with that purpose and today again finds itself called to its original mission.   
Additional information on Freedom House and its history can be found at the Freedom House Archives of the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library at Princeton University.
 
Freedom House Timeline
1940s
November 10, 1941Freedom House founded by a group of prominent individuals, including journalists, scholars, political figures, and labor leaders. Eleanor Roosevelt and Wendell Willkie serve as honorary co-chairpersons.
June 1942Freedom House sends first appeal to President Roosevelt urging action against the Nazis for the "tragic increase in the brutalities perpetuated against the people of occupied Europe"
1945Freedom House Chairman William Agar proposes a formula for creating an enlarged UN and urges the formation of a commission on human rights to frame an international bill of human rights for all members of the UN
1947Freedom House urges NY Governor Dewey to take steps to combat discrimination by establishing a state university that would "accept all qualified students regardless of race, color or place of habitation"
December 10, 1948The UN General Assembly adopts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was drafted under the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt, Freedom House’s first honorary co-chair.
1950s
1952Leo Cherne, an officer of Freedom House debates Senator Joe McCarthy on "Town Meeting On The Air," a popular radio forum, on how to deal with the communist threat

Freedom House issues a statement asserting that McCarthyism has created an "atmosphere of fear and uncertainty" that damages "free expression" in the U.S.
1955The Balance Sheet of Freedom provides geopolitical assessments of political trends based primarily on anecdotal analysis; the publication continues annually until the introduction of Freedom in the World
1958Eleanor Roosevelt presents the Freedom House Freedom Award to the Arkansas Gazette for reporting on U.S. civil rights issues

Freedom House sends a letter to Senator Lyndon Johnson supporting his civil rights legislation
1959Freedom House publishes a New York Times advertisement before the visit of Khrushchev urging citizens to not be naive, uninformed, or easily deceived by the Soviet leader

Freedom House publishes Soviet Crimes: A Chronological Record and Famous Words of Freedom

Freedom House Bookshelf is instituted - a program which will distribute 3 million books over 28 years to citizens in developing countries
1960s
1961Willy Brandt, Mayor of blockaded Berlin, receives the Freedom Award for his resistance to Nazism and Communism
1963Freedom House publishes What's "Right" and "Left?" which warns both ends of the political spectrum to recognize the dangers to democratic values posed by Fascism, Nazism, and Communism
1967Freedom House convenes 14 top Asian scholars to discuss issues related to U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. The report is seen as "a clear call for moderation," and is said to have helped persuade President Johnson to reduce forces in Vietnam
1970s
1970Freedom House organizes international efforts to form a new organization, the International Council on the Future of the University (ICFU), focused on academic freedom, university governance and the role of universities in democratic societies

First issue of Freedom at Issue (later renamed Freedom Review), a bi-monthly magazine that contains discussions of public policy questions related to freedom
1972The inaugural publication of the Map of Freedom and the annual survey which becomes Freedom in the World, Freedom House’s flagship publication on the state of freedom
1975Freedom House is one of the first organizations to call attention to mounting genocide in Cambodia. Board member Leo Cherne unsuccessfully pleads with the UN Human Rights Commission to launch an investigation
1976Freedom House becomes engaged in the battle against New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO), an attempt within UNESCO by authoritarian regimes to authorize government control over the media

Freedom House representatives travel to South Africa to report on oppression of blacks under apartheid, focusing particularly on black journalists on the frontline of the struggle for equality. Anti-apartheid activist and politician Helen Suzman serves on Freedom House Advisory Board
1979First publication of Freedom of the Press, a global survey of media independence

Freedom House delegation headed by Trustee Bayard Rustin monitors the first nationwide multiracial elections in then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), pioneering U.S. NGO election monitoring efforts
1980s
1980Freedom House organizes a hearing in Washington D.C. for Andrei Sakharov, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and other Soviet dissidents to testify about the fate of dissidents under the repressive Soviet system
1981Freedom House sends representatives across the Pakistan border into Afghanistan to assess and publicize the conditions of the Soviet soldiers being held prisoner. Twenty prisoners are subsequently released to U.S. custody

Freedom House Trustees urge increased funding for Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, continuing Freedom House's support for international broadcasting
1981Freedom Appeals: Documenting the Universal Struggle for Freedom is launched. The publication includes texts written by political prisoners and dissidents whose voices are suppressed in their own countries
1982Freedom House observes elections in El Salvador, supports continued U.S. assistance, notes human rights abuses but also warns about the long term threat to freedom from communist insurgency
1985-88Freedom House sponsors a conference of Latin American leaders in Chile to take steps to open up the political systems in the region. Freedom House’s Executive Director is appointed as the only U.S. citizen to be a member of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
1989National Forum Foundation (NFF) sponsors only U.S. delegation to observe elections in Poland
1990s
1990NFF/FH brings first group of Visiting Fellows to the U.S. from Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia
1991The Dalai Lama receives the Freedom Award, a continuation of Freedom House’s relationship with the Tibetan struggle for freedom that began when Freedom House facilitated the Dalai Lama's first trip to the U.S. in the 1980s
1993Freedom House opens an office in Ukraine to work for free and fair elections and to strengthen civil society
1995First publication of Nations in Transit, an annual publication tracking democratic development in countries of the former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe

President Bill Clinton delivers a major address at a Freedom House foreign policy conference

Freedom House Budapest office begins work on cross-border networks to support democratic reform through Central and Eastern Europe and begins Cuba democracy programs to send books, medicine, and experts on democratic transitions to support democracy advocates

The Center for Religious Freedom becomes a self-sustaining division of Freedom House
1997Freedom House merges with the National Forum Foundation
1998Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom takes leadership role in pressing for enactment of the International Religious Freedom Act and begins Coalition for Southern Sudan.  In 2005, the Center's leadership in the Coalition for Southern Sudan helps lead to a peace agreement in that region, ending the longest running war in Africa
2000 - present
2000First Community of Democracies meeting held in Warsaw, Poland; Freedom House cosponsors non-governmental forum with the Stefan Batory Foundation
2001Freedom House, long active in supporting civil society efforts for democratic reform in Serbia, officially opens office in Belgrade
2002-2004Freedom House opens offices throughout Central Asia, as well as in Nigeria, Jordan, Tunisia, and Mexico
2003Freedom House establishes a local non-profit organization in Kyrgyzstan providing a printing press for independent publications throughout Central Asia
2004First publication of Countries at the Crossroads, a new survey focused on democratic governance and rule of law in select countries

During the Ukrainian elections, Freedom House assists in coordinating the first ever large scale regional civic monitoring effort mobilizing 1000 representatives from reform-oriented monitoring groups
2005-2006Freedom House sponsors conferences highlighting North Korea's human rights abuses in Washington, DC; Seoul, South Korea; Brussels, Belgium; and Rome, Italy.
2006Uzbek Court Suspends Freedom House Human Rights Programs in Uzbekistan for six months as part of a broader crackdown on civic activism and non-governmental organizations

Freedom House hosts a speech by President George W. Bush
2007Freedom House opens a new field office in Southern Africa

The first group of New Generation of Advocate Fellows arrive. The program expands the horizons of young civil society leaders in the Middle East and North Africa by offering visiting fellowships with counterpart organizations in the U.S.

Freedom House releases a report, Supporting Freedom's Advocates, analyzing the Bush Administration’s 2008 budget request for foreign operations and making specific funding recommendations based on urgent needs and opportunities
2010Freedom House and Human Rights First host a human rights summit bringing together human rights defenders from around the world to develop a Plan of Action to advance global human rights. They meet with President Barack Obama, US policy makers, and influential figures from the world of media, think tanks, universities, NGOs and other activists to shed light on the human rights situation in their own countries
2011Freedom House calls on President Obama to urge Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down and to urge a quick and peaceful transition to democracy

Freedom House celebrates its 70th anniversary with former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice serving as the honorary co-chairs of its gala dinner. 
 
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