Mrs. Roosevelt Puts Future up to Women

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"Mrs. Roosevelt Puts Future up to Women"

274. Eleanor Roberts Interviews Eleanor Roosevelt

Boston Sunday Post 9 November 1947

Lake Success, N.Y, Nov. 8—More than anything else in the world today women want peace!

They want it because World war II brought home to them forcefully—through personal loss and privation—the necessity of it.

What they do not know, however, is quite how to go about making that peace.

Yet every woman, from the wealthy young matron with a Radcliffe degree to the scrubwoman who never got beyond the fourth grade, should take an active part in shaping the future.

There is perhaps no greater authority on the role women will assume in the world of tomorrow than Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt who sits on the United Nations' famous committee number three.

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Post, Mrs. Roosevelt outlined fearlessly and constructively a workable plan that women everywhere can adopt.

She didn't pull any punches.

And she didn't make it sound easy.

Just very worth while.

When she spoke of the great need women have for self-discipline it was the facing of a fact—not the scoring of a human frailty.

She criticized the present school system for women's lack of ability to concentrate, but she did it gently, just as she remarked that she hoped one day the world would realize that a woman may have as good a brain as a man.

We saw Mrs. Roosevelt first at her Washington sq. apartment, in a comfortably cluttered room where cretonne-covered chairs and exotic Chinese objects of art blended in a happy harmony.1

There was about her apartment the same catholicity of taste that characterizes Eleanor Roosevelt herself. It was evident in the Chinese temple bell that sat complacently next to the French period clock on her mantel, and in the companionship of a nicely-bound "Little Iliad" crammed in tightly beside a 25—cent paper covered "Rubaiyat" on her bookshelves.

She wore a violet wool dress and the moment she came forward to take your hand you knew, no matter what your politics or your party, that here was a really great woman.

The only picture of the late President in the room was on the mantel in a wide silver frame, engraved with the personal signatures of such close friends and associates as Marvin McIntyre and Louis McHenry Howe.

It was not the NRA Roosevelt or the tired third-term Roosevelt who led the nation through its greatest crisis.2 It was the "Happiest Warrior" as Governor of New York and in his own handwriting at the bottom was scrawled, "For E.R., with F.D.R's love."3

The former First Lady did not talk about the President or her days in the White House and of the United Nations she spoke only briefly.

She did discuss, with understanding and concern, the tremendous task women of the United States face today in contributing to a sound peace.

That they should have a far greater goal than the acquisition of a mink coat and the presidency of the local bridge club, Mrs. Roosevelt made very clear.

"Not that I object to a mink coat," she smiled. "I think it's perfectly all right to enjoy one if your sense of values is in good order so that owning one doesn't become the most important thing in your life—so that not having one doesn't make you miserable.

"As a country we give too much thought to material things. We can remedy this to a great extent by making both our schools and our churches more dynamic centres in the life of the community, so that they really lead in our thinking.

"I have known communities where teachers cannot say what they think because the school board wouldn't like it. And we only get value out of our teachers if they can think by themselves and have the opportunity to express those thoughts.

"There may be mistakes, but we all make mistakes. It is the only way to grow. If we don't grow we get static and we find ourselves with a community that has little interest."

To Mrs. Roosevelt's mind every woman has definite responsibilities in shaping the world of tomorrow. That they have been lax in shouldering those responsibilities is not strange to her.

Women demanded and received the right to vote; they practice professions and own property. Yet thousands of them have no active voice in the governing of their country, in affairs of the world because of what seems a typically feminine shying away from such things.

"It takes a long time after winning the right to vote to realize that the right itself isn't sufficient, that exercising that franchise doesn't save the peace of the world if it can be saved.

"We are just waking up to the fact that there are other things to do. Most important is making democracy work in our own localities.

"Until the last war most of us didn't know what went on. We ran our homes and were interested in clubs and it was all we needed. We were not concerned about the world because it didn't seem, even if we were, that there was much we could do about it.

"We are gradually realizing, however, that we must do something about it. The crisis that war brings about reaches down into our whole lives. During the war we had to learn self-discipline; we had to go without. We learned how to run our homes better, how to be both mother and father to our children.

"After it was over we thought we'd go back, only to find we couldn't. After four years of struggle and bloodshed the dislocation in people and in things was far too great to go back.

"Some of the boys who went overseas weren't the same when they came home and some of the men who bore the terrific burdens of war can't do it now.

"We objected to rationing but we found we had forces far beyond those we realized. And today we find that while we haven't rationing in the sense of red points and blue points we have rationing of a different sort because we can't afford to pay for the food.

"Women have never before faced the fact that they are a part of the world. It took the lesson of war to show it to us. There was the war of 1917, to be sure, but it seems we have to learn things all over again the hard way."

Emphasizing that participating in world events means that women will have a "quick broadening of their horizons," the former First Lady outlined the steps American women who are better fed and better sheltered than almost any other women in the world, can take.

"If I were a housewife," Mrs. Roosevelt declared, "I would begin by doing things right in my own locality. I would see what people are holding office, what measures have been passed in my town, what the people who are running for office stand for.

"Then I would ask myself, 'Do they really represent the kind of thinking I want?'"

In spite of the great number of women voters in the United States a great majority of them are hard put to tell you who is running for office, let alone investigating the viewpoint of the candidate.

Mrs. Roosevelt attributes this lack of interest in local politics on the part of women, partly to an inertia due to little self-discipline and partly to our present educational system.

"We don't know how to plan our lives," she explained. "It is even harder for the housewife to school herself to be interested in local politics because the pattern of her life requires the least self-discipline. She is not bounded by factory rules. Her time is her own to do with what she wants. And although this involves cooking and cleaning and caring for children, it means she can pretty well arrange the day as she wishes. There is no time clock to punch, no boss to report to.

"It will take an enormous amount of individual adjustment for the average housewife to bring herself to the point where she can and will make time to take an active part in her community affairs.

Ask any housewife why she didn't go to the town meetings, why she hasn't investigated the platforms of the men who run for office, why she isn't working actively in the particular cause her community is pushing and she will inevitably reply, "I haven't the time. I'm all tied up with my children."

To this Mrs. Roosevelt replies, "Make the time. Order your day so that you will have time. It can be done, but it takes effort and it takes self-discipline.

"We must learn that being slaves to our children is not good for them, that being a drudge is not good for our husbands or our friends or our neighbors—or the world!

"If the housewife's world is bounded entirely by the four walls of her home, if she has no outside contacts she is likely to become a drudge. When there are no outside contacts nothing is accomplished, there is no inspiration. She is not taking anything in.

"The unselfish, intelligent mother who gives her children love and care and affection cannot be criticized for her outside interests."

What the average woman hasn't learned to do, Mrs. Roosevelt is convinced, is to plan her leisure time well.

It dribbles away ineffectually, giving her little satisfaction because she has given so little thought to how her leisure can be used most effectively.

"Certainly give some of your leisure time to the things you enjoy doing, to the little pleasures that relax you and make you happy, but don't, for example, give it all to the movies or to idle chatting."

Probably nobody speaks with more authority on this subject than Mrs. Roosevelt whose amazing record in public life has proven beyond any doubt the results of a day carefully planned.

Granted that she has an enormous amount of energy, that because of her early training she can marshal her thoughts and ideas into an orderly procession, it has still taken careful planning and much self-discipline to accomplish what she has.

Throughout the interview the word "self-discipline" wove an intricate thread. This is because "self-discipline" is the foundation-stone of her whole life, and because she believes that it is what women need badly.

Through this medium they can school themselves to take an interest in local politics and community affairs although they have little natural inclination to do so.

"To this day," smiled Mrs. Roosevelt, "I am grateful that I had to learn Latin in school. Not only because of the value it has proven to be to me, but mostly because it trained my powers to do something they didn't like to do.

"I hated Latin," she admitted with frankness, "but I had to learn it. I was fortunate in having a childhood where self-discipline was the law and I have always felt that it enables a child to make adjustments easier and meet disappointment and trial better when he becomes an adult."

Urging women to take an active part in politics because in this manner she can actually help to shape the new peace, Mrs. Roosevelt said, "I think we should join any organization that will bring our collective strength to bear, such as the League of Women Voters' in your locality, the PTA, or take active part in your party headquarters group.

"Certainly if I lived in a rural community where these larger organizations did not exist I would join the home and farm bureau so that I could get more knowledge on the way to live.

"If I were a working girl I would take an active part in whatever my union offers in the way of educational information and activities.

"The political world," she smiled, "is a rough and tumble one. You must be self-disciplined and you must learn to train yourself to become indifferent to criticism that is not constructive, to 'take things.'"

Perhaps few other women know just how rough and tumble the political world is better than Eleanor Roosevelt. Few have been under such withering verbal fire and acquitted themselves as well. During her husband's administration as President for three terms she has been batted around like a shuttlecock by a legion of critics and staunchly defended by an even greater legion of supporters.

Yet she has emerged from bitter controversy unscathed, a gracious, serene woman who today is America's delegate to the United Nations.

It is this tenacity to stick to what she thinks is right regardless of personal criticism that makes the former First Lady such a champion of the right to think and speak freely.

"In a democracy we must watch that what one does is not restricted," she warned. Ever since those earlier days when Roger Williams was driven out of Boston for his religious liberalism there has been a tendency to restrict thought.4 "At the end of a war this becomes even greater because fears are greater.

"Although there is some reason for taking certain steps," she remarked, "I believe the way in which the State Department has conducted the so-called 'loyalty tests' is quite wrong.5

"I think first, that everyone is entitled to a hearing, and second that we must be more careful about whom we employ.

"The care should be exercised in the beginning, before they are employed. The present 'tests' would not seem to achieve the end they desire because a communist would have no scruples about lying.

"We must not, however, go to the other extreme and shut our eyes to all safeguards. Yet we must remember that we live in a democracy where our earliest freedom was the right to think and to express those thoughts.

"If people don't like it," said Mrs. Roosevelt gently, "then it is no concern of theirs."

It is this "freedom of thought" that Mrs. Roosevelt urges the women of America to fight for. She blames, in part, the poor reading tastes of the average woman on the libraries.

"Largely they aren't liberal enough. There is not a wide enough choice and sufficient discussion on both sides of the question.

"While I am not a convinced advocate of the comic books as the sole reading of children neither am I a strong advocate of a strictly classical education. Yet I feel that children miss a lot in having so much to keep them busy today.

"They have so much that they actually don't have anything in the end. Cars, radios, movies!

"Why, I spent five months of the year in the country where there was nothing to do except read books.

"You see very few children today browsing in the library. They come in and get what they want and leave. The days of browsing over the bookshelves are rare and I think they have lost a great deal."

Concerned with the inability of the majority of women to become interested in reading world news and to digest it, Mrs. Roosevelt suggests that women discipline themselves in their reading habits, too.

For the, "Oh, I'm too busy to read the paper" gal, Mrs. Roosevelt proposes the plan she uses herself in reading the papers.

"I read the headlines carefully," she explained, "and then I select what I think I should read first, and then what appeals to me.

"As for the reading of good books, this can be attained best through the medium of discussion groups. Talking about the book means we must read it carefully, for how can we discuss it unless it has been read—not breezily, but carefully?"

The ideal discussion group, to Mrs. Roosevelt's mind, is the one composed of both men and women, but she readily admits that it is usually necessary to start with women first.

As for men, her sisters everywhere will champion her statement that America's home life (where peace and harmony begin) would be better for the participation of men in home tasks.

This does not apply to men with working wives only. If a man gave some of his time at home to helping his wife with the chores, to being with the children it would release her to do some work in the community—enable her to have some contact outside the home, Mrs. Roosevelt declared.

To those who are concerned with the fight against communism, Mrs. Roosevelt has this to say.

"The real way to fight communism is to make democracy work. It's the most successful way of fighting it!

"Communism is an economy of misery. When the people are unable to manage their own affairs, they turn to someone else. It is, however, a very different thing from fascism.

"The Russians have a love of country that is very deep. They have adopted certain methods of doing things because they have come of a depression. We must remember that a country once only 10 per cent literate is now almost 90 per cent literate.

"What they are doing, repressive as it is, indicates that the present methods can't go on because they have an educated people, and it just won't work!

"As for our battle against it, as I said before, the very best weapon we have, is making democracy—here!"


1. ER lived at 29 Washington Square West in Greenwich Village.

2. The National Recovery Administration (NRA), a major component of the early New Deal, attempted to stabilize the economy by regulating prices, wages, and production. In his third term (1941–44), FDR led the nation into and through most of World War II (FDRE).

3. Although Roberts associates the moniker with him, FDR actually called Al Smith "the Happy Warrior of the political battlefield" when nominating Smith for president at the 1924 Democratic National Convention (FDRE).

4. The Puritans banished Roger Williams (1603?–1683) from Massachusetts Bay Colony for his unorthodox religious beliefs and defense of liberty of conscience. He founded the colony of Rhode Island (RCAH).

5. For the loyalty tests and the way the State Department handled the firing of employees identified as security risks, see n6 Document 271, n 1 Document 277, and n3 Document 253.

Youthful Inquiry Into UN Decision-Making

Middle and high school students often wrote ER, requesting interviews or advice. As the following exchange between a New Jersey high school student and ER illustrates, ER took their requests seriously, often dictating her response to her secretary rather than sending standard, formulaic replies.