Why I Do Not Choose to Run
"Why I Do Not Choose to Run"
Look 9 July 1946
There has been some curiosity as to why I am not knocking at the door of the members of my political party, who make up the slates for candidates for office, in order to obtain a nomination for some elective office.1
At first I was surprised that anyone should think that I would want to run for office, or that I was fitted to hold office. Then I realized that some people felt that I must have learned something from my husband in all the years that he was in public life! They also knew that I had stressed the fact that women should accept responsibility as citizens.
I heard that I was being offered the nomination for governor or for the United States Senate in my own state, and even for Vice President. And some particularly humorous souls wrote in and suggested that I run as the first woman President of the United States!
The simple truth is that I have had my fill of public life of the more or less stereotyped kind. I do believe that every citizen, as long as he is alive and able to work, has an obligation to work on public questions and that he should choose the kind of work he is best fitted to do.
Therefore, when I was offered an opportunity to serve on the United Nations organization, I accepted it. I did this, not because I really wanted to go to London last January, but because it seemed as though I might be able to use the experiences of a lifetime and make them valuable to my nation and to the people of the world at this particular time. I knew, of course, how much my husband hoped that, out of the war, an organization for peace would really develop.
It was not just to further my husband's hopes, however, that I agreed to serve in this particular way. It was rather that I myself had always believed that women might have a better chance to bring about the understanding necessary to prevent future wars if they could serve in sufficient number in these international bodies. The plain truth, I am afraid, is that in declining to consider running for the various public offices which have been suggested to me, I am influenced by the thought that no woman has, as yet, been able to build up and hold sufficient backing to carry through a program. Men and women both are not yet enough accustomed to following a woman and looking to her for leadership. If I were young enough it might be an interesting challenge, and we have some women in Congress who may carry on this fight.
However, I am already an elderly woman, and I would have to start in whatever office I might run for as a junior with no weight of experience in holding office behind me. It seems to me that fairly young men and women should start holding minor offices and work up to the important ones, developing qualifications for holding these offices as they work.
I have been an onlooker in the field of politics. In some ways I hope I have occasionally been a help, but always by doing things which I was particularly fitted by my own background and expe-rience to do. My husband was skilled in using people and, even though I was his wife, I think he used me in his career as he used other people. I am quite sure that Louis Howe, who was one of the most astute politicians as well as one of the most devoted of friends, trained me and used me for the things which he thought I could do well, but always in connection with my husband's career.2
In the last years of his life, Louis Howe used to ask me if I had any ambitions to hold political office myself. I think he finally became convinced that though I understood the worst and the best of politics and statesmanship, I had absolutely no desire to participate in it.
For many years of my life I realized that what my husband was attempting to do was far more important than anything which I could possibly accomplish; and therefore I never said anything, or wrote anything, without first balancing it against the objectives which I thought he was working for at the time. We did not always agree as to methods, but our ultimate objectives were fortunately very much the same.
Never in all the years can I remember his asking me not to say or to write anything, even though we occasionally argued very vehemently and sometimes held diametrically opposite points of view on things of the moment.
I think my husband probably often used me as a sounding board, knowing that my reactions would be the reactions of the average man and woman in the street.
My husband taught me that one cannot follow blindly any line which one lays down in advance, because circumstances will modify one's thinking and one's action. And in the last year since his death I have felt sure that our objectives would remain very much the same. But I have known that I was free and under compulsion to say and to do the things which I, as an individual, believed on the questions of the day. In a way it has lifted a considerable weight from my shoulders, feeling that now, when I speak, no one will attribute my thoughts to someone holding an important office and whose work may be hurt and not helped thereby. If people do not like what I say nowadays, they can blame me, but it will hurt no one else's plans or policies.
There is a freedom in being responsible only to yourself which I would now find it hard to surrender in taking a party office. I believe that the Democratic Party, at least the progressive part of the Democratic Party, represents the only safe way we have of moving forward in this country. I believe that the liberal-minded Democrats hold to the only international policy which can bring us a peaceful world. I will work for the candidates of my party when I think they offer the best there is in the field of public service, and I will even accept mediocre men now and then if I feel that the rank and file of the Party is strong enough in its beliefs to make those inadequate leaders do better than their own ability gives promise of in the way of achievement.
However, if I do not run for office, I am not beholden to my Party. What I give, I give freely and I am too old to want to be curtailed in any way in the expression of my own thinking.
To be entirely honest I will have to confess that I thought at first one of my reasons might be that I did not want to engage in the rough and tumble of a political campaign. This, of course, would be rank self-indulgence and I should be the last one to allow myself to decline to run for public office because of any such reason, since I have urged on other women the need for developing a less sensitive spirit and for learning to give and take as men do.
I do not think that this consideration really enters into my decision. I have lived long in a goldfish bowl, and my husband's death does not seem in any way to have altered the attacks which come upon one from certain quarters. So I do not think that running for office would have brought me any more of the disagreeable things which we must learn to endure. In the long run, the mass of the people are likely to form a fairly truthful estimate of people who are before them in public life.
Had I wanted to run for office, therefore, I imagine in many ways I could have stood up under all types of attack and suffered less than most people. But I would rather help others, younger peo-ple, whose careers lie ahead of them and who have years in which to achieve their objectives. What I do may still be important, but it won't last long enough.
In the meantime, I shall be glad to serve wherever my past experiences seem to fit me to do a specific job.
Many people will think that these are all very inadequate answers and that when you are told that you might be useful, you should accept the judgement of others and go to work. All I can say in reply is that during a long life I have always done what, for one reason or another, was the thing which was incumbent upon me to do without any consideration as to whether I wished to do it or not. That no longer seems to be a necessity, and for my few remaining years I hope to be free!
PMag Look, 9 July 1949, DLC
1. For examples of those who still lobbied ER to run for office see "For Mrs. Roosevelt as Senator," NYT, 17 March 1946, 2; "Mrs. Roosevelt Requests Labor Party Not to Consider Her for Place in Senate," NYT, 11 April 1946, 31; and "PAC Will Back 99 For House in Fall," NYT, 14 April 1946, 33. For ER's earlier refusals see Document 2, Documents 10 and 11, and Document 74.
2. Louis McHenry Howe (1871–1936), ER's political tutor and friend, was FDR's closest advisor from 1912, when FDR ran for reelection to the New York State Senate, until Howe's death. When ER entered political life in the 1920s, Howe coached her in public speaking and political strategy and encouraged her to write and become a leader. After FDR became president and other advisors achieved greater prominence in FDR's inner circle, ER and Howe became much closer, often working together as a team and acting as FDR's toughest critics. By 1935, Howe told ER that, after FDR's administration ended, she should run for public office or seek an appointed position and even urged her to consider running for president (Cook, vol. 2, 15, 351; FDRE).
On the Equal Rights Amendment
Florence Ledyard Cross Kitchelt (1874–1961), social worker, settlement house worker, and peace activist, directed the Connecticut Branch of the League of Nations Association and chaired the Connecticut Committee for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) from 1943 until 1956. On July 9 Kitchelt wrote to ER seeking her support for the ERA, arguing that "after removing the layers of personal opinions about the Equal Rights Amendment, at heart it is nothing more or less than a principle to be written into the Constitution as the accepted guide for governmental action, to wit, that women are to be treated as the peers of men, of equal humanity." Her argument did not sway ER.1