Eleanor Roosevelt – My Day (1942)



By Eleanor Roosevelt

January 1, 1942

Washington, Wednesday –
New Year’s Eve, and at midnight we shall be drinking a toast to the United States of America, with more troubled hearts than any of us have known in the past. Yet, we shall drink it with a greater determination that this coming year will see the dawn of victory. We shall affirm again our beliefs, and determine to build a stronger United States to serve the rest of the world, as an example of what democracy can really mean to the people of a nation.

We shall wish, of course, to alleviate in every way we possibly can the hardships that are bound to come to any nation that has to put aside the civilian needs of the population and has concentrated primarily on its war needs. There will be plenty of work in some localities, less work in others. There will be a need for retraining workers to meet new types of occupation. There will be a need for moving people from places where they have lived for a long while, to other parts of the country.

All this means a great dislocation in the lives of human beings. One of the wishes which must be in all our hearts, is that each and every one of us may be able to vision the ultimate objective of liberty, which will make these sacrifices seem worthwhile.

When I was a little girl, my grandmother used to tell me that no New Year’s Eve was complete without a set of New Year’s resolutions. In those days, I used to decide not to eat too many sweets, and to be obedient to my elders and betters.

I wonder today whether there is some special resolution which all in this country should make. We could resolve to look for the contributions which all the other countries of the world can make in developing plans for more permanent peace, greater justice and economic opportunity for the future.

The English-speaking peoples will, probably, when peace first comes to this earth, have to bear a heavy burden. They must lighten that burden as quickly as possible, through the participation of all the free countries in this hemisphere. Liberated people in other parts of the world must join with us as soon as they can, if we are to have a program which expresses the aspirations and hopes now hidden in the hearts of people throughout the world.

January 2, 1942

Washington, Thursday –
It was a very small party which gathered here last night. Unlike other years, we had no children with us and, knowing we could not reach them all by telephone, we contented ourselves with sending telegrams. Some of them went out into space, with very little idea of when or where they would be received.

For the past several years, Bishop Atwood and the Reverend Endicott Peabody have dined with us on New Year’s Eve whenever they were in Washington, and we had a few other friends. The President’s annual toast to the United States meant more to everyone of us than ever before.

This morning, Prime Minister Churchill and our English visitors returned to us. Hard work will begin again on the military and production problems, for we are still in the first period of this war and must make the maximum contribution possible in our preparations.

A few nights ago, we saw here the two-reel defense film called Main Street on the March, which I think should be widely circulated. The other night, when I gave my Christmas party for the staff of the Office of Civilian Defense, we had a film called Joe Smith, American, which everyone seemed to enjoy very much, and which is also timely to show.

At this same party, two South American artists gave us a delightful performance. One, Miss Maria Inés Gómez Carillo, a very young Argentine pianist, played beautifully and then danced for us. She is here on a fellowship from her government to give concerts in this country. Since she is so young, I wish she could perform at many of our colleges.

Madame Olga Praguer Coelho, of Brazil, gave us a program of songs, sung to her guitar, which she plays remarkably. Many of you have heard her over the radio, but watching her adds enormously to the pleasure of her performance.

Finally, one of our own composers, Mr. Earl Robinson, sang some modern folk songs and some of his own compositions, which was a fitting climax. I only hope that all my guests had as good a time as I did.

Today was proclaimed a day of prayer, so the President and I, with all our guests, went to Christ Church in Alexandria, Va., where Washington’s pew is still pointed out. Then we went on to Mt. Vernon, where the Prime Minister laid a wreath on George Washington’s tomb.

January 3, 1942

Washington, Friday –
I spent yesterday afternoon peacefully reading by my own fire, for I decided that was about as good a way to see the New Year in as possible, since the weather outside was not tempting.

One or two people came in at 5:00. Afterwards the rain became a gentle drizzle and I went for a walk around the Washington Monument. The longer I live here, the more the Washington Monument grows on me. It changes in color with the atmosphere and it is beautiful at all times. Yesterday evening, the tracery of the bare trees near it stood out against its white background. It had a misty soft outline, which was entirely different than the clear-cut look it had against a blue sky.

Last night, the Prime Minister’s nephew, who is in our Navy, came to dinner with his wife, and Mr. Lowell Mellett joined us also.

The news of the fall of Manila is in the afternoon papers. I imagine it will not be much of a surprise to anyone, for it has been obvious for several days that it could not be defended.

We are beginning to realize, I think, as the days go on, that this war is on a vaster scale than anything which we have ever dreamed of before. The decisions which have to be made, day by day, have to take into account all kinds of questions which we have not thought of as concerning us, until a few weeks ago.

Where are the most important places to ship war materials? How are we doing it? Where is it most important to make an attack to keep a sea lane open? These are the questions with which people thinking out the military strategy and the strategy of production and distribution of materials are constantly faced.

In a small way, the relief agencies are facing this same question. Someone came to me the other day to tell me that interesting work for Chinese and British relief had dropped since we entered the war. Of course, this is all wrong, because all Allied fronts are equally important.

I think it would be helpful if we could get some kind of overall organization. We could all go on working as we have been doing and still feel that the results of our labors would be allocated to places most needed, just as our military supplies will be. Perhaps someone will work out this rather complicated situation.

January 5, 1942

Washington, Sunday –
I had a rather long meeting here Friday evening, but the President and the Prime Minister worked even later. When the President finally decided to go to bed, the Prime Minister still decided to go into the map room and to work a little longer.

There is no question about it, when you are deeply interested, it is possible to go on working till all hours of the night. But, for the people who have to wait up till you are through, it is a deadly performance. I was amused to look at the various people sitting out in the hall, they all looked so obviously ready for a good long sleep!

Yesterday, I spent the morning at the Office of Civilian Defense and saw a great many people. I took some of them home to lunch or I’d still be there. In the afternoon, I went up to see Secretary and Mrs. Morgenthau’s new house, which I have not had time to visit since they moved in some months ago.

Another little grandson arrived yesterday morning. It is characteristic of the times that Ruth’s mother, Mrs. Googins, in wiring me of the happy event, says she is wiring Elliott at the field where he was stationed, but did I know whether he was still there? We now have twelve grandchildren and eight of them are boys, which adheres to the old tradition, that in war time, the male sex predominates.

I received yesterday a copy of a rather distressing letter which had been sent to the President by a resident of one of the South American countries. In it, he points out how extremely careless we are in talking and writing about our impressions of Spanish-America. He mentions the fact that one of our well-known writers spent about 48 hours in each of the Latin-American countries and then wrote a book, the title of which implied that he really had intimate knowledge of these countries.

He betrays his ignorance by characterizing one of the greatest heroes of South America as an adventurer, which is tantamount to considering one of our historical figures as unimportant and lacking in any claim to fame. The South American then goes on to point out that another writer, in an article on another South American country, only talked with a few people in the main city and never saw any of the rest of the country!

I must say that a letter of this kind always makes me feel ashamed of our calm assumption that we can learn all there is to know about other people without making any real effort to understand them or their culture.

January 6, 1942

Washington, Monday –
Yesterday morning, two children, who were staying in the house, decided they would like to go to see the Unknown Soldier’s Tomb, so we took them there and to Rock Creek Cemetery to see St. Gaudens’ Memorial. To me, that memorial is one of the most beautiful things in Washington, in snow or sunshine.

I said my prayers of thankfulness and of hope, with my eyes fixed on that strangely enigmatic woman’s face. She lived a full life, I am sure, but I am never quite certain whether she just became resigned, or whether life gave her a complete and peaceful contentment.

Back for luncheon, after which some of our guests left, so that I spent a fairly quiet two hours in my sitting room before Mrs. Aymar Johnson came in with some English children who are staying with her. Later, about fifteen political science students from Mt. Holyoke, with their teacher, Miss Victoria Schuck, came to see me.

They asked a number of questions and I arranged for them to go to the Office of Civilian Defense to find out all they could about our work. Miss Jane Seaver, of our youth activities division, came to us from Mt. Holyoke, so I am sure they found a friend and made use of the Washington Bureau of the International Student Service also.

Last evening, in addition to my own broadcast, I presided at the American Forum of the Air, and enjoyed the audience as well as the galaxy of speakers. I thought it very remarkable that each one was able to make such a valuable contribution on the subject of unity in such short speeches.

I reached the Office of Civilian Defense this morning at 9:00 and was in the middle of a staff meeting when the White House telephone rang. I found myself talking to Franklin Jr. back from the seas. He was in hopes of getting leave but was not very sure. Since then he has told me that he can not have leave this time, which will be a blow to Ethel, who is very anxious to show him the baby.

I was so glad to hear his voice for he has been gone two months, a long time not to know the whereabouts of the young people you care about. He was fairly bubbling over because he found that he had been promoted, so he has taken his first step up the ladder.

A very busy day and three of us ate lunch together at my desk. I barely managed to reach home in time to get this column off.

January 7, 1942

Boston, Tuesday –
After writing my column yesterday afternoon, I went over at 6:30 to the opening of the American Women’s Voluntary Services’ Club House. They have been given the use of Mrs. Sumner Welles’ stable, and they are to use it for their activities.

I hope that the attendance at the opening means that they will have a large number of workers, because I feel sure that there is plenty for them to do. There are too few places in this city for the newcomers who are department workers, or for the influx of sightseers from the camps, etc., to meet in a congenial atmosphere.

After dinner, I went up to the Library of Congress to the opening of an exhibition of South American posters. A few of our own are also shown, but I do not think we have yet learned to use our best artists, so our posters do not seem to be quite as vivid and colorful as some of those from the South American countries.

I was struck by the fact that so many of them dealt with questions of social security, housing and youth activities. This exhibition will be open for two weeks and I hope a great many people will see it.

Back from the poster exhibit, I dressed for the train, then had a short talk with one of the assistant directors of Civilian Defense and, finally, Miss Thompson and I made the 11:50 train for Boston. We arrived here this morning and after breakfast at the Hotel Statler, drove out to Hingham with Mrs. Frances MacGregor. It is fun to be out in the country and to enjoy a change of scene even for a day.

I would hardly have come at the present time, if I had not broken this engagement when I went West right after Pearl Harbor. I have been able to do some of the things which I had to give up at that time, but I am afraid I shall never be able to catch up on others.

I listened to the President’s message over the radio today and wished that I could be in two places at once. It is rather an interesting thing, when you are accustomed to watching a person speak, to hear him now and then over the radio, and to have an idea of how it seems to other people who never actually see the person face to face, even when they know his voice quite well and have listened to him many times on the air.

The war news seemed a little better last evening and for some reason we all seemed in a carefree mood at dinner. Perhaps I was just happy myself because I had talked to Franklin Jr. and so imagined that everyone shared my mood.

January 8, 1942

Washington, Wednesday –
I had a chance to see the tremendous development at the naval ammunition base at Hingham, Mass., yesterday. Then, before lunch, our hostesses, Mrs. Gordon MacGregor and Mrs. Janet Raymond, took us to a meeting of the League of Women Voters. Afterwards, Mrs. MacGregor and I went over all the very beautiful pictures for her book. Then Miss Thompson and I caught the 4:20 plane and arrived in New York City in time to dine at home and go to the theatre.

I had planned on seeing In Time To Come, but on getting out of the taxi, I was confronted by two pickets who belonged to the Musicians Union. I do not cross a picket line and so I turned in my tickets. Mr. Meyer Davis and his daughter, who came up while I was standing on the sidewalk, felt as I did about crossing the picket line.

I must add, however, that I am writing a line on this subject to the head of the union. In war time it is considered essential to play “The Star Spangled Banner,” but to employ musicians for this purpose and this purpose only, seems to be rather difficult. They certainly could not make a living wage on a short engagement of this kind. In this particular case, the theatre was being picketed because it was using a record instead of employing musicians.

We crossed the street and obtained tickets for Best Foot Forward, which gave us an entertaining evening before we caught the night train to Washington.

There opened today, in New York City, by the Karamu Artists, an exhibition at the Associated American Artists Galleries, 711 Fifth Avenue. Karamu House in Cleveland, Ohio, has developed Negro artists in the theatre, dance, music, painting, graphic and plastic arts. I am sure this exhibition will be of great interest to those who care about the contribution to American culture of all our people.

Mr. Aubrey Williams came to breakfast with me this morning and I went to the Office of Civilian Defense for a few minutes before attending a committee meeting at the office of Administrator McNutt, which lasted until 12:00. Later I had a talk with Mr. Knudsen and Mr. Sidney Hillman. Then three people came to lunch, all of them on business.

I occasionally wonder if there could at any time be anything but business, even at meals, because that is the only thing which brings people to Washington these days! I am now on my way back to the Office of Civilian Defense for the afternoon.

January 9, 1942

Washington, Thursday –
This question of priorities and tire rationing is bringing the war home to a great many people in a serious way. For instance, in the naval ammunition base at Hingham, Mass., they have a thousand men at work. Because of poor housing facilities, many of them come from many miles away by car. They are already considering the possibility of traveling by train and bus, but it is not always an easy thing to work out.

One man I heard of in Alabama, had a prosperous small business which employed nine people only a short time ago. Today, no income is coming in and all his men are out of jobs. It is not as though they could just walk in to take a defense job. There are many men out of jobs in other industries in Alabama which are changing over to new types of work.

In the interim, the workers must perhaps retrain. Sometimes the communities have made no provision for free retraining programs for these workers. Unemployment compensation varies in different states, but it is really never adequate for all of a family’s needs. Faced with the rising cost of living, it is totally inadequate. At the same time, the Byrd Committee in Congress advocates cutting down on WPA and NYA.

It is undoubtedly true that someday we shall have more men at work, and that there is a place for every skilled worker, who will eventually find that place when our production is at its peak. In the meantime, however, if we do not use the instruments which we have built up, like WPA and NYA, to bridge over temporary conditions which will last anywhere from six weeks to six months, we can not expect very good civilian morale. War or no war, people do not come home happily to a family of hungry children.

All of the economic theories in the world translate themselves eventually to what happens to people in communities. The sooner all of us understand this, the better it will be for production in the long run.

I had a few people at dinner last night to talk over certain problems and then worked late at my desk. This morning, I walked up to the Office of Civilian Defense, and the snow was clean and beautiful and the air really snappy. I spent the morning meeting with various people, went to speak to the ladies auxiliary of St. Thomas’ Church at 11:45, and to see Mr. Norman Davis of the American Red Cross this afternoon. Otherwise my whole day has been spent at the Office of Civilian Defense.

January 10, 1942

Washington, Friday –
Last night a group of us, who used to meet very much more often, got together for dinner and had a very pleasant evening. I thought, however, that I would never get down to them, because I came home from the Office of Civilian Defense a few minutes after 5:00, to find a man with whom I had a 5:00 appointment had waited for me and had gone. But a gentleman who was due at 6:00 was somewhat late and left after my dinner guests had arrived!

I spent two hours at the office this morning and at 11:00 went down to meet with a group of the Agriculture Department Extension people working on the 4-H Club program. They told me what they had developed for their victory work in rural areas and assured me that they would cooperate in the OCD Youth Activities Program in every possible way.

Then we discussed how best the Office of Civilian Defense could help them to carry out a program, which would not only make the community strong now, but leave it stronger at the end of the war to meet postwar problems.

On January 12, the Victory Book Campaign starts. This is:

…a nationwide campaign to collect reading materials for many needs, arising from the national defense and war program.

Miss Althea Warren has been given four months leave of absence from the Los Angeles Public Library to direct this campaign and she has her offices with the USO in the Empire State Building in New York City. Good books of every kind are needed for the USO reading rooms.

Each club house, of which there are now 400, with many more contemplated, will have space from 500 to 2,000 volumes. There are state directors in practically every state and your state librarian can give you the address of the special directors appointed for these collections. If you do not know where to write in your state, write to Miss Althea Warren, 1630 Empire State Building, New York City, and she will tell you where to send your books.

It is a wonderful thing to feel that in this emergency everyone wants to help. I was glad to hear the the New York Association for the Blind is starting a course for volunteers on January 13. The course is designed to train volunteer workers for service with the blind.

It will make it possible for them to help the blind to adjust to war conditions, which make even the ordinary occurrences of life more difficult. If you attend one of these courses and learn what modern procedures and policies are in New York City, you can be helpful in you own hometown when you return there.

January 12, 1942

New York, Sunday –
Yesterday morning, at the Office of Civilian Defense, I met with some 25 people who are working largely in the mountain areas for the Save the Children Fund. They work, as far as possible, with the existing agencies and one of their main activities is to salvage desks from schools that are being remodeled and to provide them for the smaller schools where no desks have been available in the past.

In addition, they provide shoes and clothing for children who would otherwise be out of school. They have managed to have a demonstration project in one of the mountain areas. There, usually in the month of January, the second teacher would nearly always have to resign because not enough children were left in the school to employ two teachers.

By providing suitable shoes and clothing, the children were able to continue coming to school. By helping to provide hot lunches, they have managed to keep that school so well filled with pupils, that three teachers have to be employed during most of the school year.

I think it is rarely understood in many parts of our country that great numbers of children drop out of school because of lack of proper clothing. We take it for granted that, if we provide schools, we have done all that needs to be done. I have always been in favor of federal aid to education by grants to states which do not have the ability to provide equal opportunities for every child to obtain an education.

I have never been able to separate however, in my mind, academic education from the health of the child. This can only be good when a child is properly nourished and has adequate medical care. In one mountain county, I am told that 70% of the boys were rejected in the draft because of malnutrition. Providing adequate schools would not meet this question of building an adequate citizen to meet the needs of the community when he reaches the age of twenty-one.

Our interpretation of education must never be so narrow that we lose sight of the fact that learning to read on an empty stomach, or with eyes that are overstrained because of lack of proper eyeglasses, is not real education. Under such circumstances, one cannot learn much and one forgets the little one learns almost immediately, because one stops reading as soon as there is no obligation to do so.

After this group of social workers left, I spent two hours with Administrator McNutt and the Director of the Bureau of the Budget, Mr. Harold D. Smith, and various other officials. I returned to the White House just in time for lunch.

I came to New York City last night and I am having a rather lazy day visiting some of the older members of my family, whom I have not seen for some time. After my usual Sunday night broadcast, I am going to speak at a meeting this evening.

January 13, 1942

Washington, Monday –
In the current issue of Parents’ Magazine, they give their second annual report on the nation’s children. There is a general recognition of the grave responsibility of providing our children, in this war crisis, with the services necessary to preserve for them in the future, the things for which we today are fighting.

The four freedoms will not mean much to them, if they are told that we have preserved them for them, unless they are able to use those four freedoms. You can not be a citizen in a democracy and feel confidence in your own ability to meet the future, unless in your childhood, the basic needs of every child are met, regardless of war conditions.

The carrying out of this program to achieve this end, lies largely in the hands of the Children’s Bureau, and the different health and welfare projects under Administrator McNutt. But, I think it is the responsibility of the Office of Civilian Defense to see that the needs are recognized. They must have the backing of people in every community so that the defense councils will recognize the importance of meeting them.

Such magazines as Parents’ Magazine can do a great deal to bring before the public the needs of the children and the responsibility of the public towards those needs. I hope that many other magazines and publications will also recognize this responsibility.

I must tell you that the pageant on the contribution of the Negro people to the history of the United States, as given last night in the performance called Salute to the Negro Troops, presented by the stage, screen and radio division of the Fight For Freedom Inc., was most moving and thrilling. Any citizen of the United States must have been proud when Washington, Jefferson, Jackson and Lincoln, each came on the stage and spoke their own message to their people, who loved democracy and liberty.

It carried into one’s heart an emotion, which must translate itself into a greater devotion to accept the challenge of this war, and to make of this nation the example which the founding fathers envisioned, but which we have never completely carried out.