Eleanor Roosevelt – My Day (1944)



By Eleanor Roosevelt

January 1, 1944

Washington – (New Year’s Eve, 1943)
It has been a sad year and yet a year of achievement. May 1944 bring to fruition the plans made for victory in 1943 and may the wishes in the hearts of the servicemen, their mothers, wives and sweethearts, that their dear ones can be at home before the next New Year’s Eve rolls round, come true. That will, I think, will be the wish toasted in the heart of each one of us as we hear the clock strike twelve this year.

It will be impossible this New Year’s Eve not to take stock of our own individual efforts. With so much to be done, how much has each one of us accomplished? None can be satisfied unless they are giving their best. They alone know whether they have actually done so.

A family in Wichita, Kansas, sent me a delightful booklet for Christmas, in which they have gathered together letters from the young soldiers whom they befriended and who have gone to far-off places.

I want to quote their own boy’s letter written from overseas:

Dear Family: It is nice to hear from you after such a long period of time, but it is unpleasant to learn of your changed conditions of living, which I can readily understand from the change in my own condition.

It is too bad you are limited in the use of your automobile. I know how it is to walk through miles and miles of swamp and jungle – so I understand. It is too bad to have your choice of food limited. I have experienced this too, except there is no choice here – so I understand.

It is too bad that Willie has to work so many hours a day at our defense plant. I have to work nights as well as days at our defense plant – so I understand.

It is too bad that Willie has so little time for amusement. I am deprived of amusement too – so I understand.

It is too bad that you have to wait in the rain for transportation. I have to wait in the rain on post and my army transportation and my destinations are uncertain, too – so I understand.

So, it is too bad that you are being paid so little for working so hard. I get only a fraction of your pay – so I understand.

Winning this war is hard on all of us. You work long hours and so do I – so I understand. But, darling, those long hours, I get shot at – do you understand?

I would like to pass on their Christmas wish with one little change to all of you as a New Year’s wish – may we have this year “hearts kinder, life sweeter, hopes brighter, spirit lighter, skies bluer and may this New Year’s greeting do much to cheer you during this year.”

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January 3, 1944

Washington – (Sunday)
The other day Mr. Vaclav Palecek came to see me with a letter of introduction from Sir Stafford Cripps. Sir Stafford and Lady Cripps have a great interest in a world youth organization, the “World Youth Council.” Young people from all over the world are constantly passing through London. They may be soldiers or sailors, or civilians, but they all come from many lands.

Lady Cripps has felt, as I have, that it is better to try to understand them and help them to understand the world in which they live. The organization has lately been given a home. This house is the gift of a friend whose son was killed in the war and it will be a living memorial to him.

Here there will be an opportunity for young people to meet and to talk with other young people, and to invite older people. It may become a center from which many things may be accomplished by the youth of many nations of the future.

There is, of course, in New York City the International Student Assembly Committee, which functions in connection with this organization in London. But it can only boast of office space, and I doubt if any office will provide the kind of environment which this club will give these young people in Great Britain.

I sent a few things the other day to Greek War Relief. They were baby sets which had been sent to me by a very kind lady with the request that they be given to some needy children. They will serve a good purpose in clothing and warming babies, who might otherwise shiver through these winter months. There have been no clothing replacements in Greece since the Nazi occupation.

One can buy in the black market, but the prices are fantastic. One hundred dollars for a pair of shoes, $80 for a sweater, $2,666 for a man’s suit, I am told. The Greek War Relief Association has set itself a goal. It wants to collect twenty million garments. So far it reports with gratitude that almost everything received has been in excellent condition and “wearable, whole, clean and warm.” It has a long way to go before reaching its goal, however, since only two million garments are at present in its warehouse.

Are you ever snowed under by appeals and wonder where to acquire the information you need about the organization writing you? In New York City there is a Contributors’ Information Bureau. Of course, in many other cities the information can be obtained through the community chests or the welfare council. The Contributors’ Information Bureau at 44 E 23rd St., is part of the Welfare Council of New York City. It has a reporting service on New York City’s charitable agencies and also runs the National Information Bureau on national and war relief agencies. I have found its help very valuable.

January 4, 1944

Washington – (Monday)
On Friday afternoon of last week, in New York City, I went over to the Stage Door Canteen at the Shubert-Belasco Theater to see an art exhibit. It consisted of portraits of soldiers, sailors, marines and Coast Guardsmen done by outstanding American artists at the canteen. These portraits are now on exhibition but later will go to the mothers of the boys. The artists do this as their contribution to the war effort.

The admission to this exhibition was to be paid in kind. We were to bring with us a dollar’s worth of candy, pickles, olives, potatoes, canned soup, milk or homemade cookies. If we did not have any of these articles on hand, we could enter by paying a dollar which I am ashamed to say is what I did.

Yesterday afternoon I had a series of rather interesting visitors. It began with the sister of a young Red Cross man, Don Montgomery, who has an enviable record for his work with the soldiers on New Guinea. Later, the four American labor people who had made the trip to Britain came to tea. They visited the industries which are a counterpart of the industry in which they work here and then actually saw the performance at the front of the materials which they made.

They were accompanied by four British labor people, who have now come over here to visit our plants and to study our system. Talking to them was of very great interest to me. I shall be interested when the British men finish their tour to hear what their impressions are. They said that already they had learned some new things by visiting our factories.

These men also felt that they had been able to contribute something to us, both from the labor and management point of view. They have had labor management committees for 20 years or more over there, so, of course, on that score they are way ahead of us. But where we have these committees, they think we are doing an extraordinarily good job.

They cherish an American flag given by the workers of America to the workers of Great Britain in appreciation of the labor effort made during the war over there. They showed me the flag with the greatest of pride. I asked them what they felt about their women workers. They replied that they felt the women had done an extraordinary job and earned for themselves the consideration and recognition for the future.

A young sailor and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Jack Egar, came to tea with me. It certainly is wonderful what seeing the White House means to those who never had the opportunity before. They were breathless with excitement over the historical significance of each room.

One of the many things I regret about the war is that it closes the White House to so many people who gain much inspiration from seeing it. I shall welcome the day when it can be opened again to all citizens of the United States who come to see their capital city.

January 5, 1944

Washington – (Tuesday)
I have a number of letters asking me why I am so interested in Negro housing in Washington when white people find it so difficult to get decent housing, not only in Washington, but in many other places in the United States. The answer is that there are more people to speak for white tenants than there are for colored tenants.

Aside from that, if we allow restriction of areas in any city which has an increasingly large colored population, we shall have, as in Washington, DC, colored areas where health is bad. Overcrowding will affect the moral conditions for young people as well as old and make the city less safe for all its inhabitants. More police will be needed and the institutions such as prisons, hospitals, etc., will be overcrowded. A heavier tax burden will pile up on the citizens of the community.

Here are some real facts about colored housing in the District of Columbia. These facts could be duplicated in other places. There is a shortage of habitable homes for Negroes all over this country. Private builders in Washington are being urged to construct 2,767 homes for them.

The response of the builders is excellent because they recognize that there is a postwar market for medium and low cost houses, both those built for buying and renting. Builders, however, are meeting with some unfortunate obstacles. In areas which have been long established as Negro, like the Garfield section in southeast Washington, these has been an infiltration of a few white families. Now, citizens’ associations and property owners want to take over parts of these established Negro communities for white tenancy alone.

In Bradbury Heights there is opposition to the erection of apartments on an undeveloped site which is in the center of a Negro residential district. Most recent obstacles to the building of 744 units in these two areas are petitions presented to the zoning commissioner asking for re-zoning of special sections of these areas.

This re-zoning will affect the building of 744 garden type apartments by requiring that in one case single family homes be built, and in the other case row houses in groups of three or less be put up. This would raise the cost of each unit and would put them beyond the means of colored war workers.

Devious ways can be used to achieve the object in view, namely, pushing the colored residents more and more into a segregated little city of their own. This area will be as far out as possible, where transportation and utilties will be less available.

This proposal to herd our citizens according to race and religion has many serious disadvantages and should be fought, I believe, by all people interested in the future peace and unity of our nation.

January 6, 1944

New York – (Wednesday)
January 6, 1944, marks the 25th anniversary of ex-President Theodore Roosevelt’s death. There is a poem written by his sister, the late Mrs. Douglas Robinson, called “Valiant for Truth” which I think many people would find profitable to read again on this day.

But I want to recall the great contribution which I feel that he made to the young people while living. I think it has a special bearing on the problems which we face in the present day. Theodore Roosevelt never failed to convey to young people that he believed they should take an active part in the public affairs of their community and of their nation. He thought every man and woman faced first their family responsibilities, but he was quick to point out that these could not be faced fully without recognizing the tie that the family had to the community and the obligation that each member of the family could discharge only by being a good citizen of that community.

Many of us are apt to think of government activities as something quite apart from our daily lives. Theodore Roosevelt made you feel that every act in your daily life was a part of your citizenship. I am sure that today he would preach to young people their obligation actively to participate in the government of their community, of the nation and of the world, and the necessity for bringing their influence to bear as individuals and as members of any groups.

He believed that every man had an obligation, if he were physically able, to carry arms in times of war but he believed no less in the obligation of every man and woman to discharge obligations as citizens at all times. If they could take public office, he thought they had an obligation to do it. If they could not take public office, he thought they had an obligation to do all that they could in the interests of the public good. He had very little patience with those who kept aloof from public life because they disliked criticism or might have to deal with disagreeable situations. He had very little patience with those who wished to advance their own personal fortunes, regardless of the fortunes of the American citizens as a whole.

Many of us have forgotten that his interest in the American people generally, brought him the accusation of being a traitor to his class – an accusation which other people have suffered under during the course of our history.

Theodore Roosevelt’s life should be remembered by young people, for it will encourage them to enter into the arena where public questions are threshed out, in spite of the fact that they will have to take some pretty disagreeable mud slinging and verbal castigation at times.

As I look back I think perhaps the inspiration which Theodore Roosevelt gave to young people was one of his enduring contributions, not only to the youth of his generation, but to the youth of all generations.

January 7, 1944

New York – (Thursday)
To go back to my diary, on Monday evening I spoke at the Institute of Arts and Sciences at Columbia University, and I feel that I owe a vote of thanks to the people who braved the bad weather to come out to that opening meeting.

Tuesday at noon I spoke for the Cosmopolitan Club, and that afternoon I went out to Westport, Connecticut, to speak in a movie house and to show my films. I returned on Wednesday after going to the school in the morning, to talk to the children. Today I am speaking at noon and showing my film of my Southwest Pacific trip at a meeting of the Rotary Club.

A letter came to me the other day which unfortunately bears no address. As I should like to answer it, I will have to print it here. It reads:

Our favorite nephew enlisted in the Navy shortly after Pearl Harbor, falling victim to the war hysteria and feeling it was his patriotic duty to come to the defense of his country.

His mother has been notified by the U.S. Navy that he has been killed in action. My sister is now bereft of all she has to care for in this world and she is inconsolable. There is really nothing we can say to her that will assuage her grief. It seems so unjust that the wicked people who brought on this war should suffer no such loss as she has suffered and should go unpunished by God.

It is too bad that you and your husband have not been punished by some deadly disease. Maybe though, you and your husband will have to look into the faces of the dead corpses of your four sons. God always punishes the wicked in some way.

I should like to say to the woman who wrote this letter that I quite understand her bitterness. Neither my husband nor I brought on this war. It was brought on by many things beyond the control of any individual. We hope with all our hearts that the citizens of the world will learn from past mistakes and that together we may build a better foundation for peace in the future. The loss of a child is a terrible blow and one cannot blame a mother for being inconsolable. One can only hope that in time pride in her son will bring her some consolation.

Peace will not be built, however, by people with bitterness in their hearts. The boys who died in this war have given all they had to give to their country. The only way that any families can be reconciled to the sacrifices made is for them to feel they are making the greatest contribution to the country of which they are capable, and that, by so doing, they are accomplishing the things for which their boys died, namely, peace on earth, goodwill toward men. This may help the world to keep other boys from having to sacrifice their lives in the future.

January 8, 1944

Washington – (Friday)
The other night in New York City, I went to a play by Rose Franken called Doctors Disagree which I believe she wrote some time ago. I think she must have been influenced a bit by Moliere, who put a little more business on the stage than is needed for the full flow of main ideas. I found Doctors Disagree an interesting play and we had a very enjoyable evening. Whatever else may be said about Rose Franken’s work, she deals in ideas and she leaves you with something to think about.

Yesterday, in the early evening, I attended the graduation exercises of a group of women belonging to the Women’s Brigade of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. They have been taking Red Cross courses in home nursing, nurses’ aid work and first aid, as well as doing a good deal of production work.

All of this is done as part of their civilian defense activity and that means many of these girls who work all day give much of their time to volunteer work evenings and on their days off. They sang a delightful and amusing song for me. One of their managers sang a song of his own composition, which might easily become one of our popular war time songs. It is called “On the Road to Tokyo,” but he likes to call it “Let’s Go,” because that is the way the chorus begins.

In following up yesterday’s column, I want to give you a creed which has been sent to me by the Women of Good Will in Chicago. It seems a good one to subscribe to and to live by, if we hope to build a future world of goodwill.

I hereby dedicate myself to willing good in every human relationship.

In my home, I will seek to create an atmosphere of understanding and goodwill toward other members of my own family and toward all members of the family of God.

In my community I will use my influence for justice and fair play against all unfair discrimination arising from differences of race, creed, class or nationality.

In my country, I will stand for just legislation and equal opportunity for every human being, which is the basis of true democracy.

In all my relationships, I will grant to others the rights and privileges that I demand for myself.

This determined willing of good, I, as a woman of goodwill, consider my most important contribution to winning the war and the peace.

January 10, 1944

Washington – (Sunday)
I reached Washington again on Friday morning, entertained a distinguished group of educators at lunch, caught up partially on my mail, and entertained part of the White House office staff at tea. I kept several appointments during the afternoon. One was with Dr. Isaiah Bowman, and I found it particularly interesting and pleasant. It is a joy to talk to someone who really clarifies your thinking because he, himself, is so clear. Whether you agree with him or not, you know why his thinking led him to certain conclusions.

Mrs. Grenville Emmet and Mrs. June Hamilton Rhodes arrived in the afternoon, also my niece, Miss Amy Roosevelt, with a friend from Swarthmore, and Lieutenant and Mrs. James Lanigan. Lieutenant Lanigan is just back from months spent aboard ship in the South Atlantic. This is the first chance I have had to meet his wife since they were married a short time before he left. He has a few days’ leave and then will go to school in Miami for a while.

When one realizes how many young people are going through this experience, one wonders at the flexibility and the power of adjustment shown by youth today. I was brought up on the theory that the first few months of married life were always difficult, and much depended on how two people learned to live and work together in those first weeks. But now there is no time for a quiet adjustment, and I think it is remarkable to see how many young people are carrying on with courage and cheerfulness under such trying circumstances.

From Great Britain, I have just received the first volume of the second series of war pictures painted by British artists.

This one is done of women with an introduction by Laura Knight. The actual paintings must be most interesting, as they show the women at work in the war effort. It certainly is a remarkable and varied record.

My husband and I were deeply distressed yesterday to hear of Mrs. Herbert Hoover’s death. I have had the opportunity to meet Mrs. Hoover a number of times in connection with the work of the Girl Scouts, and one cannot live in this house without gaining some knowledge of one’s predecessors. Mrs. Hoover must have been a wonderful woman, and I am sure that her loss will be felt not only by her own family, but by a wide circle of friends and coworkers.

January 11, 1944

New York – (Monday)
On Saturday I spoke at a luncheon of the Wellesley Club and found myself sitting beside Capt. Mildred McAfee, which is always a joy. In the afternoon I received the new Ambassador of the Dominican Republic and his wife and daughter, and the new Minister of Ethiopia. Later there were a number of guests at tea.

Just the people in the house made it quite a gay party of young people, so we had only one or two boys in the service who happened to be in Washington as our guests from outside.

Sunday was a rather quiet day. There were only one or two people at lunch. I took the midnight train to New York City.

Today I am attending the birthday lunch for Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt. I have often wanted to go before, but this is the first time in some years that I will succeed in being present. Mrs. Catt has always been one of the people whom I have greatly admired. I feel great pride in her many achievements. She still keeps her interest in what goes on in the world and her power to be of value to young people. As I grow older, I realize how remarkable it is to remain flexible and to be able to make a contribution in the discussion of new problems.

I am very happy to find that the Women’s City Club in New York City, which now has its headquarters in the New Weston Hotel, is making the club facilities available to the wives of servicemen who are temporarily in New York. The club is keeping someone on hand to receive these young women. They come from all over the country to say goodbye to their husbands, or to await the arrival of their husbands from overseas, or to visit them in nearby hospitals. Sometimes they are without friends and so they enjoy finding someone at the club who will give them the information they need and tell them what services are available in New York City. Then too, they can rest and have tea in surroundings which are so much pleasanter than those in an overcrowded hotel.

I am happy to think that in this crisis, the Women’s City Club is doing this. I have always felt that the civic work of the club was very important, both because of its educational value for the members of the club, who do the work, and because of the influence the members can bring to bear on the city government. For that reason, I have kept my membership during all these years that I have been away. I hope that if I am ever able to spend some of my time regularly in New York City, I may again join in some of their activities.

January 12, 1944

Washington – (Tuesday)
Last night I attended the Netherland-America Foundation dinner in honor of Princess Juliana of the Netherlands. It is always a great pleasure for me to be with this young princess who is so deeply interested in the good of her country. She has already begun making studies of the best ways to handle certain conditions after the war, and is showing foresight in her preparation for her return to Holland.

Someone has just sent me a clipping from a newspaper in which the question is asked: “Why are the Indian people allowed to starve?” They have asked that I answer this question in my column.

It seems to me that everybody must realize what has happened in India. A great deal of food used in the section where starvation has occurred came in the old days from Burma, and that source of supply is cut off. At best there was never too much food. Now they cannot raise enough food for their own needs, and shipping is not available to import it.

I gather that Great Britain is doing much at present to remedy the situation as far as it can be remedied, but I doubt whether the Indian people were ever well-fed according to our standards. This is probably due to the fact that most people have not been much interested in what happened to the people of India. Perhaps when the war is over, we will realize how much closer together we all are and will take greater interest in the economic condition of people throughout the world.

I have had a type of military honor roll which is being used in New Haven, Conn. by some of the churches drawn to my attention. It is suggested that the churches print and mail to their parishioners in the service, a list of all their fellow members with their service addresses. If a man in the service finds himself in a place where his list tells him some of his fellow parishioners are stationed, he can look them up and they can reminisce about their home surroundings. This is a good idea which might be copied in various parts of our country.

The other day I received a cable from Great Britain which I think the women of this country will be pleased to read. It reads:

Once again British and Allied women celebrating International Women’s Day to affirm resolve together that all free women achieve speedily final defeat Hitler. Determination participation reconstruction, send greetings.

It was signed by Lady Rachel MacRobert, International Women’s Day Committee, Abbey House, Victoria, London.

We are glad to know that women of many nationalities are meeting together to celebrate an international day to help speed victory and to help in reconstructing a world in which peace may be achieved.

January 13, 1944

Washington – (Wednesday)
Yesterday morning I spent very largely in doing the things which keep us in good marching order. I went to the dentist, and on the fly, I bought some birthday and Christmas presents for the coming year at one of these winter sales which one sees so widely advertised in January.

I reached Washington in time to greet with great pleasure, Adm. Halsey and Mrs. Halsey, one of the admiral’s aides, Lt. William Kitchell, and two charming young ladies. I will never forget Adm. Halsey’s hospitality to me, nor how grateful I was for his kindness and thoughtfulness at his headquarters in the South Pacific. I only wish there were some way of showing him in return, how much I enjoyed seeing him again. I hope that when the war comes to an end, we may have leisure and enthusiasm left to take some quiet pleasure in seeing again those who have evoked our admiration and respect but whom we do not see long enough at present fully to express our feelings.

Lt. Kitchell is married to a cousin of my daughter-in-law’s. Since he had to give up his room to me on two occasions in New Caledonia, I have a special sense of gratitude to him. There is another young aide who is here with his wife, LtCdr. Douglas Moulton, who did not come yesterday, but whom I hope to see today. He travelled with me for quite a while. Travelling companions either become very obnoxious or very agreeable. In my case I have been fortunate, for I have always found them agreeable. So I look forward to seeing LtCdr. and Mrs. Moulton.

In the evening I went out to speak to the WAVES at their headquarters in American University and we listened together to the President’s speech. They have a glee club of WAVES who sing delightfully and I wish we could have listened to them for a long time.

This morning I reread the President’s message. The more I go over it, the more I realize that this is a restatement in more concrete terms, as far as the second bill of rights goes, of the objectives for our nation which we have been striving for since 1933. In the recommendations for measures to be framed by the Congress and passed, we find nothing new, only the same objectives which have been stated by the President in one way and another ever since this war began. As a nation, however, we have never really accepted the fact that this is a war of all the people and that the burden shall be equally carried by us all. Tomorrow I would like to write you a little more on this point.

January 14, 1944

Washington – (Thursday)
I met twice yesterday with a group of women, many of them heading national organizations, who are considering ways and means of making women more aware of their responsibilities as citizens. The group was called together by the committee on the national achievement award. It seems trite to say that with the privilege of voting there also goes an added responsibility. Women are often attacked because no radical changes have occurred since they obtained their rights as full citizens of this democracy, and now is the time to show that they recognize their responsibilities.

I have always contended that women have had a very great general influence on the trend of government in the past 25 years, but I cannot say that I think they have used their abilities and opportunities to the utmost. The time has now arrived when everyone who potentially can be a factor in shaping the future has the responsibility to take up his share of the burden.

There are two prerequisites for women as citizens. One is the knowledge of the problems. The second is an understanding of the way to bring about results. If women in their organizations begin to discuss these two points, some kind of action will surely follow.

I was interested to find that a number of the women with whom I talked yesterday were greatly in favor of a national service act, largely because they felt that the womanpower of the nation was not yet being fully used. I also found a recognition of the fact that a national service act was linked to the control of prices and the prevention of a rise in the cost of living.

The newspapers have told us very fully of the need for participation on the part of labor in the general sacrifice. There should be no strikes in time of war. Labor leaders themselves have agreed to this. But there must continue to be an adjustment of situations which are inequitable. We have heard less in our papers, however, about the good deeds of labor than about its shortcomings. It is well to stress that this program is for an equal sharing of the burdens of the war. If wages are stabilized, prices must be stabilized too, and profits for all people, whether they are farmers, industrialists or workers in industry.

When the war is won, war measures should come to an end, or be rediscussed from the point of view of their value to us in the immediate post-war period. The people of this country are anxious to do their full share on every level. They want to work to the limit of their abilities, because practically all of them have an interest in someone whose life is at stake every day that the war continues. So profits mean little and privileges mean less. The end of the war is the object in view and I think it would be helpful if the newspapers would begin to chronicle the gestures of self-sacrifice that have been made by every group.

January 15, 1944

Washington – (Friday)
I was interested yesterday in talking with Mr. Edwin McArthur who has just returned from a tour of duty in the Southwest Pacific for USO camp shows. This organization is doing a most magnificent job. As I hear more and more of the artists who have gone out for them, I realize that they are not only giving something to the men which is of great value at present, but in many cases, they are doing an educational job which will be of value to the soldiers when they come back. For they will have an added appreciation of the arts in their daily lives.

Mr. McArthur had been a director at the Metropolitan, but for this trip he took some lessons on the accordion, and that was the instrument which accompanied him on his travels. Instead of a symphony orchestra, he had one assistant. Their object was to bring out talent as they found it in soldier groups, and to entertain all branches of the service wherever they might be. Also, to sing together and to enjoy special contributions which members of their own group might offer during an informal evening. This was done so successfully that Mr. McArthur told me he had unearthed all types of entertainment. For example, one boy who asked him to play Tea for Two, picked two spoons off the table and accompanied him with a most delightful new type of rhythm created by the spoons.

Like everyone else who has been with our boys, he has a desire to go back and to go back as soon as possible. As I know what this type of work means to morale, I hope that he will soon start on another trip.

Last night I attended a panel discussion at Howard University on the subject of what the Negro can do to better racial relations in America. These young students were very honest. They thought up quite a program for themselves, ranging from the better behavior campaign which is being advocated by one of their Pittsburgh papers, to better preparation for the jobs which they want to do, so that it will be increasingly difficult to deny them opportunities because of the outstanding quality of their work. The attitude of these young Negro students seemed to me very promising.

I have just received word that the National Broadcasting Company, in cooperation with ten volunteer youth agencies, is putting on a program beginning Saturday, January 15, from one to one-thirty in the afternoon, called Here’s to Youth. This program will cover such subjects as “Young Americans in Crisis,” “Trailer Town’s Children,” “The Melting Pot Boils,” etc., which seems to promise some interesting half-hours.

January 17, 1944

Washington – (Sunday)
Friday and Saturday were the beginning of the infantile paralysis campaign for me. In a rather chilly atmosphere, a small group of us stood outside at Loew’s Capitol Theater Friday noon and opened the “Mile of Dimes.” The various bottles representing different states were not yet marked. When I opened my purse to find the two ten-cent pieces that I always put on the line for my husband and myself, I only had one ten-cent piece! The gentlemen around me were too chivalrous to change a dollar bill – they all wanted to give me the extra ten cents. But I finally persuaded them to take the dollar bill. After having acquired a ten-cent piece from one of them, I went through the usual process of speaking over the radio with one of the District of Columbia commissioners, Mr. Mason, and then placed my dimes on the line. With keen enjoyment, Mr. Mason informed me that he was putting my dollar in the District of Columbia bottle, so that New York would contribute a dollar to the District of Columbia quota!

Yesterday Miss Mary Pickford came to lunch with me. She has been appointed by the National Foundation as chairman of the women’s division, and she is giving all of her time to help the foundation during this drive. I enjoyed interviewing her on the radio after lunch. In talking to her, I learned that she is visiting a number of cities and undertaking a full-time job.

It is going to be hard to find volunteers to do some of the things which have been done before, such as paid employees to take up collections night after night in theatres. Volunteers will have to do this now because theatres are understaffed. But I think they will be found, for many women who cannot do a full-time job will gladly give a few hours several times a week during a short period. They know that infantile paralysis does not stop because we happen to be fighting a war. We are just as apt to have an epidemic now as in peace time. Therefore, war or no war, we have to go on with this particular home front campaign.

The seventh annual American Hobby Show will open in New York City on Monday, January 17, under the auspices of the American Hobby Federation. The guiding spirit of this foundation is Mr. Erwin M. Frey. He has encouraged people all over the world to recover from mental and physical ailments by developing a hobby, and he is an expert on hobbies of all kinds. This hobby show is tied in with the Fourth War Loan Drive because some of the people who are going to need hobbies are our wounded veterans back from the war. The British government has asked Mr. Frey’s council and has established hobby projects in many of their hospitals as part of the post-war rehabilitation program and, of course, we will have to do the same thing.

January 18, 1944

Washington – (Monday)
Yesterday we had several people at lunch with us. At seven o’clock, I went to speak at a regular Sunday evening supper group at St. John’s Church. After that I joined other members of our family at the Attorney General and Mrs. Biddle’s house to hear Mr. George Biddle tell of his experiences in the European Theater of War.

Today I am on my way to New Brunswick, New Jersey, where I am to speak first for the New Jersey College for Women, and in the evening, I will speak for the Fourth War Loan Drive at a meeting in the village which the Hillel Foundation of Rutgers University has been instrumental in arranging. I shall get into New York City very late this evening, but as I have a few people to see there tomorrow morning, it seemed better to go on tonight than to stay in New Brunswick.

I was much interested in talking to Miss Mary Pickford the other day when she told me that she had adopted two children, a seven-year-old boy and a baby girl who is now 17 months old. I had just received a letter in the mail which drew to my attention the fact that while many people were willing to adopt babies, or children under three or four years old, the institutions found it very difficult to place children over six. The writer asked me if I would not suggest to people who have lost loved ones in this war, that it would be a great advantage if they would take a child into their homes, and bring him up in memory of the one who is not returning.

It seems to me a wonderful idea, although I realize that when people have lost members of the family who are grown, it may be almost impossible to go back to the days and conditions of life in which they were prepared to bring up youngsters. Even taking in a child in his teens means adjusting a household to many things which may have been completely abandoned after one’s own children have grown up. But there may be other families where young people are still part of the household, and I imagine that it might ease the hearts of some mothers and fathers to feel that in memory of the child they loved, they are giving another child the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of a real home.

My correspondent is a man, a businessman evidently, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I want to quote one sentence of his letter here:

The Gold Star which is the symbol of death and tragedy could be replaced by a silver one which will be the symbol of life and happiness.

Real happiness and a new life for some child who must feel lonely and abandoned.

January 19, 1944

New York – (Tuesday)
Have I said anything to you before about the fact that this year is the centennial year for the YMCA? Twelve young men started this organization in a hall bedroom and now there are 10,000 associations in 68 countries. In our own country today, 1,200 associations with more than 10 million members are participating in serving the Armed Forces in addition to maintaining their regular program.

The success of this association means that when you try to translate your religion into action in daily life, it has a great appeal for young people.

The United Council of Church Women is also trying to do some work that will require year-round daily thinking and action. They have decided to observe “World Community Day” annually.

Mrs. Emory Ross, a vice president of the United Council, said in a release to the press:

Out of the observance, has come a determination of church women all over the nation to continue to study the price of an enduring peace. The continued study by thousands of church women is a hopeful outlook. We look forward to observing this day annually, and through preparation for it and study classes after it, we are keeping Christian women constantly alert to international problems and spurring them to action to help solve them.

This again is bringing the influence of religion to bear on the citizenship of all people. I hope it may lead many women to feel that it is a religious duty to take responsibility for the attitude of their government.

Yesterday the eighth annual report of the Social Security Board of the Federal Security Agency was issued. I hope that every person reading it will think of it in connection with our economic bill of rights for America, as described in the President’s message last Tuesday. The Board urges a complete, unified social insurance system, providing to all people who work, protection against the “economic hazards besetting the long road of self-support and family support which is arduous and risky for most in any working generation.”

About 20 million workers are not yet covered by social insurance because of the restrictions in the existing program. These include farm workers and domestic workers, self-employed, employees of federal, state and local government, employees of non-profit organizations, maritime workers and many employees of small firms. Tomorrow I would like to point out where the board feels the program is insufficiently developed.

January 20, 1944

Washington – (Wednesday)
One of the things that I particularly wanted to mention in relation to our Social Security program is the fact that we have no nationwide social insurance measures to protect American families against disabilities and sickness. The Social Security Board believes that health and medical care have an important place in any comprehensive and adequate program of social security.

It is true that in the past half century we have raised the standard of physical wellbeing and extended the average length of life, but that does not mean that there are not many parts of the country where people have just as little chance of survival as they had 50 years ago. This is especially true of rural areas and, of course, it is obvious that it is always truer among the poor than among the rich.

It is significant to note that the general death rate among boys and men of working age has been found to be nearly twice as high for unskilled laborers as for professional men, managers, proprietors and officials.

The draft showed us our failures where health is concerned. It seems to me that it also shows us that we needed unemployment insurance operated on a federal basis, as well as public assistance grants which would be higher in the states with lower-than-average per capita income. The reason for this is that the low-income groups can neither afford medical care nor a proper diet. Nor can they afford decent housing and clothing. All of this contributes to lower health standards.

It may seem to some people that when a country is in a war, it should not assume greater social burdens. But unless one does assume them, the war will not seem to have brought many people much that is worth fighting for.

I must say a few words about the meetings in New Brunswick, New Jersey, Monday night. The Alumnae House of the New Jersey College for Women, where we dined, was the home of Mr. James Neilson. He left it to the college completely furnished, and it is a most delightful, homelike club house. It cannot help but have a lasting influence on the girls. The bond rally in the city was also very successful and I particularly enjoyed the music. The Coast Guard Quartette sang. The Rutgers College Glee Club, Madame Nancy Ness, a Norwegian singer with a beautiful voice who also spoke very movingly, and Ina Claire Gillman, a little girl of nine with a very sweet voice, made this part of the evening memorable.

Yesterday morning, at the Office of War Information, I had the pleasure of making a recording for New Zealand with the Hon. Mr. Walter Nash, Mr. Deems Taylor, Mr. Paul Robeson, Mr. Putnam and various others. Afterwards I went through the building and had a glimpse of their work, and paid a short visit to the ANZAC Club.

January 21, 1944

Washington – (Thursday)
I returned to Washington yesterday noon to find the usual tremendous accumulation of mail.

At 4:30, the President of Venezuela arrived and we had a very pleasant time with him at tea. I was interested to learn that in Venezuela they have obtained assistance from experienced people in the social security field, and are already concerning themselves with laws to cover many of the problems which face us and, I suppose, face the people of the world in varying degrees.

Venezuela is an agricultural country, and has suffered during the war because of her inability to import the things she needs, and to export her own products. Now it is becoming easier to do this. I was interested to learn that besides coffee and cocoa, which have always been the main exports, they are beginning to produce other things for our market.

Later in the afternoon, a young Merchant Marine officer, who used to be a lawyer in New York City, brought some of the members of the naval gun crew of his ship to see me. The four young men, James Nicholson, Joseph Bridges, Gerald Goode and Robert Layman, all come from New England. They were on the famous “Forgotten Convoy of North Russia,” and spent eight months in Russia after they reached port.

I was interested in what they said because it showed how much our boys observe. They told me that although the people in Russia seem to have a pretty low standard of living, from our point of view, they are happy and believe in their own progress. They seem to have a natural appreciation for music and art. In fact, they said that the soldiers were always singing, and that one of the songs the sailors sang was beautiful. They brought it back with them.

When our boys come home from these distant places, they have a better appreciation of what our country has given us, but they also have a better understanding of the contribution of other peoples and of their aspirations.

I showed the Navy boys around the White House, including the state dining room where the table was set for the formal dinner to the President of Venezuela. I told them that the table decorations had been bought by James Madison and brought from France in the early days of our Republic. This always gives me a thrill and interested them very much as it seems to bring the past years of our history so much closer to us.

Now I must be off to do a recording for the Iowa State College “Farm and Home Week” with Martha Duncan. This afternoon I shall visit more of our undesirable housing in the District of Columbia.

January 22, 1944

Washington – (Friday)
Yesterday afternoon I went on a trip which covered many areas, in the outskirts of town and right in the city. It was planned to show me how new buildings for white occupation were encroaching on areas which had once been open for Negro housing, and how even in areas which seemed far enough away from the present white building operations, there was objection to land being developed for Negro housing units.

The few new buildings to go up on Congress Heights will not solve much of the housing problem. The land that the zoning commission now has under consideration is not actually on Bradbury Heights, but down below it. A Negro cemetery occupies some of the neighboring land, and it would seem quite obvious that the neighboring land should be open to building for Negro defense workers. It is thought, however, that perhaps this may be the direction in which the white community on the heights may desire to grow.

I do think that a job can be done by a complete city planning program, which would perhaps increase the number of Negro people housed in existing Negro areas, by changing the type of buildings. This, however, would not be sufficient to meet the whole problem, and I cannot see how this problem is going to be solved unless more areas, are given over to the building of Negro housing.

The claim is, of course, that Negro housing will lower the value of the adjacent real estate. But where there is new and modern housing, the community, whether it is white or colored, may not show any marked differences in value. Certainly where now there are little islands of very old houses, surrounded by new and modern white developments, the old houses are an eyesore. That need not be the case with modern buildings and, therefore, the deterioration in values in the neighborhood we hope would not occur. However, whatever happens, this is a democracy. These are our citizens, and their right to live decently at the same costs and under similar conditions as other citizens I think must be accepted by all. Present conditions add to the poor health and delinquency problems of the whole city.

This is not only a problem for the District of Columbia. It is a problem which many cities face and I think sooner or later more communities will have to face it.

Last night I attended the anniversary dinner in celebration of the founding of the Woman’s National Democratic Club. Mrs. J. Borden Harriman, one of the founders and the first president of the club, presided. Mrs. Woodrow Wilson and many others of the officers and early members were present. It was a pleasant and memorable occasion.

January 24, 1944

Washington – (Sunday)
Friday morning, I had an opportunity to talk for a little while with members of the staff of the National Education Association of the United States. They are deeply interested, as I am, in the wiping out of illiteracy, and procuring better educational opportunities for all of our young people.

I was glad to find that they feel as I do that every teacher in every community should be considered by that community as one of its most responsible citizens. To her we are entrusting the most important job of the community – the education of youth in a democracy. Since we decided long ago that democracy could not exist without education, we can easily see why good teachers are essential to our development.

The thoughtful men and women with whom I talked feel as I do that since education can only give people tools, and we all continue our real education throughout our lives, much responsibility has to be undertaken by our teachers in the field of adult education. The school houses of a community are not only for the use of the children and the educators. They should be the centers from which radiate the ideas which motivate the community.

Friday afternoon the President and I received the members of the National Democratic Committee. In the evening, just the family and one or two friends were at dinner, so I spent some hours over the mail.

I found among other things, a delightful cook book, edited by British and American women in Venezuela for the benefit of British war charities. On one page are the Spanish recipes and on the opposite page they are translated into English. I think this is going to be a help to my halting Spanish! The covers, both front and back, display the vegetables and fruits of Venezuela with their names in Spanish and in English. Some of them are intriguing. For instance, “cabella de angel” is an intriguing name to be attached to a melon. I shall be curious to eat this fruit called “angel hair” if I ever visit Venezuela.

Yesterday the ambassador of Colombia, Señor Dr. Gabriel Turbay, came to pay his respects, and a succession of people came to tea. Among them were five young Marine Corps girls who come from distant parts of the country. They had gathered up enough courage to write and say they could not bear to go home without having had a chance to see the White House since they may never travel this far again.

In the evening I attended the Democratic National Committee’s Jackson Day Dinner at which the Vice President, the Honorable Samuel Rayburn, the Speaker of the House, and Mr. Quentin Reynolds made most interesting and moving speeches. Having Mr. Reynolds as a speaker was a departure from the purely political aspect usual on this occasion, and I think it was very appropriate in this war year.