Eleanor Roosevelt – My Day (1944)

May 19, 1944

Chicago, Illinois – (Thursday)
Yesterday afternoon I had the pleasure of seeing Air Cdre. P. Huskinson and Mrs. Huskinson. Dame Rachel E. Crowdy had given him a letter of introduction to my husband, and so he came to tea. Air Commodore Huskinson is the inventor of the 4,000 and the 12,000-pound bomb now being used. He is a most interesting man who has won a victory over a handicap which he suffered in this war, and therefore he is an inspiration to all who meet him.

In the evening I attended the first anniversary celebration of the USO club operated here by the Salvation Army. They had a wonderful birthday cake which I was privileged to cut, but fortunately only one slice fell to my knife, or I think I would have been busy for a long time.

Today I am in Chicago. I arrived here very early this morning, and managed to get a few hours of sleep at the hotel before speaking on the responsibilities of citizenship at the convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. I will attend the luncheon given by the women’s auxiliaries. I am returning to New York, since for the next few days I must be in the country seeing that some necessary painting and work is done in the house. When one has so little time at home, it is hard to see that the things which must be done are done, so that the house can be used when it is needed.

On the 19th of this month, the June issue of the Woman’s Home Companion is publishing an article describing the program on “Education for Democracy” which has been used so successfully in Springfield, Mass. The article was written by Helena Huntington Smith after she visited nine schools in Springfield. The interesting thing that it brings out is that racial and religious understanding seems to grow out of a state of mind.

In Springfield, they have not preached to their children. They have simply taught them facts, facts about the contributions of all the people who make up the citizens of the United States. The native sense of fair play of the American child comes to the fore when he knows that no group has a corner on patriotism or self-sacrifice or devotion to the United States.

Our ancestors came over to this country very early, when the country was weak and struggling. Some of them distinguished themselves and made a contribution to the country and its growth. The boys, however, who have only been ten or fifteen years in this country and are fighting today for their chosen country and the things for which that country stands, are making as great a contribution in their generation as any of those who can count forebears for many generations in this land.

May 20, 1944

New York – (Friday)
When I reached the convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America in Chicago, I found that the luncheon was in honor of Mrs. Dorothy Bellanca, a fact which I did not realize until I was asked to sign a most beautiful scroll which was presented to her.

All the members of the board with whom she has served for many years, as well as the three hundred and more women delegates to the convention, signed a very beautifully bound and illuminated scroll in recognition of her thirty years of service in the union. I know she was deeply moved by the great affection for her which everyone could feel in the vast gathering. But the simplicity with which she said that this was the first luncheon which had ever been given to her made one realize that probably she would never quite understand what a contribution she had made. She has drawn other women into the active work of the union, she has represented them on the board, and she has probably been more effective than anyone else in making them feel their responsibilities.

I had the pleasure of spending a few minutes in the editorial room at the office of the Chicago Sun, and of seeing Mayor Kelly of Chicago and Postmaster General Walker just before leaving.

While travelling to New York, I noticed a very small baby who behaved so well that I could not help thinking what excellent mothers the young women are today. They travel from place to place with these tiny children, trying to see their husbands and doing their share in this war ridden world.

One young mother writes me: “I find that a two-year-old son, a victory garden, my house and my husband all conspire to keep any long stretches of time out of my way.” Then she adds something which will make a friend of mine very happy. “The Blue Network presents a program called The Baby Institute, which I think is one of the finest programs which has ever been on the air. It is a quarter of an hour of advice to mothers of pre-school children by New York’s best psychiatrists, pediatricians, obstetricians and educators, conducted by Miss Jessie Stanton. Every young mother ought to know about it and so few of them seem to.”

I have known Miss Jessie Stanton, who is an expert in nursery school work, for a long time. In fact, I have been on this program for her. I am glad that it is appreciated and hope that it will have an increasingly large audience, for I am sure it will greatly help the young mothers to face the problems of their children.

May 22, 1944

New York – (Sunday)
I wonder if living away from the country gives one a keener joy when one has occasional glimpses of the beauty of the country. I know that getting back to Hyde Park on Friday, picking the pansies in my own little border around the cottage, and the lilies of the valley from the bed which a very dear friend of mine planted for me a few years ago, and going to the top of the hill where there is a wonderful show of dogwood, gave me a particular thrill.

Sitting on the porch of my husband’s little cottage and looking down at the countryside below, with masses of rhododendron and azaleas in bloom all around, made me almost forget that the world is too sorrowful at present for life to have much zest. Perhaps it is just the spring which renews our hope, since it tells us the same old story that no matter what happens to human beings, everything in the world is put to use and a rebirth does take place in nature once a year!

The fruit tree is no longer in blossom, which I regret, but the lilacs are still in bloom, and perfume the air wherever you find them. They always remind me of my childhood, for we had a great clump of lilac bushes near my grandmother’s home where I spent so much time as a child, and it was always the first thing we looked for when we went back there in the spring after our long winter in the city.

On the train between Hyde Park and New York City, I went through a Political Handbook for Women, which was written by Miss Eve Garrette. This year the exercise of our citizenship is very important because we are in the peculiar position where men may be unable to vote. This book seems to me admirably arranged, and it should be equally popular with men and women, because it answers so many of the questions which come up when you start to take an active part in politics. You know many of the answers vaguely, but when you have to know them accurately and in detail, you find you are not quite as sure of them as you thought you were.

On the 24th of May, there will be a celebration at the Capitol in Washington which I would have liked to attend if I did not have a long-standing engagement in West Virginia. This is the 100th anniversary of the sending of the first telegraph message. The sending of this message in 1844 represented the first use of electricity in industry for the world. Fourteen years later, in 1858, a cable was first used, and then in 1878, the first telephone switchboard was set up with 21 subscribers. How many wonderful things have come about through the use of electricity which we take so blithely for granted today!

May 23, 1944

New York – (Monday)
While I was up at Hyde Park, I spent a very interesting hour hearing Dean Mildred Thompson of Vassar College tell me something about the meeting in London and the formation of a United Nations organization for postwar education. Congressman Fulbright was chairman of our delegation, which was composed of very distinguished men and one woman!

It seems to me that this subject is one in which we should all be tremendously interested. We know that it was through education that the Nazi ideology gained such a firm hold on German youth. We realize also that in all the occupied countries the German methods of education have held sway for the past four or five years. To be sure, in their homes, the children have probably been indoctrinated with resistance to Nazi ideas. But something must have remained with them of what they learned in school. It would be natural if most of the children enjoyed such things as learning to march and salute and sing in unison, for all these things attract youth.

Just as education helped bring about war in Europe, we will now have to bend our energies to make education bring about peace in the future. So this meeting in London was of paramount importance, not only because some very able men and women met and decided on how they could form a United Nations organization to cover this important field, but because this subject has as much bearing on peace in the future as food, or relief, or even aviation.

Someone wrote me the other day to remind me of the part which Clara Barton played in the signing of the Treaty of Geneva and the founding of the International Red Cross. Certainly we have come to take the functions of the Red Cross for granted today, and it is hard to believe that at any time the Red Cross did not exist. How could we feel we were fulfilling our obligations to sick and wounded human beings when this organization was not in existence?

Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton were two women who fully realized the importance of an idea, and went to work to see that that idea was carried out during their lifetimes. They saw that it remained as an organization for future service. If these two women could accomplish so much in days gone by, when women had far less opportunity for public service than they have today, surely the women of today can do much to bring the questions of national and international education before the people of the world. They can insist that we give it its proper place in the future, so that it may serve the cause of world peace.

May 24, 1944

Washington – (Tuesday)
I had no intention in my column published on Monday the 22nd, of stating that men were suddenly giving up their vote this year, but in some way the word “many” was left out of the copy. What I meant to say, of course, was that “many men” this year, because of war conditions, are not going to be able to vote. This includes men whose work has taken them to new places and who cannot qualify for either absentee ballots in the old place of residence or under the rules in their new place of residence. Secondly, many men at the front, for one reason or another, will not be able to comply with state regulations and get their ballots in on time.

I travelled to Baltimore, Maryland, and back to New York on Sunday because long ago I made an engagement to speak at a meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, when I thought I would be in Washington and could just stop over on my way to New York City. Spending so many hours on trains gives me a chance to do a considerable amount of reading. If you want to spend an amusing half hour, I suggest you read a little book called While Father is Away. The child is a very real child and will give you many smiles, even if a tear may be rather close at hand now and then.

On Monday in New York City, I went to the lunch for the American Women’s Voluntary Services, at which they launched their nationwide campaign for clothes conservation. The Mayor of New York City and the Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Forrestal, both spoke extremely well, and for an audience of ladies, perhaps the greatest interest centered in the fashion show which was put on by Mrs. June Hamilton Rhodes.

A charming looking woman in an AWVS uniform walked out first for inspection, carrying a large, blown-up photograph of the garment as it originally looked when it came into the shop. Then followed a lovely young thing in the garment which had been made over by a well-known designer, and she, in turn, was followed by another lovely young thing in a garment made in one of the other AWVS shops from the same design, but out of material which someone in that particular locality had brought in.

The most charming groups, of course, were the little children who acted as models in a most professional manner, and seemed not at all disturbed by photographers’ bulbs flashing and people applauding as they walked the length of the built-up platform.

May 25, 1944

Arthurdale, West Virginia – (Wednesday)
Monday, the 22nd, was the 62nd anniversary of the signing of the Korean-American Treaty, out of which grew much of the interest which we have had for Korea in this country. The history of our actions that first year makes interesting reading, in view of what was to happen to Korea later. Korea is a peaceful country and much too tempting to a militaristic nation like Japan. But after the war, there may again be peace and freedom for the nations in Asia, and Korea may have an opportunity for the development of her own people to bring about their happiness.

On Monday in New York City, I stopped for a few minutes in the afternoon at the United Seamen’s Service Club at 30 East 37th Street. There I met two of the women who were receiving medals for their husbands who had been lost at sea. They have a map in this club which the men can consult and which shows where similar clubs can be found throughout the world. It took my breath away to realize how many there are, as I remember when I opened the first one in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 1942.

In the evening I spoke at the meeting of the National Congress of Parents and Teachers. They were holding a conference on Childhood and Youth. At the conference appeared people to cover every phase of child welfare work. I noticed, for instance, that they had speakers on community school lunches, pre-school education, legislation, special problems of high school associations, keeping all children safe and healthy, war activities, etc. They even asked Miss Craig McGeachy, the director of welfare and relief for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, to come before them and talk of plans for the future in other parts of the world.

This conference faced the fact that it is the home as a whole, with all of its ramifications, that must be discussed if we really face the problems of childhood and youth. Just as our country will be affected by what happens to other countries in the world, so will our homes be affected by what happens to other homes throughout the world. The outlook and actions of the parents of today will have an effect on what the children do as they grow up and take over the responsibility of facing the world situations of tomorrow.

I was glad to have an opportunity to be at this meeting and to talk with some of the very fine people who probably come closer to the communities of this country than any other organized group. The Parent-Teachers Association can have more influence on the thinking of this country than practically any other group I know.

May 26, 1944

New York – (Thursday)
On Tuesday in Washington, I saw a number of people at lunch, and in the afternoon, I received Madame Lescot, the wife of the President of Haiti, her daughter, Mademoiselle Lescot, and her daughter-in-law, Madame Lescot.

At four o’clock I attended the United Nations War Relief Bazaar in Justice Holmes’ house, which has been turned over to the United Nations group. This bazaar has become an annual institution and is very inspiring, because when such a large and varied group of women work together for their mutual benefit, it augurs well for our ability to work together in the future!

I have just had a letter from Lady Reading, the head of the Women’s Voluntary Services in England. I want to quote part of it to you:

We have been having a very energetic time as a certain amount of raiding has started again, and, of course, we have a very heavy program indeed. The program in itself is an interesting one, because it is being carried out by a very much older age group, and one which is bearing a strain which might, a few years ago, have been considered quite impossible to take. They are not only taking it, but adapting themselves to it so well that I feel the results will be a strengthening of character and a very useful contribution to community welfare in a shape of participation in local government on a postwar basis, and that in itself will be the most extraordinarily valuable contribution to national character and national resilience that can be.

It is so curious to think that in the same way as our greatest export in the past was an unseen export in the shape of banking and insurance, our greatest result of the work of these last five years will be a completely unseen and intangible one, which, nevertheless, will be a very valuable one by strengthening the community, and therefore, the life of the nation on a local basis and also creating a background for the return of the men and women from the forces. I feel sure that there will be a very useful eliminator of age differences. The people who have faced all sorts of trouble at home have got a certain poise which is going to be very valuable indeed, and I am constantly watching men and women on leave who help during a bad raid, getting a new respect and looking in a new way at their older relations who are tackling an operational as well as an administrative job, and tackling it without much fuss or very much excitement.

Yesterday I spent the day in West Virginia. In the morning, I gave a commencement talk at Salem College, and in the afternoon, I attended the commencement exercises in the Arthurdale high school. Now I am back in New York City, with a full schedule before me!

May 27, 1944

New York – (Friday)
Yesterday afternoon, I went to a meeting at the Russell Sage Foundation of the Protestant Council of the City of New York, an organization through which various denominations in the Protestant Church have joined together to consolidate their efforts for practical work in New York City. They are trying to help with the problem of juvenile delinquency; they are attempting to do better work for the servicemen and their families. And they are coordinating their work in various fields. They are trying to make the church a power in the everyday lives of people, and that is the best way I know of to increase the interest of people in the church.

My opportunity to meet with the Council came through my interest in the Wiltwyck School, which happens to be at Esopus, across the river from Hyde Park. This school is one of the places to which judges in New York City courts can send children whose homes do not provide them with the proper environment. The school takes charge of the children and tries to make them face their problems. The members of the organization also work with the families so that the children may return to a better environment than they had in the past and may not be forced into the same temptations again.

At 6:30, I dined with a new group called “The Youth of all Nations.” This is a name which the children themselves voted to adopt. They are children of many ages, many races and many religions, but they have all come to this country as refugees, perhaps after having lived in two or three other countries. The organization has grown out of the desire of one little ten-year-old girl to write down her experiences in order to help other children. Now the members of the group are writing to people in the government, asking how they can be useful. They write letters to children in other countries, and make every newcomer to this country they can find more welcome. They help them to gain an understanding and a sense of security in their new homes. We have made great efforts in the past to bring our children in contact with children of other countries, so here is one bridge which we should not ignore.

I left this dinner in time to reach the dinner given in honor of Mr. Walter White at 8:30. Mr. Wendell Willkie opened the speeches by a very delightful and informal address. He gave $5,000 from the royalties of his book One World to the NAACP, of which Mr. Walter White has been executive secretary for the past 25 years. The whole evening was a tribute of which any man would be proud at the end of such a period of achievement.

May 29, 1944

Poughkeepsie, New York – (Sunday)
Friday morning, in New York City, at the request of the Junior League, I attended a sponsoring ceremony for the ships which are outfitted at Pier 42. These are amphibious landing craft of new type, and the Junior League has taken five of them as its own. This means that the League members will not only write to the officers and men and send them packages from time to time, but they will also contact the men’s families and become a part of the great Navy family.

The Daughters of the American Revolution sponsored a ship for every state, and various patriotic organizations are taking over each ship as it goes out. The ceremony was a moving one, and I was glad to have the chance to shake hands with so many of the men.

The ships are not large, and the officers and men live in crowded quarters. I think the long trips which they must take to reach their destinations require a good deal of fortitude. However, they probably build up the same kind of spirit which the submarine crews have. I understand this amphibious service feels itself very important, which it most certainly is, for without it, it would be impossible to carry on our wars in Europe and in the Pacific.

While I was in New York City, I travelled up to the Medical Center at 168th Street one morning, to see a friend who is ill. I want to say a good word here about the kindness of people who travel in the subway. In the subway that morning, two or three people recognized me and came over to shake hands with me or to say a kind word. When I got off the subway, I was a little doubtful about the way to reach the street, and again someone came forward and gave me the right directions. Americans are a kindly people. They want to be helpful, and the quality is an endearing one and warms the heart.

The country looks more wonderful each time I come up here. My spirea hedge is in full bloom, and the dogwood is still gleaming white in the woods. A friend, with her three youngsters, is staying with us, and we went over to investigate new exhibits in the President’s library yesterday morning. They found much of interest, and when the war is over, and young and old can motor again, I think many children are going to spend interesting and instructive hours there.

The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis has just begun to consider a permanent woman’s division, because the members find that there is a need for volunteers to work with the county chapters all through the year. This is especially important in summer, when there may be infantile paralysis epidemics. I think this will add enormously to the interest that people have in the Foundation’s work, because it will mean that in working with their local chapters, they will actually come in contact with the cases benefitting from the funds which are raised in the drive every year.

May 30, 1944

New York – (Monday)
It is hard to face another Memorial Day and find ourselves still at war and decorating an ever-increasing number of graves. Even these graves are but a small percentage of those we cannot decorate, in which the men of our land lie where they have fought all over the world. When we go to the Memorial Day services it is not just for those who lie in our own churchyards that we bring flowers. We transcend space and place our symbols of thought on all the oceans and in all the far-off lands.

This remembrance of our boys is not the really great significance of Memorial Day, however. If the great sacrifices of youth are to bear fruit, this day must remind us primarily of our duty to the living. It should be a day of consecration to the fulfillment of those things for which our men died.

Was this a war for freedom? Then we know we have not achieved our objectives unless all men throughout the world are free – free from economic want, from religious restraint and political oppression and from aggression by stronger people.

Was this a war for justice? Then we must see to it that justice is done throughout the world to men of all nations.

Was this a war to bring us peace in the future? Then we must see to it that we learn to cooperate with all the peoples of the world and that by our example we demonstrate the sincerity of purpose which lies back of our fight.

We cannot hope to build faith in ourselves by being suspicious of other people. We need not be “suckers,” but neither need we be exploiters.

As we have gone to our Memorial Day services in the past, we have frequently thought primarily of the various wars in which we have engaged to gain our liberty and to preserve it. This day has served to remind us of the great names in our history – Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln – but it is not enough now to think of the past. We who fight this war know that when men wish to remain free, they must ever be ready to fight for their freedom.

We know also that they must be ever vigilant, not only of enemies from without but of enemies from within. Great power is always dangerous to freedom and unless we share this power with the other nations of the world, and are ever careful to make it of value to the people of the world, we may find ourselves becoming less the defenders of freedom than the custodians of power.

So this is a day for the searching of hearts and the making of strong resolutions. Since we must be strong and we must be free, let us pray for wisdom and humility to use our freedom for the good of humanity.

May 31, 1944

Washington – (Tuesday)
So many people wonder, now that so many of our boys are somewhere in the British Isles, about their reception over there. I received a letter from Mrs. Lilian A. Howard-Watson of ‘Nagara’ Gwespyr, Holywell, N. Wales, which gave me so much pleasure that I am going to give as much of it as I can in this column. Most of us do not know exactly what billeting is over here. It means whether you like it or not, you take into your house the people whom the government assigns to you.

Dear Madame:

On Sunday some weeks ago, the billeting officer approached us about housing American soldiers and we were allotted eleven, and at once their beds and bedding were brought to our house. Then a few days later the boys arrived and have since made a favorable impression on all our neighborhood, being most friendly, polite and unobtrusive.

I think it was a happy idea to billet in private houses, as in this way we are able to become acquainted with one another in a way which would have been impossible had they been in camps. We are glad to see that the Americans are fraternizing with our soldiers, each learning something from the other’s point of view. Your boys are so generous hearted and big enough to admire the unbroken British spirit after having seen the damage at close quarters and appreciated the suffering entailed.

The Americans have the attic floor in our rather big old house, with four bedrooms and a sitting room with a nice view. We are always pleased when they come downstairs for a chat and coffee, and some of them have serious interests, such as collecting model ships, first editions, etc., which is interesting.

At first many of them being chiefly from the Southern states suffered much from chest colds with the treacherous weather but are now well again.

Mother is a justly important person I find in American life, and one day in the kitchen when I requested a giant-framed sergeant to read the Bible portion for the day, he remarked: “It reminds me of Momma at home.”

And so the Americans are winning golden opinions over here thereby strengthening the entente between our country and yours, and we have come to the conclusion that the clouds we so much dreaded of this American invasion into our homes are really “big with mercy and will break with blessings on our head.” Long live America.

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June 1, 1944

Washington – (Wednesday)
Since I quoted to you the nice letter from the British woman yesterday, I want to quote part of a letter from an American mother today. I am not giving you the name in this case, because I think it best that she remain anonymous.

Her son endured a very great disappointment. They are people of foreign descent, but true Americans. I never saw a disappointment, which must have been as hard to bear for the mother as it was for the son, taken in such a remarkable way.

Here is what she says:

I feel that the experience gained by this blow to his pride will be of great value to him in his future life. All of us must feel the despair of defeat at one time or another in order to broaden our thinking mechanism.

In those few words, she has stressed one of the great lessons of life. The knowledge of how to learn from experience, both pleasant and unpleasant, is probably one of the most difficult, but most valuable things to acquire in the course of the years.

I have an appeal from a woman who says something which I think should be brought to the attention of all of us. She thinks that we acknowledge the value of services rendered by women when they go into the military services, or the nursing services, or work in a factory or help to build ships or join a patriotic organization as volunteers, and forget to acknowledge the humdrum tasks of thousands of women daily. These women very often fill in on more or less dull jobs which seem to have no connection with war work, but without which no community could possibly go on in a normal way, even for a day. The women in shops, in the laundries, on the farms, above all in our schools, are doing a magnificent war job. We should never for a minute forget it.

Here is one of the little things which “seventy-five members of the Twin City Home Makers Section of the American Home Economics Association” are doing. They keep house, and so they are going on record in behalf of the extension of the Price Control Act. They say: “It is our unanimous opinion that it is the only plan presented today which will help to control inflation for the duration and after.” These women are thinking citizens and are doing a war job by exercising their citizenship. They deserve our gratitude.

Yesterday I had a group of Democratic women lunch with me in the garden, very informally. In the evening I went for a short time to a dinner given to Dean Howard Thurman before his departure for San Francisco, where he has accepted a joint Negro and White pastorate of the Fellowship Church.

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