Eleanor Roosevelt – My Day (Aug. 1940)



By Eleanor Roosevelt

August 1, 1940

Hyde Park, Wednesday –
How we rationalize with ourselves! I make myself believe that I am doing certain things for very high-minded reasons and can always find a hundred good arguments to meet any doubts that I have. So, why should I be surprised when other people do exactly the same thing – and yet I always am!

Mr. Alfred E. Smith, for instance, in the papers this morning, insists that the salvation of the Democratic Party is in ridding it once and for all, of those who represent the New Deal and who apparently control it for the time being. Some of us feel rather strongly that if it were not for the New Deal and certain policies which it represents, there would be no Democratic Party and perhaps no Republican Party left in the country today.

There you see in a nutshell how perfectly honest people can think differently on the same subject and argue themselves into such reasonable positions.

I have never been a very great partisan. I believe in arguing things out, as clearly and with as little heat as possible, and trusting to the fundamental common sense and wisdom of the majority of the people. The majority may be wrong at times, of course, and that is why minorities go on working for the things in which they believe.

It frequently happens that they eventually become the majorities. If this were not the case, once a pattern was set, it would always remain, regardless of what changes came about in the work from political reasons, or from reasons of mere evolution. It is only because the majority of us do change, that there is any chance for progress in the human race.

We came home last night and saw only the very edge of a storm, but as we progressed up the parkway, there were many evidences of what had been a very severe thunderstorm. The rain was welcome and the cool breezes this morning have made everybody ready to go out and clear up whatever debris the wind left behind. Some trees were blown down in our woods, and even along the public highway I noticed some branches gone.

I have just been over to say goodbye to my mother-in-law, who will start on her journey to Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada, on Friday before I return from Washington.

I have a letter from Washington this morning, which tells me that the heat there is so terrible that all those who are working for patriotic reasons, have to remind themselves frequently of their patriotism, or they would run away to a cooler climate.

August 2, 1940

Washington, Thursday –
I have a most amusing letter from a gentleman who is evidently promoting a secretarial school run by a young lady in whom he may have a personal or purely business interest. It isn’t such a bad idea, so I shall tell you about it.

The school will offer a course said to fit women for business, so that when their husbands are called to military service the ladies can run their businesses. This sounds rather ludicrous, but there is one thing about it which is not foolish. If the ladies can be taught business hours and application, they may possibly be able to grasp more about their husbands’ businesses than they have in the past.

No course could teach each one of them the particular problems they will have to face, unless they are just taking over a minor job. Still, the general training may be of great value and their husbands may find them more understanding and may be able to give them a little real education before the need arises for them actually to carry any grave responsibility. It may also make for more real companionship in everyday existence.

One other interesting letter has come to me from a thoughtful young doctor who read the financial problem of another doctor, which I described the other day. I do not know enough about it to know if there is a germ of a solution in the paragraph I quote below, but I think if many people come together and think about the problem, we may arrive at some helpful conclusion. Here is solution number one for consideration:

The only remedy that I could suggest for this highly controversial problem, (which I understand is attracting various social, economic groups and legislative bodies) is to adopt the federalized medical plan, so that everyone who seeks medical aid will be able to obtain it through their respective doctors by means of a sliding scale insurance tax plan. This would obviate the free clinics and the necessity of building extra hospitals, when we have at the present time and at all times 200,000 idle beds in our hospitals throughout the country.

It is, of course, much warmer here, but the White House itself is always spacious and pleasant. I have enjoyed seeing various gentlemen who have been kind enough to come and talk to me about some of the plans which are being considered as possible opportunities for youth training which will fit them for times of peace as well as war.

August 3, 1940

Hyde Park, Friday –
Yesterday, at lunch in the White House, I was interested to meet the committee which had come to choose a new chairman of the Democratic National Committee. I am very happy over the choice which has been made. I have never had anything but respect for Mr. Flynn’s integrity and his ability and I am sure that Mr. Farley will give him his cooperation and assist in every possible way.

Mr. Farley is keeping the chairmanship of the New York State Democratic Committee, because he realizes that the New York State organization is so important, that what happens to it is vital to the party. I know the women of the party will find in Mr. Flynn a sympathetic and able advisor, and that he will appreciate the interest of young people in this campaign.

Like many other people, I feel that this is not an ordinary campaign. The party would not have nominated a man for a third term unless they felt that the times were extraordinary and that particular man was needed.

Therefore, those in the party who work for him, must do so not purely because they are interested in the triumph of the Democratic Party’s background and political theories, but because they believe we face a serious moment in history in which our party has a leader whom we trust to meet, better than anyone else, the peculiar problems which face the nation. If we feel this way, then we must put all we have at the service of those running the campaign.

The dinner last night, held during Harriet Elliott’s conference for the heads of the organizations interested in consumer’s problems, was very pleasant. I enjoyed talking to her and Dr. Frank Graham.

After a two hour talk at the White House late in the evening with the President, I took the night train back to New York City. I am glad to say that he hopes to follow soon.

On the way home this morning, I read the article in the Saturday Evening Post by Joseph F. Dinneen. He sums up in the last sentence why he is resigning from the American Newspaper Guild. Much that he says is perfectly true. I, myself, had talked to the late Heywood Broun about many of the points which he brings up. I am a member of the New York Guild. I have never been notified of a meeting.

It is apparent that, for some people, the Guild has done good. I do not feel that I have made any real effort to contribute anything as a member. I am going to try to do so in the future, because I believe that until you have done your very best to make an organization useful, you have no right to leave it. For these reasons, I am not resigning.

August 5, 1940

Hyde Park, Sunday –
Sometimes, I wonder if one has any right to indulge in the joys of country life when there is so much which needs to be done in the world. I am quite sure that 20 years ago I would have made myself do something useful at this particular time. Instead, I returned to the country on Friday with a feeling of complete thankfulness that I could shed the dust of the city streets. Although I may have qualms of guilty conscience, they are not so serious that they take away my enjoyment of life up here.

Friday evening, members of various social agencies in the country who had met with me before gathered with some young people on our picnic grounds at 6 o’clock. 40 or 50 came, and after a picnic supper we sat around and discussed what the situation of youth in our country is, and what things youth feels really needs to be changed in their environment.

I was interested to find that the lack of recreational facilities loomed large in all their minds. Several young people from small towns remarked that there was really nothing to do except “hang around street corners.” That remark ought to give us elders food for thought. Why shouldn’t we older people be interested in providing a variety of recreational facilities? If we really look for them, we have in our midst people with tastes and skills who could develop many recreational possibilities.

In the conversation with this group I thought recreation had a very narrow meaning for most of them. Primarily, it seemed to mean tennis courts, swimming pools and similar opportunities for outdoor exercise. No one mentioned books, development of craft skills, community dances or dramatics, or group singing. Yet, it is not difficult to find leaders for all these things, even in small communities. Certainly, they do draw us together, young and old, in a pleasant and companionable environment.

The group decided that they wished to meet again and that they would form a committee, decide what they would discuss, and even prepare some recommendations for action. I am a little tired of discussions that lead to no action, and so I am glad to see that these young people really contemplate doing something.

Yesterday was a quiet day in which we accomplished considerable work. In the afternoon my husband telephoned to say that he was leaving Washington and would arrive late last night. He already feels rested and plans this afternoon to drive around to see all the little changes which have been made in the past few weeks and then spend some time unpacking cases in the library.

August 6, 1940

Hyde Park, Monday –
I am very glad to find myself in agreement with General Hugh Johnson whom I like personally very much, though I do not frequently have an opportunity to agree with his ideas. He has been writing in favor of the selective draft and in his column on Saturday says something which I believe is true:

It is simply a question of whether or not we are going to get adequate defense against overseas attack and get it quick enough to keep war away from these shores. We won’t get it if we don’t get selective service and get it promptly.

With this I agree, but I should like to add something more which I believe every Senator and Congressman as well as every public servant in the country, no matter whether he is Republican or Democrat, should be watching with the greatest care. We know that in the past some people have profited financially from war. It is one thing to draft young men to give their services to their country and another to draft such capital as may be lying idle for investment in ways which may be deemed necessary for defense and which may mean little or no return to the investor.

The obvious answer is that most capital is in the nature of a trusteeship. Those who have it to invest feel a responsibility to the people (you and me whom they represent in banks and companies) for the way in which they invest it. It is apparent that some people cannot afford to spare anything from small incomes. But the best minds in the country should be occupied at the present time with determining how it can be made equally certain that capital, wherever possible, is drafted for the use of the country in just the way that lives are drafted.

I am no economist. I am not a public servant. I am a mother and a citizen in a democracy, however, and I think it should be clearly put before us exactly how this is being done today. In Congress and in administrative circles this is a responsibility which the people are going to want to be sure is being considered and adequately safeguarded.

I had a grand ride this morning, but was grieved to find that the last storm blew down some of the most beautiful trees on a neighboring place. Somehow when a great tree comes crashing to the ground and lies there with its leaves withering, I feel as though some great and good force had finally been vanquished.

Some people are coming to lunch with me and a number are coming to see me this afternoon. My husband has kept this day entirely free because tomorrow he has a number of official engagements.

August 7, 1940

Hyde Park, Tuesday –
I got up early this morning and rode before breakfast, thinking in this way I would avoid the flies, but they apparently work early and late. I spent most of the time swishing around the horses’ heads trying to help them keep the flies away.

We are expecting quite a delegation of important people from the Pan-American Conference at Havana, Cuba for lunch today. The President spent until 5 o’clock yesterday afternoon in the complete seclusion for which he had planned. From then on, however, affairs have become somewhat more busy and official. We were so happy to have a nice long visit from Governor Lehman and a number of other friends yesterday afternoon.

I do not find the papers very happy reading these days because so many of the things one dislikes to see done seem to have become necessities in the different parts of the world.

For instance, even though I believe in the selective draft, it seems to me that anyone who does not believe in it has a right to say so. Of course, if it becomes the law of our land, we must conform to its regulations. But that does not mean we have to say that something in which we do not believe is right.

It seems very similar to the old Prohibition days. As long as we had a Prohibition law, I felt we should live up to it. But I never could see any reason why anyone who did not believe in it should not say so and try to persuade other people that his point of view was right. As time went on, a great majority of people in this country decided, for one reason or another, that prohibition was not the right way to attack an evil which all of us recognized must be fought.

The selective draft probably will pass and registration will take place. There may be many parts of the bill which time will prove to be wrong from various aspects, and many people will disapprove of them and want them changed. Personally, I know nothing about the details of the bill. I approve of the principle of a selective draft. I think that conscientious objectors should be protected, but they should be required to work for the country’s good in ways which do not conflict with their religious beliefs.

But to put a man in jail, even when at war, if he has done nothing more than state that he does not believe in something seems to me one of the regrettable actions we ought to guard against.

Fear of our safety makes us do things sometimes in the name of patriotism which are extremely hard to justify when one sits down quietly to reason out certain circumstances and when the heat of controversy which excites people’s emotions has ceased to exist.

August 8, 1940

Hyde Park, Wednesday –
I am entirely convinced that one of the things that must be done, if we are going to develop the Good Neighbor Policy satisfactorily, is to make the Spanish language the second language learned by every school child in this country. We elders had better do what we can too, no matter how haltingly, to learn this language spoken by so many people whom we must understand.

Yesterday, the two South American ladies who came with their husbands to lunch with us were perfectly charming. One of them, in Spanish which I could understand but not answer, told me that in her country she belonged to the Socialist Party which corresponded to the Democratic Party here. She added that the position of women made it impossible for a woman in her country to hold a public office, if she were married and her husband held one. She regretted this because she felt that women had a contribution to make and she had held a position acceptably before her marriage.

Quite evidently we could have talked at some length and with advantage to both of us had I been able to speak, as well as understand, Spanish. Someday, perhaps, I will have time to learn another language, and I am quite determined that it will be Spanish. In the meantime, I hope that in every school in this country we will teach the children to consider Spanish their second most important language. It should be as easy to talk Spanish as English. This will encourage our Latin American neighbors to make English their second language. I must say they get on better in English than we do in Spanish.

After our Latin American guests had gone, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Patterson drove about the place with us and we sat for a while on the porch at my husband’s cottage where it was delightfully cool. Then we returned to find Justice and Mrs. Felix Frankfurter who had just arrived to spend the night.

I must tell you of a very charming gift which has come to me from a German refugee. It is an exquisite drawing of some dandelions with their leaves, some clover and other wild flowers. Under the drawing is written:

Ellis Island – picked through the only bars that ever held a promise of freedom.

This particular refugee was only passing through the United States on a temporary visa with a more permanent one entitling her to entry into another country.

When examined, she told of her ability to draw and she was at once asked if she were going to draw pictures of our defenses. Her answer was:

No, I only draw the little flowers and the little animals.

A peaceful enough subject and charmingly done. I hope the bars which “promised freedom” will bring her to her new home and to contentment and liberty.

August 9, 1940

Hyde Park, Thursday –
Early yesterday morning, I drove down to New York City to see some of my son Elliott’s friends. Then I bought some tickets for the benefit to be given at the Polo Grounds on August 22 for Bethune-Cookman College, founded by Mrs. Mary McLeod Bethune at Daytona Beach, Florida. This college serves many thousand colored people who live south of Daytona. Because it was started with no endowments, there is always a need to raise the yearly running expenses. The party on the 22nd will be a combination music and sports festival, and will include boxing contests and entertainment by many outstanding figures in the music, stage, screen and radio fields.

I have real admiration for Mrs. Bethune and her devotion to her race as well as her tact and wisdom in all the work she undertakes. She has helped immeasurably as head of the work for young colored people in the National Youth Administration, and I hope that many people, not only of her race but also of mine, will be interested to help by attending this benefit.

Later in the afternoon, I spoke over the radio for “Bundles for Britain,” and was home in Hyde Park in time to have a swim before dinner.

The weather is glorious today, and we are all planning to be out of doors as much as we can. I have a party this afternoon for the Democratic women in nearby counties, and then I think we will all take picnic suppers and enjoy the moonlight which is very beautiful just now.

The reporters who interviewed me yesterday, some of whom I imagine are members of the New York Newspaper Guild, seemed most interested in my announcement that I meant to attend the Guild meetings, if I possibly could. They began by asking me to answer statements in Mr. Pegler’s column of the day before, but as I had not read the column that was out of the question. I told them I would answer any questions which they wished to ask to the best of my ability.

It seems rather useless anyway to start answering statements made by my kindly fellow columnist, or by any other newspaper writers, now or in the future, unless for some reason I was particularly interested in doing so. In this case, it all seems very unimportant to me. I have no desire to be a member of any organization for which I am not eligible, and the organization is certainly competent to decide. For the moment, I happen to be in a little different position from other columnists. That has not always been the case and will not always be so in the future. In the meantime, I must worry along as best I can, facing situations that I find myself in, and doing the best I can with them as they are.

August 10, 1940

Hyde Park, Friday –
This place seemed filled with Democrats yesterday afternoon, and even in the morning they began to arrive at Miss Nancy Cook’s cottage; for she had arranged luncheon for a large group. Every year or so, Mrs. Henry Morgenthau, Jr. and I tell the county chairman that we will each be glad to have a tea for the Democratic women.

This year, Mrs. Edward Conger, who is vice chairman for Dutchess County, included the women from the four neighboring counties, and told me she would have about 400. Yesterday morning, however, when Miss Thompson checked up, she found that it was more than likely that we would have 800. We could hardly be blamed for being a little appalled, because when you live in the country it is not quite so easy to go around the corner to buy extra food. However, by dint of collecting everything from everywhere, I hope that everyone who came got something to eat and drink. I ceased trying to make sure when I seemed completely surrounded by hands which I was trying to shake.

The President and Secretary Wallace came over for a few brief minutes, and I must say that the country seems the proper setting for these two men. They both look more natural and seem happier without hats and sitting on the back of a seat of a small car. They went off with a party to picnic in a distant spot, but I could not leave until late in the afternoon. Then the rest of us went up to picnic at my old home, five miles above the village of Tivoli.

The house looks very much neglected, and for many years nobody has done much to the grounds except cut down some trees. Still, as we sat and ate our picnic supper, watching the sun go down behind the Catskill Mountains, I could not help feeling a sense of beauty and peace. It may be sad to return to the scenes of one’s childhood and realize all the things that have happened in the intervening years to the people one loves; yet there is also something very sweet in remembering the good things which no sadness can wipe out.

For instance, into this house of adolescent life, with young aunts and uncles enjoying to the full a gay and fairly undisciplined existence I came with my brother after my mother’s death. It was natural for my grandmother, already in the middle years of her life, to be willing to take in her eldest daughter’s children. As I have grown older, however, I appreciate more and more the spirit which made those young aunts and uncles make us, as children, feel that our home was with them; that we had as much right to be there as they. There never was a question of what was thine or mine among us. That is something which makes for a deeper belief in the good of human nature and helps one through the rough spots all the rest of one’s life.

August 12, 1940

Hyde Park, Sunday –
In writing the other day about increasing our knowledge of our Pan-American neighbors, I forgot to mention something which has come to my attention, and which I think most interesting.

The Reader’s Digest is publishing a Spanish language edition for distribution throughout Latin America, and the subscription rate has been established at one dollar a year postpaid, to make possible a very wide distribution. The Reader’s Digest Association is prepared to cover any deficit in the interest of establishing a better understanding between the North and South American countries. I wish we could do many more things of this kind, for we have left this field of cultural relations almost entirely open to other nationalities.

I was glad to see in the papers that the first concert given in Brazil by the Stokowski-led American Youth Orchestra was received with great enthusiasm, because I think that also is a step in the right direction. The youngsters are trying to learn some Spanish on the way, I believe, but fortunately music is a universal language.

Since we are discussing young people, I might mention that they are doing something at the New York World’s Fair which I think will be of interest. The National Youth Administration is conducting youth occupational trips, free to all of junior high school age and over. These trips offer, through talks and visits to selected Fair exhibits, an opportunity to any person interested in obtaining first hand information of the requirements which various industries and professions demand of potential employees.

They cover such occupations as electricity, baking, nursing and public health, printing, business machines operation, art and design, automobile mechanics, farming, aviation and needle trades. They have been very successful through this new technique in giving occupational information, and many organizations in the metropolitan area are sending groups to take the various trips. The World’s Fair Welfare Department is offering reduced admission rates to educational organizations and social agencies that wish to take advantage of this service.

It seems to me this is valuable to the young people conducting the trips who must familiarize themselves with the industries and exhibits which they tell about. It also gives an opportunity to other young people to find out about various occupations and to choose more wisely their courses in school or in supplemental preparation.

My husband left Friday night for Portsmouth, NH. We had one last picnic with Secretary Knox, Colonel “Bill” Donovan, General Watson and Captain Callaghan as guests. Last night we drove to Stockbridge, Mass. for an evening of beautiful music.

August 13, 1940

Hyde Park, Monday –
Because of lack of space, I had very little chance to tell you of our delightful evening at the Berkshire Symphonic Festival on Saturday. The drive up was through lovely country, and we found a grassy knoll under a shady tree not far from the road where we ate our picnic supper. The cows coming back from pasture disturbed us for a few minutes and one cow took great interest in the shiny thermos bottle with its red cap. I think she would have shared our supper if I had not remembered how I shooed the cows along the road in my childhood, and started these off toward their ultimate destination in the next field.

At the concert we found the chairs comfortable, and the big hall, which is open on all sides, very cool despite the 9,000 people assembled. We settled down with real anticipation to hearing Beethoven’s Sixth symphony. I have heard the Pastoral played before, but the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the conductor, Dr. Sergei Koussevitzky, made of it something entirely new to me. I was happy to have had an opportunity after it was over to go back and talk with this great conductor for a few minutes and thank him for what was already an unforgettable evening.

The second part of the program featured the Tchaikovsky Sixth Symphony, which is one of my favorites, and when we started for home I felt that we were well repaid for the long drive each way. I wish I could go more often, and cannot help being grateful that there is music of this kind available to the people of this country.

Dr. Koussevitzky told me he was carrying on a school in connection with the Festival and was discovering talent which he had not dreamed existed here. It does not seem strange to me that we should have musical talent in America, for so many races are represented in our midst. It would be impossible for them not to bring to our shores with them the knowledge of music and the appreciation which exists in their own countries. It is thrilling, however, to have these talents developed and to realize how the appreciation of good music is growing in our nation.

Yesterday we spent a very busy day with a children’s party for some 20 youthful neighbors in the afternoon. I found myself playing “Hide and Go Seek,” “Blind Man’s Buff” and “Still Pond No More Moving,” and wishing that my grandchildren could be here to add to the general gaiety.

The French journalist, Mme. Genevieve Tabouis, lunched with us and I think I have seldom seen such strength and courage in a rather frail human being.

August 14, 1940

Hyde Park, Tuesday –
I looked at the moon last night as I drove home and later, while I sat on my porch, I could not help thinking of what its beauty means to us, and in contrast what horror its bright light means for England. It is this week, I imagine, that a landing must be made by the Germans or the attack must be put off for some time.

So, as we read of constantly renewed flights over various parts of England, we can only hope that bad weather will envelop the British Isles and those traditional English fogs will be worse than they ever have been before. They are perhaps the best protection that Great Britain can have outside of her fighting air force which seems to be acquitting itself extremely well.

I cannot help but think of ruined houses and countrysides in terms of people whom I know. Having members of your family and friends in various parts of England, Scotland and Ireland makes bombing raids which victimize civilians a much more personal thing than if you could simply sympathize with unknown men, women and children.

I spent most of the day yesterday working with Miss Thompson and playing probably more than I should, considering the work that ought to be done. A young man dropped in for lunch who is in the National Park Service and who had brought an engineer and some workmen from the CCC camp in his park down to work on the Vanderbilt estate. When these places are taken over by the Park Service, it takes some time to put them in order. In the case of this estate, no one has lived there for the past few years and the gardens and greenhouses which require constant keeping up had, of course, greatly deteriorated. I imagine that gradually they will come back to their former beauty. Then visitors will not only see the house itself, surrounded by a collection of variegated trees which cannot be equalled anywhere else up or down the Hudson River Valley, but they will enjoy the beautiful gardens which have been developed by three different generations of owners.

We all dined with Secretary and Mrs. Morgenthau at their farm last night, and ate some of the most delicious string beans, which they have grown in quantity for the market this year, and the very last raspberries of the summer. Secretary Wallace presented some of his specially developed corn to both the Morgenthaus and to us for our gardens, and we decided that it is about the best corn we have ever eaten.

It is curious, however. Living in the country you take more interest in food that actually comes out of your own or your neighbor’s garden. Someday, I am going to be a housewife again and really boast about stocking my house in summer for winter use, and feel whenever I give a jar of preserves away that I am really giving something into which I have put some personal effort.

August 15, 1940

Hyde Park, Wednesday –
The mail again has brought me something of real interest because it is an original idea. In Long Island City, NY. a new organization has been formed. It’s called the Self-employed Actors Association. The Long Island Star Journal gives a picture of the success of this group’s first performance in a vacant lot. The actors also sent me a book covering, in entertaining fashion, many of their problems. I must say they have been very ingenious in finding answers to their various problems as they arose.

Their president is Claude Marsan. They apparently intend to be not only actors of successful plays, but to produce and sell a drink which will add to their revenue. They already have procured a truck and are giving their plays in different sections so as to have a daily audience. I can only say that I hope this novel idea, which includes a serial play and various original acts, prospers and brings great success to those who have conceived it and are working on it.

In these days, we want people of initiative to find new things to do to meet unusual situations, and certainly this is a good example of the type of thing which can be done.

I also have a letter from a young man who has been attending medical school in Nebraska. He is going to give up his studies because of lack of funds, but he does not make a personal appeal. He simply states that he thinks medical students are as important to the defense program as any other group of workers and that they should be developed by assistance from the Government. He adds that such students as these do not want something for nothing, but are willing to work, now or in the future, to pay for whatever assistance they may be given.

I cannot help feeling that he has put his finger on something which may have been forgotten, namely, that defense extends to so many different lines that we cannot just produce soldiers and mechanics for the Army or for defense industries. We will need doctors, musicians, painters, carpenters, cooks and any number of people who will carry on their professions in peacetime as well as in war, but who will form the reservoir from which we draw when need comes. Hence we cannot ignore them in any general defense program.

We had a little rain yesterday which was very welcome, but it lasted only a short time. Miss Julia Parker, one of our neighbors, came to lunch and in the evening we sallied forth to dine with Mrs. George Huntington, who lives about 15 miles up the Hudson River.

Today I am driving to New York City for a busy day.

August 16, 1940

Hyde Park, Thursday –
It was a beautiful drive to New York yesterday, both going down and coming back, but on the way home I slept most of the way. I was the lone passenger and after reading two newspapers tried to read a book, but I don’t find that very satisfactory in a car. Before long I was waking up with a start every now and then, realizing that I had been sound asleep. On one occasion, as a car passed us, I awoke just in time to see a very amused lady turning around to look at me.

In the morning, I went to a meeting of the U.S. Committee for the Care of Refugee Children, and then went to the Biltmore Hotel to lunch with a number of my friends who have come up from Washington to work at the National Democratic Committee headquarters. Mrs. Dorothy McAllister, who is head of the women’s division, is just getting settled, with Mrs. May Thompson Evans to help her. I went the rounds afterwards to say a word of greeting to all my friends, including Mr. Edward J. Flynn, Mr. Frank Walker, and Mr. Charles Michaelson.

Later, I saw a number of people and did not get off for the country until 5 o’clock, so it was after 7 when we sat down on my porch for a quiet dinner. The mail was waiting to be done in the evening, and I still see Miss Thompson’s desk piled high, though she had hoped that a day or two here alone would enable her to catch up on her work.

I am going off again today to Orange County to attend the Onion Festival, which I am told is a colorful occasion. Tomorrow I will tell you more about it.

Miss Thompson’s conscience keeps her right at her desk, so if any of you have written me letters and received no answers, it is because of the amount of mail which has been pouring in of late.

It is very interesting to me to see the differences of opinion on the conscription bill. The Burke-Wadsworth bill has really been studied by a great many people, and they write objecting to certain particular clauses. Some people are opposed to any kind of service or training, military or otherwise. Others object to such things as not safeguarding conscientious objectors, or the range of age, or the compulsory provision. By and large, I should say from the mail that there is a realization that some kind of universal service would be a good thing, with a minimum amount of military service needed during a part of the time. I am glad that a full and free discussion is going on, so that when legislation is passed it will represent the will of the majority of the people.

August 17, 1940

Hyde Park, Friday –
I promised to tell you more about the Onion Festival. There is a section of Orange County, NY, with some 10,000 to 12,000 acres of cleared land whose soil is as rich and black as can be found anywhere in this country. It is the second largest onion growing section in the United States, and in good years it nets an annual income of about one million dollars.

But, there is a gamble in it; for while some drainage work has been done, it hasn’t been sufficient to insure against flooding. A few times in the past several years, the people who depend for the most part on this one crop have had no crop. There are many other hazards in onion growing; but in spite of them, the Polish and German people who settled in this area have succeeded in making good homes for themselves and have raised large families. All in the family work – and work hard – but they seem to be a healthy, happy group of people. Religion is a very real part of their lives, so this Onion Festival is arranged largely by the priests in the different parishes.

First, we lunched with Mrs. Florence Ketchum in Warwick, and then formed a long procession of floats and trucks with bands to parade through several villages and some 12 miles of the countryside. At the end of the motor trip, we returned to the field where the pageant is held. This is colorful, featuring costumes from different parts of Poland, various Polish dances and some beautiful singing. The pageant ends with the crowning of the Queen, who is escorted by four young ladies who are chosen as Princesses because they have also found a place in the competition.

The girl chosen as Queen was a pretty, fair-haired girl with great poise and a charming personality. Among her other qualifications, the Queen must actually have worked in the onion fields. This one played her part charmingly and State Senator Desmond crowned her with appropriate ceremony.

I did not get home until half past 7, and found the audience for the plays given by the Valley Vagabonds already gathering on our lawn. The Poughkeepsie Refugee Children’s Committee, headed by Dr. Henry MacCracken, and for which Mrs. Lyndon H. Thatcher arranged this benefit, did a really very good piece of work in selling tickets. We had a good audience, which seemed to enjoy the young players. Some of the audience later joined with the actors in dancing a Virginia reel. This was their last performance of the season, but they hope to start again next summer. I admire their enthusiasm and wish them increasing success, which their good work deserves.

This morning, Mrs. Henry Morgenthau Jr. is joining me and we are going over to Woodstock, NY, to visit the NYA project there.

August 19, 1940

Hyde Park, Sunday –
I picked up a friend who was spending the day with me in New York City yesterday morning and returned to the country in the afternoon. Then I went to keep two appointments.

The first was to talk about a meeting of the United Parents Association in the autumn, and the second was with a committee from the Society of Pediatricians.

They have a bill in Congress which will give them recognition in the Army and Navy on the same basis as dentists and other specialized groups who do not have M.D. degrees. It seems to me they will certainly be useful in the services. Soldiers on the march and sailors standing watch on board ship, both need this care for their general health and happiness.

In the afternoon I went out to the World’s Fair, feeling very sorry that the weather had been so bad all morning, for I knew it would spoil the day for the rural young people who had planned a big meeting in the Court of Peace.

First, I visited the Brazilian Pavilion and drank some delicious coffee with the Commissioner and his wife. We looked at the murals, which are extremely interesting and depict different phases of life in various parts of Brazil. These murals should, of course be viewed from a greater distance than their present location permits but they are colorful and bold in execution.

The rural meeting had been moved to the Assembly Hall at the Fair, where Mr. Harvey Gibson, Dr. J. A. Linke of the United States Office of Education, Dr. M. L. Wilson, Director of the Extension Service in the Department of Agriculture, were all assembled. On account of the weather, the ceremonies were brief, and many young people must have been disappointed.

From there I went to the Finnish Pavilion to unveil the poster which the American Committee for Aid to Finland is putting out in a campaign to gain members to help in their work.

Under the direction of a well-known Finnish architect, a group of students at MIT are planning reconstruction work and the building from the ground up of a city in Finland. It is an interesting undertaking and the models which they show of the new villages they are planning, are certainly an improvement over what was destroyed. It must, however be hard to rehouse so many people who have lost their homes.

My last visit at the Fair was to the model of Quoddy Dam built by the NYA. Then we drove home, arriving after 7:00.

August 20, 1940

Hyde Park, Monday –
On my way up from New York City on Saturday afternoon, like many other interested citizens, I listened to Mr. Wendell Willkie’s speech. He has a good voice and speaks well over the radio.

In the evening, some young people came to discuss the meeting of a group of young people. I was interested in their attitude toward the discussion of political questions in their groups. They thought it would be valuable, but one girl was afraid it would become just a political meeting and not a real discussion.

They all questioned whether responsible people, in or out of office, would come to answer questions. I think that young people do not realize what potential strength and influence they have in community life and how important it is for them to bring questions before their communities which are of interest to them.

Later on, some of our neighbors held a dance on our picnic grounds, using the platform which was put up for the play the other night. I stayed with them for a time and everyone seemed to have fun under the light of the full moon. I could not help thinking how pleasant and fortunate it was for us that we did not have to worry when we heard an airplane flying overhead.

I have had brought to my attention several times a publication called Libros, which is printed in this country in Spanish and sent every month to 10,000 selected readers in Latin America. This publication disseminates information about the best books published here and is intended to develop better cultural relations and improve the understanding between the Americas.

I am sure it does a valuable work, but the greatest difficulty that our books face in South America is the fact that they are very much more expensive than German publications, which for years have been sold throughout South America at very low prices. This tends to make students buy a German book in preference to one published in the United States, if they are unable to spend a great deal.

I forgot to tell you of a very delightful play which I attended on Friday night at a boy’s camp not far from here. Camp Ramapo is back of Rhinebeck, NY, hidden away in a delightful spot in the woods. I am sure that its sponsors are accomplishing a great work for the boys, to whom they give not only an opportunity for health, but for development and education along many lines.

I motored down again to New York City this morning and hope to meet my son, Franklin Jr., later in the day.

August 21, 1940

Hyde Park, Tuesday –
My first stop yesterday morning was at the WPA office in New York City, where WPA interviewers are accepting applications from people now on WPA who wish to be allowed to take a training course in one of the New York City training schools. The Board of Education also checks the information which each individual gives. Fifty percent of the people taking these courses come from WPA and there are, of course, a great many more applications than can be accepted.

I talked to one man who wanted to take a course in telegraphy. It was nine years since he had given up this occupation, but he felt he wished to return to it. I asked the officials what they did with people who could not immediately be taken into some defense industry and they said they were able to place about fifty percent of them on WPA programs in some work along the lines of the skills which they had gained, or had regained during training.

It seems to me that there is a hitch somewhere when the flow from training to jobs is not fairly rapid. When one reads of the necessity for speed in production, one cannot help wondering why this flow of men into jobs is not more rapid. As I understand it, after skilled and semi-skilled workers have been trained and re-employed, the reservoir of young people will be trained to fill the normal increases that should come in these industries.

This is where the NYA and CCC, with greatly increased mechanical facilities, will be called upon to do their share of the job. It will be, however, a defense job, and should, I believe, not be considered only from the point of view of doing something for young people, but also of doing a very necessary piece of work in the defense of the country.

After leaving the WPA office, I went to two of the schools. The shops were certainly efficient looking and the men seemed absorbed in their work. They must be getting good training, or there would not be that sense of interest and drive which there was in practically every room we entered.

It was not a very good day in New York City. In the afternoon the rain came down in torrents and on the drive home the windshield wipers were kept busy. I returned in time for a quiet dinner and evening with the President and a small party. Most of the evening was spent listening to the radio.

Today is delightfully cool with a grand breeze blowing. Riding was really a joy this morning. The President and some friends are lunching with me at the cottage.

August 22, 1940

Hyde Park, Wednesday –
I have never known such marvelous weather for this time in August. I went riding again this morning and the breeze was cool, even the flies are gradually disappearing. Before long, I think the woods will be possible for real riding enjoyment.

The purple loosestrife around my pond is at its height in color. At certain times in the day, it is reflected in the water and I can see it from the window by my desk. I find myself gazing out in sheer enjoyment of the color, instead of paying attention to my work. I always had great sympathy with children who played hooky from school in the springtime.

Looking out from our porch yesterday, one of our guests remarked:

If you landscaped this view, it could not be lovelier. After all, nature is the best landscape gardener.

I agree, for no planning on our part could excel what weeds and trees and meadows do for us.

I am going to use my column today in a very peculiar manner. A woman who wanted some information, and who is evidently a badly frightened human being, wrote me and suggested that I put an ad in the personal column of a certain newspaper, giving an answer to a question. Unfortunately, this is not possible, for the answer is slightly longer than one could put in a personal item. She wrote anonymously and I have no way of reaching her, unless she should happen to read this column. In which case, if she will write me, I can give her the answer to her question, which is entirely reassuring.

While we are talking about people who are panicky about things they do not understand, I should like to say a word to those who have been asked to register under the Alien Registration Act. Several people have written me, who have been here for a long time, have led good lives and have become respected citizens in their communities. But, when they originally entered this country, they perhaps slipped up on some necessary observances for legal entry.

Instead of being terrified now, it is better to go to the officials and tell the whole story. They are sure to have fair and understanding treatment. Their standing in the community will be in their favor, and they will certainly receive sympathetic assistance in straightening out their difficulties, whatever they may be.

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August 23, 1940

Hyde Park, Thursday –
Yesterday was a quiet day and we were happy to see Franklin Jr. for a little while. He celebrated his birthday last week with his wife and little boy in Northeast Harbor, Maine, on his return from his Reserve Officers’ Cruise. Now he has come back and is doing some work in New York City.

The President left in the evening to go back to Washington. I think this has been one of the quietest and most restful visits he has had this summer. One can never, of course, feel entirely free from the shadow of world events, but in the country there is always something healing in the mere fact that nature does rebuild whatever she destroys.

I have received a copy of the September issue of Harper’s Magazine, with an article “The Inner Threat, Our Own Softness” by Roy Helton, marked for me to read. He seems to feel that the democracies have suffered from the influence of feminism and all of our softnesses have come from the fact that men have increased the luxuries of life just because they have been trying to please the ladies and cater to feminine desires.

I do not really think that this is true, for the world seems to me run for men and by men even now. Here and there you find a spoiled woman, but I think she is always matched by a spoiled man. The average woman keeps active and working as long as the average man. She may be more interested in her looks, or the nature of her work makes it more possible for her to continue to perform her daily tasks. Nevertheless, she does function frequently up to a ripe old age.

I agree with much that Mr. Helton says. My only contention is that the gentlemen are quite as much to blame as the ladies. If children are spoiled, it is just as apt to be the father’s fault as the mother’s. If we do not want to face paying taxes, I haven’t noticed that the gentlemen clamor to do so any more than the ladies. There is a sufficient majority of gentlemen still in Congress to make us do it, if they feel strongly about it.

We should not miss one paragraph in this article:

For be sure of this, in a world of power the gracious, the genteel, the sheltered life has of itself no force. It has no vital consequences. Couple democracy to those ideals and you marry it to death. Whatever survives between now and the year 2000 will be something tough.

I agree with you Mr. Helton, it will be tough, but one can be tough and at the same time gentle and gracious and cultured. Some of the toughest people I know are both gentle and gracious. There is steel sometimes hidden under a velvet softness and I have known women who were tougher than men when it came to standing up under hardships and showing endurance.

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