Eleanor Roosevelt – My Day (Dec. 1941)



By Eleanor Roosevelt

December 1, 1941

Washington, Sunday –
Did I tell you that I went Christmas shopping for toys the other day? This is always the most delightful kind of shopping. The thing which impressed me most was, that in spite of the present period when everyone’s mind is turned to wars and rumors of wars, there was only one small section in which there were war toys; soldiers, forts and tanks.

In many other ways the toys seemed to be more ingenious and constructive than usual. I felt that the campaign, which had been carried on so long against giving children miniature implements of war, was finally bearing fruit. I hope so, for I feel that the reality does not need to be brought home to children in their play.

I spent a most delightful day yesterday at the Army-Navy football game. I had some pleasant young people as companions on the train. The game was one of the best I have ever seen and both teams were so good I wanted to applaud all the players for their skill and good sportsmanship. The day was beautiful and I never remember seeing a football game with so little discomfort.

On my return in the evening, I went to one of the sessions of the institute being held under the auspices of the Washington Bureau of the International Student Service. The speakers from Brookings Institute and the Division of Price Stabilization of the OEM were both extremely interesting. Dr. M. L. Wilson, of the Department of Agriculture, is talking to the entire group this afternoon, and I hope to have the pleasure of hearing him also.

I have received a suggestion from one of my correspondents, that an appeal should be made to friends and relatives of the men in the services, to write to them on regular days, so that they will not feel that they are forgotten by those at home. I think this is particularly important when our men are stationed in faraway places like Hawaii, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Iceland and Newfoundland. They get such a feeling of being cut off, that they concentrate more on a desire to come home than on doing a good job. We, at home, could probably do a great deal to keep them from such loneliness.

December 2, 1941

Washington, Monday –
We had a really delightful session yesterday afternoon with Dr. M. L. Wilson and, again in the evening, the group of students had an extraordinarily interesting and stimulating time with Mr. Harry White, from the Treasury; Dr. Cohen, the analyst from the Bureau of the Budget; and Mr. Lauchlin Currie.

All these four men have a technique which is highly to be desired. Instead of making young people feel that they know nothing and that their opinions and efforts to learn are really valueless, they take their questions and rephrase them so they become significant and, in the answers, give far more than any young person could have thought of asking.

That is the gift of really great teachers, and I doubt if there was a young person present, who did not leave the meeting feeling more determined to work hard, and more secure in his ability to make a contribution in this difficult field of economics.

Never having been to college, I feel that I have learned a great deal in the course of the last few days. I not only enjoyed the talks by the government officials, but the contacts with the young and keen minds.

A picture about to be released on women in defense is a good and informative film. I liked it much better when I saw it yesterday than I did in the preparatory period. I feel that six months from now we shall be able to make a more varied film than this one. Women will find so many openings in which to serve their communities, that their activities someday will give us a pattern for good community organization, and the film of these activities will be of great value to the nation.

I find that Ohio and Michigan are very sensitive to the accusation that they are not awake to the dangers of the present crisis. I have had several letters protesting that my knowledge was much too local, that I was speaking of individual cities and could not know the state sentiment. I was speaking, however, from conversations with people who had been all over the area. I was not really criticizing the attitude of people on the war, but the fact that there has apparently been so little realization that civilian defense is so important to every community in peace as well as in war.

December 3, 1941

Washington, Tuesday –
Late yesterday afternoon I flew over to Philadelphia to take part in the beginning of their National Defense Week. Mr. John Kelly was in charge of the evening. There had been street races in the afternoon for boys, and, while I was there, the prizes were given out to several individuals and teams.

They had some wonderful high school bands, as well as police and firemen’s bands. I had to catch a 9:15 plane back to Washington, so I missed the greater part of the exhibition, but the glimpse of what the young people could do was a great satisfaction. I felt there was potential strength there which could be translated into sound and healthy bodies as they grew up.

I feel that our physical fitness program should serve to awaken interest among young people and their elders to look into all available sources of material. They should know how to eat better food (which is what we mean by nutrition) and how to take such exercise and live in such a way that they will be able to stand physical strains. At the same time, they should build within themselves the kind of resistance needed for the long sustained anxiety of a period of emergency.

Carl Sandburg has just sent our Office of Civilian Defense two short pledges, which I hope people will copy and carry around with them. The first is:

I pledge myself to be a little thoughtful every day about the meaning of freedom and how and why I am a citizen of a republic of free men and women, and how and why men and women toiled and fought yesterday for my freedom today.

If we bear this in mind, I think we shall have a greater sense of responsibility about the preservation of our freedoms today. We shall come to the celebration of December 15th, when I hope every person in this country will read the Bill of Rights again, with a greater sense of obligation to see that the freedoms therein listed, are truly freedoms enjoyed by every citizen of the United States.

Mr. Sandburg’s second pledge reads as follows:

I pledge myself to do a little thinking every day about the need of discipline and how, in a time of national danger more than ever, my own rights as a citizen are tangled and interwoven with the rights of others and these rights always deserve a decent respect.

December 4, 1941

New York, Wednesday –
I went to my office yesterday morning, spent two hours there and then discovered that I was actually through with my work, so home I went to labor in my Christmas closet. I find that trying to follow directions not to waste string or paper, and never to open a package when once it is tied up, takes a good deal more thought than I usually give to Christmas preparations!

I was sorry that the President had such a short stay in Warm Springs, Ga., but I think the change was good for him. He told me they had a wonderful dinner at the Foundation on Saturday night, and he had a good sleep in his cottage.

For once, he left his dog, Fala, behind. I imagine he thought they are apt to get ticks in the South, and that the trip was not going to be long enough to warrant so much time spent on the train for a little dog. However, left behind, Fala was a very pathetic and lonely object. He deigned to spend his nights in my room and woke me up in the mornings by pawing the side of my bed and by little yaps to attract my attention. When the President came in, Fala nearly wagged his tail off.

A few people came to lunch yesterday, and I had one or two appointments. Late in the afternoon, I came over to New York City. Today I have a number of appointments and I am going to the Sale for the Blind at 37th Street and Fifth Avenue at noon, then to the Immigrants’ Conference, and to the Henry Street Nurses meeting at four-thirty. I am not yet quite sure that I can manage to get to the Dorothy Maynor concert for the benefit of the Women’s Trade Union League tonight, but I certainly shall make an effort to be there for a little while.

I have had so much enthusiasm over the suggestion that a Woman’s Land Army might be needed. I know there are a great many women and young people who would welcome preparing for some definite thing. It is not in the province, of course, of the Office of Civilian Defense actually to carry out a program, but we hope before long to be able to suggest ways in which people can fit themselves to do whatever emergency work may be required in their communities when the summer comes.

There will be parts of the country where it will be possible to provide paid workers for farmers who need help. Wherever that is possible, it should be done. Volunteers may be needed in various specific ways, but they will be of value only if they have trained and disciplined themselves to stand outdoor work.

December 5, 1941

New York, Thursday –
Yesterday was a busy day. In contrast, I find myself devoting my time today to catching up on the mail and doing various things in my house here.

My husband holds over my head the fact that if these houses are sold, I shall have to leave them at very short notice. Since we have always kept certain things in locked closets, I fill up my spare minutes and hours trying to decide what to do with things that have a certain sentimental value and, which, perhaps, none of our children will have any real use for now, or in the future.

Yesterday I found some very beautiful and very large old tablecloths and napkins with handsome embroidered coats of arms, such as no one would think of indulging in at the present time. In fact, very few people who are economically inclined, use large or small tablecloths anymore, and certainly not these large napkins, when table mats and small napkins are so much easier to launder.

Also, most of us have learned to use paper in many ways which we did not consider possible in our grandmother’s day. However, we may return to napkin rings and the careful use of napkins, since paper is now to be conserved.

Even then, I cannot see that these big cloths and big napkins would be anything but a burden to any of our children. They have been laid away in a trunk for many long years, because I did not feel justified in using them.

With children scattered all over the country, and only two owning their own homes; china, glass and silver, accumulated by former generations, seem irksome to them. Perhaps, what we are all learning is the fact that we should not be burdened by possessions, but should enjoy them while we have them. And, if they are destroyed, we should take it as lightly as our British friends have been able to do.

I have just been sent a report which has been reprinted in the Scientific Monthly, and written by Dr. Bart J. Bok and Margaret W. Mayall. Both of them are astronomers and the report is written to prove that too many people put faith in astrologists and their predictions for the future, believing that astrology has a scientific foundation in astronomy.

This theory, the authors completely explode. They take me to task for not having been firmer in an answer which I gave to a question in the Ladies’ Home Journal. I can only say that I fear I have never taken any form of fortune telling very seriously.

December 6, 1941

Washington, Friday –
Yesterday evening, in New York City, at 8:30, I went to America’s Town Meeting of the Air. I enjoyed the program very much. As so often happens, I felt that many sides of the problem of health could not be covered, even in as long a period as we had on the air.

One thing I felt needed emphasis, namely, that the workers themselves, through their labor union organizations, are doing a great many things to improve their health. It seems to me that the employer has an obligation to use every safety device possible to prevent accidents and has an obligation to initiate other programs, with the idea of social welfare always in the background and the realization that health is a stepping stone to all real welfare and security.

But the employees also have a responsibility for plans and programs which they can work out themselves, or in cooperation with the employer. I think a shining example of this is Mr. David Dubinsky’s International Ladies Garment Workers Union, which has worked out programs for both health and recreation. They are valuable mentally and spiritually, as well as physically.

In New York City, yesterday, I happened to meet an old friend, Mr. Charles Pettijohn. I had not seen him since he brought the movie stars to lunch with us for the President’s Birthday Party last year. I was grieved to learn that he had been in the hospital, but he certainly looks well now, and no one would suspect that he had had an illness.

Meeting him reminded me that a friend has suggested to me that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences might extend its consideration for awards, which are usually given to producers, actors, writers and directors. They might recognize the fact that, for a quarter of a century, Mr. Pettijohn has been preaching all over this country freedom of expression and, therefore, freedom of production for the stage and screen.

He has, however, emphasized as well, that all freedom brings responsibility. That if the stage and screen are not to be censored, then they must not abuse the privilege and must use their mediums for better education and for a general raising of standards as to artistic and moral values.

I do not know whether the Academy considers service of this kind within the realm of its awards, but I want to pay here my tribute to Mr. Pettijohn for his cooperation, year after year, in the interests of the Infantile Paralysis Campaign.

December 8, 1941

Washington, Sunday –
I was going out in the hall to say goodbye to our cousins, Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Adams, and their children, after luncheon, and, as I stepped out of my room, I knew something had happened. All the secretaries were there, two telephones were in use, the senior military aides were on their way with messages. I said nothing because the words I heard over the telephone were quite sufficient to tell me that, finally, the blow had fallen, and we had been attacked.

Attacked in the Philippines, in Hawaii, and on the ocean between San Francisco and Hawaii. Our people had been killed not suspecting there was an enemy, who attacked in the usual ruthless way which Hitler has prepared us to suspect.

Because our nation has lived up to the rules of civilization, it will probably take us a few days to catch up with our enemy, but no one in this country will doubt the ultimate outcome. None of us can help but regret the choice which Japan has made, but having made it, she has taken on a coalition of enemies she must underestimate; unless she believes we have sadly deteriorated since our first ships sailed into her harbor.

The clouds of uncertainty and anxiety have been hanging over us for a long time. Now we know where we are. The work for those who are at home seems to be obvious. First, to do our own job, whatever it is, as well as we can possibly do it. Second, to add to it everything we can do in the way of civilian defense. Now, at last, every community must go to work to build up protections from attack.

We must build up the best possible community services, so that all of our people may feel secure because they know we are standing together and that whatever problems have to be met, will be met by the community and not one lone individual. There is no weakness and insecurity when once this is understood.

Last evening, Mr. Arthur Leblanc, a young Canadian violinist, played for us and we forgot for a little while, in the enjoyment of his music, the clouds which were fast gathering around us.

I think, perhaps, it is significant that we should be beginning Bible Week today. This is the first annual Bible Week, so designated by the Laymen’s National Committee under the honorary chairmanship of Dr. Frank Kingdon. This committee believes that religious faith and knowledge of the Bible are essential to the preservation of our freedoms.

December 9, 1941

Washington, Monday –
At noon today, at the Capitol, I had a curious sense of repetition, for I remembered very vividly the description of the same gallery, when Mrs. Woodrow Wilson listened to President Wilson speak to the assembled members of Congress. Today she sat beside me, as the President spoke the words which branded a nation as having departed from the code of civilized people.

Everyone in this house was up late last night. Early this morning the President was on the telephone and, with every bit of information, the situation in the Pacific showed more clearly what damage had been done by surprise.

Some will think that the people of Hawaii and the Philippines and our other islands should not have been taken by surprise. They have to think back to yesterday, however, to realize how impossible actual war seemed to us. Even today, I heard people say:

Oh well, those islands are vulnerable, but we here on this Continent have nothing to fear.

How hard it is for human beings to learn that the only safety there is, lies in being prepared for any eventuality. When people are making desperate efforts, they will try things which seem foolhardy to more secure people. If you are going to die anyway, you might just as well die with a grand gesture which stands a chance of winning high stakes for you. That is what Germany has planned today, for this attack is German strategy.

If you live along the East Coast, don’t be too sure that you are out of the danger zone. Sign up today and do a job, because if you have a job to do, that responsibility will see you through any situation.

I opened our staff meeting in the Office of Civilian Defense this morning, by saying that I thought this was no moment for any of our able women to accept the invitation of Great Britain to go over and visit them. There was no one in the room who was not alert to the fact that their work had ceased to be the work of preparation and was now work which required action immediately.

After the short time spent at the Capitol, Director La Guardia held his staff meeting. Since then I have been contacting regional directors and obtaining all the information I need for the work which we hope to get done on the West Coast during the next few days. I am leaving tonight and hope to be in Los Angeles tomorrow morning.

December 10, 1941

Los Angeles, Tuesday –
We left last night with the usual rush of last-minute things which must be done. Three of us had supper in my sitting room before we left. With us were Jimmy, Elliott and two friends with whom Elliott had flown from the school in San Antonio, Texas. One of the younger men was head of the school and had come to Washington to attend a conference. The other two had just finished their course.

After flying all summer over the uncharted northern places in which we now have an interest, and after taking these present courses, in aerial navigation, gunnery, etc., Elliott will be much better trained. It looks as though we shall need all the trained people we can get.

Our trip was smooth, except for one perfectly tremendous bump, which came just as some passengers were having dinner. Most of them found themselves with food and drink spilled all over them. Luckily we had eaten before boarding the plane, and so we only hit the ceiling and sat down again, surrounded by papers and books in various odd places. It took a little longer to tidy up the rest of the passengers, than for us to retrieve our belongings.

Just before we reached Nashville, Tennessee, word came to us that San Francisco was being bombed. We awakened Director La Guardia and he decided at once we must make arrangements to proceed as quickly as possible to San Francisco.

At Nashville, I telegraphed and discovered San Francisco had not been bombed, but that a blackout had been ordered up and down all the coast, because enemy planes had been heard from the Army posts. All of us went to bed feeling happier than no real harm had come to one of our cities.

I like to get up with the dawn on this flight and watch the colors in the sky and the wonderful play of sun and shadow on the mountains. Before we reached Phoenix, I had my first cup of coffee and enjoyed the view of the country.

We thought for a while that we would have to land in Palm Springs, which is a three-hour drive to Los Angeles. However, the weather cleared and we were able to land in Burbank on schedule. Director La Guardia and I may separate in Los Angeles. He will go to San Francisco, while I think it may be wise for me to go to San Diego first.

I shall use my column as far as possible to tell you what we plan to do in civilian defense in this area, for I think it may be useful to everyone. There is one thing which every woman can do to prepare her house for blackouts. Namely, arrange with black cloth, or heavy curtains, or even a rug, so that light will not show through a window, to make a room livable in a blackout. Preferably, it should be the kitchen, so that food can be cooked.

December 11, 1941

San Diego, Wednesday –
We arrived in Los Angeles in the rain yesterday morning. The Governor of California and the mayor of Los Angeles met us. The Governor drove off with Director La Guardia. Gilbert Harrison and I followed with the mayor. I was astonished to find that, even now, some people can’t believe our shores are actually a possible target for attack.

We went straight to the State Building, and in a very few minutes the State Council of Defense met in open session. All the seats in the room were filled and people stood in the aisles as the morning wore on.

I felt extremely virtuous, because I had not gone to the hotel to dress. I usually feel that this is essential after a night trip. I patted myself on the back and felt that since this was not entirely comfortable, this was my first real job for civilian defense.

It is remarkable how a real threat will change the whole aspect of a situation overnight. The State Defense Council met, found an executive secretary, decided to establish a central office in the State Capitol in Sacramento and two branch offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles. The local council of defense was setting up its volunteer office also.

Guards had already been placed on watch at all strategic places such as bridges in the state. The need for money was already being canvassed and the Governor was making necessary preparations to meet the requirements.

Director La Guardia made an excellent speech and it was splendid to see the response to concrete suggestions. In the afternoon, the meeting was divided and Mayor La Guardia went to a meeting of the section on health and welfare.

I found that there were many very excellent plans on paper, but actual assignment of people to specific posts and their training in what they should do on those posts had not yet been undertaken. It seems to me that, with real danger hanging over our heads, when we discuss the actual work that has to be done, we discover that the protective measures are really very closely allied to the voluntary participation.

You cannot, for instance, be a good air warden without knowing exactly how all the people in your section live and what their needs are. Yet the air raid wardens are trained under the Army and the community services, which they have to invoke to do their job well, are all on my side of defense.

December 12, 1941

San Francisco –
Yesterday we left by the eight o’clock train as the rain still continued and no planes were flying. We reached San Diego at 10:30, accompanied by Mr. Neustadt of the Federal Security Administration and Mrs. Shreiner, of our own OCD regional office in charge of the establishment of voluntary bureaus.

In San Diego I found during the Defense Council Meeting that they have actually accomplished a good deal. Their medical setup for disaster is very complete. They need more medical supplies, but they have a greater reserve than most places, and they have actually practiced how long it takes to cover the city and the country. They tell me in ten minutes any part of the city can be covered and in half an hour, any part of the county. They have tried setting up an emergency hospital in one of their schools with two hundred beds installed and ready for use.

They are training their air raid wardens, but they have comparatively few of them as yet. their volunteer bureau is functioning in the city with a number of outposts in schools and firehouses for registration and information.

I visited the Red Cross which is in a building in the old fair grounds. They have a great many volunteer workers and are doing a great deal of work, but I was distressed to find that they are only training thirty nurses aides every four weeks, which seems to me a very inadequate number.

We went over to Coronado to lunch with our son, John, and I was happy to find his wife sufficiently recovered from the ear which had to be lanced a week or more ago, to be downstairs while we were there. Little Haven is able to walk about now and he has learned one whole sentence: “Daddy, all gone,” which he acquired when the new rules required young officers to stay at their posts from early one morning through to the next afternoon. Haven couldn’t understand, of course, why his father was away so long.

We took the train back to Los Angeles and dined in the railroad station. While eating, we heard the announcement:

The United States Army has ordered a blackout along the coast from Bakersfield and back to Las Vegas.

In a few minutes all the curtains were drawn and candles were brought for each table as the electric lights went out everywhere. Only in the underground passageway leading to the train shed, were the lights left lit. Everything else was done by lantern or candlelight. People moved along, however, quietly and without excitement, but our train was somewhat delayed in leaving.

Today we are in San Francisco.

December 13, 1941

En route from San Francisco to Portland, Ore. –
We are on the train this morning, going up through the mountains of Oregon. Much of this country was settled by New Englanders, and the rushing streams which look as though trout and salmon would be plentiful in them, remind one of Maine rivers, though the mountains are so much higher.

I wish I could say that wherever I see magnificent trees cut down, I could also see plantations of new trees, but I have not noticed that as yet. One important lesson we still must learn is that we cannot ask anything which comes from our soil and not return something to the soil for the use of generations to come.

I went straight to a meeting of the San Francisco metropolitan area defense councils yesterday morning. Mayor La Guardia had held a meeting the day before with the police and fire chiefs and had evidently given them much information. The fire chief in San Francisco is no longer young and he is very much upset because the federal government has not as yet provided him with all the machines he thinks he needs. I hope for the safety of San Francisco that he will use his ingenuity to achieve results that must be achieved in any area. This is a lesson which we are going to learn, men and women alike, in the next few months, because we are often going to find we cannot have what we want, but nevertheless things must be done.

The spirit of officials and people in general seems to be resolute and everyone has awakened from a period of apathy to a period of action.

I thought the best suggestion made at this particular meeting was offered by the head of the labor council who is also a state senator. He suggested that during this period, the local defense council meet every morning at nine o’clock, and the other defense councils included in the metropolitan area, come in at least two or three times a week. This is surely the most rapid way of coordinating all their activities and making them useful to each other.

I met with the federal council of all the federal agencies in the area at lunch, attended the opening of the volunteer bureau under the San Francisco defense council and visited the Red Cross headquarters. The Red Cross units on this coast have had training in meeting disasters caused by earthquakes and are perhaps for that reason better prepared to meet the present situation.

December 15, 1941

Seattle –
We had a full meeting of the state and local defense councils and heads of various other organizations in Portland on Friday afternoon. Oregon has a coordinator for defense work and he and the Governor assured me that they actually have more plans in operation and functioning than has seemed to be the case in some other places. Here also the Red Cross seems well organized and active, and the medical profession seems to be prepared for emergency work. Everywhere they say the same thing, that they need more supplies to meet a real disaster.

I had a very good opportunity to talk to the Governor and the coordinator of defense activities on the train for an hour before we reached Portland, and went to the meeting.

I think it is going to be necessary for the army and civilian defense officials in these northwestern areas to work more closely together. The two activities are so closely connected it is almost impossible to separate them at many points.

At 4:15, we were back on the train and we reached Seattle a little after 10 p.m. It was good to see my daughter and son-in-law at the station, and this is the first chance I have had to see their home which they bought last summer. It is a low, rather rambling house, down by the lake with nice trees and an orchard. We had hardly been home a few minutes when our eldest grandchild, Eleanor, came in from her first formal dancing party, wearing her first real evening dress. Life for the young must go on even though Seattle is perhaps the nearest point on this coast to Japan!

Much to our surprise yesterday morning, Johnny, aged two and a half, greeted me as though he really knew me and promptly demanded:

Where’s Tommy?

…so he evidently connects the two of us!

Anna, John, and I, with Mr. Neustadt and Mr. Davis from the regional office of the D.H. & W Administration, drove over to Tacoma right after breakfast for a local defense council meeting there. The Mayor, Mr. Cain, is a young and capable man, and the medical work seems to be well organized and much of the other defense work is at least begun. The volunteer bureau is being established, air raid wardens are being trained, though not yet in large enough numbers. The county was also represented at the meeting and I am glad to see the realization that county and city must work together.

We had a quiet afternoon and evening together and this morning we are going down for meetings of the Seattle state and local defense councils.

December 16, 1941

Washington, Monday –
We are back in Washington. During the trip, I read Louis Adamic’s book Two Way Passage. It is a book that every American should read. I have not quite finished it, so I cannot really discuss it, but it has started a trend of thought which is pointed up by the situation on the West Coast for the American-born Japanese.

We know that there are German and Italian agents and people representing other sympathetic Axis nationalities who have been very active in this country during the past few years, just as the Communists have been. We know that now, there are Japanese as well as these other agents, who are here to be helpful to their own nation and not to ours. But these people are gradually being rounded up by the FBI and the Secret Service.

We, as citizens, if we hear anything suspicious, will report it to the proper authorities. But the great mass of our people, stemming from these various national ties, must not feel that they have suddenly ceased to be Americans.

This is, perhaps, the greatest test this country has ever met. Perhaps it is the test which is going to show whether the United States can furnish a pattern for the rest of the world for the future. Our citizens come from all the nations of the world. Some of us have said from time to time, that we were the only proof that different nationalities could live together in peace and understanding, each bringing his own contribution, different though it may be, to the final unity which is the United States.

If, out of the present chaos, there is ever to come a world where free people live together peacefully, in Europe, Asia or in the Americas, we shall have to furnish the pattern. It is not enough to restore people to an old and outworn pattern. People must be given the chance to see the possibilities of a new world and to work for it.

Perhaps, on us today, lies the obligation to prove that such a vision may be a practical possibility. If we cannot meet the challenge of fairness to our citizens of every nationality, of really believing in the Bill of Rights and making it a reality for all loyal American citizens, regardless of race, creed or color; if we cannot keep in check antisemitism, anti-racial feelings as well as anti-religious feelings, then we shall have removed from the world, the one real hope for the future on which all humanity must now rely.

December 17, 1941

Washington, Tuesday –
In returning to Washington yesterday afternoon, I called Mrs. Morgenthau and some of her assistants in the Office of Civilian Defense, to learn what had happened while Mayor La Guardia and I were on the West Coast.

Then I considered some of the difficulties now arising. There have been conflicting directions as to what people should do in case of air raids. The reason is that there are quite a number of people, who have no official sanction whatsoever, are giving advice and directions about a number of things.

In addition, there has been conflict in the minds of people actually in charge of developing programs. However, much of the confusion is being cleared up, as it always is. Actual experience on the West Coast has helped.

Up to last Sunday, it was almost impossible to accomplish any real work with state and local defense councils, which were often nonexistent, or existent only on paper. Frequently, people who wanted to work, were given no money by state or local governments with which to do so. Volunteers did not materialize in such great numbers until a real war was upon us. Now there is cooperation everywhere.

Even with that cooperation, it is going to be necessary, to work out certain plans in the light of experience. No one should be surprised if there is a certain amount of change that develops in the handling of different situations. The organization for actual defense, even where civilians are concerned, is primarily under army control. However, in many cases, the welfare of the people of the community, which is also part of defense, is closely tied up with the actual protective organization.

Mayor La Guardia has succeeded in establishing a pattern for the work of the police and fire departments, and this is functioning very smoothly everywhere on the West Coast. The other community needs must be met through the cooperation of a great many agencies. These are gradually drawing together more closely and cooperating on every level. I think it eventually will lead to a stronger community organization than we have ever had before in our country.

It will be easy to criticize many things in the coming weeks. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating, and if, as time goes on, communities find themselves better able to work together for the common good, civilian defense will have accomplished much of the purpose for which it was organized.

December 18, 1941

Washington, Wednesday –
I started this day with a committee meeting at 9 o’clock, at which all the government agencies met to find ways in which they could cooperate.

From there, I went to a meeting of the District of Columbia social agencies. They have gathered a group of volunteers who have been taking a course in an effort to prepare themselves for work which would necessitate a knowledge of all the available resources in the community. This kind of knowledge is valuable, and I think it is a good preparation for the type of activity which defense work asks of us all.

There was a time when many people thought that the word defense meant simply physical protection. This could be given by the army, navy and air force, plus the police and fire departments. Even the air raid warden, who became a recognized person in defense through our knowledge of what had happened in England, was looked upon primarily as a person who would see that lights were out and people were notified where fires were to be extinguished.

Now it is understood at last, that real defense begins in every home. The insecure home is a menace to the security of the community. Therefore, the air raid warden, who knows every family in his or her area, must know upon what agencies to call to meet the needs of each and every person in it who is not able to meet them himself. The job is not just policing, it is social service as well.

I am told that some people have an idea that this has nothing to do with defense. They say it is really only a way of putting over on an unsuspecting community, in the guise of defense, some of the very bad things which go by the name of “New Deal Measures.” These people, I am afraid, are putting the cart before the horse.

If there had never been a New Deal, we would have had to accept this conception of defense. We have learned from London that it is the insecure who rush in large numbers to congregate together in air raid shelters. They must be given security or their fears run riot.

I had a reception this afternoon for the foreign students of the various universities around Washington. I looked at the young faces and thought of all they and their countries are now going through, and my heart went out to them in sympathy and yet in hope for the future.

December 19, 1941

Washington, Thursday –
I spent the entire day at the office of Civilian Defense. I drank a glass of milk and ate sandwiches at my desk at lunchtime. As a result, there is not one single unanswered thing in my briefcase, and I have managed to see a number of people for very brief interviews during the day.

Curiously enough, a day with less talk and more time to think and to clear up the things which come in the mail, gives one a sense of greater accomplishment than a day which is filled with conferences and interviews. Occasionally, it is absolutely necessary to have a day of this kind, otherwise one’s desk is never cleared.

I came back to the White House at 5 o’clock to see Madame Tabouis at tea time, and was very happy to hear from her that she is to publish a French newspaper in this country. This new weekly will, I am sure, be representative of all that is best in French culture and spirit. I am delighted she has an opportunity to work at her profession again.

There is an announcement in the evening paper which seems to me of great importance. Secretary Stimson has announced that the War Department, while planning to expand the Army to whatever strength is needed, will depend entirely upon the selective service system and not on voluntary enlistments.

This seems to me the only sensible procedure. Through the Selective Service, if our draft boards function properly, men will be used where they are most needed and will not be wasted in positions for which they are not fitted.

I know of a boy who left his college in the last year of a chemistry course and enlisted as a private. This is a sign of patriotism, but it is also a great waste of human material, for we need chemists. We need doctors and nurses and other trained people, and the Selective Service is supposed to provide them.

This system is designed to use men in the best possible way. It keeps men not in uniform from being made uncomfortable, because the nation knows that every man is doing the thing he is called upon to do in the way the proper authorities decide is most useful.

December 20, 1941

New York, Friday –
Yesterday evening we had a strictly family party, just my husband, our son, Jimmy, his wife and me. This afternoon, these two young people are leaving for San Diego, Cal., and all too soon Jimmy will be off on his active work again in his own branch of the service.

We made it a Christmas and birthday party combined, for this boy of ours was born two days before Christmas. He has always complained, because the two dates come so close together that no one ever gave him all to which he was entitled.

I am really sorry for my daughter-in-law Rommie, because she had barely settled her house here and now has had to tear it all apart again. But this is war, and men must do the things which are “musts” to them.

In the paper, a few days ago, I read that our second son, Elliott, was assigned to an aviation unit and will be off on active duty again. This time it will not be, I am sure, over the wilds of Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland that he will fly, as he did all last summer. I thought he was still taking a training course and secretly rejoiced with his wife in the comparative security of routine flying. Shortly, apparently, there will be three boys whose whereabouts for us are wrapped in mystery.

I left Washington last night on the night train and found my cousin, Mrs. Kermit Roosevelt, waiting for me at a very late hour to talk over certain changes in the organization for which she has done so much work. “Young America Wants To Help” has been a part of the British War Relief. Now, I imagine, they will redouble their efforts to help not only young people in England, but young people anywhere in our country who need it.

I love the photograph which was in some of yesterday’s papers of young Colin Kelly and his mother. I think many people will be touched as I was, by the letter addressed to the “President of the United States in 1956” by my husband. He asked that this little boy be given an appointment to West Point because of the services which his father had rendered to his country.

Colin Kelly has a proud heritage and though pride can never remove the sense of loss which Mrs. Kelly and this little boy have suffered, still, in the future, it will mean much to both of them. Perhaps a child brought up in the shadow of heroism may find it always a motivating force in his young life.

December 22, 1941

Hyde Park, Sunday –
After a busy day on Friday in New York City, I came up here yesterday. Just before Christmas there is always a great deal to do delivering parcels to everybody on the place and the people who are our near neighbors. Someday I hope that we shall be back here and able to have a Christmas party, where we shall be able to get together to enjoy the real Christmas spirit. That is impossible for the present, however, and all I can do is to be sure that everybody feels remembered at this time.

It seems queer, in winter, to be thinking about shipping seeds to England, but England can think about gardens earlier than we, I received a notice today that the New York Home Bureaus had sent more than $2,000 for the purchase of vegetable seeds to Mr. Donald Neville-Willing, who allows his home at 18 East 70th Street, New York City, to be used as headquarters for the committee working for American Seeds For British Soil.

Mrs. A. W. Smith, the state leader of the Home Demonstration Agents in New York, writes me that one dollar’s worth of seed will provide enough vegetables for a family of five. I can only believe that the English are better gardeners than we, for I am sure that the vegetable seeds that I buy for my own use cost me far more. I am not, however, a very good gardener, even by proxy.

While I was in New York City, I stopped in at W. and J. Sloane, to see an exhibition of contemporary ceramics produced in our Western Hemisphere. This exhibition will go on tour to leading museums in the United States, when it closes at Christmas in New York City. Countries represented in the exhibition are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Iceland, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, the United States, Uruguay and Venezuela. New York City artists are participating by doing work on the spot, which will, I am sure, be extremely interesting to others, as it was to me.

I give my broadcast from New York City this evening and take the night train back to Washington.

December 23, 1941

Washington, Monday –
I want to go back a little over my time in New York City, because I failed to tell you some of the things which interested me.

In stopping at the headquarters for the celebration of the President’s Birthday for the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, on Friday, I found that Mr. Keith Morgan was pleased and deeply stirred by the telegrams which he has been receiving from his chairmen throughout the country.

Apparently, being at war has not in any way lessened their interest in the war against this dread disease. They feel more intensely than ever, that they must save the children by finding out how to prevent epidemics and how to care for those who are stricken. The strength of our children is the strength of our nation.

The heavy epidemics of infantile paralysis during the past three years have brought us 26,000 casualties in this particular war. We can ill afford such losses as these, and so, no matter what we give in other ways, this fight must go on.

Friday evening, I took a group of young people, who are all working together, to see a light and amusing play which they had chosen. I must say they made a good choice. Let’s Face It, is full of tuneful songs and amusing, clever lines. Danny Kaye has a great gift for entertainment and the whole cast contributed to what was a very pleasant evening. I strongly recommend it, if you don’t want to think too much or too deeply. I imagine, these days, there are quite a number of people who are looking for just that kind of evening.

I didn’t have space to tell you yesterday what really beautiful days Saturday and Sunday were in the country. It was cold and the pond was beginning to freeze, so there will soon be skating. The sky was a washed blue, as though the few flakes of snow, which had fallen Saturday morning had cleared it of every imperfection. I walked to the top of the hill on Sunday morning, just to have a look at the foothills of the Catskills and the lacy silhouette of trees against the sky.

I wish I could tell you how clear and beautiful the stars were that twinkled through the windows of my porch on Saturday night. I almost felt that I could touch them, and they made the world of war and sorrow seem so very far away and unreal. You have to come back to it, but it is good to escape for even a few minutes now and then.