Eleanor Roosevelt – My Day (Mar. 1940)

March 25, 1940

Washington, Sunday –
It is time for us to make our plans for visits again this summer to the two world fairs. Some of us who live in the East may not be able to go to San Francisco, but we certainly should get to the New York World’s Fair this year. It was demonstrated last year that a great many people came because of its educational values. There are to be two exhibitions this year which I think will be of special interest to women.

One is to be called “The World of Fashion of 1940.” The building will have a complete picture of the major fashion trends. There will be a Hall of Textiles, a Parade of Labels (nationally known creator and retailers) an exhibit of shoes and stockings, an exhibit of furs, sports clothes, bathing suits, etc. In the small theatres, living actors will show the fashions while they entertain their audiences with amusing skits. These will be varied by movies and lectures and talks by leaders in the fashion world. Of course, this building will have a restaurant and a garden so we women can spend the day. Doesn’t this new opening sound attractive to you?

The other new exhibiton will be called “America At Home.” A score of prominent decorators, designers and architects have accepted an invitation to submit designs for original rooms which will dramatize the extensive new home furnishing and decorative arts exhibit. It is especially interesting that these exhibitors have all achieved unusual success in expressing characteristically American backgrounds for one or more geographical sections of our country. The object is to bring to our attention that America can produce through its handcrafts and in its home furnishing, industries which are distinctive and therefore appropriate to its own surroundings.

A jury of men and women prominent in the fields of art, merchandising, design, education and museums will pass upon the merit of manufactured products and designs here exhibited. We can see again the fifteen houses in the “Town of Tomorrow,” which will use American materials and will be redesigned and redecorated. These two exhibits are mainly conceived and managed by women, and they certainly cater to women’s interests.

Last year, the President was kept from going to the San Francisco Fair, but nothing should keep him from getting there this year. I hope, if he goes, that the Indian exhibit will be there again, for that was one of the unforgettable sights.

Yesterday, I lunched with the 73rd Congressional Club, greeted two groups of high school students, and had the pleasure of seeing the film Rebecca, of which I shall tell you more tomorrow.

This is early Easter morning and we have been to the sunrise service at Arlington, where I received some beautiful Bermuda lilies.

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March 26, 1940

Washington, Monday –
I understand that yesterday was the coldest Easter since 1890. In corroboration I can testify that Miss Thompson and I found the sunrise service at the Unknown Soldier’s Tomb a triumph of the spiritual over the physical. The seats were all taken in spite of the weather, which congealed both hands and feet. I saw Governor Price of Virginia opening and closing his hands as though they were getting numb and I was glad that none of the young people staying in the house had decided to get up to accompany me. Instead, I took them to the 11:00 service at St. Thomas’ Church.

I did not ride in the afternoon as I had planned, the cold and gray skies made me decide to stay indoors and work at my desk. Some more guests arrived and last night, nine children were in the house.

Today is very cold and there is no threat of rain, so I think the crowd on the lawn will do very little damage to the grass during the annual Easter egg rolling. As usual, we went down at 9:30 a.m. and I spoke over the radio and said a few words for the newsreels. Then I walked around the grounds and spoke to the members of the George Washington High School Band of Alexandria, Va., and to some members of the Boys Club of the Metropolitan Police, which was to play later. Later in the day, the Montgomery County (Maryland) High School Band, The National Training School Band and the United States Marine Band played for the entertainment of our guests. The youngsters, with baskets filled with eggs, were all warmly dressed and seemed to be enjoying themselves in spite of the chilly air.

I went for a ride at 11:00 and at a little after 2:00, I went out on the grounds again to see how many more children had braved the cold. At 2:30, the University of Rochester Glee Club sang two numbers on the porch and then a few numbers in the East Room. At 3:00, the small children, who usually come Easter Monday afternoon for a party, arrived. They had their movies and ice cream and cake and a look out on the lawn and left before our official visitors from Costa Rica arrived.

I must tell you that the movie Rebecca, made from Daphne du Maurier’s book, is excellent. It holds your interest all the time and Judith Anderson does a wonderful piece of character acting as Mrs. Danvers. The two principals are charming and convincing. They were wise to end the picture so that you can imagine the future will be happier and that Rebecca’s evil influence will finally pass away. Evil influences have a dreadful way, however, of sticking around and one disagreeable person in a family can shadow the present and the future for a long time.

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March 27, 1940

Washington, Tuesday –
The children seemed to have had a wonderful time at their movies yesterday afternoon. While their parties and our teas and formal receptions did overlap each other a little, still it really was a pleasant afternoon for us all. We finished with a formal tea party in the Green Room for the President-elect of Costa Rica and Señora Calderón Guardia, who were escorted from the station to the White House by Secretary Hull. On this occasion, I greeted them under the front portico alone, for the President did not think it wise to go out of doors on the first day he has been out of his room.

The President appeared well, but it is rushing things just a little to attend a tea party and a state dinner on one’s first day of real convalescence. I am so sorry that the President had to disappoint the Easter Monday crowds on the lawn by not giving his usual few words of greeting over the radio from the South Portico. As he looked at the people out of the window, he was grieved too, but it would have been unwise to stand in the cold.

Up to 2:30, when I went around the lawn for the second time, we had smaller crowds than usual, only about 25,000. By evening, 31,481 had come in during the day, about 20,000 less than last year.

The state dinner last night was smaller than usual because there seem to be so many people away in Florida recuperating from illness or in bed with colds or grippe. I saw our guests off this morning at 10:30 and am happy to have had the opportunity of meeting them. Then I did a number of necessary errands and a broadcast at noon with two members of Mrs. Hugh Butler’s speaking class for the wives of the members of Congress. It was a skit to explain some of the things which seem to confuse the average person about census questions.

Of course, the object of census taking is not only to find out how many people we have in the United States, but to discover a number of other things which may be helpful to the Government. There is no such question as “how many times have you been divorced?” The question of whether people are married or single or widowed or divorced is a question which has been included in the census for many years. Without the cooperation of the public, census taking may be valueless. It seems foolish to have it suddenly become a partisan question, when the people directing it have served under both Republican and Democratic administrations.

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March 28, 1940

New York, Wednesday –
While I flew up to New York yesterday afternoon, I suddenly realized that it was March 26, and that I had seen some rather remarkable figures on which the President had based a letter which he wrote to Chairman Hinckley of the Civil Aeronautics Authority. You probably heard this letter read over the radio. I corroborate the conclusions reached in my capacity as an ordinary traveller who has watched the cooperation between the personnel of the airlines and this federal government department.

It is another illustration of the fact that if people really want to work together, one can expect remarkable achievements. At 2:48 a.m. on Tuesday, March 26, the airlines of the United States had carried during the 12 proceeding months 2 million passengers by air without a single fatal accident to passenger or employee. This is really a remarkable record and I think will prove the correctness of Chairman Hinckley’s theory that, once you recognize the basic limitations of flight, air transportation can be really the safest kind of transport.

From my point of view, we should always have the best of airplanes, constantly kept in order; the best of pilots; and obedience to the safety rules laid down, even when tempted by circumstances to take just a slight risk. I am delighted to take this opportunity to congratulate all the officials and personnel of our commercial airlines which have made such an enviable record this year.

Another branch of the government which has been much in my thoughts is the Social Security Board. I imagine that many of you have been interested in the families of the poor miners who were killed in the St. Clairesville, Ohio, tragedy. 72 out of the 74 missing miners were fully insured under the Social Security Act. Two have not yet been identified. 57 applications have been received by the board, 42 for monthly benefits. Of these, 41 were widows and 85 children were included in these families. Only one claim was for a parent. There were 15 lump sum payments, 11 to widows with 3 children and 4 to parents. These monthly payments range from $20 to $60, and 17 of the claims have been fully developed and ready to pay. The operation of the Social Security Act makes me truly grateful.

I am leaving for Seattle, Wash., at noon today. Miss Thompson left Washington by train last night. We will be in Chicago together for a few hours of rest this afternoon and then, all through the night, I shall be flying across the continent. This is always a fascinating experince and the goal at the other end is a happy one, for I plan to be with my Seattle family.

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March 29, 1940

Burbank, Calif., Thursday –
As I was about to leave for the noon plane in New York yesterday, the telephone rang and I was told it was very doubtful that I could reach Chicago. The weather conditions were so uncertain and it was so difficult to get a seat on a plane going West on another line, that even Mr. C. R. Smith, President of American Airlines, found it hard to reroute me in a satisfactory manner. There was nothing to do but wait while the weather and kindly airline officials disposed of my fate.

My thoughts had to be controlled, or I would be saying rude things to myself for having felt so secure in man-made plans that I gave my two bags to Miss Thompson to take on the train. She reached Chicago last night, where I had expected to meet her. Instead, I was crossing the continent by another route. One lesson learned – never separate yourself from your luggage on a journey just because you are too lazy to carry it.

Still in New York at noon, I went to see my mother-in-law who is up at last after her cold. The doctor was there telling her that she must not tire herself and she said something I hope all of us can say at her age.

Why, I do nothing but give up things I want to do!

…she exclaimed, and looked at him very solemnly. Let us hope we all keep that amount of enthusiasm for doing things, it gives zest to life.

Back to my apartment after that visit, I waited, read a little, and pondered on the advisability of telegrams to inform my family of changed plans, but they seemed subject to more changes and so I decided to wait. Finally, Mr. C. R. Smith appeared. We drove out to the airport and I had a faint hope that I would be able to go to Seattle via Chicago, but it was decided that I had better go by way of Los Angeles. I called the White House and spoke to the President and he had a great deal of amusement out of that fact before long I would be going back through Washington, which I had left yesterday afternoon. Now I am on my way, but I shall not reach Seattle as early as I hoped. Winter is still with us, in spite of the month and the date, and so one should not expect to carry out one’s plans just as they were made.

How foolish it is for us to grumble at the little adjustments we have to make, when one look at the newspapers will make us realize what major adjustments people all over the world are making. That item about the 1,600 Polish refugees who have been wandering from country to country and are now finally interned in Palestine, seems to me one of the saddest of tales. The only thing that lightens the picture is the other news item, that Santo Domingo may consider taking in some of these homeless people who must find shelter somewhere. A story was told to me today of a man who was trying to become an American citizen but who cannot state his present nationality, for he was born in a country which has changed hands in the past few years and he is no longer a citizen of either of the nations. His wife and child are citizens of the United States and he is temporarily a “man without a country.”

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March 30, 1940

Seattle, Friday –
Strange to say, if you begin by being late, you seem to be late all along the line. We started late on this trip, were late in reaching Los Angeles and missed our connection. Five of us were bound for San Francisco, however, and so United Airlines courteously sent another plane up and I made my connection at Oakland for Seattle, arriving at 7:00 p.m., which was still an hour late.

The trip was interesting because we went from sunshine to dense fog in such a short space of time that I would look out and see the snowcapped mountains, read for a few minutes, and be astonished to find, on looking out again, that I could see nothing but grey clouds all about us. At one point, we had the most beautiful rainbow in front and behind us. We caught a glimpse of Mt. Rainier, but only of the lower slopes, for its top was enveloped in clouds. As far as San Franciso, a very charming gentleman from New England was with us. There is a type which is quite unmistakable, most charming and cultivated, and at home all over the world. This type of gentleman grows best in the environment of Boston, and we, who sat near enough to chat with him, all had a pleasanter trip because of his presence.

On the last lap of my journey, another gentleman told me that he had known my husband and attended a meeting with him in Utica, New York, in 1928. He had grown up in Syracuse, but for the past 11 years has been settled here in the Northwest, and though he still likes his native state, he is an ardent admirer of this part of the country now.

At Portland, Ore., in spite of the drizzling rain, the Mayor and some Democratic ladies came down with a beautiful bunch of Portland roses which I brought on to my daughter. I was very glad to see Anna and John waiting for me at the airport in Seattle. Even though I was 12 hours late and criss-crossed the continent to get to them, it was well worth it. We talked till nearly midnight, and are not caught up yet.

The grandchildren always seem to me to change. Even in the few months since they left us in Washington, I find Eleanor thinner and taller, and Curtis more grown up. Young Johnny has learned to crawl so fast around the room that nothing is safe from his inquiring eyes and hands.

The mail awaited me asking me to do more things than I could possibly do if I had weeks at my disposal, and I have just 40 hours. In addition, all up and down the Coast people think I have so many unoccupied days I can just stop off for a day and address a meeting, or visit with them in their homes. I wish that this was possible, and I appreciate deeply the many kind invitations, but, unfortunately, from the time I leave here tomorrow afternoon, all my time will be scheduled, for I shall be on a lecture trip. That means living up to the plans made by my lecture manager, and not being free to dispose of much time for interests of my own.

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