Eleanor Roosevelt – My Day (Mar. 1941)



By Eleanor Roosevelt

March 1, 1941

Washington, Friday –
We flew back from New York City yesterday morning and I thought I noticed a certain reticence when I asked if they had any news about Captain Rickenbacker. Everytime we have an accident of that kind, I regret it, because while, on a percentage basis, there are probably as few accidents in flying as there are in other methods of transportation, still mishaps in the air are always more dramatic and one feels that there should be some way of avoiding them.

There have been a number of Army and Navy mishaps, too, lately, and I wonder if we are paying as much attention as we should to the development and experimentation of every possible safety device. Failures that exist because of the human element cannot be controlled, but if in any way we neglect to experiment with anything which might make for greater safety either in the fighting services or on commercial lines, I think it retards development in a line of transportation which is of great importance to the future.

In the afternoon, I spent two hours with a group interested in the development of guidance services for young people in rural areas. These services are developing more rapidly for young people in city schools and in city employment offices, and yet it seems more important in rural areas because so many young people must leave known surroundings to go to unknown places.

I was interested to find that health conditions in rural areas were mentioned so often in the discussion. I am beginning to think that one of the things we need to stress is a community responsibility in the remedying of physical defects during the years of school attendance. There also seemed to be emerging from the general discussion the fact that we, as a people, often see particular things which need to be done and go ahead and do it. But we neglect to go back to the causes which brought about this particular need and do not think forward to the ultimate end we have in view.

One of the best government programs, the CCC, is a good example of this. We have not yet really faced the problem which brought us the CCC camps and the NYA, namely, the lack of employment opportunities for young people. Careful investigation might lead us to all kinds of conclusions even to a reconsideration of our educational system in certain of its phases. As a nation we don’t face the problem.

Secondly, we haven’t followed through to the next step after CCC camp employment and training. Boys are healthier. They have had a period of employment. They have received some training. But what next? We still haven’t solved that problem of unemployment.

We saw some excellent pictures last evening, taken by Dr. William Mann on his trip to Africa. Mr. Dwight Long of Seattle, Wash., showed us some of his trip in a 32-foot sailing boat. He has sailed to many interesting places and his pictures and talk were fascinating.

We have snow today, and I thought we had said good-bye to winter! It makes the view from my windows very lovely and perhaps we are going to have that March blizzard which nearly always turns up!

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March 3, 1941

Washington, Sunday –
A perfectly delightful thing happened to me the other day, but I have been so pressed for space that I haven’t told you many of the things which I should like to tell you. However, this I must tell you!

A young Viennese friend of mine, Charlotte Kraus, a singer, in collaboration with a friend of hers, Madame Rona, a Czechoslovakian sculptress, induced my son, Franklin, Jr., to sit for a head which will belong to me after Madame Rona’s exhibition. I am perfectly delighted to have it. In a curious way, this head showed me certain things about my son which I had not noticed before. He looks older, and yet from the right profile the childish resemblance is still strong.

My youngest son, John, and his wife came home from their cruise on Thursday, having had a splendid time on the first holiday they have spent together in some time. I was glad to be able to turn over to them a healthy baby, who had acquired several teeth during their departure and had learned really to crawl.

John and Anne brought to my attention a child’s book Timothy Taylor, Ambassador of Goodwill by Helen Husted. I think that many adults, as well as children, will enjoy this story in verse of a little boy whose father made him feel that coming to the United States during the war, was really being an ambassador who made friends for his country in a period when friends were much needed.

Friday, in the midst of our snowstorm, I drove up to Howard University to see the exhibition of paintings by Negro artists of Chicago. It was like a fairy world outside, and the young students coming across the campus, battling with the wind and snow, were a gay group. Inside the paintings were almost entirely reminiscent of gay colors and summer scenes.

George Neal, who is represented by two paintings, lost much of his work in a fire two years before he died, but he was the inspiration of many other painters. He gathered them around him and taught them. They painted in spite of poverty, living in attics and practically starving while they worked.

One little ceramic by Edward T. Collier is the loveliest shade of green I have ever seen, and one or two of Joseph A. Kersey’s sculptures are extremely interesting. I am always fond of watercolors and would have liked to walk away with some that were on exhibition.

Friday night, I dined with members of the Federal Bar Association. While I felt they were very kind to invite me, I also felt very hesitant about inflicting any words on such an important group. I was very glad to have the opportunity, however, to hear two extremely interesting and able speeches from Mr. Robert Patterson, Assistant Secretary of War and Mr. Francis Biddle, the Solicitor General.

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March 4, 1941

Washington, Monday –
Mr. and Mrs. Hendrik van Loon and Miss Grace Castagnetta, who played with the National Symphony Orchestra at their concert on Sunday afternoon, have been our guests over the weekend.

Saturday morning I had a brief conference with the members of the National Religion and Labor Foundation, who were in Washington for the first national conference on theological education and labor. They had visited a number of government officials and were interested in seeing the White House. I was glad to have an opportunity of seeing so many young people from theological seminaries, as well as older people who are ministers themselves. There also were one or two leaders in the labor movement who are members of this group, among them my old friend, Miss Lucy Mason, whom I was particularly glad to see.

Yesterday I had an opportunity to spend a little while with Mr. Edward Bruce, and we had a number of guests at luncheon, including Mrs. George Kaufman, Miss Ruth Gordon and Mrs. Alice Duer Miller. The rest of the day was fairly quiet. This morning I am going to New York City, where I have one or two afternoon engagements.

A recent letter has brought my attention to the fact that those of us who do not suffer certain handicaps, often fail to be able to imagine what people go through who are handicapped. The letter came to me from one of the speech teachers in the New York City school system, who makes a plea that those of us who make fun of the stutterer, should stop and think how hard it is for:

…a sensitive person who cannot ask a simple question or use the telephone.

She contends that our light-hearted jokes bring shame and suffering to many people. I can quite see that there would be no element of mirth in a joke when you, yourself, are the victim.

The United States Office of Education, which is part of the Federal Security Agency, is issuing a bulletin about an “information exchange” on “education and the national defense.” This is a new service and is intended to act as a clearinghouse for ideas and material on education and national defense.

Teachers who want to help in the defense effort of their country can do three things now. They can tell the Office of Education what kind of help they would like to have through it. They can explain what developments they consider important to their particular field of work in the present situation. They can send materials to the Exchange which can be used by perhaps other groups in connection with the defense program.

Education is such a vital part of national defense that I think Dr. John Studebaker has made a valuable contribution in developing this exchange.

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March 5, 1941

Washington, Tuesday –
The trip to New York City yesterday was quiet and uneventful. I managed to choose an Easter dress, to buy my niece a wedding present, and finally to go to a meeting of the Art for China Committee, where some little children from Chinatown were waiting to be photographed with me.

One little girl presented me with some tea, and we had much the same kind of conversation one would have had with children ranging from seven to thirteen, no matter what their nationality. These little ones had on their native Chinese costumes, but their feet and legs showed distinctly that their home was in the United States. Good, stout, heavy low shoes and woolen stockings, which reached up to the knees, reminded me of my own youngsters. When a young lady held a 7-year-old boy up to present me with a poster of the exhibition, he showed very clearly in his own person the combination of the East and the West so far as clothes were concerned.

I spent a gay evening dining in a little restaurant with some friends and then saw one of the most popular plays in New York City called Arsenic and Old Lace. I liked Miss Josephine Hull’s acting in the part of the sweet and charming and slightly mad old lady murderess, as much as I did when she was the unruffled and eccentric mother in You Can’t Take It With You.

In fact, I thought all the parts were well acted. I enjoyed the play, though I will confess I thought the murders were a little too numerous in spots. I began to wonder if I could laugh any longer at what, after all, is a rather sad and tragic subject.

This morning, Countess Alexandra Tolstoy climbed up three flights of stairs to my apartment to tell me something of the plight of some of her Russian refugees in the South of France. She has promised to write me a little more about the whole situation, so you probably have not heard the last of another sad tale.

This morning also I attended the meeting of the Joint Distribution Committee and the National Refugee Service Committee. They are opening their campaign and making a united drive for funds. I must say that from the number of people who attended this morning, I feel sure they will not lack workers. This group has done a wonderful piece of work abroad in making assistance available in places where it is most difficult for anyone to work today. At the same time, they make sure that no refugee landing on our shores becomes a public charge.

I flew down to Washington at 1:00 and arrived in time to do a number of things before my first appointments, which began at 4:30. I am very grateful to the weather man, because if I had had to take a train today, I certainly would have had to leave a great many things undone.

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March 6, 1941

Washington, Wednesday –
I had a most interesting tea party yesterday afternoon with the group of South American students who have been visiting in this country, and for whom Dr. Stephen Duggan made all the arrangements. The major part of their time has been spent at the University of North Carolina, at Chapel Hill, and they seem to have derived a great deal of interest from their visit to this country.

Most of these young people spoke English and I felt ashamed all over again of my lack of ability to speak Spanish. In some cases, it was evidently an effort for these young people and those accompanying them, to express themselves. Still, they valiantly tackled our difficult language and said what they wanted to say.

I had arranged for tea and afterwards for a short meeting, at which we had an exhibition of work done by WPA and NYA agencies. The students showed great interest in the various things that were made on the art and production projects and seemed to appreciate the WPA quartette which played for us. I think I signed at least one card for every one of them before they left, so evidently the autograph habit is as prevalent in South America as it is here.

Last evening, a group of people, some of them from government departments, some of them from New York City, and a few from even further away, gathered here at dinner to discuss population trends in this country. So many interesting facts were brought out which had a bearing on our population, that it was finally decided to ask some of the representatives of government departments to get together and define the limits of the general problem we are facing in this country. Then people specially gifted in the art of putting this material in brief, but dramatic, form, will find some way to make us all conscious of the facts which should be in our possession.

I went out early this morning and had my hair done, for one must at least leave on a journey prepared not to have to visit a beauty parlor for some time. Then I held a press conference at which I had hoped to have Dr. Harriet Elliott. There are a number of questions which the newspaper women wanted to ask her, but she has lost her voice, so we had to postpone her appearance until my return.

I also saw a gentleman this morning who is convinced that he knows how private capital can undertake to finance the home building on a large scale. Knowing absolutely nothing about financing or building, I hope I shall be able to direct him to someone better able to judge the values of his suggestions than I am.

I lunched with our old friends, Mr. and Mrs. Adolph Miller, and am now about to receive some young people from the Lawrenceville School of New Jersey.

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March 7, 1941

Washington, Thursday –
The young people who came here yesterday afternoon from the Lawrenceville, NJ, school, were most interested in what they saw. They spent the morning visiting the Supreme Court, the Senate and the House.

One of the boys is going to come down for the summer to work in a New Jersey Congressman’s office. I suggested mildly that I did not consider Washington a perfect summer resort, but that did not dampen his ardor in the least. I hope he will find much to interest him.

Mr. John Brainerd McHarg, from Rochester, NY, showed me some beautiful slides yesterday afternoon. His hobby is taking colored photographs and developing uses in the teaching field for these slides on all types of subjects.

A few friends came to dinner last night. This morning I was glad to awaken to a beautiful day, for we are off by plane to Miami, Florida, where we are going to spend a very peaceful week, I hope.

I have a letter from an English woman which I am quoting here in part:

As an English woman, may I say how much I appreciate the great kindness and generosity shown by the people of the U.S.A. in our war effort. It is an inspiration to know that we have such friends… We will stand the blood and tears if your great country will share the sweat. My son, who is a ‘Worcester’ cadet, goes to sea in May (he will still be not quite 17). My husband is an enthusiastic member of the Home Guard. Our two countries seem to be agreed on one great point – that the leader of this world is not named Hitler and that his book is not called Mein Kampf. There is tremendous hope and faith in that for the future.

This is one of the many which have come to me expressing gratitude for the help which American citizens have sent them. I think there has been very generous giving on the part of our people to all the various charities which have undertaken to do a variety of work for the sufferers in Europe.

I wish, however, we could succeed in doing for every group what is now being attempted in the Chinese charities. There they are coordinating and raising their funds jointly. I imagine the central body representing all the different interests will decide, as the money comes in, where it should be allocated according to the needs.

This is a plan which I should like to see followed by all other groups, particularly in the case of those doing work for Great Britain. From the point of view of shipping, it is so important that no space should be taken up by anything which is not really needed in Great Britain at the present time.

The money which is available, should be spent on the things which are going to be of the greatest help at the moment. These needs change and a central group, constantly in touch with the people in England, as well as the agencies here, would be in a better position to decide than any one individual charity. It means, of course, a sinking of individual preferences and personalities in the interest of doing what is most needed at a particular moment. This is difficult to do, but I hope we can achieve it.

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March 8, 1941

Golden Beach, Fla., Friday –
Here we are back in the same pleasant house we were in last year. Our trip down was smooth and very enjoyable, only for a short time did we see clouds flying around. In Jacksonville, Florida, we began to feel a real change in temperature. There the Democratic National Committee men and women were kind enough to meet me with a few other people to welcome me back to the State. In Miami, a group of high school girls, who came to Washington last year, were at the airport to meet me in their picturesque costumes.

A southeast wind is blowing, so we have a fairly high surf rolling on our beach and I doubt if we shall get much sun today. I am hoping, however, in the next few days to be able to report a good deal of reading accomplished.

I wish I could have stopped a little longer in Jacksonville yesterday and seen the Metropolitan Museum of Art Exhibition, which is being shown at the WPA art center. They opened on the third and they tell me the crowds in attendance have been very gratifying.

In New Smyrna Beach, they are dedicating a cultural center on March 16. They tell me this is the first building in the South to be erected entirely for cultural purposes with funds from the Works Progress Administration. The art center will occupy about two-thirds of the building, with three main galleries, a studio, a children’s gallery, a photographic darkroom, and a completely equipped museum space. The public library will occupy the remaining part of the building. The State of Florida is doing a splendid thing in making available these art centers to people here on vacation.

On the way down yesterday, I read in the March Atlantic Monthly the war diary of William M. Shirer, entitled With The German Armies. You have doubtless heard him many a morning reporting by radio from Berlin. What he writes is extremely interesting. Certain paragraphs seem to be particularly significant to us.

As he enters Paris, he remarks:

I have a feeling that what we are seeing here in Paris is the complete breakdown of French society. A collapse of the army, of the government, of the morale of the people. It is almost too tremendous to believe.

In those sentences, he described what brings about the defeat of a great people.

A little further on we get a picture which reminds us that hate begets hate, and cruelty begets cruelty. In his description of the arrangements made for the discussion of the armistice, he says:

The humiliation of France, of the French, was complete, and yet, in the preamble to the armistice terms, Hitler told the French he had not chosen this spot at Compiegne out of revenge; merely to right an old wrong.

What could be more indicative of the way wrongs eat into the human soul.

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March 10, 1941

Golden Beach, Fla., Sunday –
Yesterday morning, we had one of those heavy rainstorms which come in gusts in the tropics. After lunch it cleared sufficiently for us to walk some distance along the beach and play about in the water for a while.

I find myself easily adapted to being lazy in the rain or in the sunshine and the colors in the ocean fascinate me at all times. Yesterday afternoon, the water was green inshore and the further out you looked, the deeper the green became until at the edge of the horizon, it looked a dark green emerald. This morning the shades run from pale blue to deep violet.

We watched five pelicans flying low in formation over the water yesterday afternoon. I am sure they play follow-the-leader, for when the leader dips all the others do. I wondered whether there was some rule about the way they caught the fish, otherwise it seemed as though the leader would grow fat and the others would grow lean.

I finished James Hilton’s Random Harvest yesterday. In the play of the imagination it reminds one a little of Lost Horizons. The man who is always seeking his lost memories, is not very different from the rest of us, for most of us go through life seeking something.

We do not always find it, so that we can end our tale with the happy cry:

It is not too late.

Mr. Hilton seems very familiar with the baffling situation that faces most people, either because of some lack in themselves, or surrounding circumstances which make the accomplishment of their desires unattainable.

Last night, I read through the scenario for a motion picture written by Robert Van Sittert, an Englishman. It gives a remarkable picture of Czechoslovakia before and after Munich. Finally, it leaves you with the assurance that the people may be subjugated, but so long as the thing we call the soul of a people lives on, even in the hearts of its children, there is inevitably a day of resurrection and liberation.

I was glad to hear over the radio last night that the lease-lend bill had passed the Senate. This morning I read the text of the bill aloud from the newspaper, so that we would know just what form was being submitted to the House before the bill goes to the President for signature. It seems to me that Congress has properly safeguarded its own responsibility and I hope a united nation will speed up our industrial output.

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March 11, 1941

Golden Beach, Fla., Monday –
From March 12 to March 18, the Girl Scouts will celebrate their twenty-ninth birthday. All over this country, groups of Girl Scouts are preparing through their various programs to meet the emergencies of the future. The points which they emphasize in their training, are all points which make for better citizens in any community.

Through their camps, they teach the building of health and the value of outdoor life. They develop habits of self-reliance and resourcefulness which are a safeguard in their everyday lives. They learn the value of conservation for the country and for the individual at home.

Recreation is emphasized as a part of healthy, normal living and, above everything else, they feel they are a necessary part of any community in which they live, because they give service. They have already offered many hours of work to the nation in the defense program and probably have learned the first and most important lesson, that defense begins at home. The better you make your community, the better the defense of the nation will be.

Their contribution to Pan-American friendship through the encampment held last summer, where 13 countries of the Western Hemisphere were represented, was really a significant achievement. It will be followed up again this year by a similar gathering. I think all of us can be proud of what this organization and its members are accomplishing, and I want to wish them many happy returns on their birthday.

We spent a fairly lazy day in the sun yesterday and read aloud Mr. Archibald MacLeish’s little book, The American Cause. He has the gift of words which sing as you read, and a way of expressing his beliefs which will be a help to the nation. I particularly liked his idea that the artists of the country can best make their contribution to the nation in constructive ways which lead to permanent benefits for the whole people.

Last evening, at the Naval Air Station, we went to a special showing of Mr. and Mrs. Armand Denis’ picture, Dark Rapture. I had seen it before but found it no less exciting and interesting than when they showed it at the White House. They are born adventurers and it seems to agree with them, for both of them looked well, young and full of vigor.

They have fallen in love with Florida and have bought two pieces of property here. One is known as the Indian Trading Post and has a bit of real jungle land on it. There, they will gradually accumulate the animals which they have already collected, but which are now scattered around the country. They also intend to bring back others from future trips. They rather sadly admit they have only two monkeys and one cheetah now, but time will change the size of their menagerie.

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March 12, 1941

Golden Beach, Fla., Tuesday –
Last night, three of us went to a movie. I think it was called Adam Had Four Sons. We arrived toward the end of one showing, so we entered in the dark and came out before we reached the end of the picture. It was like reading the end of a book before the beginning.

I was interested in a short presentation of some of the boys in the Army and Navy and the entertainment provided for them. It didn’t seem to me particularly inspiring, but perhaps I am expecting too much.

Our days continue sunny and warm. We walked miles along the beach yesterday and out of the sun. It was really cool, but I succeeded in burning my face and lips to a crisp, which I hope will eventually turn into a good brown.

There is a column by Mr. Pegler in the morning paper down here, which I think is particularly fine. He points out that the search for an individual or a group of people, on whom to pin possible war guilt, is really futile. Adolf Hitler has told us that he planned for this war and that he has thought out each move with care before making it.

Mr. Pegler tells us that even if we are drawn into the war, it will not be our doing, but the prearranged plan of Mr. Hitler. He expresses it, of course, much better than I can, but the thought seemed to me to be one that it is wise to bring home to all of us, because what happens during the next years does not lie entirely in our own hands.

Our statesmen, our Congress and our people may strive in the sanest and most temperate way, to meet each situation as it arises. But we are dealing with people who lay their plans far ahead and we will have to try to be as farsighted as they are.

For the time being, I think that farsightedness lies in stepping up our production, in aiding those who believe in the things in which we believe and, at the same time, in preparing ourselves in every possible way for future defense. Part of this defense, it seems to me, is a mental defense, and is as important for the women and children as the men. It lies in building within us a kind of courage which is ready to meet whatever comes and which is willing to prepare to do so.

I noticed that there was some talk in Congress the other day about the horrors of regimenting women against their will. I can’t imagine that such a thing would even be suggested. On the other hand, in view of the numerous organizations which women are forming to help in the defense program and the many letters which they write stating their wish to be of use, I would not be much surprised if the Congressmen found that there were a good many women less afraid of regimentation than there were of finding themselves useless and unprepared for any eventuality.

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March 13, 1941

Golden Beach, Fla., Wednesday –
The news that the Lease-Lend Bill was signed came over the radio yesterday afternoon. A few minutes later, we heard that certain supplies were already gathered on the dock ready for shipment.

There is a column written by Mr. H. Bond Bliss in the morning paper, which I read down here as I drink my coffee under a palm tree that looks out over the ocean. Today, Mr. Bliss stresses the importance of this moment when the great English speaking nations are joining their strength in a supreme effort to save the kind of life which seems important to them.

I know, for instance, that democracy in this country is not perfect. I know that there are many things for which I want to work in the hope of improving conditions and bringing more real democracy to my own land. But in spite of that, I know that I have a better chance to accomplish this in this country with our present form of government, than I would have in any of the totalitarian countries today.

While I am talking about improvements which I should like to see come about, I should like to state the way I feel about labor organizations. To me, organization for labor seems necessary because it is the only protection that the worker has when he feels that he is not receiving just returns for his labor, or that he is working under conditions which he cannot accept as fair. I also feel that dealing with organized labor should benefit the employer and make for better mutual understanding.

Believing in this principle, however, does not mean that I think the decisions made by groups of workmen or their leaders are always correct. I do not expect from them infallibility and superhuman qualities, any more than I do from groups of employers, or from politicians or from government officials.

There have been and are abuses in the labor movement, and I think we should fight them. The people who uncover these abuses and speak fearlessly about them, show courage and perform a civic duty. I think, however, they fail in their full duty when they do not point out that it is only the abuses they attack, not the idea and fundamental right of organization for mutual support.

A union organization fails in its full duty when it loses the ideal which lies back of all unionization. This ideal, it seems to me, is an unselfish interest in those who are not as strong as others in their ability to defend themselves, and in a willingness to suffer to obtain for others the rights you may have already achieved for yourself.

I do not believe that every man and woman should be forced to join a union. I do believe the right to explain the principles lying back of labor unions should be safeguarded, that every workman should be free to listen to the plea of organization without fear of hindrance or of evil circumstances, and that he should have the right to join with his fellows in a union if he feels it will help others and, incidentally, himself.

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March 14, 1941

Golden Beach, Fla., Thursday –
Our days continue to be bright and sunny and the moon is so glorious at night that it seems a pity not to be 18 again and subject to its influence. We have had one or two showers, but they were over quickly and everything seemed to be greener afterwards.

On Tuesday afternoon, Ignacy Paderewski drove down from Palm Beach to call on me. He had gone there to attend a concert and evidently had enjoyed his evening. It was very kind of him to want to come to see me, but I felt rather guilty that he should take so much trouble.

The last two years have not been happy ones for him, with the storm clouds gathering everywhere and the danger coming ever closer to his beloved Poland. I think when you have given as much of yourself as he has to his country, it must be bitter indeed to see all your work thrown away and apparently lost because of the cruel ambitions of one man.

I do not suppose, however, that any really good work is ever lost. Somewhere the seed remains and the influence is felt in the future. But for a time at least, all that Paderewski has done as a statesman must seem to him wiped out.

One feels that these years have sapped his strength, but his eyes are as keen as ever and they look at you with an expression which is indicative of the same courage we have grown to expect from this gentleman.

We were interested too, in his young secretary, who told us a good deal about his travels in South America. I was happy to have this opportunity of seeing once again a very great man and shall take his message to the President when I return to Washington.

Yesterday afternoon I went with the supervisor of the Florida migratory camps, Mr. Paul Vander Schouw, to see one of the new Farm Security camps just being completed at Pompano Beach. On the way up, we passed through a great deal of farming land where beans, tomatoes and peppers all seemed to be ripening.

In some places the workers have had a hard time because there has been so much water they have not been able to make crops, but around here I gather that the crops have been fair.

We drove by the houses which are at present being used by the workers, and I was impressed all over again by the lack of organization and sanitation surrounding these living quarters. The new government camp seems to me better planned than the old ones and an improvement in every way.

None of the houses have accommodations for more than four families. Most of them are for two family use. The clinic and assembly hall are very adequate for the size of the camp. This particular camp will house about three hundred families and is almost ready for occupation.

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March 15, 1941

Golden Beach, Fla., Friday –
I happened to be awake at dawn yesterday and saw the marvelously bright full moon gradually covered by what looked like a black shutter. However, the eclipse of the moon did not impress me very much, because here, where clouds keep blowing across the sky, it might just have been a very black cloud sailing by the moon as they sail by the sun during the day.

Yesterday was spent much as all our days are, playing a little deck tennis, getting into the deliciously soft feeling water, and sitting in the sun or reading in the shade.

The book I read was Lin Yutang’s With Love And Irony. I am enjoying the point of view of the Chinese author who, like many of his countrymen, is a good deal of a philosopher. He has a delightful gift for description and makes me want to see the cities of the Far East before circumstances change even the results of centuries of civilization.

I like his chapter on “What I Want.” One sentence amused me particularly:

The real charm of Diogenes for us lies in the fact that we moderns want too many things, and particularly that we often do not know what these things are …In our best and sanest moments, however, we know that Diogenes’ god can not be our god. That we want a good many things in life and that these things are definitely good for us. The man who knows what he wants is a happy man.

He then proceeds to tell us what his own wants are. They are not all my wants. With amusement, I began to think what fun it would be if we could put some of our friends into a room and make each one write down his wants quite honestly. I think much entertainment would come out of this game, but also much enlightenment for ourselves and our friends.

We might all agree upon one want. Dr. Lin Yutang says:

I want some good friends, friends who are as familiar as life itself, friends to whom. I need not be polite, and who will tell me all their troubles, friends who have definite hobbies and opinions about persons and things, who have their private, beliefs and respect mine.

The first and last part of the above paragraph describe almost perfectly for me the essential qualities in any friend.

Yesterday I received a large envelope from the British American Ambulance Corps. It contained samples of cloth and told me of a donation of 10% from the textile converters on the sales of fabrics which are identified by their design with the British cause. So, if you want a dress, a blouse, a hat or accessories made out of a material which has something in the design reminiscent of this cause, you can probably get it at almost any store after March 17. Most of these materials seem to me attractive as well as purposeful.

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March 17, 1941

Miami, Sunday –
We are leaving Miami today on our way back to Washington. I am anxious to have a few hours in Charleston, SC, to go with my friend, Mrs. George Huntington, to see some of the gardens there. I have never been able to be in South Carolina when the gardens are in bloom, so I hope I shall be fortunate to find them at their best today.

In the meantime, I want to tell you about the visit of Countess Alexandra Tolstoy. You will remember I told you she came to see me at my apartment in New York City. She is no longer very young, but she climbed my three flights of stairs with less puffing than most of us. Her interest in her mission was so great, that I think she scarcely gave a thought to her own exertions. She wanted me to know about the Tolstoy Foundation. Its aims are:

  1. To preserve and advance the finest traditions of Russian science, art and religion.

  2. To assist the Russians living in countries outside of the USSR, by providing material aid for their support, medical care and other needs.

  3. To coordinate, as far as possible, the activities serving these same purposes.

There are Russian refugees here and in many countries in Europe. Their situation in France, where there are about 150,000 of them, is very difficult, for they are opposed to both Communism and Nazism. These Russian refugees come from so many different backgrounds that it is hard in some cases to decide to just what groups they do belong.

On the whole, whether they were once of the nobility, of the intellectual world, or political liberals of their particular time, today has really become an academic question. They are human beings in great need and Countess Tolstoy said the Tolstoy Foundation not only wanted to continue to send all possible aid to those abroad, but also wanted to establish a Russian center in this country. They hope to buy a farm where old people can stay indefinitely and where new arrivals can be temporarily housed. She, herself, has lived on a farm in this country and made it pay, a record of which few of us can boast.

I do not know of any more practical plan to meet the situation than she described. The officers and directors of the foundation seem to give promise of good, sound advice. Countess Tolstoy, by her own enthusiasm and devotion, inspires you with a desire to be helpful to this group of harassed human beings.

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March 18, 1941

Washington, Monday –
On the way up yesterday, there was some doubt as to whether we would be able to fly out of Charleston, SC, in the late afternoon. To my joy, I found the weather had cleared and we were able to carry out our plan of spending five hours in Charleston and then flying on to Washington.

Mrs. George Huntington met us at the airport and drove us first to the Cypress Gardens. I had never seen them before and found it hard to believe that those acres of white cypress trees growing out of the dark waters could possibly be alive. They certainly have an eerie look with the moss blowing on their bare branches.

While I thought it very beautiful, I could easily imagine “Murder In The Cypress Swamps,” or the ghosts of past unhappy owners hiding away among those avenues of bare trees. The sun came out and we saw the reflection on the water, which is very beautiful.

They have planted many spring bulbs and flowering shrubs along the shores, and touches of color meet your eyes on many sides, but somehow they did not lessen my feeling of “eeriness.” I was rather relieved to find myself back at the landing greeted by a very cheerful colored guide, who evidently had no sense of the strangeness in these surroundings.

We drove from there to Middleton, which I think is one of the most beautifully laid out places I have ever seen. The natural setting is charming and, as you come up the steps through the gate which was once the main entrance to the house, you see before you the terraces. They were made two hundred years ago by a hundred men who worked ten years.

At the foot of the terraces are two charming butterfly lakes and past them the banks of the river, lined with beautiful live oaks from which the Spanish moss waves gently. You can almost see the rice fields along the river which brought the early planters their wealth. To me, the enormous and graceful live oak trees are more marvelous even than the acres and acres of beautifully laid out gardens. We were a little late for the camellias, a little early for the azaleas, but I found this did not dim my pleasure in the trees.

The home of the present owners is the wing of the house which still stands. It is very beautiful and welcoming. Inside, fires burned and flowers everywhere made a perfect picture of finely proportioned rooms.

We had tea with Mrs. Huntington in her charming little house on King Street, with a lovely garden of its own. We took the 6:00 plane and a smooth trip brought us to Washington a little before nine.

I was glad to find the President looking well and more rested than when I left, though he seemed to be surrounded by mountains of work. He explained that it all had to be done before he could get away for a short holiday himself. One needs such holidays to think, for these days so many problems crowd in on one from every side.

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March 19, 1941

Washington, Tuesday –
Dr. Harriet Elliott came to my press conference yesterday morning and gave us all a great deal of interesting information. The thing that stood out in my mind was the fact that she felt so strongly that what we should all try to do is to increase production of consumer goods as well as of defense goods, so that we could meet the demands of increased buying power, which probably lie ahead of us. Profits in this emergency should not come from higher prices paid for goods, but should come through increased sales.

Dr. Elliott pointed out that when sacrifices are demanded of us they should be made willingly, but they would not prevent expansion in the production of consumer goods where there was no interference with inevitable and valuable defense work.

Last night we all attended the opening of the National Gallery of Art, given by the late Mr. Andrew Mellon, to which Mr. Samuel H. Kress has also given a wonderful collection of paintings. I think it is good for us all to realize at this time that art and beauty are necessary for the preservation of the finest things in life.

Education comes to all of us through contact with things of beauty, wherever they may be. As we develop appreciation and understanding of new forms of beauty, we become rounded and educated human beings. These things are being suppressed in other countries today. In every democracy, we must insist on the development of every avenue for increasing the enjoyment of beauty.

The Flower Show is on in New York City this week and I have been told that a new white cattleya orchid has been named for Lady Halifax. She moves with such grace and dignity, and white orchids are so lovely and graceful, that I think the growers made a very happy choice in this name. I hope I shall see the Flower Show if I am in New York City for a day the end of this week, though I fear the flowers may then have begun to fade.

I have just read two different things, both of which I want to mention. One of them is a short story in Liberty called “A Man Only Half Dies,” by Clark McMeekin with George Madden Martin. If you have not read it, I think you will find it worth the few minutes it takes because of the lesson it teaches, that sacrifice and love are not the prerogatives of any one race.

Next, the Commissioner of Education, Dr. John W. Studebaker, has issued a service bulletin on defense training in vocational schools, which deals with the legal rights and obligations of workers. He has suggested that this bulletin be used in classes, forums and small discussion groups by the students. I can think of no information which will prove more valuable to them.

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March 20, 1941

Washington, Wednesday –
I hope those who came to dine with me last night in the interest of the Young Men’s Vocational Foundation, Inc., found the evening worthwhile. The stories which were told by the various speakers, seemed to give a very good idea of why we should be interested in lending a helping hand to boys who come out of our training schools, and even out of our reformatories.

Beyond that, everything that was said seemed to emphasize the importance of knowing conditions under which the youth of our country are growing to maturity in our communities. We must try to see that no economic and community conditions are so bad that they inevitably create problem boys and girls.

There are strange things happening in this country. I was reading a digest of the news the other day, and was amused to see a grouping of papers that have had similar slants on various questions lately. In the group were The Chicago Tribune, The Daily Worker, Social Justice, The Tablet, The Liberator and The Vindicator.

All these publications of late have been harping on the beauties of peace and the necessity of saving our republic for ourselves. Some of them pin our danger on the international bankers, some of them on the present administration, but in the main all of them harp on the same line. What a queer combination of bedfellows in the journalistic world this makes!

Sometimes I think a few people are becoming a trifle hysterical. To bear this out, I shall quote here a few lines from a letter which I have just received from a lady. There is nothing peculiar about this letter. The writer just assails the President and the present administration and, incidentally, me, for starving the little children of the democracies of Europe. It demands a negotiated peace with Hitler and says it is no more possible to restore the conquered nations in Europe to their freedom than it would be to restore to England her original Thirteen Colonies.

She assures me that she is of British descent, with Huguenot blood running in her veins, that she is a Colonial Dame, and a member of the Order of the Descendants of Colonial Governors. She even dares to identify herself further as having four Colonial Governors of Carolina on her badge.

All this to prove that she is no Nazi-lover, but for America first and that she does not wish to police the world. She ends with her personal, not very flattering, appraisal of the President.

Nothing in this letter, of course, is very odd. Just from my point of view, it is untrue. There is no reason in the world, however, why she should not express her opinions, no reason why she should not write the letter and no one would question her right to do so. But here comes the hysterical line:

I dare not sign my name for fear of a concentration camp.

I haven’t yet heard of any, have you?

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March 21, 1941

Washington, Thursday –
Yesterday afternoon, I spent an hour going over the home where the Little Sisters of the Poor here in Washington care for more than 200 indigent old people. Fifteen sisters do all the work with the help of some of the old people, but the building is large and many of those who live here are very helpless and require great care.

I looked at the little mother superior and wondered how 15 women accomplished this work. She told me they got up at 4:30 every morning and went to bed at 9 o’clock at night, and never sat sat down to rest or idle away any time. I can well believe it.

However, it isn’t just the accomplishment of the work which is so remarkable, it is the spirit in which it is done. The building is far more bright and cheerful than when I went through it some years ago, and one felt that the service rendered there was done in a spirit of joyousness. In every room we went, they sang “God Bless America” and the old voices mingled with the younger voices of visitors who had come in for the occasion.

One colored woman from Cuba, aged 82, sang a Cuban song and danced for me. The sisters urged her on and applauded her. How well they understand that no matter what your age, the ability to make a contribution is one of the satisfactions of life.

At tea time I talked with Dr. Martha M. Eliot, of the Children’s Bureau. She is back from England and very much interested in what she learned over there and how we can make it useful in the improvement of our own conditions.

I saw the President off and am glad that he and all those with him are going to have this rest and holiday.

Miss Thompson and I dined with a friend and spent a most enjoyable evening, in payment for which I sat up until all hours of the night to finish the mail.

Today I lunch with the Ladies Club of the 75th Congress and then fly over to New York City to spend the night.

I was much interested the other day in talking with Mr. John Anson Ford of Los Angeles, and Mrs. Gertrude Knott of the American Folk Festival. They are eager to have a Pan-American folk festival in Los Angeles, Cal., this year. The idea seems to me to have merit and to promise something beautiful and interesting, but as yet it is only in the stage of being planned.

I have just received a notice of a book about the Quakers. It is written by ex-President Comfort of Haverford, and called Just Among Friends. It is designed to give information about this particular religious group, their activities and philosophy. I think it will be of interest to a great many people.

March 22, 1941

Washington, Friday –
We dined last night in the Lafayette Hotel in New York City, where one gets, I think, into the proper mood for a holiday evening. Then we went to see The Doctor’s Dilemma, which I much enjoyed. How young and lovely Katharine Cornell looks! Though it is hard to think of Raymond Massey as anything but Abraham Lincoln, he did give me a reminiscent feeling of being in Harley Street.

George Bernard Shaw gives one food for thought, even though it is not always pleasant thought. In this particular play at least, the weaknesses depicted are amusing, serious though their consequences sometimes are.

This morning, after seeing a number of people with whom I had appointments, I went to the British War Relief Society Inc. offices. I was impressed by the variety and efficiency of the work and the number of volunteers in the executive and administrative positions.

It seems to me that if all the varied organizations working for British relief could be joined under one head, the expense of administration would be greatly reduced and more money would be available for the actual needs of the sufferers in Great Britain. I hope that the new committee appointed by the President will succeed in doing this for all the different groups working for various countries. I went to see Mrs. Kermit Roosevelt’s division, which is working with school and college people who want to help the youth of Great Britain. I also saw some of the Greek war relief work. The next time I have a few minutes to spare in New York City, I shall go to their headquarters.

I had a chance to talk for a few minutes with Miss Rachel Crothers, and would have liked to go up to the theatre division, which is also working in this same building for British relief. I shall try to do that also the next time I am in New York City.

I caught the 9:00 plane back to Washington. We had a very pleasant flight which, as usual, became a little bumpy a short time before we landed. However, I had already eaten my lunch, so I did not have to maneuver the soup and coffee carefully for fear of having them land in my lap instead of my mouth!

This afternoon, I am going to tea with the Newspaper Women’s Club to see their new headquarters. This evening a few friends will be here in the hope of inducing Mr. Lauchlin Currie to tell us something about his trip to China.

The Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai-shek sent the President and me two interesting seals. I doubt if many would know if I used mine, that I was putting “Eleanor Roosevelt’s” seal at the bottom of my letter, or that the President put “Roosevelt” at the bottom of his. Nevertheless, the Chinese characters will make a very impressive decoration.

March 24, 1941

Washington, Sunday –
Hidden away on the middle pages of the New York Times this morning were two items which I feel should be brought to the attention of as many people as possible in this country.

One, a very small item on an inside page, told us that Mr. Hugh H. Bennett, Chief of the Soil Conservation Service, estimated that because of soil erosion 45% of our water supply now conserved by dams, would be completely wiped out in a hundred years. A hundred years may seem a long time, but it passes quickly.

However, it does give us an opportunity to prevent anything of this kind happening in this country. Every person should watch soil erosion in his vicinity and insist that it be prevented by a government project. Our water supply must be preserved for future generations. Industrial and agricultural development depend on it. When we have progressed to the point of knowing what we should do, it will be nothing short of criminal if we do not do it.

The second item was given a somewhat more prominent position, and perhaps everyone was as shocked by it as I was, but it may be that they did not read the full story. The time has passed, I think, when in any prison in our nation, whether controlled by local, state or federal government, any crime should be punished by lashes given by the warden on the prisoner’s bare back. It savors too much of concentration camps in countries which we do not wish to use an an example. This lashing was done in the presence of 75 people and the press reported how each man took it.

I felt as though I was reading about the days of Henry VIII, in England, when people went to public whippings and hangings. The men were to serve a five year term in any case for the crime or theft which they had committed.

Not just the prisoners are affected by lashings. I remember walking around a state prison in another state with a man who carried a long horse whip. All the time, as I looked at him, I shuddered at the thought that he should have control over any other human being. Complete power over others is not good for any of us, but with the right to use a whip it is almost sure to degrade. Let us look into the laws of our communities to find out what they are, because such laws as this do not serve to rehabilitate prisoners or prepare them for a return to society as better men.

Another beautiful day and a ride this morning. Just being out makes one thankful to be alive.