Eleanor Roosevelt – My Day (May 1940)



By Eleanor Roosevelt

May 1, 1940

Washington, Tuesday –
I have just met with as heartrending a group of people as it has been my misfortune to see in a long time, very largely a colored group, though some white women were among them. They came to tell me of their hopeless situation and I can best describe it by telling you one woman’s story.

She was laid off WPA last August and has a bedridden mother, a sister and a nephew living with her. She lived until January 4 by begging and borrowing and then was put back on WPA. The tears stood in her eyes when she told me she was laid off again and had an eviction notice and was to appear in court tomorrow morning. Two months rent is due and, even by attempting to rent out some rooms, she cannot meet the payments.

In the District of Columbia, there is an understanding in the Public Assistance Bureau that no employable person may be given relief, for they have only $900,000 to take care of their 2,000 unemployable people and rents in the District are high. The cut has come on WPA and people have to be laid off, and what is going to happen to them? How would you meet their situation?

Yesterday morning, I came in very early by train from my day in North Carolina and a good part of it was devoted to a meeting between members of youth serving agencies and youth led agencies. We have met several times before, but on this occasion we decided to put in a long day to discuss the problems which seem most important to the entire group – jobs and unemployment.

I think the meeting was of value because it brought out many facts. One gentleman asserted he had heard such divergent facts, he found it difficult to decide where the truth lay. This is in itself a gain, for at least we know that when we have accepted certain things as truth and been rather comfortable in accepting them we may have been wrong. It will lead us to explore the disagreeable statement, which may turn out to be the truth.

During a recess, Miss Ida Pruitt brought me a soft and beautiful Chinese silk scarf, made by a group of women in a cooperative started by Madame Chiang-Kai-shek. Later in the afternoon, a young Chinese woman who is studying designing in this country, brought me a lovely Chinese gown made by her own hands. Finally, Mr. and Mrs. Russell W. Jelliffe came to tell me about a most interesting development which they have fostered.

Today, I began with a meeting of the Arthurdale, W. Va., Advisory Committee. Then, I opened my series of broadcasts and went to my annual lunch with the Girl Scouts in their practice house. This year, the girls from 10 to 14 years of age prepared and served the luncheon, and it was beautifully done.

May 2, 1940

Washington, Wednesday –
Yesterday afternoon, I received a number of diplomats and their wives. I cannot help feeling that this whole group has a serious and almost sad approach to any subject these days. There is an uncertainty abroad in the world which makes those who are close to their governments and represent them in foreign lands, feel the seriousness and precariousness of life from day to day.

In the evening, I went to a dinner to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Instructive Visiting Nurses Society in Washington, DC. Mrs. Harlan Fiske Stone has been the President since 1936 and a very hardworking one. The people who gathered to do honor to her and the Association, are interested in the well-being of Washington’s large lower income bracket population.

I remember this work years ago, when my aunt, Mrs. William Sheffield Cowles, was interested in this organization. I think the founders and all those who worked in it in those early days, would be gratified at the increase of service which has come about in 40 years.

After the dinner was over, I went to see Mrs. Morgenthau, who has not been very well and so was not able to attend, though she had done a great deal in making the arrangements for the dinner. For some reason, the broadcast of the dinner was not heard in Washington, but a transcription was run off at 10:00 p.m. and Mrs. Morgenthau and I listened. It is a curious sensation, sitting critically listening to yourself and realizing how unutterably slow and dull you sound. Somehow or other, I must learn to think more quickly on my feet, or I shall always spoil whatever impromptu program I am on. It is good for the soul to have an experience like this, but somewhat discouraging.

The President and I have just been presented with a painting called Rebirth of the Holy Land by Arye Leo Peysack of Palestine. It is a very kind and charming gesture and both of us appreciate his thought. All these kindly gestures from people of different races are, I think, the result of a feeling that so many of us have been drifting away from a kindliness of spirit in these days that those who desire better understanding and peace, try to emphasize anything which will draw us together.

I am glad to see that the Council Against Intolerance in America is calling a regional conference on tolerance through education, on Saturday, May 11, in New York City. Some very distinguished educators are the sponsors. Since the feeling of goodwill must be promoted through the schools, I think that this is an effort which should command our support.

May 3, 1940

New York, Thursday –
I had the first horseback ride yesterday morning in weeks, and it did seem good to go out and spend one hour in the open air. This was not the only unusual occurrence of the day. I actually went to lunch with our old friends, Mr. and Mrs. Adolph Miller. I can’t remember doing a purely personal and private thing outside of the White House for weeks. We had great fun and I left very reluctantly at 2:30, feeling that we had talked against time.

A few minutes at the Army and Navy Relief Society rummage sale with Mrs. Helm and Mrs. Charles Fayerweather, and then we drove to the Cathedral grounds where booths and a maypole were set up. Just as we arrived, it began to rain, one of those heavy showers which can be very devastating to a garden party. However, the children danced valiantly around the maypole, getting soaked through in doing so. I could only hope that after I left the rain would stop so that the attractive looking booths had enough customers really to bring in the much-needed money.

At four o’clock, Mr. Melvyn Douglas and I boarded a plane for New York City and I had my first experience this year with the difficulties of living on Standard Time in once place and Daylight Saving Time in another. It would seem that a trip which takes one hour and forty minutes and which begins at 4:00 p.m., should land you in New York City in ample time for a 7:00 p.m. dinner. When, however, you must reckon with Daylight Saving Time, it takes 2 hours and 20 minutes coming this way, so it was 7:45 when I reached the Hotel Astor for the dinner given by The Nation in my honor.

It never seems quite real to me to sit at a table and have people whom I have always looked upon with respect, admiration and considerable awe, explain why they are granting me an honor. Somehow I always feel they ought to be talking about someone else. However, I walked away with the award in my hands and many kind speeches ringing in my ears. I am taking home one or two choice remarks made by Mr. William Allen White, which I know will give the President as much amusement as they gave me. Mr. Fadiman, the toastmaster, remarked that the free dinner tendered Mr. William Allen White was in recognition of the bed and board he supplied for so many of his hosts when they visited Kansas. Anyone looking at Mr. White’s kindly expression would know that he is a kindly and generous host.

I was happy to participate in the celebration of the 75th anniversary of The Nation, quite aside from the personal angle of the evening, for this magazine has stood for freedom of thought and expression, and has often voiced the defense of ideas which could have had a hearing nowhere else.

May 4, 1940

Washington, Friday –
Yesterday morning in New York City was an amusing morning. I know now what “makeup” for the movies is like! Mr. David Elman, who runs the Hobby Lobby radio program, and for whom I substituted a few times last year while he was in the hospital, asked me if I would do a short movie with him to promote the interest of people in hobbies. He is convinced that hobbies are very important and I agree with him.

I was enormously interested in the mechanics of taking a few short scenes which we did together. They were very patient with me for, of course, being a novice, I must have been trying. The way it was all done was fascinating to watch. I only wish I had waked up earlier in my life to the fun there is in studying almost everything under the sun.

After my radio program, we went directly to the Town Hall Club to attend the Barter Theatre luncheon, where they presented their second annual award to Dorothy Stickney, who is such a charming lady in Life With Father. The Barter Theatre is certainly keeping up its standards, having given its first award to Laurette Taylor and the second to Miss Stickney, or Mrs. Lindsay as she is in private life.

One thing was announced which I think is of extraordinary importance and very exciting. The State of Virginia, leading every other state in the Union, has asked Mr. Robert Porterfield, a native Virginian, who has carried on the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Va., and made such a great success, to found a state theatre. Of course, the details of this undertaking will require much careful working out and the growth will be slow, but it is exciting to have a state government finally realize the importance of the theatre in the life of the people.

If other states will only follow, we may have a true national theatre someday which will have grown up from the grassroots. What a medium this will be for better understanding. We may send visiting state troupes from one part of the country to the other to interpret the people and the conditions of one locality to others and build up a folk history as well as develop an appreciation of the drama. My imagination runs riot when I think about this and I feel it should be on the front page of every newspaper. All honor to the State of Virginia and Governor Price and the citizens of that commonwealth. They have led us so often and are leading us again.

In the evening, I attended a banquet of the National League of Women Voters and it was interesting to see a great many young faces in the group. An organization is growing when young people come in and work for it. The midnight train brought me back to Washington this morning and you can judge that the day is a busy one when I tell you I even had guests for breakfast!

May 6, 1940

Washington, Sunday –
More and more women are attending the National Institute of Government Conference. Mrs. Dorothy McAllister, vice-chairman of the Women’s Division of the National Democratic Committee, expected to have a few hundred women but they came by thousands, just as the young people came to the Citizenship Institute in February. They made so much noise in the galleries in the House of Representatives, the members had a hard time hearing themselves talk!

Though some cynics may think they came because of an invitation to the White House or for entertainment, I would like to pay tribute to Miss Molly Dewson, Mrs. Dorothy McAllister, Mrs. May Evans and the staff of the Women’s Division of the Democratic National Committee, who have painstakingly developed the educational program for the Democratic women which has finally really created an informed group eager for closer contact with their government’s officials.

Many of the women have little money and came at great personal sacrifice, for they are interested in the program which is being developed and want to know how they can make it more effective. This meeting has been one of the most heartening things to men and women alike in the Democratic Party. There has always been the old type of politician who believes that good politics is getting and giving jobs and has nothing whatever to do with the education and real beliefs of the people. This meeting must convince some of the old-timers that there is some change in the world of politics, just as there is in the world of economics. Today there are women who want to think about and understand the policies and principles of their party, as well as to profit from the patronage grab-bag, or from any social recognition which politics may bring.

I spent a little while with the Young Democratic Women on Friday afternoon, and was impressed by their alertness and desire really to express themselves.

Yesterday afternoon, I visited the Central Union Mission and the Children’s Emergency Home. I have attended their Christmas parties every year, but have never visited their buildings. Now they have a campaign on to raise funds for the enlargement of these buildings. I was very much interested in what I saw and wish very much that I could also have seen their farm and camp at Brookeville, Maryland. This work certainly deserves the support of the community.

It is fortunate that we have a great many people in this country and that they have a great many interests. Every other day, it seems to me, I receive a notice about some new kind of week which is to be celebrated! Today I hear that May 5-11 is to be National Music Week. While they have no general program, the sponsors are asking all kinds of groups interested in music to feature American music. It does not mean that we should not love all kinds of music, for music belongs to the world no matter where it comes from, but it does mean that we should develop the talent we have in our own country, which can only be done if we, ourselves, appreciate it and develop it for the world.

May 7, 1940

Washington, Monday –
I didn’t tell you yesterday what a delightful spring day Sunday was. The sun shone warm and bright and a sense of irresponsibility seized me. I went for a ride, I had lunch in the sun in the garden, I visited a friend and had other friends come to tea and dinner. It was a thoroughly pleasant day with very little work interspersed with the pleasure.

I received two groups this morning, one the history group from Cathedral High School of New York City, under the care of Sister Vincent Loretta. The other, the Woman’s Club, from Frankfort, Pennsylvania. In a little while, the ladies of the Cabinet are coming to lunch with me.

Several items have been brought to my attention which I want to tell you about. First and foremost, for the sake of many people who will come from all over the country for the opening of the New York World’s Fair on Saturday, May 11, you should know that the Mayor’s Official World’s Fair Rooming Bureau, Inc., will again be active during the coming summer. Their object is to obtain hotel and room accommodations at prices consistent with the budgets of people visiting the Fair. This is a non-profit organization and the only fee charged is 25¢ for the first night’s lodging, which goes to the committee to cover overhead. The members of the executive committee serve without salary, but there must be some paid workers. The office of this bureau is in the Chanin Building, 122 East 42nd St.

I would like to tell you about Karamu House in Cleveland, Ohio, founded 25 years ago by Russell and Rowena Jelliffe, who are still its directors. Their objective is to further:

…the more complete functioning of the American Negro in the democratic life of the community and the nation as a whole, participating through the field of the arts.

Many years ago, James Weldon Johnson told me that this country made a great cultural mistake in not bringing out the natural gifts of his people, so it was interesting to hear what the results of 25 years of this work had been.

Mr. and Mrs. Jelliffe have succeeded in creating and maintaining for twenty years the most outstanding Negro little theatre in the country. This theatre has become the national focal point for both Negro and white playwrights writing for the Negro theatre. It has produced over 160 plays and has been carried entirely by its own door receipts. Members of the Karamu Theatre are today participating in the professional theatres of the country. Members of the Gilpin Theatres and the African Art Sponsors of Karamu House have contributed a valuable collection of primitive art to the Cleveland Museum of Art, and an equally valuable ethnological collection to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. This was the first such contribution ever to be made by a group of Negro citizens in the United States. The work of Negro artists and craftsmen of Karamu House has been accepted in an increasing number of local, national, and international exhibitions.

A fire destroyed its theatre and craft shop not long ago and the board of trustees are now appealing for funds to continue to expand the program. In the meantime, the educational and artistic facilities of Cleveland have been offered them in a most generous measure, which shows appreciation of this group.

May 8, 1940

Washington, Tuesday –
Yesterday afternoon, I visited the Florence Crittenton Home here. This is an institution which receives a grant from Congress and also has a board of visitors which provides some extra help from private resources. The grounds and building are very pleasant, the surroundings cheerful and the care good, but they acknowledge that they cannot begin to meet the need which exists in the District of Columbia, and there is no provision whatsoever for colored girls, who certainly need help as much as the white girls.

I returned to the White House for a departmental reception for women executives. At this reception, the ladies of the Cabinet receive with me, and we had nearly 2,000 guests. I was very grateful for beautiful weather which made it very enjoyable for everyone. The newspapers warned us that today we would have bad weather and I have been dreading possible rain, but the sun shines and soft breezes blow. More people are to be on the White House lawn today than we have had since the Easter egg rolling!

Between two and three thousand members of the American Red Cross, attending their convention, came over from 2:30 to 3:30. I did not arrive to speak to them until 3:00 because a hospital was being dedicated at Laurel, Md., where the District of Columbia Home For Feeble-Minded is located. They told me I could drive the distance in half an hour, but it took much longer. However, I was glad to be able to be there and say a word at the dedication and to see the new building which ought to add greatly to the service which can be rendered to the inmates of this institution. They have some 600 feeble-minded varying in age from 6 to 40 years.

I hope everyone last evening had as pleasant an evening as I had at the dinner party and musical which was held here. Miss Jean Christian, the daughter of our old friends, Dr. and Mrs. Frank Christian of Elmira, New York, played the harp after dinner, and Mr. Todd Duncan, the Howard University Glee Club and Miss Caterina Jarboro, all sang for us. It has been a long time since we have had any music which all of us enjoyed from beginning to end.

Now let me tell you of a poet who has just come to my attention. A great friend of mine sent me a volume entitled Against The Sun by Ada Jackson. There are two poems which seem to fit the thoughts which many of us have been struggling to express in these disturbing times. One is called “Two Headed Penny,” and the other “Pacifist 1939.” Many other poems will appeal more, I am sure, for other reasons, but these two made me hold my breath. In some way they seem to say some of the things which pass through one’s mind and pull one this way and that in this confusing world.

Now, I must leave you to go down to greet 2,000 more guests on our lawn and tonight the midnight train will take me to New York City for a brief stay.

May 9, 1940

New York, Wednesday –
One can not help but have an anxious feeling about Holland at present. Hitler’s claim that he is ready to “protect” Holland against the aggression of France and England, fills one with curious foreboding. These “protections” so often seem to mean aggression under a veiled form. The difference between attack and protection seems hard to discover these days.

Last evening, at our table, there was much talk of old wars and new wars, history already written and history in the writing. When all is said and done, and statesmen discuss the future of the world, the fact remains that the people fight these wars. I wonder that the time does not come, when young men facing each other with intent to kill, do not suddenly think of their homes and their loved ones and, realizing that those on the other side must have the same thoughts, throw away their weapons of mass murder. They might insist that their public servants – the statesmen of the world – get together and, on a rational and peaceful basis, solve the problems for which wars are fought. Of course, this would take willingness to cooperate, but it should not be impossible to great minds who plan war.

I read in the morning newspapers that some of our “greatest minds” gathered together at the University of Rochester, told the college students that new frontiers (of economic achievement) would always exist, because they always had, and that the contention that everything had been discovered made no appeal to them. I suppose that they might contend that wars would always exist because they always have. If we agree with the second idea, however, that there are always new things being discovered, then we must take heart and hope that statesmen will also discover new ways of solving the economic and national urges which today involve nations in war, and which should be as easily defeated by the elders of the nations as the internal troubles should be handled by the youth of nations.

I wish I could have heard that whole Rochester symposium. What I read of it seemed to sound a note of confidence on the part of men who are the heads of great corporations, but it did not seem to touch the actual specific difficulties which face men seeking jobs in industries which seem to have disappeared.

I gather that the main thing that youth must have is confidence. I have heard that said about business. “If business had confidence today, it would expand,” but it trembles before the vagaries of government! Perhaps that is the trouble with youth! It is equally fearful of a government which imposes limitations on what it may do for it, and of a business system which is constantly restricting jobs.

May 10, 1940

New York, Thursday –
I visited my mother-in-law yesterday morning and was fortunate enough to find my husband’s aunt, Mrs. Forbes, there. I have come to the conclusion that time lays a light hand on their generation. Perhaps they had a vigor which was denied to the rest of us. In any case, Mrs. Forbes is as keenly alert today to what is going on in the world as the majority of young people, and my mother-in-law announced that she would like to bring up her grandchildren all over again – which shows an amount of energy and conviction given to few parents of later generations.

Going from this visit to the luncheon given by the “Youth Builders” was an extremely interesting contrast. That older generation undoubtedly feels that their impress should be very firm upon the youth around them, whereas, the emphasis in the “Youth Builders” organization is the development of the young people themselves, the maturing of their thought, and, through judicious questioning, bringing out their ability to express themselves.

Five of them, ranging in age from 10 to 15, put on a forum for us. They had been given the subject several days ago but no previous rehearsal had taken place. They had just been asked to think about it. They came all prepared with thoughts. These youngsters are public school youngsters from all over the city, and for most of them this is an extracurricular activity. They choose their own subjects for debate and prepare their own material. They publish a magazine and their own editorial board chooses the contributions it considers the best and the “Youth Builders” mimeograph the pages. In this magazine, there are articles on a variety of subjects ranging from “Is Baseball Our Favorite Game?” to “Should We Sell Planes To The Allies?”

I spent a short time also in the morning visiting the Paderewski Fund headquarters and listening to reports of their work. Like all other organizations raising money for relief abroad, they do not find it easy, but they have succeeded in sending food and supplies of various kinds and are, of course, continuing their efforts. The committee is such an outstanding and able one, and so many people in this country have known and loved Mr. Paderewski, that I think on a nationwide basis we will contribute to the relief of the people of Poland.

I understand so well the feelings of many of our own people who are suffering in this country, and who feel that the first duty of citizens of the United States is to help their own. We have a government, however, and a people capable of really meeting the needs in our country at present. In the long run, our duty is to solve the basic economic problem which has borne down upon our people in different ways in different localities. We also have people able to meet the appeal for suffering humanity in other parts of the world. I think we should recognize that meeting this appeal is not only a call upon the Christian spirit, but is a recognition of the fact that oppression and misery anywhere menaces the spirit of democracy all over the world and therefore is a concern of ours.

May 11, 1940

Hyde Park, Friday –
After Wednesday’s lunch in New York City, I hurried home to see a number of people. First and foremost, I saw a gentleman who has a vision of the way in which real low cost housing might be developed for the benefit of groups which today are living in big cities in squalid conditions. He also has a desire to see private industry undertake a great housing program to eliminate slums in cities and rural areas and to replace them with medium priced houses, either for rent or ultimate ownership.

More and more people are coming to believe that a big housing program is really needed in this country, that it should be on a low cost level which should be achieved by economies in the building industry and not by giving the consumers shoddy materials and poor workmanship. I am always glad to find an interest of this kind, even though it may not be translated immediately into action. Constant talk and thought on this subject will eventually, I think, have the effect of a rolling snowball.

Our evening was spent with Mr. and Mrs. Edward J. Flynn and some friends. I was happy to be with them and to see their boys, who were such delightful guests at the White House not long ago. They have a little girl who was considered too young to come to Washington, and so she announced last night that she was going to stay up as long as I was in the house. I hope her eyes closed long before I left, for we stayed until rather a late hour.

Many people came to see me yesterday morning to talk of their special interests. I often wish I had the power to help all the worthwhile things brought to my attention. However, it is encouraging to have the opportunity to see the fine people who are working so unselfishly in so many different fields to achieve results for the benefit of their fellow human beings.

We had an early lunch and went to the broadcasting station and then motored to Hyde Park. The early part of the day was not as pleasant as Wednesday, and I was grieved for I thought I would not see the sun shining on our country surroundings. But, by the time we were ready to start, the sun came out and the drive along the park was beautiful, with the forsythia and trees and shrubs in bloom. After one night at my cottage, we started out again on our drive to Choate School in Wallingford, Connecticut. I thought all day of a trip we had taken a few years ago to St. Paul’s School, when one of my nephews was head boy there. There is something very touching in the contact with these youngsters, so full of fire and promise and curiosity about life. One can not help dreading what life may do to them and yet each generation starts out with the same high hopes and the same high spirit. Youth has courage and the spirit of adventure and we should give it our confidence.

May 13, 1940

Washington, Sunday –
The news that Holland and Belgium had been invaded came over the radio on Friday morning, but I could not write about it that day. I had a curious sense of having lost the last vestige of hope that the imprint of civilization still made any dent on certain parts of the world. Just as I had feared, the “protection” turned again into aggression.

Dorothy Thompson’s column few days ago, in which she analyzed the psychological unpreparedness of democracies, as well as their physical unpreparedness, was very interesting to me. I think she is entirely right that the two go together. They mean that we, in the democracies, have prepared ourselves for a civilized, peaceful world, and we have almost forgotten that a bandit may turn up who does not understand our language nor hold to any of our beliefs. There is little use in looking backwards. We have to face the realities of the present, and move step by step along a twisting way hoping that we act in the best way for the preservation of our civilization.

The President made his speech to the Pan-American Scientific Congress Friday night at a very serious moment, and his feelings reflected themselves in all he said, but I felt no less serious as I faced the boys in the Choate School chapel that noon. All those young things, knowing so little of life and so little of what the future might hold! A cruel world to face, and for us an uncertain one. In so many nations today youth has to make no real decisions. Circumstances have made that unnecessary. If you read Eve Curie’s little book The Price of Freedom, you will realize how one bows with grace to the inevitable. For these youngsters of ours, however, there are decisions which have to be made step by step and uncertainty is difficult to face.

Many people say today that they want to live for democracy and I hope that in saying it they really know what they mean. To really mean that, here in this country, will require a firm determination to prove that democracy can work from the economic as well as from the political standpoint, and so, on two fronts, we will have to make decisions. How to preserve the freedoms of democracy in a world that seems to be bent on destroying them, and how really to make democracy work at home prove that it is worth preserving. These are two things to achieve. These are the questions the youth of today must face, and we who are older must face them too. Let us pray that we shall have the courage and the honesty to strive for the right whatever the cost.

May 14, 1940

New York, Monday –
Saturday was a day of no official engagements, but in spite of that it turned out to be a fairly well occupied day. Again and again, I had to decide my ability to do certain things within the course of the next few weeks. I finally concluded that if one could divide oneself into many different pieces it would be most convenient and, above all, one should have no personal life!

Yesterday, however, was a day when all of us left the White House at noon and went down the river on the Potomac for lunch and an afternoon on the water. Mr. Norman Davis, Chairman of the American Red Cross, went with us, for the President wanted an opportunity to talk with him. The appeal has, of course, gone out for everyone to cooperate with the Red Cross chapters all over the country in raising a $10 million fund. Whatever else we do, we can alleviate human suffering. I hope all to the extent of their ability, will feel that this is an individual appeal made to them to help those who suffer throughout the world.

The Ukrainians in this country have written me a rather pathetic appeal, in which they say that refugees from what was once their country, are scattered all over the world. They will raise money among themselves here, if only they knew how to reach their own people who are suffering in other places. I am making an attempt to find out what can be done, but when people are so scattered, it is a difficult thing to know how to assist them.

I had a personal appeal too, from some neighbors in Hyde Park, who wanted to know about their closest relatives in Norway, from whom they heard nothing since the war engulfed that country. Another woman, whose husband, a German liberal scientist, has been imprisoned in Russia for many months, can get no news of him. Altogether, my mail these days is pretty heartrending.

A little book of poems has been sent to me by the author, H. Nelson Hooven, called The Laughing One. I think you will find pleasure in reading his lines and inspiration in much of his thought. I wonder if he is right in this:

Darkness is only a shadow on the ground.
Behind us lie the things we have fashioned.
Before us, ever, an invitation to beauty.

I left on the midnight train to come to New York City to keep a number of appointments and return tonight again to Washington by the night train.

May 15, 1940

Washington, Tuesday –
I spent from 12:00 to 3:00 yesterday at The City College in New York City. They showed me their first house plan. Of course, for them a house does not really mean a building, it means a group of young people who have banded together as members of a house and the space given to them allows them the use of a house only a specified number of times during the month. The two houses I saw yesterday are certainly used and, if the value of any project is the amount that it is actually used, then this one must be good.

A portrait of Mr. Adolph Lewisohn, an alumnus in whose memory the house was given, faced me as I went into the living room. Then the house itself faded from my eyes, when I looked at the crowds and crowds of young faces before me. Every single one of these boys really studies while he is in college. The scholastic standing is high because these boys know that not only they but often their families, make sacrifices to obtain an education which they hope will bring them happier and more satisfying lives.

It must be a most exhilarating thing to teach in a college of this kind. One of the faculty told me that there never was any dearth of conversation. I can well imagine that, for I am sure that every type of thinking is present because every type of background is there. Even though it was the hour when the lectures were going on, the library was crowded and I could well understand why the Dean told me that they were much grieved when the Mayor felt obliged to cut out their new library building. That they need it is unquestionable, and I hope before long they can have it, for you couldn’t be long with these young people without feeling that they deserve the best which can be given them.

Some of them called out as I went by:

Tell Frank the Yanks aren’t coming.

My heart sank. Poor youngsters, they have the same desire we all have to live in a civilized world and yet are obliged to face, as we all must, the impact of circumstances arising from an opposing desire to wipe out what we have called civilization.

I left my apartment in New York City at 5:45 to drive out with Mrs. Robert Haydock to Hewlett, Long Island, where we dined with Mrs. William Shippen Davis before going to the annual meeting of the Council of Social Agencies. They have been carrying on an experimental survey of youth conditions and the reports were read at last night’s meeting. This same type of survey should be made in every community, but it cannot stop there. It has to go on to a survey of what the community can do, so one can know what one must call on the state and federal governments to do.

I took the midnight train back to Washington and my first morning appointment was three-quarters of an hour spent listening to the testimony of unemployed women given before a jury of women drawn from various Washington groups. Sad stories were told. I could have duplicated them all, but I think they were new to some of the people present.

May 16, 1940

Washington, Wednesday –
I lunched yesterday with a group of people in Washington who are serving as a voluntary faculty in the Federal Workers School. This school is not as academic as it sounds, because, while there are many courses on such difficult subjects as our monetary system, they also have classes in dancing to lend a light and recreational touch. They serve to draw people together in social groups and are valuable. I wish I had time to attend some of these courses myself, for the faculty is one of the most interesting groups of people I have met in a long time.

I returned to the White House in time to receive some members of the Adult Education Classes in Philadelphia, who were here on a visit to their Capitol. Later, a large group of ladies attending the American Scientific Congress, were received. At 4:00, the Cabinet ladies and I gave our annual tea for the wives of the Representatives. At this tea, which is a leisurely affair, the North Carolina “Eastern Carolina Symphony Singers” sang for us. Governor Clyde Hoey has sponsored this group and they are on their first tour. Since the choir is chosen from small high school groups in North Carolina, what they are able to do is really remarkable. I could not help thinking what a gain it is for the young people to sing together and to have this opportunity to travel through parts of their country, which they might never see in any other way.

In the evening, Mrs. Melvyn Douglas and I left the White House at 7:00 to go to the National Press Club, where the dinner was held by the sponsoring group and attended by the delegates to the National Women’s conference on Unemployment. The findings and recommendations of the jury were read by Mrs. Douglas and will be presented to Congress. It is extremely interesting that women, who perhaps are not much in sympathy with some of the demands of these unemployed women until they come face to face with them, have recommended practically everything which the women came down here to ask.

The Representatives and Senators who spoke were much impressed by the meal they were given. A small amount of stew and one prune for desert cost about five cents, about the amount available per person in the average home where they are living on a woman’s WPA earnings of about $44 a month. I imagine the gentlemen were hungry, and yet every one of us is sufficiently well fed not really to feel any hardship from going without one meal. The important thing is to realize that a meal such as this continued day after day, month in and month out, makes for malnutrition which is even more serious for children than for adults.

I am catching up on mail this morning and going out to Madeira School, where the young ladies are to ask me questions, which I hope I shall be able to answer.

May 17, 1940

Washington, Thursday –
I had a pleasant time yesterday with the girls at the Madeira School. They asked me far more personal questions than did the boys at Choate School last week. However, I think they had a bearing on the thing which is in all our minds today, namely, personal responsibility in a democracy.

No one reading the news today can fail to realize that this is a crucial moment for the world. The President is asking today for a great increase in our national defenses. Of course, it is vital as the picture develops before our eyes, for us to understand the need of the ability to produce mechanized weapons of war in order to protect our manpower. One has but to read the record of what happened to Holland’s Army – one-fourth wiped out – to realize why we must have modern weapons of war. This, of course, we must face and must pay for.

In addition, we must realize that, if democracy is to survive, it must be because it meets the needs of its people. Anyone who knows this country, knows that there are some people to whom the form of government under which they live might easily seem immaterial because of the difficult economic situations they have faced. The President and his administration have been trying to meet and improve their situation and all future administrations will have to continue their efforts.

We need a united front here as well as the more tangible front of creating war materials. It requires greater cooperation and it will require greater self-sacrifice really to make democracy something for which every citizen will feel he will willingly die, because with its loss, will go economic as well as intellectual freedom.

Much has been said in this country about not wanting to participate in foreign wars and people who have said it, must now face the fact that foreign wars come very close to our own shores. We will always have not only the religious groups, but many groups who feel that war is wrong. I cannot imagine how anyone could feel otherwise with the picture before them today. But when force not only rules in certain countries, but is as menacing to all the world, as it is today, one cannot live in a utopia which prays for different conditions and ignores those which exist.

I have a great belief in spiritual force, but I think we have to realize that spiritual force alone has to have material force with it so long as we live in a material world. The two together make a strong combination.

For years I have hoped that we could stop war as an instrument for settling any national and international difficulties. I have worked for it and shall continue to work for it. However, one has to face the world as it is and, without discarding one’s ideals, meet the realities of the day and keep on working for what one hopes will be a better future.

May 18, 1940

Washington, Friday –
I went to Congress yesterday to listen to the President deliver his speech on the necessity for the appropriation for national defense and a great armament program. Needless to say, I recognize and accept this necessity, but I agree with Dr. Thomas Parran, Surgeon General of the United States, who, in speaking before the American Scientific Congress, said we must consider the health program as part of our national defense because, without it, we can not have a people with “toughness of moral and physical fibre.”

We must not use this program for national defense as an excuse to enable us to ignore the equally vital national defense of having people devoted to democracy and feeling that democracy meets their need. The one-third of the nation, ill-fed, ill-housed and ill-clothed, is the most fertile ground for the seeds of dissension strewn so ably today by some of the world’s enemies.

From Congress, I went directly to a luncheon meeting of the various people in outside agencies and in the different departments of the Government, interested in matters pertaining to youth. This group has grown greatly since I first met with them and they are doing a valuable work integrating the interests of young people with the interests of the nation.

Someone asked me how it was possible to appropriate all this money for national defense when Congress had been so reluctant to appropriate money for a greater housing program, or for more old age pensions, or for relief of various kinds. The answer is obvious that people will tax themselves for something which is dramatic enough really to frighten them. We have never been able to make enough people realize that it is equally important to build up a nation of healthy, strong, well-fed people who are decently sheltered, clothed and educated. Those who can not have the decencies of life may be as serious a menace as a foreign invasion. Perhaps this is going to come home to us now and we are going to realize that our national defense program must develop along both these points.

A book has just come to my desk called Your Career In Business by Walter Hoving. I hope that many young people will read it. It does not, of course, answer all the problems of youth. It does not answer the great problem of getting jobs when jobs do not exist, but it does help in the approach to an existing job and in the preparation needed for personal success.

I received the ladies of the American Law Institute yesterday afternoon, and then had a group of visitors at 5:00. I ended the day with a meeting in southeast Washington on the District of Columbia relief problem. The sun is shining today after our heavy rain of yesterday and we are hoping to have a lunch in the garden for all of our office force.

May 20, 1940

Washington, Sunday –
There are two celebrations in New York City this coming week in which I think everybody should be interested. On Monday, the women’s division of the Jewish Education Association, known as Ivriah, is giving their springtime breakfast and will present a play A Child Shall Lead Them. This organization has done fine constructive work in adult education projects for mothers who are in need of help in the care of their young children. They also provide scholarships for many children, who would otherwise find life hard to face. Their work has been reflected in better general welfare of the groups which they touch. Their annual springtime breakfast should attract many people because of the worthiness of the cause.

Then, on the 23rd of this month, the New York Zoological Society will hold its garden party for members. I am one of the interested members who think to preserve beauty so near the crowded city streets, and to give an opportunity to young and old to study the various animals in surroundings nearly typical of their usual habitats, is something of real value. I wish I could be present and that the interest of the public in this opportunity were greater.

On Friday afternoon, I received a group of ladies who were attending the convention of the Tall Cedars of Lebanon. Yesterday, the high school seniors from Arthurdale, West Virginia, lunched with me in the garden. In the afternoon I attended a tea which was given to celebrate the publication of Mr. Bruce Melvin’s book, Youth – Millions Too Many? This book is written by a man who has worked in the research division of the WPA on many questions affecting youth. It is, I think, a valuable contribution on this subject and should be read by those who have an interest in this problem.

Yesterday morning, for the first time this week, I had a chance to ride and went to the stables to see a new horse which has just been presented to me by the Tennessee Walking Horse Association. He is a beautiful sorrel gelding, five years old, with a most kind and gentle expression. I hope I am going to have a great deal of pleasure getting acquainted with “Charlie” and riding him frequently when Washington duties are less heavy.

Today has been a day of rest, but the anxiety which hangs over everybody seems to bring its quota of fatigue. I notice that many with whom I come in contact these days seem to be exhausted more by the state of apprehension in which we are living than by the actual work we do.

May 21, 1940

Washington, Monday –
More and more pitiful stories of what is happening to masses of people in the invaded countries abroad come pouring in day by day. Under the trees on the White House lawn the other day, an unemotional, calm-voiced Quaker, Mr. Kershner, who has been working for the International Commission, first in Spain and then in France, told a group of high school students from Arthurdale, West Virginia, what it was like to see a half a million people leaving their homes under the threat of invasion. Then, later, he described to me the evacuees of France for whom he and Lady Abingdon are trying to obtain assistance. All we can do over here is to give money to help those who are doing this work of mercy. As time goes on I feel that all this work should be coordinated. The money raising, at least, should be done under our leadership, and then distribution to the various established agencies working in different localities, both in Europe and Asia, could be done equitably on the basis of need as it shifts from time to time.

The ladies of the Senate lunched with the ladies of the Cabinet and me on the White House lawn today. We were showered upon for a few minutes, but were shortly able to go back to our seats at the tables under the trees. I enjoyed the party very much, for anything which makes one forget the clouds that seem always ready to gather around one, is a blessing these days.

I was interested and encouraged at lunch to find that some of the things which were almost universally accepted in 1917 and 1918 seemed to be recognized today as belonging to a past era. Many of you will remember how we refused to listen to German music and felt that in some way we were condemning the Germans at war by this gesture. I recalled it to some of the ladies today and they looked positively shocked, which pleased me very much. Music should remain, like all works of genius, the heritage of all nations. In this troubled world the arts should be a reminder that there are still possibilities of unity among us.

While I talk of music, I wonder if any of my friends who live in and around Chicago, went to the Chicago Negro Light Opera Company? I hope they are still playing and making enough money to keep the company going, for our Negro citizens make their greatest contribution to the culture of the nation through the arts. All of us should appreciate this contribution and give them our support.

May 22, 1940

Washington, Tuesday –
There is a paragraph at the end of a column by Regine Kurlander in one of our newspapers, which I think is well worth commenting on today. It reads:

Our security is not a matter of weapons alone. I know that to cope with present dangers we must be strong in heart and hand, strong in our faith, strong in our way of living.

What is our way of living? How does it differ from that of the two allied dictator nations in Europe today? The difference seems to be that in these two countries the rulers tell their people what they are to do, whereas in other countries people themselves have to decide what they are willing to do.

Herein lies the challenge to democracy. These rulers in both cases, started their programs by explaining to their people that they wished to make life better for them, even a few years ago people going to Germany were carefully shown that there were no slums, that the Government was making every effort to make life more worthwhile for everyone. The objectives were hidden. After the good things were firmly established in the minds of both Germans and Russians, the idea of power and ability to dominate the world was equally carefully instilled.

We, in this country, had best learn a lesson from them. Every individual in this country must be convinced that the government is as much interested today in seeing them well housed, well clothed and well fed, obtaining needed medical care and recreation, as they are concerned that arms are necessary for defense in the world as it is today. Unless the two convictions go hand in hand, somewhere the unity of the nation will break.

Those watching the drama in Europe today are sick at heart at the suffering of individual human beings. Last night I saw the pictures of destruction in Belgium and the faces of the people. That might be your little sister with her head done up in bandages. Wake up every one of you to the two fronts on which our defense must be built!

A group of people interested in housing came to see me this morning to talk about Housing Bill S.591. They made the point that, unless housing went on in this country at an accelerated pace, we would be paying more year by year in every community for the evils that come from bad housing and that we would build a better defense and healthier young people through giving them decent places in which to live. I am in entire accord with their stand and I only hope that women all over this country are going to take up the crusade for better housing. They should write to their representatives and say that they would rather pay for preventing crime and disease through better housing and that they have a personal interest in improving the homes of the nation both from the economic and moral standpoint.

May 23, 1940

Elkins, W. Va., Wednesday –
Yesterday afternoon, the agencies taking part in the Community Chest Campaign here gave a delightful country fair at a beautiful place far out on Massachusetts Avenue. Each agency had a booth in which they displayed the work they are doing. Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts were in evidence helping everybody from every settlement house and agency which works with children, a group of which had been chosen to give an entertainment.

For a little while we sat on the slope of a hill and saw the different groups in costumes and heard the first song. Then I had to come home again to talk about the housing bill for a few minutes and to have tea with Mrs. Helm, who left early this morning for her summer home in southern Illinois. It is always sad to have her go and someday I hope we will enjoy more leisure time together. As it is, Miss Thompson, Mrs. Helm and I have enjoyed these busy years of work.

Mr. and Mrs. George Bye, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Deans and my brother came down for the newspaper dance last night. More people were here for dinner than the little family dining room could hold at one table and, of course, with supper to serve later in the evening, we could not use the State Dining Room. Necessity often drives one to do new things, and so we had four tables in the little dining room and quite comfortably seated more people than we ever seated before.

The President received all the guests as usual in the East Room and the grounds were gaily decorated with colored lanterns. I think this dance, given every spring for the newspaper people in Washington, is one of the prettiest and nicest parties of the year. It is crowded, however, and last year the fact that we had rain at intervals during the afternoon and evening made it impossible for people to enjoy being out of doors. This year it was warm and pleasant and the moonlight made it even prettier as the night advanced. I hope everyone had a good time. I know I enjoyed myself.

This morning, Mrs. Henry Morgenthau Jr., Miss Thompson, Mrs. Allie Freed, Miss Mary Switzer, Mr. Clarence Pickett, Mr. and Mrs. Deans, Mr. and Mrs. Bye and I all started off by automobile for Elkins, West Virginia. We took our lunch with us and went through the usual throes of finding just the right spot for a picnic. Now we are at Elkins going out to Tygart Valley in in a short time for the commencement exercises there, and later motoring on to Arthurdale to spend the night.

I can hardly believe that for us life goes on with the ordinary joys and sorrows while the rest of the world seems so deep in tragedy.

We learned yesterday that Mr. Boettiger, my son-in-law’s father had died. I think this is the first real sorrow that has come to that young family group.