Eleanor Roosevelt's "My Day" was a syndicated newspaper column published from 1935 to 1962. During those years, Eleanor wrote the column consistently six days a week, the only interruption being when her husband died, and even then she missed only four days. The column allowed Eleanor to reach millions of Americans with her views on social and political issues, current and historical events, and her private and public life. Dealing with subjects far out of the range of the conventional first lady's concerns, "My Day" is an outstanding example of the breadth of issues and activities which occupied Eleanor Roosevelt's life.
Women and Employment
HYDE PARK, JULY 13, 1939 - Yesterday, with great interest, I read Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt's appeal to the National Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs. It seems to me so obvious that married women should not be discriminated against, that I cannot imagine anyone who would really consider such a proposition.
It seems this discussion was given impetus by a rule in the federal government during the Depression, forbidding two married people to hold government positions. Now that the emergency is over, that rule has been rescinded, but there is, I think, one consideration in government employment that does not exist in private employment. The government wants to prevent the building up of a family bureaucracy.
It seems to me that if a generous sum is set, on which an adequate standard of living may be preserved for the average family that it might be well, if one member of the family earns that amount, to bar the employment of any other member of the family in government service. If a man and his wife together earn that amount, children who live in the same household should be barred from government employment.
Such a rule would not be directed at women particularly, married or single, but, if adopted by the federal government, it should be very carefully considered for the same pattern might easily be followed by state and local governments.
I see by the morning papers that the Senate Committee has voted for delay on neutrality. One vote makes this important decision. These gentlemen must go on the theory that if you delay making up your mind long enough, perhaps you may never have to, for somebody else may make it up for you. My own experience is that the things you refuse to meet today always come back at you later on, usually under circumstances which make the decision twice as difficult as it originally was. I would not weep over the difficulties of the gentlemen who made this decision, were it not for the fact that the results of their decision may not rest on their heads alone but may affect innocent people in our country and other countries.
Women & Work
HYDE PARK, AUGUST 5, 1939 - The other day I was sent a most amusing page from a magazine called "Future: The Magazine for Young Men." An article by Dr. S. N. Stevens, which contains the following quotation, was marked for my attention:
"Women are generally more intuitive than empirical. In other words, they play hunches instead of examining facts in the evaluation of a situation. And I have never yet seen one who, in a tight spot, didn't try to take advantage of the fact that she was a woman."
I am willing to agree to the first part of the paragraph, women have so much intuition and are so much quicker to feel things than men are that they occasionally count too much on that particular gift. However, the woman who has trained herself has the advantage over a man in that she still has her intuition, but to it she has added his gift of examining facts and evaluating all the factors entering into a situation. As to the second half of his statement, I'll grant some women do it, but they are never the women who succeed in their jobs. They are the ones who always preyed on men and always will, for that is a job in itself.
There are so many occasions when a woman is in a tight spot which only she herself can face, that it is rather rare to find her trying to share her burden or ask for assistance on the ground that she is a woman.
What good would it do to try to get someone else to stand by when you are about to have a baby? What good would it do to turn to anyone else if your husband drank and you had to try to collect his wages before they were all spent? A woman may use her womanly wiles to help her in tight spots, but she isn't trading on being a woman, she is just handling the job which is hers, and frequently it is the job of handling a man and making him think he isn't being handled. These doctors and editors who write for magazines like this are very clever, but they should know a little more about women and real life before they venture to write about them.
Democratic National Committee
BOSTON, FEBRUARY 9, 1940 - The members of the Democratic National Committee, who were meeting in Washington, came to tea. The ladies seemed particularly elated by the passage of a resolution which is a new milestone in the participation of women in party politics.
Steps of this kind are not of interest only to the women in one political party, they are of interest to all women, because what is done by one party is soon done also by the others. Those of us who believe that women's advice and influence are of importance in public affairs, look back with considerable interest at the record of our own party. In both major parties, the record shows the growing importance of women. I belong to the Democratic party, and so I give you my party's record here.
In 1919 the Executive Committee of the National Democratic Committee, anticipating the ratification of the constitutional amendment permitting women to vote, decided on September 27th, to admit women to membership. In 1920 Miss Charl Ormond Williams was elected vice chairman of the National Democratic Committee. In 1936, at the Democratic National Convention held in Philadelphia, women were named as alternates to the platform committee for the first time, with the privilege of voting when regular members were not present and now, on February 5, 1940, the Democratic National Committee meeting in Washington, has passed the following resolution:
"Whereas, it is the sense of this committee that women be given an equal voice in the affairs of the Democratic party."
"Now, therefore, be it resolved, that this committee recommend to the next Democratic National Convention a consideration of a resolution there to be introduced, providing that each State, District and Territory shall name two members to serve on the committee on platform and resolutions, and that the members so designated by each State, District and Territory shall be of the opposite sex."
In addition, resolutions passed provided that four delegates-at-large be chosen from each State for each Senator in Congress and it was recommended to the States that one-half of those delegates be women.
At present, in the Democratic party, women have fifty-fifty representation on the state committees in 38 States. Only 9 states in the Union do not give women equal representation on some of the political committees, either by party regulations or by law.
Even more important than these gains, however, is the caliber of women chosen for political offices. I hope that every woman is going to feel a great responsibility, not only in holding party offices, but in choosing those who are to hold these offices and who will, therefore, represent the women of their communities.
Women in War
WASHINGTON, OCTOBER 15, 1943 - The film which we saw last night was the story of the British Women's Military Auxiliary Services, and it was one of the most thrilling stories I have seen on the screen.
By and large, I am not sure the men of the United States are encouraging their wives and daughters to go into our auxiliary military services. I am not even sure our women are convinced they are needed in these services. They may wonder whether they really would free a man to do a job which they cannot do.
I realize, of course, that our WACS, WAVES, Marines and Spars are not being trained for as great a variety of activities as the British women are. That makes the service less interesting. In addition, they probably resent the restrictions put upon them as to the places where they are to be allowed to work.
If I were young enough, I would rather be a nurse in the Army or Navy, for they are allowed to share more nearly the men's existence. They know that there will be no attitude on the part of the boys which says "Oh yes, you have come in to wear a uniform, but you don't really mean ever to do a job which will inconvenience you or change the ease we men are expected to provide for our women."
Life in the armed services is hard and uncomfortable, but I think women can stand up under that type of living just as well as men. It made me unhappy last night to see what the British women are doing and then to remember certain speeches I have read by gentlemen who oppose women's full participation in the auxiliary military services, when there is so much they could do. Why should British, Australian and New Zealand women render services to and with our men and we be barred?
HYDE PARK, MAY 14, 1945 - I have been getting a good many letters of late about the Equal Rights amendment, which has been reported out favorably to the House by the House Judiciary Committee. Some of the women who write me seem to think that if this amendment is passed there will be no further possibility of discrimination against women. They feel that the time has come to declare that women shall be treated in all things on an equal basis with men. I hardly think it is necessary to declare this, since as a theory it is fairly well accepted today by both men and women. But in practice it is not accepted, and I doubt very much whether it ever will be.
Other women of my acquaintance are writing me in great anxiety, for they are afraid that the dangers of the amendment are not being properly considered. The majority of these women are employed in the industrial field. Their fear is that labor standards safeguarded in the past by legislation will be wrecked, and that the amendment will curtail and impair for all time the powers of both state and federal government to enact any legislation that may be necessary and desirable to protect the health and safety of women in industry.
I do not know which group is right, but I feel that if we work to remove from our statute books those laws which discriminate against women today we might accomplish more and do it in a shorter time than will be possible through the passage of this amendment.
Women & Population
NEW YORK, MAY 13, 1955 - Few people may have noticed a little item in the newspapers the other day under a dateline from Washington. The Population Reference Bureau says that since 1900 the proportion of persons over 65 has doubled from four to eight percent. There also has been a steady increase in the proportion of women, particularly in the age groups above 20.
In terms of voting power, ownership of land and corporate equities the United States could be seen on the road toward a gerontomatriarchy-"control by aging females," the bureau said.
This will make us smile, particularly in a country where for so many years women were scarce and the young man held the important position in our population.
This fact, however, should give us a little food for thought. Why do women live longer than men? They are the "weaker" sex, they bear the children and, therefore, should wear out more quickly since we no longer live in a time when men must run the daily risks of hunting for their food and having to defend by physical prowess their homes on a day-by-day basis.
Is the answer perhaps that women, through the ages, have had to learn how to conserve their strength and to build resistance?
More and more in the modern world men have been obliged to set their goal for success in a competitive atmosphere. One may be under as great a strain when sitting quietly at a desk as in the days when one went out hunting to sustain himself. So, since men must work every minute in order to excel and must work at high tension in constant competition with all those around him, men often die earlier than do women.
The modern killers are heart disease and cancer and brain hemorrhage--all of which represent the pace at which modern man lives. Transportation and communication have so greatly increased in speed that man can cover more ground and do more than he could in years gone by, yet he stood up better apparently under hard physical labor than seems to be the case under the modern type of strain.
I wonder if there is not something in teaching children how to acquire an inner calm. It seems to me that in some of the books written in days gone by there was more emphasis on serenity. It may be that we must learn how to have inner serenity in spite of outward speed and activity.
Certainly, we should find ways of keeping a better balance in our population, for whether in youth or in age I think too great a predominance of one or the other sex is a distinct drawback. Our doctors had better start finding out why men wear out faster than women and they had better keep them alive for the happiness and contentment of all.
NEW YORK, OCTOBER 17, 1955 - Recently I received a letter which raised a question of interest to many women. It reads as follows:
"Reading your article in the August Safeway Magazine gives me the inspiration and opportunity I have long been looking for, namely to 'speak' to you regarding the word 'housewife,' used to define the greatest profession we women perform.
QUESTION: What is your occupation?
ANSWER: Housewife, wife of a house.
QUESTIONING A CHILD: What does your father do?
ANSWER: He is a lawyer on Wall Street, N.Y.C.
QUESTION: What is your mother's occupation?
ANSWER: Oh, she is just a housewife.
I have heard this on TV. I am sure other women have cringed at the term. The dictionary defines the word as 'the woman in charge of a household. 'Wife' is defined as 'a woman joined in marriage to a man as husband.'
"Surely there is another name for us. How do you feel about it? Why not write an article which will bring opinions from other married women?"
I must confess that in days gone by I have often entered myself on questionnaires as "housewife" without feeling the slightest embarrassment. Now I put down " writer" or "lecturer," because the major part of my life is taken up in this way rather than in running a home and watching over the daily needs of a household and children plus guests, as it used to be in earlier days. I am not sure, however, that I did not feel more useful when I had to be home the greater part of the time. I had to make very careful plans when I left home so that all would go on in the same way while I was gone. I was limited in my free time. One could never be sure that there would not be sudden illness which would make a change in plans inevitable, or that home tasks would not clash with some demands outside my family--and of course, the demands outside the family were always secondary.
Those were the days when on a questionnaire I would put down "housewife" and feel very proud of it, and I am quite sure that no woman has any reason for feeling humiliated by the title. It is one of the most skilled professions in the world. When one adds to the business of running a house the care and bringing up of children, there is so much needed preparation for this occupation that I think it could be classed today among the most skilled occupations in the world. To be sure, there are good and bad homes; and there are children who are well brought up and children who are badly brought up. This happens in any business or professional activity. But when one adds up what it means to a nation, one must concede that the well-run home and the well-brought-up children are more more important even than a well-run business. More people are affected by the occupation of a housewife and mother than are ever touched by any single business, no matter how large it may be.
NEW YORK, OCTOBER 21, 1960 - As we watch the Presidential campaign unroll, I wonder how many have noticed one rather interesting change in the modern type of campaign. This was brought to my attention the other day when a young newspaper reporter said to me: "Do you really think that the decision as to a man's fitness for the office of President should depend, in part at least, on what kind of a President's wife his wife will be?"
I looked at her in surprise for a moment, because it had not dawned on me what changes had come about since Mr. Eisenhower's first campaign.
Apparently we have started on a new trend. I can't remember in my husband's campaign, nor in Mr. Truman's, that such a question could be asked. Some of the children or I would accompany my husband on the various campaign trips, and if we were around at railroad stops he would introduce us to the crowd in a rather casual manner. He often said "My little boy, Jimmy," when Jimmy was as tall as he was!
My husband insisted always that a man stood on his own record. He did not bring his family in to be responsible in getting him votes or in taking the blame for his decisions. I think he sometimes found it amusing to let me do things just so as to find out what the reaction of the public would be. But nothing we did was ever calculated and thought out as part of the campaign in the way we feel that Mr. Nixon plans every appearance with his wife.
There must be times when the whole situation becomes practically unbearable, I would think, for the woman of the family. And I hope that we will return to the old and rather pleasanter way of looking upon White House families as people who have a right to their own lives.
The wives, of course, have certain official obligations, but they are certainly not responsible for their husband's policies. And they do not have to feel that sense of obligation at every point to uphold the ideas of the man of the family.
With so many people around a President who say "yes" to everything he says, it is fun sometimes for the family around him to say "no" just for the sake of devilment--but that should be a private family relaxation.
Commission on the Status of Women
PARIS, FEBRUARY 16, 1962 - Before coming over here my last two days in the United States were spent largely in Washington, D.C., and I want to tell about them before writing about my current month-long trip.
On last Monday morning in the White House the President opened the first meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women. After very brief preliminaries and upon being introduced by Secretary of Labor Arthur Goldberg, President Kennedy put us all at ease by starting the conference off on a note of levity by remarking that he had appointed the commission in self-defense--self-defense against an able and persistent newspaperwoman, Miss May Craig. No other lady of the press has waged a longer or more persistent battle for the rights of women than has May Craig, and I am sure she is flattered by the President's recognition of her tremendous interest in the field of women's equality.
After the morning session we had lunch in a downstairs restaurant that did not exist in my day there but which must be a tremendous convenience for those working in the White House today. A guide showed us around the White House, telling us about certain things that have been changed under Mrs. Kennedy's direction and which she explained to the American people over two television networks this week.
The basement floor and the first floor for entertaining have certainly been made far more attractive than ever before. Mrs. Kennedy has succeeded in having presented to the White House some really very beautiful pieces of furniture and decorative pictures, which add enormously to the interest of these rooms.
We kept ourselves strictly on schedule all day and opened our afternoon meeting promptly at 2 o'clock at 200 Maryland Avenue, below the Capitol, where the Commission on the Status of Women will have its permanent office.
We soon began to discuss the best way to organize to achieve the maximum of work not only on the six points laid down in the President's directive to the commission but in other situations which will certainly arise. The commission will try to make its influence felt concerning women's problems not only in the federal area but in state and local areas and in industry as well as in women's home responsibilities.
The effort, of course, is to find how we can best use the potentialities of women without impairing their first responsibilities, which are to their homes, their husbands and their children. We need to use in the very best way possible all our available manpower-and that includes womanpower--and this commission, I think, can well point out some of the ways in which this can be accomplished.
I was glad to hear brought up the question of part-time work for women and of better training in certain areas because the possibilities available to women could be more widely publicized and education could be directed to meet and prepare for these new openings.
The Vice President and Mrs. Johnson gave a delightful reception at their home in the late afternoon for the members of the commission.
The meetings continued through Tuesday morning and into early afternoon, and I felt that the discussions had brought us to a point where we could get the staff to continue with the organization and start some of our subcommittees to working very shortly.
I was back at my home in New York City by 5:30 P.M. on Tuesday and a few people came in to say goodbye at 6 o'clock and then I packed and dressed and was ready to leave the house a little after 10 o'clock. My secretary, Miss Maureen Corr, and I left by Air France for Paris at midnight and had a most delightful trip--smooth and comfortable. We are now at the Crillon Hotel, where I always feel at home because of the many months I've stayed here when we used to hold meetings of the General Assembly of the United Nations in Paris.
Henry Morgenthau III met us at Orly Airport and told us of the plans made for doing two educational television programs, and a little later we were joined at the hotel by Professor Alfred Gorsser for discussion of our joint responsibilities on the programs. By this time it was 7:00 P.M. Paris time, though only 1:00 P.M. New York time, and after a delightful dinner we felt well adjusted to the change and feel well prepared for busy days ahead.
My American Experience
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