Eleanor Roosevelt Would Have Approved of Occupy Wall Street

From a blog written yesterday by Suzanne Kahn for the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, I learned new things about one of my icons, Eleanor Roosevelt.  In addition to writing a syndicated newspaper column, she wrote a monthly advice column, “My Day,” for women’s magazines from 1941 until 1962.  These columns provided a wide range of advice for the women readers.  For example, in one column, she told them that their husbands should help them with their dishes because, “I think anything connected with the home is as much the husband’s work as the wife’s.”

It’s easy to see that she would have approved of the Occupy protests going on today.  In 1961, writing about the frustration individuals felt about not being able to do more to prevent nuclear war, she said that the best an individual could do was “register…with our government a firm protest.”  In 1962, again writing about the prevention of nuclear war, she was asked if she saw any value in women’s groups marching in front of the White House.  She answered that

The average person has a sense of frustration because he can think of no way to express to his government or to the world at large his desires for peaceful solutions to the difficulties that confront us. The demonstrations you mention are important if only because they dramatize the lack of more useful ways for people to show their devotion to the cause of peace.

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A Former “First Lady”’s View on Women

I was doing a crossword puzzle recently and one of the questions was to name the person who said:

A woman’s place in public is to sit beside her husband, be silent, and be sure her hat is on straight.

I didn’t know the answer, but it turned out that the speaker was former “first lady” Bess Truman, wife of President Harry Truman.  She gave the quote while Harry was a senator and still believed it when Harry became President.  (Even though she apparently did quite a bit of work behind the scenes to help Harry.)  Her stance of trying to be invisible in public was, and is, particularly jarring because her immediate predecessor as “first lady” was Eleanor Roosevelt, who was, of course, a national force.  Bess Truman seemed to go out of her way to distance herself from Roosevelt.  For instance, she ended Roosevelt’s weekly meetings with female reporters, giving as her reason that “[y]ou don’t need to know me. I’m only the president’s wife and the mother of his daughter.”

One way of looking at this is to see how things have changed since the 1950’s.  Another way to look at it is to have even more gratitude for Eleanor Roosevelt.