On Monday, March 28, I wrote to you about how I had finally killed off the Queen Mother by finishing her authorized biography.
Well, now I've put Franklin Roosevelt in his grave by finishing my reading of No Ordinary Time: Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front In World War II by my beloved Doris Kearns Goodwin.
This book is excellent and made a wonderful follow-up to reading about George VI and Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother) during World War II. Franklin Roosevelt fascinates me, but it's Eleanor who is the star of the show as far as I'm concerned.
Despite her insecurities and bouts with depression, she carried on fighting for the rights of African-Americans, women, anyone who was disenfranchised. Eleanor helped make great progress in procuring rights for the common people during the war. The New Deal didn't end for Eleanor Roosevelt when the war began; she continued the battle against poverty and discrimination on the home front.
Although I have read a great deal about the Roosevelts, I learned things from this book I didn't know before. For example, at one point, the president drew up a will leaving half his estate to his secretary and close friend Missy LeHand and the other half to Eleanor. He told Eleanor that their children would be all right on their own but he was all Missy had. But when Missy became ill, he broke her heart with his increasing failure to telephone her or visit when he had promised he would. Roosevelt, although severely crippled, did not like weakness or illness in others. I guess he just didn't know how to deal with it, as he did not know how to be true to Eleanor.
I also thought it was interesting that after Roosevelt learned of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he sat down with a general and planned what the strategy would be if the Japanese invaded the United States via California. They thought the Japanese could get as far as Chicago before their communication and supply lines could be broken when they hit the wide open spaces of the Midwest. Scary thought, isn't it?
More interesting to me, though, was Eleanor's position as First Lady. She was the first First Lady to hold press conferences, to which only female reporters were invited, thus creating jobs in journalism for women when newspapers needed to hire women to cover the First Lady.
She never stopped fighting for the rights of African-Americans, and by the end of the war, the desegregation of the military was fast approaching. President Truman signed the Executive Order creating the desegregation, but black men had already been allowed (isn't that a ridiculous word for men putting themselves in a position to be killed when they could have stayed in safer areas?) to start fighting side by side with white men. Additionally, during the war, military transportation orders changed so that discrimination was illegal. Black men and women could sit where they wanted on military vehicles and there were no more "Whites Only" and "Colored Only" buses and trucks.
Eleanor also recognized the importance of day care for all the women who took jobs away from home during the war, and she was extremely disappointed when the war ended and the women lost their jobs and their children lost their day care. Before the war ended, 79% of women who were employed wanted to continue working, and 70% of those women were married and had children.
In her [newspaper] columns that fall, Eleanor tried in vain to stem the tide. She argued on principle that everyone who wanted to work had a right to be productive. She asked industry to face the fact that many women were obligated to work to support their families and that "it was essential they be treated in this respect on a par with the men." She railed against the closing of the child care centers as a shortsighted response to a fundamental social need. "Many thought they were purely a war emergency measure," she wrote in September. "A few of us had an inkling that perhaps they were a need which was constantly with us, but one that we had neglected to face in the past." She had received a number of letters from women, she reported, appealing to her to help keep the child-care centers open. Some of the women who wrote had husbands who were killed in the war. Others had husbands who were crippled or wounded. For these women, work was the only means of supporting their family. "My whole life and that of my two children," Mrs. Dorothy Thibault wrote, "depends on my working eight hours each day. My little girl is 4 and the boy is 2 and one-half. The care and training they have received in this childcare center is the best possible things that could had happened to them."
And here we are, approximately 55 years later; parents continue the struggle to find adequate day care for their children.
Eleanor Roosevelt: A foresighted woman.
Doris Kearns Goodwin: A hind sighted woman. I recommend anything she writes.
Infinities of love,