Eleanor Roosevelt, Newspaper Columnist
Six days a week for almost three decades, the pioneering first lady explored what it’s like to be an American
When humorist Will Rogers died in a plane crash in Alaska in 1935, millions around the world mourned his passing. For V. V. McNitt, Rogers’s death was a practical as well as a personal loss. McNitt managed the McNaught Syndicate, which distributed Rogers’s highly popular column to newspapers across America. What would McNitt do now without his star writer?
Will Rogers, posing circa 1928 in front of a Curtiss Condor U.S. Mail aircraft, penned an immensely popular newspaper column until his death in a plane crash in Alaska.
—Alamy Stock Photo
He thought he’d found a replacement with Alice Roosevelt Longworth, the sharp-tongued daughter of the late President Theodore Roosevelt. In short order, her new feature, “What Alice Thinks,” was in 75 newspapers, a seemingly auspicious beginning.
Then a rival company, United Feature Syndicate, recruited First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to compete with her cousin. Longworth’s column quickly fizzled, and ER would go on to write her column, “My Day,” six days a week for nearly 30 years.
“My Day” far outlasted Eleanor’s time in the White House, ending only with her death in 1962. The sheer frequency of “My Day,” which ran with very few interruptions during its decades of publication, also extended ER’s influence immeasurably. She would become an almost daily presence in the lives of her audience in a manner that anticipated the social-media age.
When Roosevelt’s name was floated as a possible vice-presidential running mate for President Harry Truman in 1948, she demurred. “As an elected or appointed official,” biographer David Michaelis notes, “she would have felt that any office was a demotion or a constraint. Now free to speak her mind, she was uniquely influential because her audience was listening. Through her column she could give her opinion on matters six days a week. Firmly, unscoldingly she was there each day to remind people that a powerful America was supposed to be above racism, had a responsibility to find ways to give basic decencies to the poor.”
If FDR exemplified the heroic presidency as a champion of the New Deal and wartime leader on a global stage, then his wife tended to offer an alternative vision. Her columns suggested that presidents and first ladies, for all the trappings of high office, still lead much of their lives in the lowercase. They get tired. They get sick. They sometimes don’t want to be bothered.
Time magazine, commenting on “My Day,” lauded “Mrs. Roosevelt’s ability to make the nation’s most exalted household seem like anybody else’s.”
Roosevelt maintained a high profile early in her widowhood as an official at the fledgling United Nations. She later worked as a volunteer supporter of the U.N. and in many civic and Democratic party causes.
Beyond their quaint domestic observations, her “My Day” columns could also be boldly political, especially after she returned to life as a private citizen and felt at even greater liberty to speak her mind.
Many of Roosevelt’s “My Day” columns can be read online, and they’ve also been curated in several books, such as editor David Emblidge’s My Day: The Best of Eleanor Roosevelt’s Acclaimed Newspaper Columns, 1936–1962.
They’re written with a simplicity that ER’s critics found banal and her fans found appealing. Stella Hershan, who fled Nazi-occupied Austria and arrived in the United States penniless, learned about her new country by reading “My Day.”
“Her writing was so simple, even I could understand it. From her,” Hershan said of Eleanor Roosevelt, “I learned about America.”
Of one thing I am sure: Young or old, in order to be useful we must stand for the things we feel are right, and we must work for those things wherever we find ourselves. It does very little good to believe something unless you tell your friends and associates of your beliefs. Those who fight down in the marketplace are bound to be confused every now and then. Sometimes they will be deceived, and sometimes the dirt that they touch will cling to them. But if their hearts are pure and their purposes are unswerving, they will win through to the end of their mission on earth, untarnished.
Full piece with photos: https://www.neh.gov/article/eleanor-roosevelt-newspaper-columnist
No one knows your path but you. The mystery belongs to you only, unveiled by you in pieces through time, through the span of your life. Your way is innate. Your navigation is inside-out. ~Jennifer Rose
“Compassion, then, is love at work. Compassion is a sweet gracious working in love, mingled with abundant kindness; for compassion works at taking care of us and makes all things become good. Compassion allows us to fail measurably and in as much as we fail, in so much we fall…”
-Julian of Norwich
“The great (wo)man knew not that (s)he was great. It took a century or two for that fact to appear. What (s)he did (s)he did because (s)he must; it was the most natural think in the world, and grew out of the circumstances of the moment. But now, every thing (s)he did, even to the lifting of (her) his finger or the eating of bread, looks large, all-related, and is called an institution.”
“A solitary sojourn in the country is, especially at this moment, only half really, because the sense of harmlessness in being with nature is lost to us. The influence on us of nature’s quiet, insistent presence is, from the start, overwhelmed by or knowledge of the unspeakable human fate that, night and day, irrevocably unfolds.”
The Economic Giants Must Do Better than Meh
by Bill McKibben
No one expects small businesses to be the leaders on climate change, though of course a noble handful are. It’s the giants—who have enormous brands to protect, and large margins to cover the cost of changing—that need to be out front. The ones with big ad campaigns with lots of windmills and penguins and cheerful shots of the smiling future. The ones who have made a lot of noise about ‘net zero.’ And how are they doing? Meh.
The New Climate Institute, a European think tank, just released a study of 25 of the biggest companies on earth, ranging from the shipping giant Maersk to the bookshelf giant Ikea to the stare-at-your-palm giant Apple. These titans account for 5 percent of the world’s carbon emissions all by themselves. And they’re not dropping those emissions anywhere near fast enough.
In fact, the report finds that for many companies the promised 100% reduction will look more like 40%. “It is not clear these reductions take us beyond business as usual,” Thomas Day, the researcher who compliled the report, toldthe Guardian. “We were very disappointed and surprised.” The “over-use of offsetting” was one of the main reasons most companies were marked down, said Day—i.e., these companies were promising to buy and protect forests. Except that too many credits go for forests that were never going to be cut down in the first place, or for forests that burn up in fires.
Two more notes: these companies are also often cash-rich, and there’s not yet been a proper accounting of how that money sitting in the bank is unwittingly underwriting the fossil fuel industry. And these companies don’t just make things—they also buy political influence with vast fleets of lobbyists. Too many of those lobbyists fanned out across Washington in recent months to wreck the Build Back Better bill—it was a target of the Business Roundtable and the Chamber of Commerce and of most of the Fortune 500, because it dares to raise corporate tax rates a smidge to pay for, you know, a working planet for capitalists to plunder, I mean consumers to live on, I mean—you know. As Rolling Stone pointed out at the height of the BBB battle in the fall, many of the tech execs who spoke loudest about the climate crisis were blocking the most useful effort so far to stop it.
The very low comedy of this particular drama was highlighted late in January when Biden hosted CEOs at the White House to build support for some version that Prime Minister Manchin might be persuaded to support. Mary Barra, the CEO of GM, was on hand—GM had actually supported the bill because it handed over a goodly sum for EVs. But Barra had also just taken over the rotating chairmanship of the Business Roundtable, which is the toppest of top CEOs, and as Politico reported, she was not planning to push the organization to change its implacable opposition.
“General Motors has been very clear about our support for Build Back Better, particularly the climate change provisions that will accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles and support to build out US supply chain,” Jeannine Ginivan, a spokesperson for General Motors, told Politico. “Mary was at the White House this week to support Build Back Better. She was there in her role as chair and CEO of General Motors.” And, as its part of this farcical pas de deux, the spokesperson for the Business Roundtable duly explained that of course they’d like the “climate investments” too but not if “Congress adopts the sweeping and anticompetitive tax increases included in the House-passed bill.”
One assumes that Nero’s tune was more on-pitch than this.