Eleanor Roosevelt as a blogger?

I called my mom late last night (mid-day for her) to tell her about my new job and tried to explain the whole weblogging phenomenon. Now my mother has no interest in computers and very rarely looks at the web, but this time, she let me explain what it is that I do, without getting that “you’re talking computers, I’m no longer listening” tone in her voice. ;-)
When I started to explain how I just write about whatever happens to me, or whatever I happen to be thinking or feeling, she said, “Oh, just like My Day.” I was confused. Had my mother taken up blogging when I wasn’t looking?
“Like your day? I don’t understand. What did you do today?”
“No… My Day, You must remember, Eleanor Roosevelt’s column.”
“I’ve never heard of it, mom…” I said as I started googling (ElenorElanor. Google: “Did you mean: Eleanor?”)
“All through her adult life, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote a syndicated column called “My Day”. Everybody read it. ”
I was intrigued – I really don’t know much about Eleanor except for the stories my mother told about meeting her and the rumors about her sexuality.
The more I searched, the more interested I got. Take, for example, this blog entry column that she wrote in 1939, announcing her resignation from the “Daughters of the American Revolution” when they refused to let Marian Anderson sing at the DAR Hall, because of the color of her skin:

WASHINGTON, FEBRUARY 27, 1939 – I am having a peaceful day. I drove my car a short distance out of the city this morning to pilot some friends of mine who are starting off for a vacation in Florida. I think this will be my only excursion out of the White House today, for I have plenty of work to do on an accumulation of mail, and I hope to get through in time to enjoy an evening of uninterrupted reading. I have been debating in my mind for some time, a question which I have had to debate with myself once or twice before in my life. Usually I have decided differently from the way in which I am deciding now. The question is, if you belong to an organization and disapprove of an action which is typical of a policy, should you resign or is it better to work for a changed point of view within the organization? In the past, when I was able to work actively in any organization to which I belonged, I have usually stayed until I had at least made a fight and had been defeated.
Even then, I have, as a rule, accepted my defeat and decided I was wrong or, perhaps, a little too far ahead of the thinking for the majority at that time. I have often found that the thing in which I was interested was done some years later. But in this case, I belong to an organization in which I can do no active work. They have taken an action which has been widely talked of in the press. To remain as a member implies approval of that action, and therefore I am resigning.

You can recognize the candid tone of a weblogger, the openness and sincerity that typifies the best of our current writers. In these columns, she wrote about her day, her thoughts, her trivia as well as issues that affected all of the people of her time.
I like to think that it was this candor, this openness that made her the most popular first lady. Popular, in the sense of being of the people – not the movie star idolization that the world had for Jacqueline Kennedy, who was much more a private person, but as someone that the people could understand and feel for.
My mother described the first time she saw E.R. in person, when, as a teenager, she went to wait in front of a hotel to try and catch a glimpse of the first lady before a speech she was giving. While the bulk of the people waited at the front entrance of the hotel, my mother went to the old entrance, which was now more of the back. After a while, a little black convertible drove up with 3 women inside, Eleanor at the wheel. It’s hard to imagine now a first lady in an open car, let alone driving, with no Secret Service escort, during wartime… This was someone who was unafraid of the world.
It occurred to me that perhaps Eleanor’s writing may have been ghost-written, or perhaps propoganda, but upon reading a few posts columns, such a thing is impossible to imagine. Still, one has to wonder how the president felt about having their daily life discussed with the people of his country; he was, after all the president. There must have been issues of national security discussed in their home and no Ari Fleischer to backpedal and excuse and put a spin on every word. No, it seems that they relied on simple honesty and decency to keep them out of trouble. In a Look magazine article after her husband’s death, she had this to say about her writing:

Never in all the years can I remember his asking me not to say or to write anything, even though we occasionally argued very vehemently and sometimes held diametrically opposite points of view on things of the moment.

I think my husband probably often used me as a sounding board, knowing that my reactions would be the reactions of the average man and woman in the street.

So I wonder if it might have been “My Day” that made her such a popular and effective leader. Was this conversation with the people so powerful as to make her voice heard? (She never had the beauty of a Jacqueline Kennedy to enchant the people, in fact, as a child, her own mother told her she was ugly.)
When she was 14, she wrote:

“It may seem strange, but no matter how plain a woman may be, if truth and loyalty are stamped upon her face, all will be attracted to her and she will do good to all who come near her and those who know her will always love her for they will feel her loyal spirit and have confidence in her while another woman far more beautiful and attractive will never gain anybody’s confidence, simply because those around her feel lack of loyalty.”

PBS has a few of her columns Online. If you’d like to read even more, De Capo Press has published a book, that I hope to pick up soon.

4 thoughts on “Eleanor Roosevelt as a blogger?”

  1. Eleanor Blogger

    Wirefarm : Eleanor Roosevelt as a blogger? Just wanted to point out this very intersting fact that Jim uncovered while telling his mother about blogging. When I started to explain how I just write about whatever happens to me, or

  2. Very interesting analogy of Eleanor. Blogging as a form of expression is something which has clearly tapped a vein for those who write/post/blog. Just look at Howard Dean and the groundswell which he has garnered for his Blog For America.

  3. What an interesting topic! I’d never heard of “My Day” either. I wonder if someone could make a blog out of it like they did with Pepys diary. Probably not, given the current copyright laws. As a result, this insight into our recent past and a way of making history interesting for those whom that find it just a list of boring dates is lost.

  4. All I can say is read as much as you can about this fascinating woman. She not only helped, but in many instances single-handedly, revolutionized the way people were treated in this country.

    She was not your atypical revolutionist. She fought for what she belived in with grace, dignity, and compassion.

    If I had had any chance whatsoever of meeting her while she was still alive, I would have jumped at it just to be able to listen to her tell her stories.

    We need another Eleanor Roosevelt.

Comments are closed.