Season 2: Episode 10: How did ER use her position and influence to sway public opinion and influence politics?
With Dr. Christy Regenhardt
In this episode, Kelsie and Brooke chat with Dr. Christy Regenhardt about her research and work on perhaps the most famous US First Lady: Eleanor Roosevelt. Roosevelt is impressive in a million ways, but the ways in which she used her platform and position to influence change was altering for the role of the first lady. Most of us only scratch the surface of her work when we discuss it with our students. Let's dive deep.
Kelsie Eckert 0:05
The Remedial Herstory Project is a nonprofit working to get women's history into the K to 12 curriculum to help us meet our goal. We produce media lesson plans, and so much more. Check it out on our website, www.remedialherstory.com. The remedial history project is funded through grants and by listeners like you. Please head over to patreon.com and become a supporter of the Remedial History Project. YouTube can help us reform education and allow women to be seen heard and complicated. In particular funds from patrons added from here on out will help us launch a crash course YouTube channel on women's history. We will be producing short 10 minute videos that educators can play in their classes telling women's history from era to era for both us and world history. Let's make herstory together.
Brooke Sullivan 0:55
Kelsie Eckert 0:55
Brooke Sullivan 0:56
Want to tell everyone's happening in today's episode?
Kelsie Eckert 0:58
In today's episode we are going to be talking about probably the most important American first lady in history. The Eleanor Roosevelt
Brooke Sullivan 1:10
bomb bomb bomb. I mean she does need her own theme song. Okay, let's get into this.
Hello and welcome to remedial her story the other 50% the podcast that explores what happened to the women in history class. Now here's your host, Kelsey Brooke Eckert and her partner in crime Brook Neva Sullivan.
Kelsie Eckert 1:33
In this episode, we're going to be asking the question, How did Eleanor Roosevelt use her position and influence to sway public opinion and influence politics? Oh, yes. Yes,
Brooke Sullivan 1:46
Kelsie Eckert 1:48
She redefines the First Lady ship and has a long career following the death of her husband. Okay, from polio. Franklin.
Brooke Sullivan 2:00
And who is her husband?
Kelsie Eckert 2:02
Franklin? Delano Roosevelt
Brooke Sullivan 2:05
is Mr. Mr. Roosevelt.
Kelsie Eckert 2:07
Dr. Yes, she is first cousin to Theodore Roosevelt, and distant cousins with her spouse. Yo, sorry, you had to go there, I don't know. But anyway, she is a powerhouse of a woman. Their presidency was a record setting four terms, and it wasn't until after that presidency that they passed the rule officially. Oh, and so what's important about that is she's in the White House. She's in a position of influence for most of her life, most of the Great Depression, most of World War Two, and after that she goes on to serve as a delegate to the UN. He has this like, really powerful career that doesn't get touched on well enough in survey courses of US history.
Brooke Sullivan 2:58
Yeah, I mean, I don't know much about her other than that she is a First Lady. Yeah. And that she has some famous quotes.
Kelsie Eckert 3:03
I'm so excited to introduce our guest today who's going to tell us a great deal about this enduring legacy of this wonderful woman. Christie Regan Hart is a professor of history. She's a PhD, and she works for George Washington University, GW, and I'm going to turn it over to her to introduce herself and Okay.
Unknown Speaker 3:26
Hi, I'm Christine Dragonheart. editor at The Eleanor Roosevelt papers project at the George Washington University. I work with a small team taking ER's documentary record, we have over 100,000 documents from over 200 libraries and archives plus photos, audio and film. And we publish that material with enough editorial commentary to put it into context. We publish print volumes, but increasingly, we're making material available online at no charge. I also maintain the project's website which I helped build and database and train and work with both undergraduate and graduate students at college who were interested in Eleanor Roosevelt or in scholarly editing. I became interested in this subject entirely by accident. By training. I'm a 20th century political and cultural historian and have a graduate certificate in women's studies. When I finished my doctorate, I applied for a one year postdoc position at the Eleanor's will papers project because they needed a political historian and I needed a job. And I just never left. I'd read only one book on Eleanor Roosevelt when I interviewed for the job. And I'd read that book The week before the interview. But I've come to love the work, though, because ER had her hand in so many pies that I get to study the whole world, which I really love. And I actually also really like the tech side of my job. And then I get to explore a part of my brain that I didn't get to do as a just a straight historian who only wrote books. So let me start by giving you a little context. Let me tell you who Eleanor Roosevelt is. And I will call her ER a lot for short because it's just a lot easier than saying her whole name each time. People who know ER usually know she was the wife of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, our president during the Great Depression and most of World War Two, but I think that should only be one or maybe two chapters in the book of what we know about her life. Er was a journalist, a political activist and a diplomat, born in 1886. Er came from a wealthy and influential family, but lost both of her parents when she was young and struggled at times to find her place in the world. As a teen she volunteered among disadvantaged youth. After marrying and having six children she returned to her activism during World War One. Her husband was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy and Eleanor Roosevelt became very involved in the Red Cross and in trying to support the Navy as they went to war. In the 20s. While FDR was recovering from polio, she became involved in the labor movement in the Democratic Party of New York entirely on her own. She began speaking publicly and writing for newspapers and magazines. She also founded both a furniture factory and a school. When her husband won election to the presidency, she was torn about what how to move forward with her life. She didn't think she could continue all of our activities in New York. So she focused instead on her journalism and political activism, but to at least one of her friends. She said she thought her life was basically over. But she found a new way forward. She began holding press conferences, and she held them she required that all the journalists that come be female, which at that point in the Depression, a lot of women were being laid off from their jobs, so it ensured that these women would keep their jobs. She expanded her writing to include books and a daily newspaper column, and she travelled extensively around the United States reporting back to FDR on what she found. After FDR's death, she continued her work. In 1946, President Harry Truman appointed her as the delegate to the US Mission to the United Nations. She represented the United States in the Economic and Social Council, which became a major player on negotiations over the fate of refugees and displaced persons in the wake of World War Two. She served as the chair of the commission on human rights and oversaw the negotiations over and drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the covenants on human rights. She also traveled the world as an unofficial diplomat for the United States, circumnavigating the globe multiple times and spending substantial time in the USSR, India, Japan, Yugoslavia, Israel and many European nations. In the United States, she became an important voice in Foreign Policy and International Relations because of all these experiences. At home, she worked to improve civil rights and civil liberties, most notably as part of the movement for black civil rights. She joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People or NAACP in the 1930s and served on its board after FDR death. She argued at many times in many places that the US had to protect civil rights and civil liberties at home if they wanted to succeed abroad, both in World War Two and in the period which followed, in which the US and USSR competed for global supremacy. Er believed that democracy was only as strong as the rights of its most embattled citizens, democracy could not thrive or spread if it only applied to white men. The US had to repair its own democracy before it could help other nations established their own, and failure to do so endangered the US us from both inside and out.
Unknown Speaker 8:23
She also held great political power in the post war era. As one of the most influential voices in the Democratic Party. She played an important role in the nominations of both Adali Stephenson and John F. Kennedy as the Democratic nominees for president. She also helped craft the 1956 Democratic platform section on civil rights for African Americans, and helped form two organizations Americans for democratic action the national issues committee that sought to empower liberals in both political parties. By the time of her death, she was one of the best known Americans at home and abroad. She was one of the foremost power players of the Democratic Party, an expert in foreign relations and a widely known journalist. Her name was regular bandied about as a potential president, the first woman president for the United States, though she declined every offer. So I came to talk about how Eleanor Roosevelt used her position and influence to sway public opinion and influence politics. And I want to give you a few examples of ways in which she did that now that you have the greater context of her life. I want to talk about how she used her presence, her political poll and her skills as a politician, educator and negotiator to influence the history of the United States. And I want to talk specifically about her career as a journalist, her role in the civil rights movement, and her work to help refugees after World War Two. Let me start with Eleanor Roosevelt's journalism. When people think of Eleanor Roosevelt rarely is the first word that comes to mind journalist but it really should be. As a journalist, she had a daily newspaper column and a monthly magazine question and answer section. She ultimately wrote 28 books and over 400 magazine articles in addition to the columns, she hosted eight radio programs and three television series and appeared countless times on other programs in both media. She was a card carrying member of the newspaper Guild and to her, this was her career. She was a journalist. She was also an innovator she wasn't just any old journalist. In a country where women had the vote for just over a decade, ER sought to show women how they're supposed proper sphere, the home family and the education of their children, tied to political arguments and the public realm in which women's place was still questioned by a lot of people. In the months between FDRs first election and his first inauguration, she appeared on the pons dance program, pawns made and makes face creams for women to talk about mothers and children.
Unknown Speaker 10:50
There she argued for women's expanding role in political life. To our ears. Her comments sound horribly outdated, because we've changed so much. But she said things that at the time encouraged women to think about taking their supposed proper place and expanding it to include the public sphere. So she said, quote, saving her pennies in her household budget is of slight importance in comparison with really knowing what is happening to the taxes which her husband is paying. And then she went on to suggest that women could better understand government by visiting the school or even serving on the school board, and suggested that women take an interest in relief programs and public health because that was in the interest of their own children. She said, quote, The future health of all this generation will be affected by the public health care, which is given at the present time when she told women that they really ought to be paying attention to legislation. She defended married women having paid work, running for political office and argued that women had greater opportunities than they had had in the past and that this was all good. Over time, her programs and her writing continued to bring politics into women's media, and to bring women into traditionally male spaces. Her column, which often ran in the women's page of newspapers, discussed legislation and foreign policy, her monthly Q&A column which ran in women's magazines, Ladies Home Journal, and then McCall's answered questions about dating and housekeeping, as well as questions about communism and civil liberties. Her radio programs continued to push this line as well. Her early radio programs ostensibly focused on the home or on young people like that pawns dance program, but by the early 1940s, she was using a morning show format to discuss both women's issues and the news. So she'd go back and forth between the two. By the 1950s. Her programs were just openly political. She broke ground in the News Forum program format, what we see on kind of Sunday morning political talk shows, she interviewed major political players at times from her own living room. Just by being the woman in the room, she changed the audience of these programs. Her two TV shows in the early 1950s Mrs. Roosevelt meets the public and today with Mrs. Roosevelt had programs on elections, atomic weapons crime, the Korean War, legislation, but also on issues related to women and youth. And they were groundbreaking in the kind of shows that they put forward. Er's last TV program prospects of mankind shows us the culmination ER's journalism career. Here, there's no doubt that Eleanor Roosevelt belongs in the room as to the other woman she brings on to discuss foreign policy. These people are experts, there's no question of their credentials. She also makes space on our program for other groups usually left out from talking head programs in the era, a program on African politics included African and Indian panelists, a program on Southeast Asia included both women and people from that part of the world on the program. news programming at the time was white American and male and ER's program always brought on other voices. Her focus on bringing the usually absent voices into the room was in line with her interest in the civil rights of minorities. So I think I'm going to switch now and tell you a little bit about that. I'm going to start with an example. November 22, 1938, Eleanor Roosevelt still First Lady attended the Southern Conference on human welfare. This was a group of southern progressives who were convening for the first time in Birmingham, Alabama with the goal of creating a southern coalition of progressives to fight against segregation and discrimination against African Americans. Before the meeting as the first lady she went down and met with other prominent Democrats in the city and argued at length with Governor Bibb Graves about black voting rights, which he opposed. So when it came time for the meeting, she hurried into the first mess of Methodist Church, which is where the meeting was being held. And she walked in in the middle of a discussion. She didn't pay much attention to it, but the discussion was over whether or not the members of this conference were going to obey the segregation order that was in place in Birmingham. They were requiring that African Americans sit on one side of the room and white people said on the other. Ellenor Roosevelt walked right past the discussion walked to the front of the building and sat down on the black side of the room. The police came up and informed her of the segregation policy, but she refused to comply. Instead, ultimately, she asked that her chair be placed the two sections so that she wouldn't have to sit in neither. I chose this example because it tells you a lot about her activism. She's there to discuss the policy and to get deep into the meat of the issue of how a southern progressive group could help on civil rights. And she did that during the conference. But she often also used her celebrity and her places first lady, to aid the fight for civil rights. Just by refusing to comply with segregation. She made the news and there was no way they were going to arrest the First Lady for disobeying segregation orders at this point. And she did this repeatedly in the fight for African American civil rights, especially in 1941. She went to Tuskegee, Alabama to fly with instructor Charles Anderson of the Tuskegee Airmen, the Tuskegee Airmen, there were a lot of people in the US a lot of white people in the US in this period, who didn't think that black pilots were a good idea, and that they couldn't possibly be safe or good at what they were doing. So the first lady going up and flying around and playing with one of them for an hour, both made the news, and also showed that she had faith in what they were doing and trusted that they were very talented. And it turned out they absolutely were. In 1962, the Congress on Racial Equality held hearings on police violence against civil rights activists and Eleanor Roosevelt presided over those hearings. At this point, she's sick, she's literally dying, she's only got months to live. She missed a day of the hearings because she was too sick to be there. But just by being there in the room, she made the press pay attention because they're going to cover Eleanor Roosevelt, even if they're not going to cover the Congress on Racial Equality. There's another case where she did this earlier, in 1941. In 1941, Eleanor Roosevelt was serving as the assistant director to the Office of civilian defense. The OCD, helping the US population learn how to protect their own country as World War Two spread in Europe and Asia. After the Japanese military bombed the American base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7th, 1941. ER's was the first voice to come to the White House from the White House. She had a regularly scheduled radio program and she went on the air and told Americans what was expected from them and tried to encourage them to tell them that she had faith that they could do it that that she her faith was the rock that she believed was the American people. The next day after FDR delivered his speech calling for war, ER left to head west. Despite or perhaps because of reports that the West Coast might be attacked ER and her boss at the OCD Fiorello LaGuardia flew out in hopes of boosting morale and putting into place plans for preparedness. For ER The goal was threefold. First, she wanted to boy the spirits of the US citizens on the west coast by emphasizing that the US was prepared for whatever came. Second, she sought to meet with those preparing for civilian defense and coordinate those plants again, doing that kind of meat of the issue stuff. And then finally, she wanted to convey her own belief that people of Japanese ancestry posed no threat to the United States. At the time, restrictive immigration and citizenship laws meant that many Japanese Americans were not citizens and were not eligible for citizenship. In the wake of the attack, anti Japanese violence and rhetoric soared. The FBI, our own government began descending on the homes of people of Japanese ancestry looking for evidence of loyalty to Japan. Er visited with groups of Japanese Americans on her trip, and made sure that publicity of the trip included photos of these events, and all were distributed through the Associated Press. In a speech she said, "let's be honest, there is a chance now for great hysteria against minority groups loyal American board, Japanese and Germans. If we treat them unfairly and make them unhappy, we may shake their loyalty, which should be built up. If you see something suspicious, report it to the right authorities, but don't try to be the FBI yourself". And she voiced similar ideas in her daily newspaper column.
Unknown Speaker 19:20
Era ultimately failed to prevent the internment of Japanese Americans during World War Two showing the limit of her influence not only on the public, but on her husband who ordered that internment. So I use the example not because it was successful, but because it shows how she uses her own presence to influence public opinion while still working in the back rooms as well. Finally, I'd like to tell you about ER's role in the United Nations as they handled the refugee crisis in Europe. Harry Truman asked Eleanor Roosevelt to serve as a delegate to the newly formed United Nations in late 1945. largely as a nod to FDR's role in creating the organization but also as an attempt to please Democratic Party liberals. December 1945, ER sailed with the other US delegates to the first session of the United Nations, her male colleagues chose ER to represent the US on the Third Committee, the social, humanitarian and Cultural Affairs Committee, believing it would be an easy assignment. Ironically, they dealt with the refugee issue which became the issue around which the largest controversies in the most strife developed. Er knew she said that if she failed, it wasn't just our own failure, but that is the only woman on the delegation people would see it as a failure of all women. After the end of the session. When John Foster Dulles praised her work, she noted that, quote, against the odds, the women inched forward, but I'm rather old to be carrying on the fight. The war had displaced a million or more people, most of whom had lived in Eastern Europe before the war, and many of whom did not want to or couldn't safely return to their previous homes. The fight over these displaced persons and refugees ultimately boiled down to two sides. The US and its allies thought to allow people to choose their own fate to settle in a new country as long as they weren't war criminals, the USSR and its allies sought to return or repatriate all people to their place of origin. The Soviets argued that those who did not want to return were traders who fear justice. The USSR sent renowned Deputy Foreign Minister Andre Schinsky, to speak to the full General Assembly on their behalf. So this is after the Third Committee had been arguing about this for a while it went before the General Assembly, which is the main body of the United Nations, the USSR sought to direct the Third Committee to allow for forcible repatriation. They also want to DP camps administered by the countries of origin of their inhabitants. The Americans were totally caught off guard by the Soviet demands, and realizing that ER knew more about the refugee issue than anyone else on the delegation had her respond without any time to prepare. So Eleanor Roosevelt, mosies up to the microphone, and uses the case of the fascist government to Franco's Spain, which persecuted communists and the Soviets were communists and a lot and were very supportive. The Spanish Republicans who had fought against Franco, she said, quote, suppose we say that any Spanish Republicans found in refugee camps should be sent back at once to their country of origin, or that they should be put in camps where the personnel was of the present fascist government. Well, it is obvious this is ridiculous, because it is a fascist government, you would not do that. She also argued for free speech in the camp saying, quote, I'm not always sure my government or my nation will be right. I hope it will be and I shall do my very best to keep it as right as I can keep it. And so I am sure will every other nation, but there are people who are going to disagree, and I think we aim to reach a point where we on the whole are so right that the majority of our people will be with us. We can always stand having amongst us people who do not agree. Well, ER won the day and the General Assembly and its third committees followed the course set by the US. The following day, she left on a well publicized trip to visit those very DP camps in Germany over which they've been fighting in furthering her knowledge of both the plight of displaced persons and their hopes for the futures.
Unknown Speaker 23:04
But ER hadn't come at this as a novice. She had a large role in setting the course for the United States in terms of refugees and continued to fight at home for the admission of refugees to the United States. The reason she was the best person on the US delegation to speak on DP issues was that she was a well known expert on and advocate for refugees within the United States. She first became involved in refugee issues during the Spanish Civil War, which she'd referenced in her speech. She worked with nongovernmental organizations seeking Refugee Relief and appraising them of shifts in government thinking and policies. She was always inside the room when these discussions were going on. She also lobbied her context within the government to support the work of these organizations. Her work only intensified as other fascist governments gained power throughout Europe. Er became very involved in the fight to bring especially Jewish refugees from Europe to the United States. She was involved in the Emergency Rescue Committee, the US committee for the care of European children, and was most active and public about her work with the Children's Crusade for Children in 1939 and 1940, She lobbied FDR often unsuccessfully to go against anti immigrant and anti semitic sentiment and increase the number of refugees admitted to the United States. Her work as a political insider during her husband's administration and her alliances with refugee aid organizations allowed her to develop the expertise that served her and the United Nations and the United States in her later years. So whether she was a first lady or a diplomat or a journalist, ER used her position to bring attention to the issue she thought others should care about, and to make space for people often omitted from these public discussions or spaces. I have barely scratched the surface here. If I had more time I talked about her advocacy for putting women and people of color into government positions. I would talk about her work as a teacher, her travels all over the world and how the so called First Lady of the world sought to improve relations between the United States and other nations in her later life. I'd also talk about her best known role as the chair of the UN's Commission on Human Rights as it crafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Most Americans know the name Eleanor Roosevelt, but very few really know what she did or how big an impact she had on our history. Maybe today we've taken a step toward correcting that and I certainly hope I've at least interested a few of you and looking more deeply into her life. And we at the Eleanor Roosevelt papers project are always happy to help you in that search.
Kelsie Eckert 25:34
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Brooke Sullivan 25:51
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Kelsie Eckert 25:59
What do you notice so awesome about this particular group of people know what very few of them are actually educators. These are bad ass people who care so much about equitable and inclusive education that they are willing to put their money where their mouth is.
Brooke Sullivan 26:17
Nice. Yeah, that's awesome.
Kelsie Eckert 26:19
Yeah, so cool. You too can become a patron of the remedial history project by heading over to www.patreon.com and becoming a sponsor of the remedial history project for just $5 a month. That's it. That's one latte.
Brooke Sullivan 26:36
But I mean, it's, it's one of something but it's cheap. And you get all that stuff, all that
Kelsie Eckert 26:42
stuff. You too can give up one latte for 1000s of children and women.
Brooke Sullivan 26:47
You could also buy condoms for more than
Unknown Speaker 26:53
you could perhaps you could reduce reproduction
Brooke Sullivan 26:55
for less than that.
Kelsie Eckert 26:59
Brooke, most importantly, instead of lamenting that women's history isn't being taught in high school, or that they didn't know these women, these people are putting their money where their mouth is. And they are getting it in to the curriculum by funding
Brooke Sullivan 27:12
us. It's awesome. And they believe women's stories are important. Yes, thank you. Duh,
Kelsie Eckert 27:18
thanks, patrons. We love you.
Brooke Sullivan 27:20
We do love you.
Kelsie Eckert 27:24
Thank you so much. I love Eleanor Roosevelt. And she is one of my favorite people of all time. I'm just a personal hero. So it was really nice to hear a little bit more about her and the varying and many ways that she impacted the world that we live in today. Am I not really even realize that earlier in your lecture, you mentioned that people wanted her to run for president and I didn't I guess I knew that she was this powerful influence in politics. I didn't really realize that went that far. And, you know, even today, we ask questions like, could a woman win the presidency? Right that I've seen that article run many times and furious, like in the 1940s and 50s? Like, do you think it's even possible that she could one was she that popular that that's that would have been doable?
Unknown Speaker 28:22
So I you know, it's an excellent question. I don't know she, and she says no. And what she says when people ask her to run is she always says, you know, it's not really her thing. But she also says she doesn't think the country is ready for a woman to run yet. And in that period, most of the not all the women, the women in the Senate and their people ask her to run for the Senate as well. And I think there she would have had a real shot. Yeah, she was deep in New York politics. I think she could have won that. The flip side of that is that she always for the most part, the New York Center, like Senator, a layman from New York was one of our allies. She's not to run against him for the presidency. He, you know, there there's some sense that like I, you know, there are a lot of countries where the first woman to become a president or become a prime minister, is the wife of someone who dies. So it's not like or, you know, somebody taking over a Senate seat for a husband is, yeah, it's a fairly kind of standard early way to get into those positions of power. I wouldn't have bet money on it. I think she was right. I don't I don't think it would have happened. And I don't think she was really that kind of politician. She she really made her her thing. She just symbols a lot in her constantly when she's speaking. She says I'm only here because of FDR. And because people respect him. And he is the source of all my power, which is nonsense. It's not at all. And she is in the back rooms making decisions about who's going to be the nominee for the Democratic Party, what's going to be in the platform, but her whole I hate to call it a stick, but her whole, you know, her whole self representation is that she's not that person. And so I think she'd have lost a lot of popularity because of the way she presented herself was always that that wasn't who she was.
Kelsie Eckert 30:15
Is that like a upholding traditional feminine values? Like is that a component there where, where she's allowed to have all this power and persuasion while simultaneously saying I don't really have all the power. And
Unknown Speaker 30:31
I think it's an I don't know, if it's traditional. It's certainly an interesting tactic. I read recently or heard recently, and it's one of those things I keep meaning to confirm that she didn't sign her name is Mrs. FD Roosevelt until FDR died. And it's one of those things I keep I this was within the last month, and I don't even remember exactly where I read it, but I keep needing to go check that. But she definitely use this presentation of herself as a mother and a wife and a grandmother is a way of leveraging power. And especially I was talking about her radio programs that she's constantly talking about. She actually has, you know, numerous radio programs about women and youth. And she's super involved in youth activities. She didn't wasn't that involved in the raising of her own kids. She was she was more involved than a lot of women of her time. But she had governesses and the children all went to boarding schools and such. Yet, one of the first things she does when FDR becomes president is she starts editing a magazine called babies, just babies. And she's in those programs. She's really leveraging that idea of this is traditional femininity. historians talk about maternal ism, when they talk about this, they talk about how women who were arguing for political power sometimes use the idea that women as mothers and as wives should have political power. You see it a lot around the temperance movement around child labor, that as mothers, these women have an inherent interest in politics, and she is totally tapped into paternalism.
Kelsie Eckert 32:14
That's fascinating. Well, I really just love that that idea that she had so much influence that that people, you know, it just speaks volumes to how wonderful this person is, as a historic figure. I guess one question that I have is, I'm thinking about how educators can teach her when most of you know, most of Eleanor's timeframe would probably go into like US history too, or something like that, like a survey course on on US history. And she's really hard, even FDR and their personal story, which is really a powerful story about a couple in politics. And, you know, their relationship is kind of trite. Like, there's so many things about them that I think is so fascinating. And yet, at the same time, their story aligns with such huge historic events and periods like the Great Depression, World War Two, the start of the Cold War, and I'm imagining someone listening to this episode might be like, how do you get her stuff and all of these things that she did in while you're also trying to help students understand, like the cause and effect of some of these massive concepts and and periods? And I guess I'm just wondering, I know, that's a big question, but where how would you approach that if you're also responsible for these bigger picture things?
Unknown Speaker 33:44
Honestly, some of it's just that they're such great recordings. And the fact that it's her voice, and she's got such a distinctive voice that comes from the White House, the day that the Japanese military attacks Pearl Harbor, that she comes out and gives this great speech on her radio program. I would absolutely use that because you hear in her voice, like she's got kids in war zones. She's got kids on destroyers, on a just, you know, on ships in the Pacific. She is there to talk to the American people about what's going on. And it's such a great example of the kind of moment the historical moment I think even more so than FDR's day that will live in infamy speech, because this is so heartfelt, and it's so much about the American people and not about the declaration of war. I'm a 50s historian. And so for me, the way that I really like addressing her is in terms of international politics and foreign policy. She's fascinating and, and I'm not a biographer by nature. So my point of entry for Eleanor Roosevelt is always looking at how she returns What's what's going on around her, I have a hard time keeping the names of her children and grandchildren straight. But like I find the letters people write to her fascinating. And her her hate mail especially gives you such insight into the way people were thinking in the 1950s, about things like civil rights and the United Nations. But she's great because she is very liberal. She comes from the background of being anti war, but also accepting that sometimes wars necessary like in World War Two, she's very supportive of the move toward war. She really wants this kind of international organization that will prevent future wars, but she's also a real cold warrior. And she is really positive about the Korean War. She doesn't like MacArthur, she's in what he does. She's really early on talking saying some very interesting things about Indo China and what would become the Vietnam War. The the way she's trying to navigate the Cold War is really interesting. And she's one of the people I think that really gets the Third World movement early on before it's even really called Third World movement. She is talking to Nehru a lot. And she's she goes to Yugoslavia, she goes, she talks to Tito and Yugoslavia. She goes to India, she's friends with Nehru, and especially with his sister, his sister Lakshmi Pandit, she's not friends with Nasser, which has more to do with her opinions on Israel than anything, but she's making arguments in the US about the place of these neutral nations, and that the US needs to walk a different line than saying you're either with us or against us. So in some ways, she's, she's really hard to pin down in international relations. But I think that's true of a lot of people. And so she's kind of a really interesting lens. And in her later, TV show prospects of mankind, she keeps bringing on. Give me a second to remember his name, she keeps bringing on Henry Kissinger. Because she really, I think, thinks he has a lot of interesting things to say about international politics and real politic, the kind of real politics that he's embracing, later, but even in this early moment, starting to kind of define, and that that appeals to her and that he becomes Richard Nixon, who She despises, she, he becomes Nixon's ally says a lot about the way politics are moving around in this period, and how important foreign policy is in that process.
Kelsie Eckert 37:46
Mm hmm. Where do you think, you know, I think in terms of documents, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, obviously this huge defining moment for her and her career, does that fit thematically with the Cold War in any way? Like, is it a contrast to the policy? Where do you think that belongs?
Unknown Speaker 38:09
Well, I think it's interesting because it passes in part because there's this brief moment, when both sides will at least concede to these basic human rights both sides of the Cold War, which is a simplification, but and then what happens is that and she's involved in this, after they pass the Declaration, which is just a statement and has no legal force, they try to pass the covenant of humans human rights. And very quickly, the covenant gets split into the covenants. And it becomes one that is on Civil and Political Rights, and is the ones that we kind of recognize as being US kind of centric ideas about freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the other is the economic and social and that's your freedom, freedom from want freedom for health care, those kinds of things. And she tries to tie them both back together, using the four freedoms idea that FDR enunciates, early, and then in the 1930s, so she really sees them as still something that America should be embracing both. So you get that sense of transition, I mean, really, bluntly, from the 1930s ideas of what it is to be American, and what freedoms America protects to this Cold War idea of certain things are socialistic, and you have to get rid of those things. And she's fighting that transition, both at home and very much in the State Department and in her own job as a delegate.
Kelsie Eckert 39:51
This I don't know if this ties in at all, but I recently was working on a lesson plan about abortion because of everything going on in our country right now. And I found the UN you know that they have categorized abortion as one of those human rights in their in their declaration, that must have been added later. Right? That's not something that she would have been a part of in the 50s. Right.
Unknown Speaker 40:15
It didn't come up in that I can remember in the covenants. There was also in the the United Nations, there was a specific Committee on Women, and she supported their work, but was not part of that work. Okay. And so I don't know if they were debating it, because it's just outside of our purview. Right. Okay. But she supported, she supported Margaret Sanger, his work and supported women's rights over their own body in general.
Kelsie Eckert 40:42
Yeah, okay. Well, it's just such a timely thing. And it's seeing, you know, that that was a piece of this, these products that are coming out of, you know, what she was a part of, I think is just really powerful today. Yeah. All that context. Well, I am so grateful to you for coming on. Is there anything else that you want to make sure teachers hear or students hear about her that really should be in the curriculum?
Unknown Speaker 41:09
Oh, I could go on and on you, I think just that, you know, the big thing I would say is like we are here, if anyone has questions or wants to know how to bring her into their curriculum, contact Ellen Roosevelt papers, we are always so happy to do that. And I had so much fun. I have a now 12 year old and early in the pandemic, I was helping his teacher with documents, because he told her what I do. And she's like, Oh, ask her if she's got documents. We need documents because they were struggling to find things they could do online. This was like April 2020. Yeah. And so I was feeding her stuff. And it's just, it's what we do. I mean, we're all teachers. We're all you know, I trained with the idea that I would be teaching at a university and then ended up in this position, but like, I still adore teaching, and I think it's so important.
Kelsie Eckert 42:05
Well, thank you so much for your time and your energy. I'm so excited to get this information out to our listeners.
Unknown Speaker 42:12
Right. I'm thrilled that you're including Eleanor Roosevelt and including us.
Thanks so much for listening to remedial Herstory the other 50% Please subscribe, rate and review wherever you listen to your podcasts to bring more voices to the conversation. We'd really appreciate that effort. Until next time
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
As one of the two co-editors at the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project, Regenhardt selects and annotates documents for publication, both online and in print. She also built and maintain the project's website, prepare our manuscripts for publication, manage the undergraduate and graduate student staff, and deliver public lectures about Eleanor Roosevelt.