Eleanor Roosevelt on 20-30

What I love most about history are the personal stories that you can read about and really feel. Going through and reading these Twenty-Thirty Magazines, we get to read articles that have that personal connection to events in the past. I enjoy seeing these little slices and how they affected people in our age group, not just the big world picture. Here is one article (of several during the 1940’s) that touches on World War II and a talk with a lady that has become such an inspiration to so many.

Eleanor Roosevelt on 20-30
By Edward Ryan

Never in all our history has a First Lady so thoroughly impressed herself upon the national mind as has Mrs. Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Opinion as to the worth of her activity is hopelessly divided, but the sincerity of her interest in national problems and events is graciously admitted by her friends and critics alike. When applied to Eleanor Roosevelt the term “First Lady” is not just a flattering compliment but a simple statement of truth. With a quiet ease she has assumed the duties incumbent upon a President’s wife and is prosecuting them in what she considers the best and most direct way.

Not long ago Mrs. Roosevelt and your editor were, by a whim of chance, fellow passengers aboard the Union Pacific’s “Pony Express” making the run from Ogden to Denver. We happened to sit across from one another in the diner, so I sent her a note asking if she would be good enough to grant an interview for the pages of THE TWENTY-THIRTIAN. She answered she would be more than happy to do so and sent someone to bring me to her compartment where she and Miss Thompson, her secretary and traveling companion, received me.

The ease with which the First Lady welcomes one is a warming experience. When she smiles and extends her hand you have a feeling that she means it, that she is sincere, and that the act is not simply just another of the sometimes bothersome social amenities.

“You have asked me to tell you something,” she said, “but I’m sure that you have more to tell me about the 20-30 organization than I could possibly tell you about anything at all.”

That remark is typical of her.

Without delay and as briefly as possible I sketched the whole 20-30 picture for her, beginning with the founding of the first club and bringing the story completely up to date. Mrs. Roosevelt listened intently and seemed especially interested when 20-30’s objects were mentioned. In the middle of an explanation of our national objectives she placed a question.

“Civilian fingerprinting?” she queried. “Tell me more about that.”

I told her the history of the project and of our success with it. She was particularly pleased when I mentioned that we advocated voluntary fingerprinting for means of identification only.

“I myself have been fingerprinted,” she said, “and quite agree that it is an excellent protection. I am very much in favor of your plan since it stresses the words voluntary and identification. Fingerprinting for everyone under those conditions is certainly to be desired, but I would most certainly oppose any plan to fingerprint forcibly any particular group of our population.”

I gathered that she was thinking of the proposed plan to fingerprint aliens and asked if that was the group to which she had reference.

“Aliens, or any other group,” she answered. “Such procedure is basically unfair and essentially un-American. It is discrimination of the worst sort and should never be indulged in.”

I assured her that 20-30 would never be discriminating if only because Twenty-Thirtians had no wish to be discriminated against. That brought us around neatly to the war situation on which I sought to trap her, but Mrs. Roosevelt can’t be trapped.

“Speaking of discrimination,” I said, “it seems to me that all this war talk is discrimination, too. It discriminates against young men in general and 20-30 in particular.”

But Mrs. Roosevelt refused to be drawn out. She smiled and refrained from comment.

“These are bad times,” I continued, “and I’d like to know what advice you’d give to the young men living in these times. I’d like to know, in fact, just what advice you’d give to those of your sons who are of 20-30 age.”

She thought a moment and then began her reply, speaking slowly and emphatically.

“We must of course realize,” she said, “that the world today is not at all secure. That some sort of an effort on the part of our young men is necessary we are aware, and in my opinion that effort should be to remain as sane and calm in the present circumstances as is possible. Instead of being what one might call “war minded” in the extreme, we must continue our effort to solve our peacetime problems for today we are the only great nation in the world who can do just that. There are many things in our domestic life in need of our attention and we must not let the present conflict so distract us that we fail to give these things the full consideration they deserve.”

From there we went to our other national objectives and Mrs. Roosevelt strongly voiced her approval of Safety Sally and the Blood Donning Project. The varied local activities of our individual clubs were discussed and Mrs. Roosevelt showed herself to be in favor of them all. But we had mentioned the war and it seemed to be in both our minds so we were not long in getting back to that unpleasant subject.

“If the war continues,” the First Lady said, “we are certain to feel its effects. Although we must continue to hope and pray for non-involvement, we should bend every effort to end the war and we should be giving a great deal of thought to what kind of a peace we can help to obtain once the war comes to an end.”

I wanted to know just what sort of a peace that should be.

“It must be a just peace,” she said, “and it must give security and protection from force. For when force is abroad in the world there cannot be any security. Should force ever become a basic instrument of this nation’s policy the results to us would be most unfortunate. We would have to pay more and more for defense and it would not be long until we would be unbearably burdened with taxes the greatest part of which would be used to pay for armaments. Our job, as I see it, is to demand of the warring nations that the peace they will eventually conclude be a fair peace so that from that peace may be built something which may insure an even greater peace. They must be prevailed upon to adjust their grievances fairly so that the matter may be decided once and for all. And force as an instrument of national policy must be ruled out.”

I remained silent considering her statement.

“Not long ago,” she continued, “I read the galleys of a book shortly to be published which deals with the problems of young people from eighteen on. I remember one chapter in particular which was written by a young English Army Officer. He makes the statement that the Allies won the last war but that they lost the peace. He realized the vindictiveness of the Treaty of Versailles, that peace treaty which has destroyed peace. He goes on to state that the obligation of youth in this present war is to be concerned not so much with winning the war as in winning the peace.”

I was still silent.

“So when the time comes we must be in a position to win the peace so that justice may be accorded to all belligerents and security given to them as well as to the rest of the world. At least this is how I see the problem. I should like to tell 20-30 that.”

I assured her that her message would be delivered duly and after a brief chat about things less weighty I took my leave.

I couldn’t help thinking that in Eleanor Roosevelt 20-30 had a good friend, a friend to whom we could go, should ever we need an intercessor before the high tribunals of the land. Her charm is inescapable and her graciousness is a characteristic of which a queen might be envious.

Perhaps she’ll be the mistress of the White House for another four years and perhaps she is destined to leave it soon. Either way it will not matter, for she has carved for herself a place of honor on the American scene entirely independent of the political fortunes of her husband, and I for one am proud of the fact that she knows and is interested in 20-30. She is not only the First Lady – she is also a great one.

(The Twenty-Thirtian, June 1940, p.7,12)

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