My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

Text Size: Small Text Normal Text Large Text Larger Text

PHILADELPHIA, Monday—For a long while people have been trying to make me understand what a self-help cooperative could do. A gentleman came all the way from California to explain what was being done in the west. But it was not until I visited the Washington work exchange yesterday that I finally understood its possibilities.

It will vary of course, to fit each locality but the principle of these cooperatives is basically much the same, as the principle of a subsidy for low cost houses. To start a self-help cooperative you must have gifts and to keep it running you must continue to have gifts and materials and money, for replacements of consumed material and for administrative expense.

The people, however, who benefit from a self-help exchange receive no charity. They work, are paid in script which they exchange for the products of other people's labor. They work for themselves, they own what they make, their self respect does not suffer and every dollar put in produces its value several times over.

Here in Washington nothing can be done about rent for a family because there is a housing shortage, but in Richmond, Virginia, where there is a surplus of houses, a landlord is very glad to allow some one to work out his rent by rehabilitating the house and receiving therefore one apartment rent free for a year. The landlord can rent the other reconditioned apartments.

In Washington, however, a man or a woman may be working on WPA The family may be large and the WPA wage very inadequate. Some one in the family may be able to go to the work exchange and thereby provide a better standard of living for the family as a whole.

For example, the barber in the exchange works there for an hour a day and takes out of the shop clothes that his children need to wear to school which he has not been able to earn cash for at his regular job. In addition to this many young people come in, shabby and disheartened. They go to work in the sewing room, in the laundry, in the kitchen perhaps. Before long they can exchange their hours of work for beauty parlor treatments, for a complete new outfit of clothes, shoes, etc. In no time they are looking for a job with an entirely different approach for they look nice and can face the world with courage.

A hot lunch is served every day to those who wish it, and for this of course, certain materials are donated, though the people pay in work hours for their food. The only food that can be taken home at present is bread. A delicious smell was wafted to us from the bake-shop. One hour of work entitles you to three loaves of bread.

I see great possibilities for growth and variety in the beginnings made by these self-help cooperatives. They must grow slowly and the methods must be tested and carefully tried out in small units so that no big mistakes will be made, but here is a basis for allowing people to help themselves without any direct charity. We know well what a bitter pill the word charity has been to many self respecting people.

I left Washington early this morning for Philadelphia to speak at a lunch of the American Prison Association at their annual convention.

E.R.
TMsd 13 October 1937, AERP, FDRL