My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

Text Size: Small Text Normal Text Large Text Larger Text

HYDE PARK, Friday—The farms of Switzerland were of great interest to me. A farm of 90 acres is considered very large. The average is much smaller. However, because they cannot use machinery as successfully as we do, they need a great many farmhands.

And they have the same trouble that we have—young and able men go from the country areas to the city. There they learn to be mechanics or watchmakers, so they don't return to the farm, where the pay is much lower. The result is that the Swiss are bringing in farm laborers from Italy. Italy is clamoring to have them sent back, but the Swiss are loath to let them go.

Because of the drought last summer, they have had to kill many of their cattle, so meat is plentiful but milk is rationed. Hence, they are importing milk, and a considerable amount of canned and dried milk comes from America.

I had the opportunity of seeing a number of farmhouses during a drive through the countryside between Berne and Geneva. As on our New England farms, the house is part of the barn and is usually at the most protected end. The roof goes up to a peak, with eaves overhanging the main part of the building, so that snow will slide off. I couldn't help wondering whether the interior wasn't extremely dark, for there seemed to be windows only in the front and the back—never on the side. I suppose this is a precaution against the cold winter winds.

The vineyards interested me very much. They are planted on the sides of hills, with stone walls built here and there to hold the soil and keep it from being washed away by rains. Those stone walls must represent years of work, and the way in which they are kept up was a marvel to me. You hardly ever see a place in need of repair.

* * *

A shop worker in Switzerland can make from 800 to 1000 francs monthly, which is equivalent to $200 to $250. Since rents are controlled and food is less expensive than it is here, a thrifty housewife—and all Swiss housewives are thrifty—does very well on that amount of money.

The unions are strong and, on the whole, have succeeded in getting very good contracts. I was told in Geneva that most contracts allow for a paid vacation of two to three weeks a year, as well as arrangements for military service. The workers have sick benefits and a family allowance—which is a certain amount given weekly for every child in a family. This makes a considerable difference in the whole standard of living.

Old-age assistance is also given and, though the Swiss have nothing which corresponds to our social security, their various laws are practically equivalent. No one need be hungry or cold, either because he is old or sick or unemployed, and no child who needs help is neglected.

Every school child is X-rayed once a year for tuberculosis. In regard to the children, the only thing I could find which was causing some concern was the lack of playgrounds in the cities. As these have never been planned, the authorities usually pick some inconspicuous spot in a beautiful park and turn it into a children's playground.

E. R.
TMs, AERP, FDRL