OCTOBER 9, 1957
NEW YORK—A large group of Russian women invited me to spend some time with them soon after my arrival in Moscow. They told me they were members of the Committee of Soviet Women, which covers the whole U.S.S.R.
The assistant chairman of the committee placed me on her right. She was a professor. On my other side sat Tatyana Zueva, Minister of Culture of RSFSR, deputy to the Supreme Soviet.
All were distinguished women. Two of them wore pins with a gold star hanging from them, distinguishing them as heroes of the Soviet Union or of Socialist Labor.
These were women receiving fairly good salaries and yet none of them probably lived in an apartment which you and I would consider adequate for family needs. Building is going on everywhere in Russia at a tremendous pace, but the needs to rebuild are even greater and most people live in inadequate quarters.
The architecture of the new apartments is drab and dull. Beauty and quality are sacrificed for speed, so that buildings finished only five years ago might have been built 30 or 40 years ago.
The entrance to nearly all apartments resembles that of one of our modern slum-clearance type of buildings—made so that one can hose down the stairs. And if there is an elevator, it is the kind you find in France—small and open like a cage.
While the influence of France is felt in the type of houses and the looks of the streets, the concierge is missing. Instead, most housing units have someone in charge of social welfare who tries to adjust quarrels and difficulties and who has an eye to cleanliness and general behavior of the tenants.
The women told me that since all of them work, the days when people had to queue up for hours to buy their supplies were trying for them.
Now, however, they can telephone and have the supplies delivered. This means they have to shop at a government store where all food prices are fixed by the government.
If they want to buy something from the little open markets in their area, where people who live on the land are permitted to sell any goods they do not need, then they must go themselves and compete with other shoppers. The advantage is that there is sometimes a little more variety.
There is a room in the big stores where children can be left while mothers shop, and while we were in Moscow a big shop, primarily for children, opened. The crowd that went through this new shop on Sundays was simply tremendous.
I asked this group of women whether they would outline for me how a woman in the Soviet Union manages her day. I told them that I thought some of us in the U.S. wondered how it was possible for a woman with children to work at a full-time job.
They smiled at me indulgently and said the government provided them with many things needed to make this possible. They get up early and feed the family, the older children leave for school and, if there are young ones, they are taken to a kindergarten. Or if a mother works in a factory and has a baby, she takes her baby to the day nursery in the factory.
If there is illness in the family, she is not required to report to work. The doctor gives her a certificate and she can stay home. Wherever they are, the children are fed by the government, the union or the factory organization and the mother picks them up and brings them home at the end of her day's work.
The crowding in apartments means there is always more than one family sharing one unit. So there is usually an older member of the family who at 60 has retired and is glad to watch the children if they must be at home.
There are many restaurants and families go out to dinner on Sunday or sometimes for an evening meal. Sunday is still the day of rest, even in a country where religion is not officially recognized.
These women seemed to think their lives are very easy to manage. My Intourist guide, Anna Lavrova, whose husband is a professor, mentioned to me that on evenings when she is at home and busy sewing, he reads aloud to her in French, a language that he loves.
There is a hunger among men and women alike for education in the Soviet Union, and in the subway, on trains, everywhere, young and old read as though their lives depended on mastering what is on the pages of the book they read.