MAY 28, 1962
NEW YORK—We are constantly being reminded these days of the emergent role of women in business, professional life, politics and in the arts. The reason for this, I surmise, is the fact that our nation has become the leader of the non-communist world. Our leaders are discovering that because of this they cannot afford to waste any of the nation's assets; and among the greatest assets, of course, are the human beings who make up the nation.
For a long time men have made the maximum contribution at home and in the world outside. It has been more or less accepted that woman's major contribution was in bearing children and in the care of the home and the children. This allowed the man freedom for other activities, although his first obligation was to support the home. As civilization has developed, women have more leisure time. Today every country finds that it needs the maximum contribution, particularly of brains, that can be made by its citizens. Hence all over the world women are taking a more active part in public life. Especially in the new developing countries, and as leaders of the non-communist world, we find the wives of our public officials also becoming public figures.
As I have the opportunity to observe those younger women, married to the comparatively young men who are in our government at the present time, I feel we are setting a rather high standard. Mrs. Rusk, Mrs. Robert Kennedy, Mrs. Freeman, Mrs. Williams and many others are making a genuine contribution. They complement their husband's work, not only in the traditional home areas but in fulfilling their duties as public figures.
The woman most talked about and most watched, of course, is our President's wife. We are fortunate indeed in having a woman in the White House who touches women's interests at many points and by her intelligence and charm attracts men to her interests as well. No woman, I think, will question the fact that Mrs. Kennedy's taste in fashion is exquisite. All those who have had the privilege through TV to see the changes brought about in the White House will recognize what her interest in art and history has meant to the house which symbolizes the hospitality of the people of the U.S. and is the contact through which many, many foreigners from all over the world get their first impression of U. S. culture. At the present moment, when our leadership is so important throughout the world, appreciation of art and history creates a tie which is very valuable in our intercourse with European, Latin American and Asian and African countries.
Mrs. Kennedy's trip to India and Pakistan, as well as the European trip with her husband, highlighted how important the President's wife has become in creating an atmosphere of goodwill, of interest and of real admiration. Anyone who has been on an official trip such as Mrs. Kennedy recently completed knows how difficult it is to fulfill from morning to night the various obligations that accompany it. To smile no matter how weary one is, to look fresh, well-dressed and interested at all times is a remarkable feat, especially when it is considered that we do not have the long training given royalty in order to meet these situations.
I think back to the days of my husband's Presidency and realize that the problems of that time—first of the depression and then of the war—required a background and understanding of social justice and social needs. That is still needed by the woman in the White House, but much more is required today.
Both the President and his wife can never give way to apprehension even though they are probably more aware than most citizens of the dangers which may surround us. If the country is to be confident, they must be confident. They cannot afford to harbor resentment, or to have enemies where it is possible to turn these enemies into friends. This demands from both the President and his wife a high order of intelligence, of self-discipline and a dedication to the public good. We are extremely fortunate to find these qualifications in the White House at the present time.