The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project is a university-chartered research center associated with the Department of History of The George Washington University

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The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project
Questions and Answers about Eleanor Roosevelt

Question: What is "My Day" and why is it important?

Answer:

[picture of Eleanor Roosevelt's My Day column]"My Day" is the six-day-a-week newspaper column Eleanor Roosevelt wrote from December 30, 1935, until September 27, 1962. (In 1961, at Eleanor Roosevelt's request, the column appeared every other day until September 26, 1962 when she grew too ill to work.) Nationally syndicated, at its height the column appeared in ninety papers in all parts of the nation, providing ER with a reading audience of 4,034,552, ranking her immediately below Dorothy Thompson, the leading female columnist of the era, and above popular political columnists Raymond Clapper, David Lawrence, and Heywood Broun. By 1940, interest in "My Day" was so strong that United Features Syndicate offered her a five-year contract even though it had no expectation that the Roosevelts would remain in Washington for another term.

ER did not keep a diary. While she sometimes detailed how she spent her day in correspondence to confidante Lorena Hickok and daughter Anna Boettiger, ER focused more on responding to family crises, political jousts, and social crises than she did recording her own responses and reflections. "My Day," while by no means a complete record of ER's daily activities, is the only account we have of her actions from 1936-1962. The columns reveal whom she met, where she traveled, what she thought, why she reached that opinion, and how she handled the pressures of public life.

As ER debated how to continue a public role after FDR's death, the central issue was which arena (journalism, academe, diplomacy, or government) would give her the stage from which she would have the most impact. Several close friends pushed her to "speak out," arguing that "it is most important that [your] voice be heard." Rejecting all requests to run for office, she embraced "My Day" with a new passion, telling readers that she would be more effective as a journalist than she would as an elected official and prompting the Associated Press to title its front page story "Mrs. Roosevelt Will Continue Column; Seeks No Office Now." She notified her readers that she would not adhere to any party line or administrative spin. Now "free of the certain restrictions FDR demanded," she would speak truth to power. "Of one thing I am sure," she wrote, "in order to be useful we must stand for the things we feel are right, and we must work for those things wherever we find ourselves. It does very little good to believe in something unless you tell your friends and associates of your beliefs."

"My Day" helped ER do this. By 1946, when asked to list her profession, she consistently placed "journalist" ahead of all her other responsibilities. She routinely consulted "My Day" first (and the responses it generated) as she prepared to write three of her four autobiographies, ten of her twelve policy-related books, and countless articles. While a member of the American delegation to the United Nations, ER tried to temper her partisanship and used the column to introduce Americans to the complexities of the UN and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights drafting process; however, when President-elect Dwight Eisenhower refused to reappoint her to the delegation in 1953, she no longer had any reason to moderate her language. By 1954, "My Day" had become her political platform, as well as her diary of her political activities. It was the major venue in which she challenged complacent Democrats, timid liberals, and apathetic Americans to accept the responsibilities of living in a democracy. By 1957, political commentary so dominated the column that the Scripps Howard syndicate dropped "My Day" for being "too political." By 1960, she waged a consistent battle with those political leaders who were more concerned with "profile than courage" and urged her readers to follow their consciences rather than their fears.

In short, "My Day" is indispensable not only to those interested in understanding Eleanor Roosevelt, but also to the understanding of the social and political history of the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War at home and abroad.
 


Sources:

Black, Allida M. Casting Her Own Shadow: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Shaping of Postwar Liberalism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996, passim.