Correspondence: 1949
    Commentary by Steve Neal

Eleanor Roosevelt did much to change public attitudes about women in public office. In 1938, the Gallup Poll reported that only 22 percent of the American public approved of married women working. By 1947, a plurality of Americans said they approved of women serving as governors, senators, doctors, or lawyers. In 1949, a majority of the public supported the appointment of women as ambassadors or ministers. When the Gallup Poll first asked respondents in the fall of 1948 to name the woman, in any part of the world, whom they admired the most, Eleanor topped the list.

In May of 1949, Truman sat next to Eleanor during the annual dinner of the Women's National Press Club. As he presented her with an award, the president reminded his audience that he had recognized her diplomatic skills in nominating her to the United Nations General Assembly. If the death of her husband had made him president of the United States, Truman took great pride in making Mrs. Roosevelt "the First Lady of the World."

That same month, Truman showed that he did not hold her sons in similar esteem. Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr., who had been among the leaders of the 1948 Draft Eisenhower movement, ran as the nominee of the splinter Liberal Party in a special election to fill the New York City congressional seat of the late Sol Bloom. Democratic National Chairman J. Howard McGrath, with Truman's approval, supported Judge Benjamin Shalleck, the regular Democratic nominee. Roosevelt, who was then thirty-five years old, easily won. His mother assured Truman that he would be a good Democrat.

Three weeks after the 1948 election, the Trumans moved across Pennsylvania Avenue to Blair House while the White House underwent major renovation. They would not move back for more than three years. Mrs. Roosevelt endorsed the president's effort to save the executive mansion. "I feel very strongly that, as far as it is humanly possible, the outer shell [of the White House] should be preserved," she wrote in a column. "The repairs certainly should be made, but in such a way that the house should be reconstituted as nearly as possible as it has been since George Washington planned it. No new design or new house could possibly have the historic interest of this old one.

"The President told me that he had the woodwork, fireplaces, mirrors, and chandeliers all carefully stored away and he had even had plaster casts made of the ceilings since they are among the greatest beauties of the house. There is a dignity and a simplicity about the White House that many foreigners, coming here, comment upon and which give to many of our own people who visit it a sense of pride."

Mrs. Roosevelt wrote in her column with sorrow about the riots in Peekskill, New York, that disrupted a meeting where the African-American political activist and singer Paul Robeson was scheduled to speak. "I think if we care for the preservation of our liberties," she wrote, "we must allow all people, whether we disagree with them or not, to hold meetings and express their views unmolested as long as they do not advocate the overthrow of the government."

Truman was asked for comment about this column. "I think Mrs. Roosevelt covered the situation perfectly and thoroughly," he replied.

The triumph of Mao Tse-tung's Red Army after twenty years of civil war and the founding of the People's Republic of China was regarded by many Americans as a foreign policy disaster. Truman was blamed by political opponents for the "loss" of China, though no one explained how it was his to lose. "China is too big a country, it has too many people for any other nation to be able to fully control," Mrs. Roosevelt wrote, "unless they wish to invade and control by force."

Truman had numerous foreign policy successes in 1949. The North Atlantic Treaty, which would hold the line against Soviet expansionism in Europe, was signed in April by the United States and eleven other nations. A month later, Stalin lifted his blockade of West Berlin, a concession of defeat in the first major battle of the Cold War.

This I Remember, Mrs. Roosevelt's memoir of her White House years, was published by Harper & Brothers. "It is almost shockingly delightful to read a book which could have been written by absolutely no one else in the world than the great and important figure whose name is signed to it, "Elizabeth Janeway wrote in the New York Times Book Review. "More than readable, this is a delightful book . . . tragic and noble and very human."



    Dear Mrs. Roosevelt:

    I appreciated most highly yours of December twenty-ninth, enclosing me a memorandum on your recent visit to Europe. It is a most interesting document and I appreciate your sending it to me.

    I am looking forward to seeing you on the thirteenth of January.

    I hope you had a pleasant Christmas and I also hope that the New Year will be entirely good to you. Mrs. Truman and Margaret join me in these good wishes.

    Sincerely yours,




    Dear Mr. President:

    This letter seemed to me very well written and therefore I am drawing it to your attention.

    Very cordially yours,




    My dear Mrs. Roosevelt:

    Thanks very much for sending me a copy of the Herbert Bayard Swope, Jr. letter on the foreign policy.

    I wonder if he still acts as a brain trust for Mr. Baruch. He was in to see me the other day with the Civil Rights Committee and I had a very pleasant conversation with him.

    Thanks again for calling attention to the letter.

    Sincerely yours,




    Dear Mr. President:

    The letter I sent to you was from the son of Mr. Swope who is, I imagine, paid by Mr. Baruch. They are two entirely different people.

    When I read about the inauguration I thought you and Mrs. Truman and Margaret would be exhausted, but the papers reassured me.

    With every good wish, I am,

    Very cordially yours,


The letter, from Herbert Bayard Swope Jr., had appeared in the New York Times and called for the United States to exert world leadership through a foreign policy of peace through strength. Truman did not know the author of the letter. But he disliked the elder Swope (1882-1958), former executive editor of the New York World, who had been closely associated with the New York financier Bernard Baruch for more than thirty years. In August of 1948, Truman asked Baruch to become his finance chairman. But the old man turned him down. "A great many honors have passed your way," Truman wrote back, "and it seems when the going is rough it is a one-way street. I am sorry that this is so." Baruch, no shrinking violet, denounced HST as a "rude, uncouth, and ignorant man." It was at the urging of the elder Swope that Baruch publicly repudiated Truman.



    Dear Mr. President:

    I am sending this note hoping you will feel perfectly free to consider it as my resignation as delegate to the adjourned session of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

    It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as a delegate, as well as an educational experience for me. I realize, however, that you may decide that it is wise to appoint some one in my place, and if so I shall understand. I shall, of course, always stand ready to help in any way I can. With my deep appreciation of my past opportunities, I am,

    Very sincerely yours,




    My dear Mrs. Roosevelt:

    This makes belated acknowledgement of your letter of January sixteenth. For your sake I wish I could release you from further service as Representative to the adjourned session of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

    You have earned a respite from your continued and arduous labors with that body. But frankly, I think you have rendered a service to your country in a difficult time which could not have been performed by any other citizen. Nor can I think of anyone who could carry on in your place.

    Your country needs you-indeed, this troubled world needs you and the counsel which you can bring to the UN, out of your rich experience and deep sympathy with the needs of humanity.

    I have, therefore, no recourse but to send your nomination to the Senate today along with the names of the other Representatives and Alternates previously appointed during the recess of that body.

    God speed you in your noble mission.

    Very sincerely yours,




    Dear Mr. President:

    I am deeply honored to be renominated as delegate to the adjourned session of the General Assembly of the United Nations and I shall be glad to serve if I can be useful.

    With many thanks, I am
    Very cordially yours,




    Dear Mrs. Roosevelt:

    My thoughts go back to the April day three years ago when I stood with you at Hyde Park beside the white marble memorial just put up at the grave of the leader whose passing bereft a nation on April 12, 1945.

    Flowers will be placed on that grave in the rose garden next Tuesday in token of the love and gratitude of all sorts and conditions of men. I wish I could be with you and with his old neighbors and friends to join in tribute to this great American. His place in the hearts of his countrymen is reflected in the steady flow of pilgrims to his last resting place. While half a million make this reverent pilgrimage every twelve months, we know that his memory lives in the hearts of grateful people all over the world.

    Ours is the task to hold aloft the torch which his falling hands released.

    Very sincerely yours,




    Dear Mr. President:

    I want first to thank you for the opportunities you have given me to work on the Human Rights Commission. The session closed last night.

    Realizing that you probably do not want to be bothered by a personal report at the present time, I am writing this, though, of course, if you want me to come to Washington I shall do so.

    The result of our work is only the first draft of the Covenant. We discussed only political and civil rights. The document which will go to the governments, however, will be accompanied by different plans for ways of enforcing the rights that are to be accepted in the final Covenant.

    Our only plan is a joint plan with the United Kingdom and it will go forward with the others. This is the only thing on which we were able to agree with the United Kingdom. I have never known them to be so uncooperative as they were in this session. That may be due to the fact that the young Foreign Office adviser on the delegation staff accepted all the directions that came from the Foreign Office as being final and therefore was not able to negotiate on any changes of any kind in words. It was unfortunate especially because in previous sessions we have been able to get together with the United Kingdom on many situations.

    Needless to say we practically never agreed with the USSR, and they felt that the document was a very poor one because the economic and social rights were not really discussed and are going to governments simply as additional articles for comment by governments.

    One of the things we shall have to decide before the next meeting is whether in this Covenant we shall include any of these rights. Many of our people in this country lean toward the belief that civil and political rights without some measure of economic and social rights, have comparatively little value but these are new rights to many governments and must be approached gradually. Whether we wish to deal with economic and social rights in a second Covenant to follow the first one, or whether we wish to include them in separate protocols which nations can ratify one by one as they find the atmosphere of their countries favorable, are the questions before us. These must be decided as far as our attitude is concerned before the next meeting.

    The State Department will be working on these questions. I have written to Secretary Acheson and I will, of course, come down at any time if he wishes to see me

    I shall be in Hyde Park all summer and I am looking forward to rest and leisure which, however, will be conditioned on the behavior of a large number of children who are going to be on the place! I hope you and Mrs. Truman and Margaret will have a pleasant and happy summer and that Congress will give you some of the things that you want so that you may have the satisfaction of feeling that your hard work has achieved good results. Franklin, Junior, enjoyed having an opportunity to see you. I hope he will be a good Democratic Congressman.

    With many thanks again and my best wishes, I am

    Very cordially yours,




    Dear Mrs. Roosevelt:

    After reading your thoughtful letter of June twenty-first I can appreciate your feeling of disappointment that more was not accomplished at the session of the Human Rights Commission. That is through no fault of yours. Your labors in this instance, as in all of your activities as your country's representative to the General Assembly of the United Nations, have been prodigious and as I have previously said, magnificent.

    When necessary you have without fear faced the Russian Bear with an admirable defense of democratic institutions and objectives. Who can tell-you may ultimately break down Soviet resistance. It is deplorable, indeed incomprehensible, that the United Kingdom should have been so uncooperative. Let us hope that Britain sends a more mature adviser next time. That was no place for a boy.

    Anyway, it is no fault of yours if the first draft of the Covenant to be submitted to the governments is less than we could hope for. Your report indicates that the State Department has much to do before the next meeting.

    I am glad you are to be in Hyde Park for the summer and feel that you will achieve a degree of rest and quiet no matter how many children are there. On this account I would not intrude upon your well-earned leisure to ask you to come to Washington for the sole purpose of reporting to me in person. If, as would seem probable, you do come down to confer with the Secretary of State, I hope you will advise me well in advance so I can arrange to see you.

    Margaret joins me in reciprocating your good wishes. Mrs. Truman is at present in Missouri.

    Gratefully and Sincerely,




    Dear Mr. President:

    I have heard unofficially that my name is on the state department list to be presented to you for the next General Assembly of the United Nations.

    Because of this strange campaign that Cardinal Spellman has started against Mr. Lehman and against me in public fashion, I am wondering if it will not embarrass you to send my name to the Senate. I want you to know that if your decision should be to leave me off I will quite understand and will not be in any way upset.

    With every good wish, I am,

    Very cordially yours,


Francis Cardinal Spellman became involved in a dispute with Mrs. Roosevelt over the question of federal aid to education. A House bill sponsored by North Carolina Democrat Graham A. Barden sought to provide funding only to public schools. Spellman, the nation's most influential Catholic leader, denounced this legislation as "a craven crusade of religious prejudice against Catholic children." The New York archbishop wanted federal aid for nonreligious textbooks, bus transportation, and health services for 2.5 million Catholic parochial-school students.

In three columns, Mrs. Roosevelt opposed the use of taxpayer funds for private or parochial schools. "The separation of Church and State is extremely important to any of us who hold to the original traditions of our nation," she wrote on June 23, 1949." "To change these traditions by changing our traditional attitude toward public education would be harmful, I think to our whole attitude of tolerance in the religious area."

Firing back in a public letter, the cardinal wrote on July 21, "Even though you may again use your columns to attack me and again accuse me of starting a controversy, I shall not again publicly acknowledge you. For whatever you may say in the future, your record of anti-Catholicism stands for all to see-a record which you yourself wrote on the pages of history which cannot be recalled-documents of discrimination unworthy of an American mother."

Mrs. Roosevelt answered, "I have no bias against the Roman Catholic Church and I have supported Governor Smith as governor and worked for him as a candidate for the office of President of the United States. I have supported for public office many other Roman Catholic candidates." She added, "I assure you I have no senses of being an 'unworthy American mother.' The final judgment, my dear Cardinal Spellman, of the worthiness of all human beings is in the hands of God."



    Dear Mrs. Roosevelt:

    Yours of July 31 just came to my desk. I want you to go back to the United Nations General Assembly. It is more necessary now than ever.

    My sympathies are all with you in the controversy over the Aid to Education Bill. You are right and the Cardinal is wrong!

    Will write you more fully at a later date.




    Dear Mr. President:

    You were very good to take the time to write me. I deeply appreciate your confidence in me.

    I do hope the excitement over the recent controversy will die down. It was most unfortunate.

    Very cordially yours,


During a press conference, Truman had declined comment when asked about the Spellman controversy. Mrs. Roosevelt was most grateful for the president's handwritten note.



    Dear Mrs. Roosevelt:

    It gives me great pleasure to invite you to serve as a member of the National Committee for the Midcentury White House Conference on Children and Youth.

    This will be the fifth in a series of conferences on children held every ten years on the call of the President of the United States. Each of the earlier conferences made notable contributions to national understanding of the needs of children and youth and to the development of principles and programs to advance their well-being.

    I know of no greater challenge facing the world today than how it can help its children to be secure in themselves, in their families and in their communities. It is through secure and happy children and families that we make an important contribution toward that kind of national and international well-being that makes for world peace.

    The Midcentury White House Conference on Children and Youth has, I believe, a rare opportunity to turn its searchlight on the great advances made in the last decade in health, welfare and education. Part of the responsibility of the Conference will be to bring together our best knowledge about children and to ascertain ways of applying this knowledge in homes, schools, churches and the entire community. Through the cooperation of State and local groups throughout the Nation, I am asking that study be undertaken of significant, unsolved problems in child life in this country. Through the joint efforts of citizen groups everywhere, and of competent experts, I look for solutions to some of the unanswered questions about child life in this country, for guides to parents and to all who work with children.

    Groundwork has been well laid for the Conference by the National Commission on Children and Youth, the Federal Interdepartmental Committee on Children and Youth, and many cooperating national organizations and State committees, as well as individuals having broad concern for children and their needs. The Congress has made possible the work that has been done to inaugurate this project by appropriating funds to the Children's Bureau.

    I see in the Midcentury White House Conference on Children and Youth an opportunity for a stock-taking and a pointing to the future. I believe it can be a conference focused on sound planning and vigorous follow-up action.

    The members I am asking to serve on the National Committee will give general direction to the whole undertaking, including the completion of the prepatory work and the arrangements for and program of the Conference itself. It will also be responsible for developing plans for post-Conference follow-up activities.

    The first meeting of the National Committee will be held in the East Wing of the White House on September 8 and 9, 1949. I hope that you will accept membership on the Committee, attend this first meeting, and by your continuing interest and participation help give leadership to this important activity in our national life.

    Very sincerely yours,

    New York


Eleanor replied that she would "be glad to serve but I fear I can not give enough time." She could not attend the panel's first meetings because of a prior commitment to speak in Atlanta, "which I can not break at this late date." Truman understood the demands on her time and welcomed her participation at future sessions.



    Dear Mr. President:

    I know that everybody has been importuning you about coming on to lay the cornerstone on United Nations Day. Of course, they will make whatever day you decide to come "your day." This is simply to tell you that they are simply breathless waiting to hear from you, and to add my word that I hope you will be able to do it on October 24.

    Very cordially yours,


Truman, who replied that he would come if he could, laid the granite cornerstone for the thirty-nine-story UN Secretariat Building that would also include the domed General Assembly Hall. "These buildings are not a monument to the unanimous agreement of nations on all things," he declared. "But they signify that the peoples of the world are of one mind in their determination to solve common problems by working together." After New York was chosen in 1946 as the permanent headquarters for the U.N., John D. Rockefeller Jr. donated seventeen acres overlooking the East River in midtown Manhattan. His son Nelson served as an assistant secretary of state in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations.



    Dear Mrs. Roosevelt:

    We fought a good fight in behalf of Leland Olds even though we lost-for the time being. I do want you to know how deeply I appreciate the magnificent way in which you came to his defense. I read your column on the subject with great satisfaction. No one has stated the issue more clearly or forcibly than you did. My heartfelt thanks are yours.

    Very sincerely yours,


Leland Olds (1890-1960), a staunch defender of the public interest, served on the Federal Power Commission from 1939 until 1949. When Truman renominated Olds in 1949, the special interests launched a campaign to block his confirmation. The oil-and-gas lobby and their stooges viciously portrayed him as a Communist or fellow traveler. Mrs. Roosevelt, in her column, said that Olds was under attack because he had been vigilant in his opposition to price gouging. After the Senate rejected Olds by 53 to 15 votes, Truman wrote Mrs. Roosevelt: "I think we can safely leave the Olds case now before the bar of public opinion made up of those who pay gas and electric rates."



    Dear Mr. President:

    From what I hear I am getting rather anxious about the way the campaign is going here for both Governor Lehman and Mayor O'Dwyer.

    It is quite evident that the Catholic Church is showing no great backing for Governor Lehman and with Mr. Dubinsky anxious to stress the Liberal Party and not anxious to stress the mayor, I feel that perhaps it would be very advisable if you could combine a big meeting, sponsored by other labor groups, in Madison Square Garden, for both the governor and the mayor.

    My chief concern is the good of the party in the future. If in this state it is evident that there has been defection in the Catholic vote where Governor Lehman is concerned, I am afraid it will mean a desertion from the Democratic Party by a great many of the Jews, some Protestants and some liberals-all of whom will join the Liberal Party which will weaken the Democratic Party.

    This kind of thing is bad for our democratic system which should if possible primarily remain a two party system.

    I feel a little responsible for the situation here because undoubtedly Governor Lehman's statement against the Cardinal's letter to me is one of the things influencing the Catholic hierarchy and there are always some Catholics who can be influenced by a word passed down to the priests.

    I do not know whether you are being urged to make other speeches here for the two candidates or not, but I do not feel the campaign is going any too well and upstate the Republicans are making a vigorous senatorial fight, which will help the Fusion candidate in New York City. Apparently the Republicans by their "holy crusade" against the communists are making a direct appeal for the Catholic vote and will be so recognized by them. It has nothing of course to do with the actual issues of the campaign or the value of either candidate, but like so many campaign tricks it may succeed in swinging the votes.

    You will know better than I do whether politically any of this is important enough for you to think about, but I felt I should tell you what my feelings are at the present moment.

    Very cordially yours,




    Dear Mrs. Roosevelt:

    I read your thoughtful letter of the sixth with a great deal of interest. You have, I believe, stated with great clarity the factors which enter into a political situation which must be handled with the utmost tact and discretion. I want to do everything within my power to help, particularly in supporting the candidacy of Governor Lehman.

    I have been in conference with both Paul Fitzpatrick and Ed Flynn on the subject. I am coming to New York on October twenty-fourth to lay
    the cornerstone of the United Nations Building and I understand that I am to have luncheon with Mayor O'Dwyer at Gracie Mansion and that both you and Governor Lehman will be present. It may be possible for us to have a little conversation which will be helpful.

    Paul Fitzpatrick indicated, wisely I thought, that he did not want me to come into the state of New York in a manner that indicated Governor Lehman was in distress and needed help. Of course, if the Democratic organization finally decides that my presence will be helpful, I shall be standing by to aid in any manner that can be of real help. What I must avoid under all circumstances is any act or gesture which could be construed as unwarranted interference by an outsider. I certainly want to see Governor Lehman win and am ready and anxious to make whatever contribution I can to achieve that happy result.

    I was in Charlottesville over the last week end and paid a call on Mrs. Watson. I greatly admired a picture of you and the president-an informal one taken at the table and autographed by both of you. Very generously she gave it to me. I shall always treasure it. I think it is far and away the best picture I have ever seen of you and the president together.

    With every good wish,

    Very sincerely yours,


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