Are We Overlooking the Pursuit of Happiness?
A 1936 Article by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in Parent’s Magazine 11 (September 1936): 21, 67.
With a committee actually appointed in Congress to consider the efficiency and reorganization of the government’s business in Washington, I suppose we may expect a careful survey of all the functions of the federal government departments, and a reclassification to bring into a better grouping such things as are related to each other.
With this in mind, it has long seemed to me that fathers and mothers in this country would be deeply interested in the creation of a department in the Federal Government which dealt directly with the problems touching most closely the homes and the children of the nation.
All government departments touch our homes and our general welfare in one way or another, but certain things very obviously touch more closely than others the daily life of the home. Health, for instance. The Public Health Service does much to cooperate with the various state departments of health and now through the new Social Security Act, we shall be able to do much more than ever before for our handicapped and crippled children, our blind children and for dependent children either living at home with a widowed or deserted mother, or orphaned and living in foster homes or in institutions.
All social welfare measures touch the home very closely. Take the question of old age pensions. This has direct bearing on the employment of youth, for if we take out of the labor market the older people there naturally will be more opportunity for the young. Added to that, many and many a home where young people love their parents has become embittered by the fact that so much had to be given up in order to take care of the old people. I remember a story my mother-in-law used to tell me of an old Scotch farmer who remarked to her that one father and mother could take care of any number of children, but any number of children never could take of one old father and mother!
It is all very well to think that young people are selfish. I have seen them struggle many a time to do what they felt was right for parents, and as their children grew up they wanted to give them opportunities for education or recreation or even provide them with proper food for building healthy bodies for the future, and the drag of the responsibility for the older people became almost more than human nature could stand.
For the old people who have lived so long a life of independence, how bitter it must be to come for everything they need to the youngsters who once turned to them!
From every point of view, it seems to me that the old age pension for people who so obviously could not lay aside enough during their working years to live on adequately through their old age, is a national responsibility and one that must be faced when we are planning for a better future.
Unemployment insurance in many homes is all that stands between many a family and starvation. Given a breathing spell, a man or woman may be able to get another job or to re-educate himself in some new line of work, but few people live with such a wide margin that they have enough laid aside to face several months of idleness.
Next comes education and we are certainly coming to realize that education is of vital importance. Many of us who have completely accepted the idea that our system of education is perfect in this country have made a mistake in not realizing that nothing in the world is ever perfect and that we should watch and constantly study public education to make it more responsive to the needs of our day.
We must equalize educational opportunities throughout the country. We must see that rural children have as good a general education as city children can acquire, and the advantages of both groups must if possible be made interchangeable. No city child should grow up without knowing the beauty of spring in the country or where milk comes from, how vegetables grow and what it is like to play in a field instead of on a city street. No country child who knows these things should be deprived, however, of museums, books, music and better teachers because it is easier to find them and to pay for them in big cities than it is in rural districts.
With more leisure time, we are discovering that the arts are a necessity in our lives, not only as a method of self-expression, but because of the need for enjoyment and occupation which requires appreciation of many things which we could never hope to understand when we toiled from dawn till dark and had no time for any aspirations.
The arts are no longer a luxury but a necessity to the average human being and they should be included in any department which includes health, social security and education. It seems to me also that crafts and recreation should come under this department.
All these things belong together, they deal with the daily lives of the people.
We are entering a period when there are vast possibilities for the creation of a new way of living. It only requires sufficient imagination and sufficient actual knowledge on the part of all those who are considering this reorganization of government to bring into the government picture today one of the objectives laid down by our forefathers for government, but which seemed in the past too impossible of achievement to receive consideration.
The attainment of life and liberty required most of our energy in the past, so the pursuit of happiness and the consideration of the lives of human beings remained in the background. Now is the time to recognize the possibilities which lie before us in the taking up and developing of this part of our forefathers’ vision. Therefore, I hope that the parents in this country will take enough interest in the new reorganization plans to realize that the interests of youth which lie close to their hearts can best be served by a federal department which will include such things as I have suggested and which touch primarily the homes and the youth of America.
Source: Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project, George Washington University. More information is available at: http://www.gwu.edu/~erpapers/documents/