What Ten Million Women Want
A 1932 Article by Eleanor Roosevelt in Home Magazine 5 (March 1932): 19-21, 86.
What do ten million women want in public life? That question could be answered in ten million different ways. For every woman, like every man, has some aspirations or desires exclusively her own.
We women are callow fledglings as compared with the wise old birds who manipulate the political machinery, and we still hesitate to believe that a woman can fill certain positions in public life as competently and adequately as a man.
For instance, it is certain that women do not want a woman for President. Nor would they have the slightest confidence in her ability to fulfill the functions of that office.
Every woman who fails in a public position confirms this, but every woman who succeeds creates confidence.
Judge Florence Allen on the Supreme Court Bench in Ohio, Frances Perkins as Labor Commissioner in New York, have done much to make women feel that a really fine woman, well trained in her work, can give as good an account of her stewardship as any man, and eventually women, and perhaps even men, may come to feel that sex should not enter into the question of fitness for office.
When it comes to the matter of having a woman as a member of the President’s Cabinet, there are I think, many women who feel that the time has come to recognize the fact that women have practically just as many votes as men and deserve at least a certain amount of recognition.
Take the Department of Labor for instance. Why should not the Secretary of Labor be a woman, and would not a woman’s point of view be valuable in the President’s Council? There are many other places to which women may aspire, and the time will come when there will be new departments, some of which will undoubtedly need women at their heads.
When we come to finances we realize that after all, all government, whether it is that of village, city, state or nation, is simply glorified housekeeping.
Little by little we are getting budget systems into our public housekeeping and budgets are something all women understand.
Every woman knows that dire results happen when she exceeds her own budget, and it is only a short step from this to understanding what happens in the city, the state or the nation when finances are not carefully administered and watched. Every woman demands that her government be economically managed, but she knows, far better perhaps than the average man, that there are two kinds of economy. There is such a thing as parsimonious spending which in the end costs more than a wise study of the needs of the future, and the spending which takes into account the social side of life.
For instance, it may be wise to spend fifty thousand dollars this year in buying space for parks, first because the land will increase in value, secondly because we are beginning to recognize that for the youth growing up in the cities, play space in the city and play space in the country beyond, is most important for healthful development. Perhaps we could save this sum today, but it would cost us far more in physical and spiritual value twenty years from now, as well as in actual cash.
Women are detail minded, they have had to be for generations, therefore, they are much more apt to watch in detail what is done by their public officials in the case of finances than does the average man.
Ten million women may not at the moment be quite awake to their opportunities along this line, still I think we can safely say that this is one of the wants that lies back in the mind of every woman.
Do women want to take an active part in framing our laws? I think the answer to that is decidedly yes. There are more and more women elected to Legislative Bodies every year. This session of Congress has six Congresswomen on its roll, three Democrats and three Republicans.
The names of Ruth Bryan Owen and Mrs. McCormick are far better known than those of many male Congressmen. We have in this new Congress for a time at least, the first active woman United States Senator in Mrs. Caraway. She was elected this January for the full term and she will be, from all indications, a real power in the Upper House, and very far from a rubber stamp.
Welfare legislation touches very closely the home life of every woman, and therefore demands her interest and careful criticism both in the provisions of the laws, and in the administration of those laws when they actually become effective. Because these laws are interpreted and enforced by our courts, I think women feel they are entitled to places on the bench.
Women judges are no longer a novelty, and in some classes of courts, particularly those dealing with juvenile offenders, the women have proven themselves decidedly superior to the men.
I do not think women would approve of having women heads of police departments. I do think they feel policewomen and matrons a necessity for the proper care of girl and women offenders. As for a national police commissioner, male or female, I think women are decidedly opposed to it.
It is our conviction that crime to be dealt with successfully, must be dealt with locally with a thorough understanding of local conditions. Every woman is, of course, deeply interested in the crime situation.
But I think because of her education and knowledge of the home, she realizes that it is through better education and better living conditions in our crowded cities that the prevention of crime, which is the ultimate aim of all criminology, must be achieved.
While I do not believe in a national police commissioner, or a national police commission, I think women approve the recommendation that there should be available at Washington a national department where data relating to criminals, and statistics relating to crime should be available for the use of all the state and local police departments of the country.
I think that those women who have given this question of crime most serious consideration are generally in agreement that the first and most practical step to its eradication would be in the wiping out of certain tenement house localities in our big cities and the raising of educational standards generally.
Women to whom, after all, the education of the child is largely entrusted by the men, understand far better than the average man the need of education and improvement in teaching.
Too often, the father’s actual knowledge of how his child is being educated is gleaned from a hasty scanning of the report card once a month, but the mother knows all the virtues of the successful teacher and the faults of the poor one. She understands the defects of our system which produces, I am sorry to say, so many who have not the heaven-sent gift of instructing the young successfully.
There is much research work that a Department of Education might be doing. What actual education possibilities does each state offer? Are all children furnished with standard textbooks? Are libraries accessible for all children? Do we need, for a great majority of children more specialized and vocational training?
All these questions should be made the subject of research on a national scale, but there is a great division of opinion as to what authority should be vested in a national department of education.
The women who travel over this country realize that standards of education are woefully low in certain places, and there is no doubt it would be most useful for the public at large to know that the actual standards vary greatly in different parts of the United States. But this is a very different thing from placing absolute control over the various state departments of education in a “Department of National Education,” such as has been proposed by some.
What do women want to do about prohibition? Women generally consider prohibition as social legislation, not from the economic standpoint as the men do as a rule, but when you ask “what do women want to do about prohibition?,” the answer is the same as it would be if we asked “what do men want to do about prohibition?”
Not only are political parties split, but there is no uniform answer to this in the case of either sex. No one can say what the women want to do about prohibition.
We can say this, however, that few women are completely satisfied with the present-day conditions, and many are not satisfied with any of the remedies which have been as yet set forth. Only a few fortunate people feel they have found the answer to this problem and not enough people agree with them as yet to settle it.
The matter of proper laws dealing with marriage has been one much considered by all women in every state in the union interested in social conditions. Everyone feels it should be harder to get married and more solemnity and sense of permanence should accompany the ceremony. Uniform divorce laws might help to this end.
My fourth point is the woman’s desire to see government lighten her burdens. The first of these burdens is the taxes. On the whole when women see that taxes which they pay bring direct returns in benefits to the community, I do not think that they are averse to paying them, but I do think that our ten million women want much more careful accounting for how their taxes are expended in the local, state or national government. They want to see the actual good which comes to them from these expenditures.
They feel very strongly that governments should not add to their burdens but should lighten them. They are gradually coming to grasp the relation of legislation to the lightening of these burdens, for instance, in such questions as the regulation of public utilities and the development of the water power of our nation. They realize now that cheaper electricity means less work in the home, more time to give to their children, more time for recreation and greater educational opportunities.
In Canada, across the border from Buffalo, where so much power is generated, there are proportionately many more electric washing machines and ironers and electric stoves and vacuum cleaners and hot water heaters in use because of the cheaper cost of electricity, than we have on this side of the line, although we have the same possibilities before us, and the women are beginning to ask why they are not within our grasp. Hence their interest is growing daily in the aspects of the whole public utilities question.
Then we come to the fifth point, which after all while it is entirely in the hands of the national government, still comes back to the home of every individual woman. She may wake up someday to find that her nation is at war and her boys and even her girls in one war or another, are drafted into service, a service from which they may not return, or they may return with mangled bodies, but if they do return to her with physical bodies unchanged, there may be some kind of mental and spiritual change which will alter their characters and their outlook on life.
It may do them good, but the reading of history does not lead us to hope for great benefits for the younger generation from any war. Therefore, every woman’s interest in the amicable relations of her country is very great and she has come to realize that this is not merely a question of polite phrases between diplomats.
The only danger that women will not get what they want lies in the fact that there are still a goodly number who do not know how to use their influence and how to make known their ideas.
I heard a teacher not long ago discussing a referendum with hr class; she suggested that in New York State such a referendum had been taken in the last election when the people voted on certain amendments. One of the children looked up brightly and said, “Oh, yes, my mother knew nothing about any of those so she voted ‘no’ on all of them!” This is a dangerous attitude for any woman to allow herself if she hopes to get what she wants from her government.
If ten million women really want security, real representation, honesty, wise and just legislation, happier and more comfortable conditions of living, and a future with the horrors of war removed from the horizon, then these ten million women must bestir themselves.
They can be active factors in the life of their communities and shape the future, or they can drift along and hide behind the men. Today is a challenge to women. Tomorrow will see how they answer the challenge!
Source: Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project, George Washington University. More information is available at: http://www.gwu.edu/~erpapers/documents/